Are you resourceful, organized, and determined, always on the ready to find the answer to even the most obscure questions? Does the thought of helping an attorney put together a trial strategy for a client intrigue you? Did you secretly love when your English teacher showed 12 Angry Men? You may be drawn to the field of law, but maybe you’re not quite ready to commit to the expense and effort of going to law school. With a degree or certificate in legal or paralegal studies, you can still get your feet wet in this world by becoming a legal assistant (sometimes called a legal secretary) or a paralegal, where you’ll help attorneys, law firms, government agencies, or other law services research cases, maintain files and evidence, prep for trials, arrange for witness interviews, and work up documents that will be brought to court.
What do legal assistant majors work on in school?
To become a legal assistant or paralegal, it’s possible (but not common) to find an opportunity right out of high school and receive on-the-job training, but the typical path involves getting a two-year associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor’s degree in another field, followed by a paralegal certification; there are some schools that offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies, but not many. Your courses will likely focus on the nitty-gritty of legal research; corporate, criminal, constitutional, and international law; legal writing; contracts; torts; and legal technology, among other concentrations.
So why take on a legal assistant major?
The pay for legal assistants isn’t anything to sneeze at.
With the associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, the median annual salary for both legal assistants and paralegals in 2016 was nearly $50,000; paralegals tend to make a bit more than legal assistants or legal secretaries, as they’re usually more heavily involved in helping with the actual cases rather than administrative work (though they do that, too). The job outlook for both is promising as well, with a much faster than average growth rate of 15 percent expected between 2016 and 2026.
You can concentrate on the niche of law that most piques your interest.
Fascinated by personal injury cases? Can’t stop reading about securities law in your spare time? Both in school and out, you can home in on the areas that interest you most. The more knowledge you acquire in that area of interest, the more you’ll be known as an expert of sorts in that genre—making you a valuable asset for the attorneys at your place of employment who need just the right right-hand woman or man to help them out.
You’ll become an indispensable part of your organization, and to its clients.
Legal assistants and paralegals are a crucial cog in the law firm wheel—without them, lawyers wouldn’t be able to pull off the intense amount of work needed to handle cases. Your skill sets will also get a vigorous workout, as you’ll become a jack of all trades, from basic administrative tasks to the more-involved assignments that are critical to getting the job done. Plus, either directly or indirectly, you’ll be helping a client achieve justice.
It’s a perfect second (or third) career.
If you’re returning to school after already putting in your time in a related or completely different field, or perhaps going for a double major, know that employers often look kindly on legal assistants or paralegals with experience in other areas. If you have a social work degree, for example, you could always specialize in family law as a legal assistant or paralegal. Life experience and additional education can only help, not hurt, advance your legal assistant goals.
The door is always open if you decide to take the steps toward law school.
If you do decide that you want “partner” next to your name, you’ll already have a solid foundation and appreciation for law by the time you finish your legal assistant degree. You’ll have to apply to and finish law school to make that even-bigger leap, but if you happen to nab a job at a law firm as a legal assistant after you’ve finished your undergrad studies, you may find a mentor or two to help you on your way, and you’ll have the added bonus of seeing the day-to-day machinations of how a law office works.