I have been a legal assistant for 16 years. My duties have varied from lawyer to lawyer, firm to firm, state to state. Typically they have entailed transcribing correspondence, maintaining files and ensuring all categories are separated, filed in chronological order and indexed. It takes an extremely organized person to be a legal assistant. I have to be on top of my game at all times, keep my filing up to date, and maintain my attorney’s calendar with all important deadlines related to the case.
I found my niche in the legal field and cannot imagine working in any other field. It is interesting to learn the different areas of law and how the legal system operates. It is very rewarding to spend my days helping make a difficult time in my client’s life a little bit easier. A legal assistant must have empathy so they understand they are fighting a battle for their client.
One thing I learned quickly about the legal field is it is nothing like what is portrayed on television. Cases are not concluded in a matter of days; trials are not scheduled within a week of the case being filed; and the technicalities of the case are never black and white. The reality is it takes a long time for a court case to be completed. It involves a lot of time, paperwork and negotiations with legal assistants, lawyers, clients, opposing attorneys, opposing parties and judges. There are also several hearings involved – long before a trial is even considered.
The best advice I can give a legal assistant is to try to obtain an entry-level position while simultaneously going to school to receive a degree or certificate. The legal world has its own language and can be very confusing. There are so many legal terms to learn and it is difficult to learn it from a book without having concurrent hands-on training. While you do not need specific education to be a legal assistant, having a degree or certificate in legal studies or as a paralegal will give you the advantage over another candidate, as well as increase your starting salary.
The job of a legal assistant can be stressful since attorneys can often be difficult bosses. Some can be egotistical and look down on their support staff. You must be able to work with a plethora of different and difficult personalities. You need to have tough skin and be able to take criticism while maintaining an exemplary work ethic. The legal field is full of deadlines and it will be your responsibility to ensure they are met. If a deadline is missed, it could blow the entire case and you could lose your job.
With that being said, however, if you are good at your job and work hard for your attorneys, you can certainly earn their respect and have a decent working relationship. Law firms can be great places to work and typically offer good pay and benefits. They are often flexible with vacations and personal time off as well. Depending on the state, you can earn anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000 per year.
The most fulfilling aspect of my job is to know I am helping my clients during a difficult time in their life. I have worked in several areas of law and found the areas that involve personal client contact give me the most satisfaction. I have worked in family law for several years and find it extremely rewarding. It can be difficult to remain detached, yet at the same time I believe it is important to take the cases personally to some degree in order to give you the motivation and drive needed to effectively fight for the issues.
Family law can be stressful to work in if you are not accustomed to divorce and custody battles. The hardest part is realizing the children suffer the most and are often used as pawns. Family law can also be dangerous when a disgruntled party does not receive what they were asking for and blames their spouse’s attorney. One firm I worked for actually had bulletproof glass for the receptionist, locked doors into the hallways, and each of the attorneys carried concealed weapons on them at all times.
After 16 years working as a legal assistant, I have returned to school to finish my Bachelor’s Degree and intend to go to law school. I always wanted to be an attorney but I was scared to death to argue a case in court. Now that I have worked in the field, I see it is no big deal and is nowhere near as glamorous or scary as television portrays. The truth is legal assistants do the majority of the work while attorneys get paid the big bucks.
If I could write my own ticket, I would be making the big money as an attorney within the next five years. I love law and am very passionate about it. It is such an interesting area to work in and can give a great sense of job satisfaction on a daily basis. It is hard work and not for the weak at heart, but it is absolutely worth it at the end of every day.
This is a true story as told to LatPro.com, the worldwide leader in providing online employment resources for Hispanic and bilingual professionals. With 95 of the Fortune 100 companies using its service, LatPro is the largest diversity employment site in the U.S. and the most complete personal career advancement service for Latino and bilingual professionals.