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What is a Legal Assistant and What do They do?

August 9, 2019

Legal assistants play an essential role in law firms and legal departments. While their role is vastly different than a lawyers, they take on a lot of responsibilities in the legal office. Not to be confused with a paralegal, legal assistants keep track of all the details around the law firm. If you are interested in having a career in the legal field, this is a great way to start.

While working in the legal field is extremely rewarding, it can also be very demanding. While most people don’t mind the hard work, it’s the time and cost of law school that can deter them from entering the career field. Whatever your situation may be, if it is holding you back from studying to be a lawyer, it doesn’t mean you have to give up your hopes in working in the legal field There are many ways to work in the legal field without becoming a lawyer, like through our programs at Robertson.

At Robertson, our Legal Assistant Diploma Program prepares students with skill sets that will allow them to work in any legal office. For this reason, students find meaningful careers in a range of law firms performing high-level tasks that help keep businesses operational. If becoming a legal assistant is of interest to you, continue reading to learn more about what a legal assistant is and the steps you need to take to start your career.


Career overview

What Does a Legal Assistant do?

Legal assistants, also referred to as administrative assistants or executive assistants, perform daily administrative tasks. Beyond the typical typing, dictation, phone and email answering that administrative assistants do, legal assistants have specialized skills that are unique to the legal profession. This is because legal assistants must be familiar with legal documents and terminology. For example, terms like “subpoena” and “pro se” will be familiar to a legal assistant but not necessarily an administrative assistant.

Legal assistants help build spreadsheets, prepare presentations, manage invoices, track deadlines, create audit timesheets, and much more. They understand legal procedures and know how to create and format pleadings, discovery, and transactional documents.

When working as a legal assistant, you have the opportunity to work in a number of different work environments. You can find employment in legal firms, legal departments within corporations, real estate agencies, insurance companies, government departments, and municipal, provincial, and federal courts.   


What is the Required Education and Training?

When it comes to beginning your career as a legal assistant, aspiring candidates must complete at least a high school diploma. This is typically expected for most administrative positions. While you do not need a degree or diploma, it is likely that hiring managers will look for candidates who have a college certificate or diploma. When it comes to executive assistants, hiring managers will look for someone with a legal assistant diploma. There are community colleges and online programs all across Canada that offer legal assistant diploma or certificate programs. For example, Robertson offers a 44-week Legal Assistant Diploma Program. The program is designed to give you a basic understanding of office procedures and equip you with the skills required to work as a legal assistant.

At Robertson, students who take the Legal Assistant Diploma Program will:

  • Gain an understanding of the basic components of Criminal Law, Family Law, Wills & Estates, Real Estate and Immigration Law
  • Learn to perform legal transcription which involves an understanding of legal terminology
  • Gain an understanding of common office procedures as well as procedures specific to a legal office setting
  • Learn how to use a keyboard properly and improve your typing accuracy
  • Develop your computer skills and learn to use Microsoft Windows applications including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

Another great aspect of a diploma program is the work training. At Robertson, students take part in a compulsory 4-week full time work practicum where they work alongside industry professionals in a legal office setting. This is a great opportunity for students to meet and network with industry professionals and figure out what type of medical setting you want to work in after graduation. Regardless of where you study, the diploma program you take should be equipped with the resources and education you will need to find a job after graduation. At Robertson, we offer career services to students and graduates, which includes resume and cover letter development, help with the job search, and interview preparation.


Legal Assistant Job Responsibilities

Legal Assistant’s day-to-day tasks and responsibilities may change depending on where you work and what the workload is like, but below is a list of typical legal assistant duties:

  • Creating and populating spreadsheets
  • Answering phones, emails, and faxes.
  • Type and draft legal documents including pleadings, motions, briefs, discovery documents, and subpoenas.
  • Schedule depositions and hearings.
  • Prepare communications between parties.


What are the Necessary Key Skills?

Below are the top 10 skills legal assistants must have. They are a mixture of both soft and hard skills. 


1. Technology Skills

Legal assistants who are strong in a variety of computer software will have many career opportunities as many lawyers and attorneys do not have the time to learn new technology.


2.Interpersonal Skills

Legal assistants are working with people every single day. They interact with clients, vendors, attorneys, paralegals and more. Because of that, having great interposal communication is crucial.


3. Written Communication

As mentioned above, legal assistants are the ones who are drafting routine correspondence. Because of this, they have to have strong writing skills so they can be of proper assistance to the office.


4. Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are essential to efficiently manage a law practice or a corporate legal department. They must keep paper and digital files organized, manage projects, track deadlines and much more.


5. Transcription Skills

As a legal assistant, having strong grammar, spelling and vocabulary is very important. In addition to having great grammar and listening skills, you must have a fast typing speed. Legal assistants may have to type anywhere from 50 to 100 words per minute.


6. Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is crucial in legal. For example, typing $50,000 in a settlement offer instead of $5,000 could cost the firm a client. 


7. Legal Terminology

Legal assistants should be familiar with all things legal. They have to know and understand the legal procedure as they will be responsible for creating and formatting pleadings and other legal documents.


8. Teamwork

In any administrative role, teamwork is important. Legal assistants especially work with others, like attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, vendors, and more. The best legal assistants are able to get along with others and collaborate to get the very best job done.

Now you have all the steps and information to move forward. A legal assistant is a great career choice for those who want to work in the legal field and have a passion for fast-paced administrative work. 


If you are undecided or are interested in learning more, Robertson’s Legal Assistant Diploma Program is a great option for students who want to complete their education online or at one of our Winnipeg, Edmonton or Calgary campuses. As a part of Robertson’s School of Business, it is a 44-week program that equips students with the necessary office administrative skills and legal knowledge to prepare them to work effectively in a legal office. Connect with a Student’s Admissions Advisor for more information.

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Once you take the first step, one of our Student Admissions Advisors will get in touch to better understand your goals for the future.