Put simply, legal assistants or paralegals (the terms are interchangeable) are individuals who assist lawyers in the delivery of legal services. A legal assistant cannot give legal advice to consumers, but a paralegal can assist and carry out the lion’s share of the lawyer’s actual work up until the point the advice is actually given.
Legal Assistant Job Description
The legal assistant position really came of age in the 1960′s, when the legal industry as a whole exploded. It was in this time that all matters of civil life increasingly became legal matters, from buying a house to divorcing your spouse (which increased in this time as well).
Here is a somewhat simplified legal assistant job description:
- Conduct client interviews and maintain general contact with the client, so long as the client is aware of the status and function of the legal assistant.
- Locate and interview witnesses.
- Conduct investigations and statistical and documentary research.
- Conduct legal research.
- Draft legal documents, correspondence and pleadings.
- Summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony.
- Attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions, court or administrative hearings and trials with the attorney.
- Author and sign correspondence provided the legal assistant status is clearly indicated and the correspondence does not contain independent legal opinions or legal advice.
- Professionally, a paralegal’s time for substantive legal work (as opposed to clerical or administrative work) is billed to clients much the same way as an attorney’s time, but at a lower hourly rate.
Becoming a Legal Assistant
While there is no one way to become a legal assistant, today there are nearly 600 paralegal education programs in the United States and firms are becoming more serious about hiring from them specifically.
Legal assistant education programs are offered in many formats and lengths, the most common type of program is the Associate Degree Program. Two-year community colleges, some four-year colleges and universities, and some business schools offer these programs. Upon successful completion of 60-70 semester units, a student earns an associate degree.
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For more information on legal assistant training, please visit Paralegal and Legal Assistant Training Programs