For anyone who has an interest in the law, but does not wish to spend years studying to become a lawyer, a career as a legal assistant may be the answer. Requirements will differ from one jurisdiction to another regarding what is necessary to become a legal assistant. In addition, within the realm of "legal assistant" may be both legal secretaries and paralegals, with paralegals generally requiring additional education or certification beyond that required to become a legal assistant or secretary.
Before deciding to become a legal assistant, one should have an idea of what duties a legal assistant is likely to perform. A legal assistant may perform basic secretarial functions, such as answering the telephones and greeting clients, as well as typing correspondence and filing documents. In addition, a paralegal may be responsible for conducting legal research, interviewing clients, and preparing legal documents for review by an attorney. Ideally, a legal assistant should be well-organized, efficient, and personable, as he or she will frequently have a good deal of contact with clients and other attorneys as well as serve as a contact person with court staff on behalf of an attorney.
Many technical, community, or four-year colleges offer certifications or degrees that may help someone become a legal assistant. Becoming a legal secretary generally involves a relatively short course of study in basic secretarial skills. In order to become certified as a paralegal, a student may need to complete a longer course of study. Many colleges offer an associate's degree in paralegal studies.
Within the United States, many government offices, such as the prosecutor's office or a court, now require that an applicant have a certificate in legal studies or a degree in paralegal studies in order to become a legal assistant. In addition, many private attorneys and law firms now prefer applicants who have completed a course of study which specifically prepared him or her to work in a legal environment. Although a legal assistant does perform many functions that a regular secretary or assistant performs, the law is a very specialized practice and many lawyers prefer to hire applicants with specific training in the law. Once a person who wishes to become a legal assistant has acquired a certificate or degree, he or she may seek employment with the local, state, or federal courts, prosecutor's or public defender's office, or with a sole practitioner or law firm.