The Job Profile and Responsibilities of Legal Assistants

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A legal assistant is a trained, certified legal professional from state or government agencies who performs most of the legal support services for attorneys. A legal assistant is not allowed to give legal advice or represent clients in court. He or she can work in the capacity of a notary if he is certified. The legal assistant needs to be qualified after completing a two-year or four-year relevant course and should be experienced at secretarial work and legal research. He is also required to be proficient in handling of legal documents and different legal activities.

The Job Profile and Responsibilities of Legal Assistants

The legal assistant has a long list of duties such as conducting research and analysis of routine legal problems. The incumbent is required to assist in the preparation of legal contracts, deeds, etc., as well. The legal assistant is assigned duties by the attorney related to research of relevant statutes, rulings, and precedents for different cases, most of which are of a routine nature or limited scope. He or she is required to perform preliminary work in legal opinion preparation.

Preliminary interviews of clients and witnesses are usually performed by the legal assistant. A legal assistant may be particularly versed in different practice areas and might have to work in the relevant area only. For example, a legal assistant working in criminal law would have experience researching similar cases, like drafting of briefs and legal memos. The legal assistant will be required to assist lawyers with maintaining files on any current criminal cases, too, and take note of cases related to the criminal nature which are attracting attention in public. Legal assistants in corporate law, on the other hand, might be required to draw up contracts or file articles of incorporation.

Most lawyers prefer to hire trained legal assistants—those who can demonstrate their legal skills. Qualities required of a good legal assistant include:
  • Excellent legal writing and research skills.
  • Good customer-service skills.
  • Adequate knowledge of US laws.
  • Adequate organizational and computer skills.
  • Adeptness in working in an office environment.
Earning a voluntary certification is crucial for becoming a legal assistant. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) has established certification standards for various levels of experience. Legal Assistants who fulfill the requirements can continue studying for a two-year course. After completing the course, one can continue to acquire the Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP) credential. The NALA also offers advanced certifications for experienced paralegals and legal assistants who want to specialize in a particular practice area.

Legal assistants should be adept in presenting their findings and opinions to supervising attorneys. They should be familiar with the regular legal terminology and should be comfortable with researching legal issues and cases. Previous experience or familiarity with legal procedures, its operation, and litigation support also is important. Legal assistants should be participating in continuing legal education seminars too, to maintain and expand their legal knowledge. Legal assistants should have strong communicative skills and should be courteous and abide by the legal principles. The NALA, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and a few other associations have stated ethical guidelines for paralegals and legal assistants to follow, which play a critical role in their careers.

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