In this article our partners ILSPA - The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs share the job description for the role of a legal assistant.
A legal assistant is a key cog in the law industry, providing support to lawyers and working alongside them by performing important administrative and clerical duties. They are required to have a strong knowledge of legal terms, procedures and documentation.
Legal assistants can be assigned to a single lawyer, a specific practice or a group of lawyers depending on the firm, or the size of an individual case.
Legal Assistant Duties
The preparation of legal documents which can include;
- Complaints, responses, subpoenas, summonses and wills – this is generally done under the guidance of a lawyer or the manager of the firm.
- Archives and organises legal files and supporting documents.
- Communicates with clients, informing them of how the case is progressing or if any further documentation is required.
- Conducts research and collates information to help strengthen a case for the assigned lawyer, ensuring all involved parties are kept up to date. Legal assistants will also be required to verify information on request.
- Scheduling of meetings, depositions & arbitrations.
- Provides support during a trial, such as; cross-checking facts, preparing the correct documents, assembling relevant artifacts, collecting evidence and keeping track of case developments.
- Takes notes and studies case law, providing briefs on request.
What skills do you need?
Candidates applying to become a legal assistant must have the following skills:
- The ability to conduct thorough research;
- Strong administration and organisational skills;
- Good legal knowledge;
- Attention to detail;
- Analytical skills and the ability to identify trends and patterns;
- Be comfortable working as part of a team;
- Must adhere to client confidentiality protocol;
- Strong work ethic and capable of meeting deadlines;
- An ability to cope in a busy working environment;
- Competency with computers, in particular word processors.
Previous experience working as a secretary is extremely advantageous as many of these skills can be applied to law, providing a person has sufficient legal knowledge.
Legal assistants do not necessarily need to have a university degree but candidates who have graduated in a relevant discipline may gain an advantage during the application stage.
Some legal firms require legal assistant trainees to have five GCSEs at Grade C or above, including an A in English language and studying for a Legal Secretarial Diploma which can be completed at various colleges and law schools. Many law firms offer trainee programmes for legal assistants.
Employers will also prefer candidates who have previously worked in a legal setting.
A candidate’s employability will be greatly improved by completing certificates and diplomas, especially if they do not have previous experience. A Level 2 Certificate will provide the relevant legal knowledge and secretarial skills, while a Level 2 Award focuses on the technical aspects such as; spreadsheets, presentation skills and databases. Meanwhile, Level 3 qualifications are suited for people with secretarial experience who want to move into the law sector.
Anyone who is interested in becoming a legal assistant can find further guidance and support by contacting the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA).
The average starting salary for a legal assistant is £18,000 a year but with experience and progression, salaries can reach as high as £45,000 a year. Our data suggests that in 2019, the average salary employers offered for a legal assistant role was £19,883.39.
Below, we have provided information on regional average salaries, taken from our 2019 data:
One route of progression for legal assistants is to become a personal assistant to top lawyers which can bring lucrative salaries and a more interesting range of cases. Personal assistants tend to work for a single lawyer and are the main point of contact for clients. These roles have much more responsibility and PA’s sometimes make key decisions on behalf of their boss and have input on areas such as accounts and budgeting. This role requires a high level of organisation skills and can involve working unsociable hours.
Assistants can also be promoted to senior secretary which involves overseeing other assistants and brings more responsibility, alternatively, a person could also be promoted to office manager which would involve more general administrative duties and management of others.
If a person chooses to progress their education and achieve more qualifications then they could become a paralegal, licensed conveyancer or a legal executive. With experience in these roles and even further education a person could also work towards becoming a solicitor or barrister.