Do I Need a Degree to Become a Legal Assistant in California?

What Does it Take to Become a Legal Assistant? | Lawrina

Legal assistants, who are frequently confused with paralegals in the legal profession, differ significantly from paralegals in a few important ways. Legal assistants are a common starting point for anyone who desires to work in law. They perform certain duties that are shared by other roles, but with less power. You don’t need a college degree to start working as a legal assistant but by pursuing formal training, you can maintain your competitive edge in this line of work. Through certificate and associate degree programs and you can even earn that online, you can learn legal jargon, professional skills, and more. 

 It is also advantageous to take a certified training course if you want to get certified, you can gain the secretarial skills necessary for legal assistants in a short time. If you’re hoping to take on more specialized legal tasks, you may consider an associate degree or grad certificate in legal studies.

What Is a Legal Assistant?

As stated by the California Department of Human Resources (CDHR), the class of Legal Assistant is a paraprofessional class established to provide full-time employment in a legal program in State service. Incumbents work as an assistant to an attorney. The class is designed for permanent employment where incumbents can properly be delegated the more routine paralegal duties by an attorney. It is distinguished from legal clerical classes in that more difficult technical duties and responsibilities are assigned.

The job description can differ significantly between law offices or companies. Legal assistants occasionally perform more legal secretarial duties, such as handling clerical tasks including answering phones, keeping file systems up to date, setting up client appointments, paying the bills, transcribing legal counsel’s notes, and compiling relevant case materials, like documents and evidence. It is apparent that legal assistants perform similar tasks to paralegals in other employment settings. A legal assistant’s employment often comprises more administrative or clerical tasks than a paralegal function; however, if you want to take on more specialized legal tasks, a bachelor’s or associate’s degree in legal studies may be worth considering.

Minimum Qualifications of Legal Assistants in California

In order to pursue a legal assistant career in California, in accordance with the CDHR, you must comply with the following requirements:

  1. Successful completion of six-semester units of paralegal or undergraduate legal courses, with at least three units of which must be in legal research.
  2. You need to acquire experience, there are two options:
  3. Option 1. Two years of experience working as a Senior Legal Typist, Range B; Legal Secretary; or in a position with tasks that involve reviewing, preparing, or interpreting legal documents; or conducting inquiries or research that could result in legal action.
  1. Option 2. Three years of relevant work experience as a law clerk or legal secretary, directed and supervised by a qualified lawyer or judicial officer, in a law firm, corporate law office, governmental or public law office, non-profit organization, educational institution, court, or other entity. Academic education above the twelfth grade may be substituted for one year of the required experience on the grounds that (a) one year of general education is equivalent to three months of experience, or (b) two years of education in a recognized attorney assistant program in probate, tax law, labor law, corporate law, litigation, or another law-related area is equivalent to one year of experience.

How Much Does a Legal Assistant Earn in California?

Legal assistants and paralegals are combined into one employment category by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a median annual pay of $56,230 per year and $27.03 per hour. Legal firms, governmental institutions, and financial institutions are common employers of legal assistants. On the condition that the job may be more in line with that of administrative assistants and legal secretaries, the annual compensation would be an average of $48,980.

Difference Between a Legal Assistant and a Paralegal

Legal assistant and paralegal are sometimes used interchangeably, but this is not always the case. These professionals assist the law office in a variety of ways. Paralegals are more closely involved with legal cases in many firms, whereas legal assistants handle administrative duties as well as legal tasks. Regardless of these distinctions, job descriptions differ from place to place.

Difference Between a Legal Assistant and a Legal Secretary

It’s occasionally possible to work from home as a legal secretary, which is a flexible career. In addition to working from offices, legal assistants may also need to travel to law libraries or other locations that might help them with their daily tasks. It’s possible that legal secretaries need a different kind of certification than legal assistants. Although both do administrative tasks that are generally comparable, a legal secretary earns more than a legal assistant.

Advantages of Working as a Legal Assistant

As previously stated, legal assistants are an important part of any legal team. The work you do, whether it’s legal research, document preparation, or appointment scheduling, helps the legal team run more smoothly and focus on the task of helping their client win their case. You can go home at the end of the day knowing that you did something to help another person resolve a very stressful situation. Not every job allows you to make a significant difference in the lives of others. 

You do not require a high level of education as a legal assistant, you can find legal assistant jobs with only a couple of years of college. Even more advanced legal assistant positions may only necessitate a bachelor’s degree. If you study full-time, these programs typically take four years to complete. If you take extra classes each semester, you might be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in three years. 

Legal assistants and paralegals will be in high demand over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This represents above-average growth. More than
49,900 additional jobs in this field are expected to be required in the coming decade. With this type of job growth, it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll be able to find a legal assistant job quickly after obtaining the necessary education. Furthermore, you may be in a situation where recruiters find you and invite you to apply for jobs, rather than you finding jobs to apply for.

Your abilities may lead to a career change, and the skills you gain like research, communication, and organization among other things, can assist you with the different employers you. Furthermore, the earning potential is quite high. The average annual salary for legal assistants and paralegals in 2021 will be $56,230, which actually is promising for something that doesn’t need a higher level of education. However, the earning potential does not end there. As your experience as a legal assistant grows (along with your training and education), you will be able to command a higher salary. In fact, the top 10% of workers in this field earn more than $85,160 per year on average.

As a legal assistant, you will come into contact with many people in the legal field, ranging from attorneys to law enforcement to judges. If you’re good at what you do, your network of contacts may be able to help you find a better legal assistant job. Lastly, you can expect a day filled with a variety of tasks. There are no two cases alike, and your role may differ in each. This is not a boring job, and the fact that every day brings a new experience adds to the thrill.

Disadvantages of Working as a Legal Assistant

As a legal assistant, you’ll work numerous regular 9 to 5 days. There will also be a lot of extremely lengthy workdays, though. You’ll probably work on the weekends as well, especially if a court date is approaching. Additionally, you can’t put off working because legal assistants help attorneys. Critical legal research cannot be stopped, and the steps involved in submitting briefs to the court cannot be skipped. If the lawyer for whom you work requests anything, you must complete it on your schedule, not theirs. To accomplish this, you must sacrifice some of your time.

Since this position has a minimal education requirement, there aren’t many possibilities for promotion unless you pursue further study. Advancement in the legal industry necessitates attending law school, which may be time-consuming and expensive, even if you return to school. In larger law firms, there are typically more opportunities for advancement. For example, you might begin as a junior legal assistant and work your way up to senior paralegal. Smaller law offices frequently have just one or two legal assistants, thus these chances are typically not available there.

Despite the importance of your work as a legal assistant, a typical workday also consists of a lot of tedious activities. You’ll probably need to make copies, schedule appointments, and answer phones. Additionally, you might be required to set up conference rooms, welcome guests, and manage the office budget. There will be plenty of paperwork and filing, too. There are many strict deadlines in this demanding job. You will be in charge of a variety of duties simultaneously. It might drain you considerably. To perform at your best in any difficult work, it’s crucial to look after yourself. 

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