Thought about entering the legal field but don’t know how to begin? Whether you’ve studied for law school your whole life or your professional experience amounts to watching Legally Blonde a few times, you might be surprised at the opportunities available to you as a legal assistant. Washington, D.C. and other major metropolitan areas are ideal markets for entry-level legal assistant jobs. Being a legal assistant is different from being a paralegal, but you will still provide invaluable support to attorneys while gaining experience in the field. Here are our tips on how to land this great position.
What is an entry-level legal assistant?
Before explaining how to get an entry-level legal assistant job, let’s start with clarity on what it is—and what it isn’t. Although every law office or agency has its own regulations and expectations, there are some general guidelines when it comes to this type of position.
Legal assistants should be able to:
- Organize files for the office
- Compile facts for cases
- Follow up on details relating to specific clients or interactions
- Handle client or witness communication
- Conduct research
- File legal documents in court
- Draft documents for litigation
- Process, prepare, sort or proof legal documents
- Maintain client files and information
Essentially, this position assists the lawyer. An entry-level legal assistant job will involve all varieties of legal work in a supporting capacity. They act primarily as case managers, although some legal assistants also function as legal secretaries. Although they work alongside lawyers, they do not have the same authority over the legal documents and presentations.
How is a legal assistant different from a paralegal?
Legal secretaries serve on the administrative side, performing duties such as greeting clients, answering phones, scheduling appointments, and maintaining the calendar. Legal assistants can also fill these secretarial roles while supporting the lawyer in other ways from investigating to writing. Paralegals perform more in-depth preparatory work and function more similarly to an attorney. For example, a legal secretary might type minutes, while a legal assistant might prepare the case brief and the paralegal could work to develop the ruling with the lawyer directly.
Before applying, you can explore more details about these different job categories so you can determine where specifically you feel best suited.
Tip #1: Demonstrate effective communication skills
If you want to get an entry-level legal assistant job, you need to show that you know how to communicate effectively. Whether you’re managing the lawyers’ schedules, compiling facts for cases or drafting documents for litigation, you must get your point across clearly and effectively.
Many individual lawyers or larger legal institutions are more than happy to train entry-level workers on the minutiae of their processes and applicable laws, but they need the employees to come in already knowing how to express themselves in appropriate and precise language.
You can demonstrate your effective communication skills in your resume and interview. Legal assistants are often the ones to handle communication with clients and witnesses, as well as to facilitate communication across the office, so it’s imperative that you show you could fill that role.
Tip #2: Highlight the experience you do have
Yes, we’re talking about an entry-level legal assistant job, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going in with nothing. Don’t worry if you don’t specifically have a legal background. You will have other experiences or traits that can make you a good fit for the position, so make those aspects of your application clear. Maybe demonstrate how you’ve already managed large schedules in the past or that in your schooling you served in an administrative capacity or leadership position for an extracurricular group.
Tip #3: Express a willingness to learn
When it comes to entry-level legal assistant jobs, it’s important to recognize having the right attitude matters more than knowing the ins and outs of the law. Legal expertise is appreciated but unnecessary when you’re just starting out. Teachability, however, is required.
In our experience in Washington, D.C., most entry-level legal assistant jobs require an eagerness to benefit from the law firm’s expertise. Present yourself as a competent communicator ready to learn how the lawyer wants things done rather than showing up as a legal expert already entrenched in a specific structure and process.
Tip #4: Go through the experts
Once you’ve polished your resume and prepared for your interview by demonstrating effective communication skills, highlighting the experience you do have, and expressing a willingness to learn, it’s time to land that entry-level legal assistant job. You can go through the job search yourself and play the waiting game, but it’s easier, less stressful, and more effective to go through the experts.
At Whitman Associates, Inc., we are celebrating 50 years of providing expert staffing in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area. Start by emailing your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org to see what doors can open for you.