The specific skills and experiences required to become a legal document assistant vary greatly depending on jurisdiction, but most center on a knowledge of legal drafting and an understanding of local filing rules. In some places, certification is required, and proof of legally-oriented education must be furnished to a government oversight body. Other jurisdictions have virtually no requirements. All one need do to become a legal document assistant in these places is to hold oneself out as such. A necessary first step to becoming a legal document assistant is to research your jurisdiction’s rules.
Legal document assistants, or LDAs, are a unique facet of the American legal system. They are non-lawyers who work as independent agents, unaffiliated with any specific lawyer or firm. Their main role is to help individuals fill out and make sense of legal paperwork. Most U.S. courts have very specific rules for how papers must be filed, when they must be filed, and what sorts of information they must contain. Improper filings can lead to delays and court sanctions.
Attorneys typically handle necessary filings for their clients, but hiring an attorney can be very costly. Parties who are looking to save a bit of money often turn to legal document assistants, at least where routine paperwork is concerned. The LDA will help the client fill out and file the paperwork at a much lower cost but without any of the attendant legal advice that a lawyer could provide.
Before you can become a legal document assistant, you need to have a firm understanding of how legal filings work in your area. To be effective, you will need to have answers for your clients, and you will need to be accurate and precise when it comes to following court rules. Once you become a legal document assistant, there is not much room to learn. In most cases, you need to come in with the knowledge needed to complete the job, then keep abreast of changing rules to stay current.
Many legal document assistants start out as paralegals or file clerks in law firms. These kinds of hands-on experiences provide a foundational knowledge for filing, which is invaluable in the world of legal document preparation. Any sort of legal assistant experience is helpful. The important thing is that you are able to somehow demonstrate your expertise.
Depending on your state, these sorts of educational or work experiences might be mandated by law. In some states, you may be able to work as a legal document assistant while also working as a paralegal or other type of legal assistant. Other states prohibit paralegals from directly interacting with or providing services to clients. California requires certification to become a legal document assistant, which usually requires a test and adherence to certain ethical standards.
Since the requirements for entry into the legal document assistant world vary from place to place, the only sure way to know if you are on the right track is to check with the laws of your state. National and state-level legal assistants organizations are often a good place to start. Education matters regardless of where you are, though. If you are planning a career in legal document assistance, look for classes and work experiences that will bolster your ability to quickly and effectively provide document drafting assistance. A demonstrated familiarity with the work can only help your chances of success.