Legal Research Assistant Job Description
Legal research assistants help lawyers obtain and present information relevant to cases or issues on which they are working. As may be expected, law firms are a top employer of legal research assistants. Some, however, find employment with in-house legal departments at companies or with the federal, state, or local government. Most legal research assistants work full-time in an office, though travel may be required at times to gather data, attend a court session, or participate in a company meeting. When a case draws nearer, overtime can be common.
Demand for legal research assistants, categorized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics under “Paralegals and Legal Assistants,” is projected to increase 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. Much of the reason for this upsurge is that the duties of those in this field are also expected to grow to include both tasks previously done by legal secretaries and by entry-level lawyers, making legal research assistants quite cost-effective to employ.
Legal Research Assistant Duties and Responsibilities
As valuable members of a legal team, legal research assistants are charged with a variety of responsibilities. Analysis of job postings reveals the following to be among the core tasks expected of a legal research assistant:
Legal research assistants comb through laws and legal articles to find facts and precedents that support what a lawyer wishes to present. Though much of the work nowadays can be performed electronically through the Internet or fee-based databases, research also can involve trips to a law library or courthouse. Legal research assistants also may talk to clients to gain extra input or verify information. Legal research assistants may be called upon to summarize their findings in writing and distribute copies to members of the legal team.
The field of law requires a ton of paperwork. Legal research assistants often read through documents to ensure correctness. They may work directly with clients to fill out forms, such as setting up a trust or preparing a contract. Helping clients to understand the steps in order to make informed decisions is a crucial part of the job.
To keep operations flowing, legal research assistants may perform tasks such as answering phones, greeting visitors, scheduling meetings, filing, preparing documents, photocopying, drafting correspondence, and marketing the firm online or through direct mail.
Legal Research Assistant Skills
Legal research assistants are great multitaskers capable of handling demands from various lawyers or several cases at the same time. They also need to be excellent team players committed to performing their role well in order for group goals to be met. Other great qualities for legal research assistants to possess include:
- Paying attention to detail in order to correctly report and interpret information
- Being highly organized to handle requests and information coming in from various directions
- Exhibiting exceptional time management skills in order to meet deadlines
- Respecting confidentiality of personal data with which they may come into contact
- Communicating well to help clients understand legal language and procedures
Legal Research Assistant Tools of the Trade
As they go about assisting lawyers, legal research assistants often encounter the following:
- Court – Building in which a formal legal meeting takes place so that information can be presented to a judge and/or jury for a decision to be made
- Court brief – Legal document presenting your side of the case to a court
- Legal docket – Official summary of proceedings in a court of law
- Will – Legal declaration of what a person wants to have happen to his belongings after his death
- Trust – Legal arrangement of how money is to be held or distributed for a period of time
- Electronic research – Using sites on the Internet or fee-based services (such as Lexis Advance or Westlaw) to gather information
Legal Research Assistant Education and Training
Becoming a legal research assistant usually involves one of two routes. Many people attend a community college or vocational school to earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Others go to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree of their choice (very few places offer four-year degrees in paralegal studies) and then work toward a certificate in paralegal studies. Legal research, legal writing, litigation procedures, property transactions, corporate law, and international law are subjects frequently studied in training programs. Some legal research assistants choose to later attend law school to become lawyers.
Legal Research Assistant Salary
The median annual salary for legal research assistants, categorized by the BLS under “Paralegals and Legal Assistants,” is $49,500. Legal research assistants in the 10th percentile earn about $31,000 a year, and the highest paid make in excess of $80,200 a year. Legal research assistants in the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Washington make the highest median salaries in the U.S. $73,490, $62,090 and $58,050, respectively.
Legal Research Assistant Resources
Law is a complex, though rewarding, field in which to pursue a career. If you think you have what it takes to become a Legal Research Assistant, the following sources can help you learn more.
Legal Research and Writing for Paralegals by Deborah Bouchoux – This textbook receives kudos from readers for being easy to follow. Besides a comprehensive overview and samples of common legal documents, this 8th edition also offers extensive coverage of electronic research.
How to Land Your First Paralegal Job by Andrea Wagner – Reviewers praise this book for its to-the-point examples and practical advice on everything from where to look for jobs to how to construct a resume that gets noticed.
American Bar Association – The go-to organization for all things related to legal professions, its website has a variety of information useful to aspiring legal research assistants, including sections on education and certification.
Paralegal Network – This LinkedIn group of more than 41,000 members is a forum for professionals to share ideas and network. If you have questions about what is involved in being a legal research assistant, they likely have answers.
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