Skilled legal assistants are in demand, but that doesn't mean getting hired for these roles is easy. Employers have become more exacting with their hiring criteria for these positions. This is largely because the legal assistant job description now includes more responsibilities, including duties traditionally assigned to associates and partners. Many employers are also trying to find candidates to fill "hybrid" paralegal/legal assistant roles.
Given the high expectations for legal assistants, you may be wondering how best to optimize your resume to meet the requirements outlined in a typical legal assistant job description. While there may not actually be a "typical" description given the evolving nature of a legal assistant's work, there are a number of basics that hiring managers will look for in every resume submitted. Here are a few things that you can expect to be included in almost any legal assistant job description:
Most employers require a four-year degree for the legal assistant or paralegal role, as well as a certificate of completion from an education program approved by the American Bar Association.
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You can be sure that almost any employer will outline a number of technical basics in the legal assistant job description. These include proficiency in Microsoft Office, as well as experience in litigation support, billing and case management software. (Popular programs include Summation, Relativity, TrialDirector and Time Matters.)
Emerging technologies such as cloud computing and social media, which are quickly becoming essential to everyday operations for many law firms and companies, are also transforming the core responsibilities of legal support professionals. Even if the legal assistant job description you're reviewing doesn't specify that advanced technical skills are required, if you have them, highlight them in your legal resume. Doing so may give you an edge over candidates who have job experience similar to yours but lack these abilities.
It is generally understood that soft skills are integral to success in any type of legal position today, from partner to paralegal to junior associate. So you will find that many employers are making clear in the legal assistant job description that candidates need to bring solid communication skills to the table, including both speaking and writing abilities. Also, hiring managers may be on the lookout for other soft skills, such as analytical skills and diplomacy. Therefore, be sure to include in your resume how you have used these types of abilities in previous roles to produce positive outcomes.
In the past, a legal assistant job description requiring eDiscovery experience was rare. Today, eDiscovery is having a significant impact on the roles of legal support professionals, according to the Future Law Office report Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession. Law firms operating with leaner teams need legal assistants and paralegals to handle eDiscovery tasks that previously would have been assigned to junior-level lawyers, such as document collection, review and production. So, if you have eDiscovery experience, underscore it. Even if a potential employer doesn't need that skill set immediately, in time they will likely face an eDiscovery challenge.
While details about responsibilities and performance expectations in a legal assistant job description will certainly vary by law firm or company, most descriptions for this position are likely to include all or most of the requirements outlined above. Optimizing your legal resume according to the basic expectations of most leading employers will give you a strong foundation for promoting your full range of skills and experience, which may include foreign language abilities and specialized knowledge.