Legal Assistant Training & Career Information: 7 Common Questions
1. How Long Does It Take to Become a Legal Assistant?
Program length is one of the key benefits of legal assistant training. You could be prepared to enter the workforce rather quickly. The average legal assistant program can be completed in approximately eight months to a year. And that could even include an internship or practicum, which provides an opportunity to gain valued experience in a legal office prior to graduating from your program.
2. Will I Require Any Additional Certifications?
Currently in Canada, industry certifications are not required to work as a legal assistant. Depending on your program choice, you could be eligible to become a member of the Institute of Law Clerks of Ontario (ILCO).
It is important to note that in Ontario and some other provinces, the term law clerk is interchangeable with legal assistant. But it is not to be confused with a law clerk who works for the courts, which is a position typically made available for law school graduates.
3. What Does a Legal Assistant Do?
A legal assistant's daily responsibilities can be varied. And job duties depend on a number of factors, including your level of experience, the type of position, and the size and type of organization in which you are employed. Some of the more common tasks that a legal assistant could be responsible for include the following:
- Assisting a lawyer or legal team (including paralegals)
- Handling the day-to-day operations of the front office
- Maintaining file systems
- Communicating with clients and other professionals
- Interviewing clients and witnesses
- Preparing trial briefs
- Composing wills and other legal documents
- Conducting research
- Drafting correspondence
- Performing billing procedures
4. Where Can a Legal Assistant Find Work?
Legal assistant schools can help set you up to work in a variety of settings well beyond law offices. Positions can be found within:
- Private practices
- Corporate law firms
- Legal aid agencies
- Government organizations
- Non-profit organizations
- Financial institutions
- Insurance companies
- Real estate companies
5. What Kind of Salary Can I Expect?
According to 2012-2013 data, the median hourly wage for legal assistants in Canada was $24.48. However, some of the top-paid legal assistants earned $45.35 an hour and higher.* That works out to an annual salary of $94,328. Your level of experience, as well as size and location of the organization, may largely determine your level of pay. Here's the hourly wage range by province as reported by the Government of Canada for the 2012-2013 period:
- Alberta—$18.00 to $36.00
- British Columbia—$16.15 to $37.97
- Manitoba—$14.75 to $29.74
- New Brunswick—$14.00 to $27.03
- Newfoundland and Labrador—$12.76 to $33.52
- Nova Scotia—$12.76 to $33.52
- Ontario—$15.50 to $41.21
- Quebec—$15.38 to $30.00
- Saskatchewan—$12.50 to $45.35
(Wage information is unavailable for Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon.)
6. What Is the Job Outlook for Legal Assistants?
The demand for legal services tends to grow with the economy. As new businesses emerge and companies grow, there becomes a greater need for legal counsel. Additionally, updated and increasingly complex legislation increases demand, along with the government providing greater access to legal aid services.
From 2013 to 2022, the number of job openings is expected to be greater than the number of people looking for work in the occupational category that includes legal assistants.*
7. Are There Any Other Benefits to Becoming a Legal Assistant?
A legal assistant school can help prepare you for a career faster than you might have thought possible. And it's a career in which you may experience a favourable job outlook along with the potential to make a good living. But what else might you expect from this field? Other benefits that legal assistants often enjoy include:
- Exciting and challenging work—You could find quite a bit of diversity in your job and may use your problem-solving skills on a daily basis. And since you'll likely be assisting a lawyer or legal team, you could uncover fascinating aspects of the law and stay abreast of the evolving legal landscape.
- Opportunities for advancement—As you develop experience as a legal assistant, you could pursue opportunities to move to a bigger firm or a higher-level position. You could even decide to become a paralegal.
- Possibility of helping others—You may think that legal assistants only help lawyers or their legal teams, but many of them also help clients. For example, when you are drafting real estate documents or preparing paperwork for family court trials, you are helping clients with significant life events. They could be quite appreciative of the work you do, leaving you with a great deal of satisfaction in your job.
- Transferable skills—There could come a time in your career where you decide to change direction. The good news is that if you decide to leave the legal world, you could have skills that are easily transferable to other sectors. Administration, communication, organization, and research skills are valued by many businesses, and you could find yourself qualified for a number of positions outside of the legal workforce.
How Do I Get Started?
Getting started is actually quite simple. Your first step is to find the legal assistant training that lines up with your ambitions. Take a look through the schools listed above, or narrow down the results by entering your postal code below to see what's available closest to you. Then prepare to expand your professional talents!
* Government of Canada, Job Bank, website last visited on September 14, 2015.