Legal assistants, who assist lawyers in preparing legal documents, investigating facts and researching, come from various backgrounds and locations. Whereas some have a legal background long before entering a legal assistant degree or certificate program, many others don't. And while some reside in large cities filled with law firms, others live in small towns. All that matters when entering the legal assistant field is a desire to do the job, a commitment to train for it, and important skills that legal assistants share. Read on to see what might pieces might make up a typical legal assistant resume.
Where there are law firms, there are legal assistants, which basically means that legal assistants potentially have job opportunities almost everywhere. But some places have more than others.
These five states have the highest number of paralegals and legal assistants employed as of May 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- New York
The cities with the most people employed generally line up with the states, with a couple of exceptions. These are the five metro areas with the highest employment level of paralegals and legal assistants as of May 2013, according to the BLS:
- New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division
- Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metropolitan Division
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA
The legal assistant field is growing, too. The BLS reports that employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow by 17 percent in the U.S. between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations, and some states are expected to see even better growth than that. These states are pegged to have the most growth for legal assistant jobs during the same decade, according to Projections Central:
- Tennessee (by 48.7%)
- Washington (by 32.6%)
- Florida (by 32.1%)
- Utah (by 30.9%)
- Colorado (by 29.9%)
There are many educational paths you can take to become a legal assistant. If you don't already have a bachelor's degree, you can earn a certificate, associate or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. If you've already graduated from college, you can enroll in an online paralegal program geared toward people who already have bachelor's degrees in other fields, or a master's degree program in paralegal studies. These programs can take anywhere from a few months to more than four years, depending on which program you choose and how fast you're able to complete it. Keep in mind that some programs will also require an internship as part of their curriculum.
You don't need to have worked at a law firm before entering a legal assistant program. A law background may make your legal assistant resume more compelling, but the profession is open to anyone with the right education, and a desire to become a legal assistant is more crucial.
However, there are some important skills you'll want to develop as part of being a good legal assistant. According to the BLS, these include:
- Communication skills
- Computer skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Organizational skills
- Research skills
If you don't have prior experience in the legal field, find ways to demonstrate how your professional background fits with this skill set.
Another way to stand out to employers when applying for legal assistant jobs is to be able to point at job tasks you've done and compare them to typical job tasks of legal assistants. For example, one of the job duties of a legal assistant is writing reports for lawyers, to help them prepare for trials. If you had a job that required writing reports, then you can make the case that you'd be able to complete this particular job task efficiently.
What's the first step?
If you haven't yet begun your formal education in the field, the first step toward creating a successful resume is enrolling in a legal assistant certificate or degree program. Not only will you get on-the-job training, as many of these programs include or require internships, you'll also learn the skills that can help you land a legal assistant job down the road.
What you can expect to learn in associate's and bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies, according to the BLS, is not just paralegal training, but also legal research and similar subjects. If you take the certificate program route, you'll obtain intensive paralegal training and can earn your credential in as little as a few months. The choice depends on what your professional goals are, but either route can prepare you well for this growing career.
1. Summary Report for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-2011.00
2. Long Term Occupational Projections for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
3. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
4. Paralegals and Legal Assistants, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm