The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) states that the terms paralegal and legal assistant are interchangeable. Therefore, a legal assistant job description is the same as a paralegal job description. NALA defines this to be “a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.” An individual preparing a legal assistant resume should pay special attention to the part of NALA’s description of a legal assistant that refers to formal education, training and experience, as these are the most sought after qualities in a legal assistant.
Depending on the attorney who is preparing a legal assistant job description sample for review by his human resources department, a legal assistant job description may include both secretarial duties and more substantive legal tasks. Because the job description for legal assistants varies based on the attorney, law firm and the type of law practiced, it may be difficult to narrow down a specific legal assistant job description. This can further be complicated if the law firm is trying to draft a legal administrative assistant job description and a legal secretary job description in addition to the legal assistant job description as all three of those positions may have duties that cross over from each position.
Typical duties assigned to legal assistants
Even though the job description for legal assistants may change depending on the firm and the attorney, several common tasks appear on the majority of legal assistant job descriptions.
- Ability to perform legal research
- Draft legal documents
- Read case law and prepare case briefs
- Prepare trial notebooks for court
- File court documents electronically
- Prepare responses to complaints and discovery requests
- Organize case files and maintain documents
Legal assistant job descriptions for specific types of legal assistant positions
In addition to the supervising attorney influencing the job description, the area of law being practiced can greatly dictate the tasks described in the legal assistant job description. Below are some samples of legal assistant job descriptions.
- Corporate legal assistant – This person helps draft and prepare corporate charter documents, partnership agreements and limited liability documents. She will draft board meeting minutes and board resolutions. Prepare minutes, stock certificates and stock ledgers. The corporate legal assistant will help the attorney prepare for any court hearings and, under his direction, prepare court pleadings for filing with the court.
- Real estate legal assistant – Real estate legal assistants often perform title searches to determine ownership and lien status of properties. She will prepare deeds, mortgages and other closing documents. Prepare title abstracts, review title insurance and prepare legal descriptions for deeds. A real estate legal assistant may also prepare documents relating to real estate such as a bond for title, rental or lease agreement and property restrictions.
- Family law legal assistant – Legal assistants that work for a family law attorney often prepare complaints and legal pleadings to be filed with the court. She can also prepare documents for court such as affidavits and exhibits. A legal assistant working with a family court attorney should be able to handle intense emotional situations as cases being heard by the Family Court are often characterized by intense emotions on both sides of the case.
- Bankruptcy legal assistant – Bankruptcy legal assistants help prepare the bankruptcy documents filed with the court by interviewing clients to obtain the necessary information about assets, debts, income and expenses to complete the bankruptcy petition and schedules. Bankruptcy paralegals will help prepare for court by compiling the documents and exhibits necessary for the hearing and by helping to instruct clients on what to expect at their first hearing.
- Patent and trademark legal assistant – Legal assistants in this area of law communicate with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, prepare and file patent and trademark applications and docket deadlines for the attorney. She may assist with trademark and patent searches in addition to drafting and preparing copyright filings and notices.
- Probate legal assistant – A legal assistant working for a probate attorney will meet with clients to obtain information necessary to draft a will or trust. She often drafts documents such as wills and trust agreements to protect the probate estate. Probate legal assistants prepare the documents necessary to file with the Probate Court to probate an estate or to request that a conservator be appointed for a minor.
- Litigation legal assistant – A litigation legal assistant assists the attorney from the beginning of a case through the end of the trial or settlement of the case. The legal assistant will interview clients and witnesses to gather information pertinent to the case and discuss with the attorney a plan for the case and a strategy. She will gather all documents and organize them so that they can be used throughout the case and the trial. The legal assistant will also perform legal research on current case law and prepare case summaries for the attorney to review. She will draft legal pleadings and prepare responses for the attorney to review. A litigation paralegal must be detail oriented as documents can number in the thousands and she must also be able to work under pressure because there are many deadlines during the progression of the case.
Legal assistant resumes and salaries
When preparing a legal assistant job description for your resume, include that you are self-motivated, organized, detail-oriented and able to work under pressure – - all qualities of a good legal assistant. Do not include in your legal assistant job description a salary as this will be negotiated if you are offered the position.
An average legal assistant salary, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $46,680 per year. The actual salary for a legal assistant will depend on the location of the law firm, the type of law practiced and the role of the legal assistant within the law firm.