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Questions to Ask a Legal Assistant
Legal support staff provide assistance to lawyers to ease their workload. If you are planning to hire a legal assistant, there are a few questions you should consider asking first.
What areas of law do you have experience with?
Legal assistants often specialize in specific areas of the law. You will want to find someone who is familiar with the area of law you handle, so they will be prepared to work with your cases. For example, if you need help with cases dealing with corporate tax law, hiring a paralegal whose background is in that area will probably be a better choice than hiring a paralegal who has focused on personal injury cases.
What type of services have you provided in the past?
It is a good idea to ask what type of assignments an individual has handled in the past, so you can determine if they have the experience you need. Job responsibilities vary between law offices, and many legal assistant positions have overlapping duties. For example, a law clerk or legal secretary may be responsible for completing research and preparing drafts of legal documents, much like a paralegal.
Can you provide references from previous employers?
Speaking with lawyers the legal assistant has worked for in the past will help you to gauge the quality of work you can expect.
Do you have any certifications or belong to any professional associations?
Although most states do not have licensing requirements to become a paralegal, legal secretary, or law clerk, there are professional associations that offer certification and registration programs. Also, some vocational schools offer programs for legal assistants.
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
Our professional association assists the legal community across the U.S. Whether you're looking for a career as a legal assistant or you're looking for paralegal resources our association can help.
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A paralegal is more than just a secretary, although they are sometimes called that or legal assistants. Most have a paralegal degree or other professional qualification. Although they do not attend law school, most do have a bachelor's degree. At minimum, a paralegal must have attended a certification program.
Individuals should seek out training courses approved by the American Bar Association. At entry level, paralegals are likely to be employed as a paralegal clerk. Clerks perform the most basic of duties while receiving further training and guidance. Working for a larger firm or a corporate legal department is likely to require a bachelor's degree, or exception by the association.
A legal secretary needs to be highly skilled at research. The use of law libraries and the internet is vital. They are required to prepare documents, which is also often computerized. An experienced assistant may be given much leeway to research and investigate supporting documentation for a case.
Paralegals are sometimes required to accompany lawyers to the court room. They need to be aware of court procedures and able to understand the requirements of different kinds of litigation.
Paralegal managers supervise paralegals in large firms or legal departments. They may hand out assignments and supervise the work of more junior colleagues. Very small firms, however, may only have one or two paralegals working for them. Many paralegals, like lawyers, specialize in one particular area. For example, they may train in accident or criminal law.
Essentially, a paralegal is an administrative professional, but one with duties that cross over into the lower levels of the work of a lawyer. They are essential to the smooth running of law firms and legal departments and a growth area.