A career as a legal office assistant is usually regarded to be at the top of the administrative assistant profession in terms of prestige. Legal office assistants often command higher salaries than their counterparts in other fields.
Duties and Responsibilities
Legal office assistants work in an exciting and challenging environment where they are required to utilize a broad range of administrative and computer skills, transcribe written and recorded legal documents and correspondence, process legal documents in various courts, implement personal and telephone contacts with clients, and manage an attorney’s calendar. Legal office assistants:
- Provide administrative support for attorneys, including receiving, prioritizing, and distributing mail; maintaining attorney calendars; scheduling meetings and appointments; making travel arrangements; screening and routing telephone calls; and researching and providing responses to routine inquiries.
- Receive the public; respond to inquiries from employees and citizens; refer inquiries, when necessary, to appropriate persons.
- Locate and notify responsible parties for pretrial and court appearances.
- Compose, type, and edit a variety of correspondence, reports, memoranda, and other material requiring judgment as to content, accuracy, and completeness.
- Plan conferences and training sessions.
- Type legal documents such as motions, memoranda of law, briefs, orders, petitions, and sentencing recommendations; proofread documents.
- Transcribe dictation; review documents for completeness and typographical and formatting errors.
- Maintain automated court and appointment calendars; prepare criminal docket; maintain logs and track cases and appeals.
- Act as custodian of departmental documents and records. Establish and maintain filing systems.
- Maintain and reconcile litigation accounting funds; receive payments.
- Arrange for filing, recording, and service of legal documents via mail, facsimile, or messenger.
- Assist in gathering information for office projects or litigation.
Legal office assistants must have knowledge of:
- Legal terminology
- Legal forms and documents
- Filing methods and systems
- Court systems and their filing requirements
- Business English: spelling, grammar, and punctuation
- Legal office practices, procedures, and equipment
- Word processing and spreadsheet software
- Basic bookkeeping principles
Legal office assistants must be able to:
- Compose, type, and assemble information in proper legal form;
- Use word processing software to compose briefs, pleadings, letters, memos, and other legal correspondence;
- Set up and maintain a wide variety of legal files, records, and reports;
- Follow complex oral and written instructions;
- Work effectively with attorneys and other staff members;
- Work effectively with the public;
- Handle and prioritize multiple tasks;
- Analyze situations and adopt effective courses of action;
- Type at least 50 words per minute;
- Transcribe dictation;
- Use reference resources; and
- Produce written documents with clearly organized thoughts using proper sentence construction, punctuation, and grammar.
Experience and Education
Most legal office assistants must have full-time legal administrative experience in a public or private law office, usually as a legal receptionist or an office assistant. If a person has office assistant experience in another field and obtains the necessary legal knowledge, he/she would qualify for a legal office assistant position.
Salaries will vary greatly depending upon whether you wish to work within Howard County/Columbia or in Baltimore or D.C. Typically, jobs within the Howard County area will pay less and often have no benefits. The smaller law firms are usually the ones that do not offer employee benefits such as health insurance. Part-time jobs are often available.
Go to www.salary.com, where you can search for legal office assistant salaries in various geographical areas.
Legal Secretaries International
Go to www.legalsecretaries.org to read about this organization and how to become a certified legal secretary. If you are serious about this career, becoming a member of the Legal Secretaries International organization is worth the small annual fee. As in any field, obtaining certification should increase your salary potential.
How to Find a Job
The best way to obtain a legal office assistant position is to look in the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, the Columbia Flier, the Howard County Times, or any other local newspaper. In addition, here are some links that you might find useful. Remember that job openings change frequently, so it might be a good idea to bookmark these sites so you can check them often.