Updated January 2024
If you’re leaning toward a legal career but aren’t interested in spending years in university and law school, a legal assistant role could be ideal.
Legal assistants provide indispensable support within law firms and legal departments. They take care of a wide range of tasks that keep the office running smoothly, from maintaining client files and scheduling meetings to conducting research and preparing legal documents.
So what does it take to launch a career in this field? How do you become a legal assistant in Canada?
Keep reading to learn about five simple steps that can help you get started.
1. BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT A LEGAL ASSISTANT DOES
Before you commit to becoming a legal assistant, you should have a clear understanding of what the role involves.
Legal assistants provide specialized administrative and communication support. Fundamentally, their job is to help lawyers manage their caseload and serve clients effectively.
Typical responsibilities of this role include:
- Greeting clients
- Responding to phone calls and emails
- Scheduling appointments and organizing meetings
- Updating client files
- Taking care of billing
- Carrying out legal research
- Preparing and proofreading documents like affidavits, wills, and court reports
- Filing court documents
Experienced legal assistant Nicole Page says anyone who wants to get into this career should be prepared to perform many different tasks. "A legal assistant does whatever the lawyer needs! The role can also include things like witnessing documents, running errands, or being in a courtroom.”
2. LOOK INTO THE JOB MARKET FOR LEGAL ASSISTANTS
Researching the job market for legal assistants is a key step. Before you decide to pursue this path, you should have a sense of whether there are many opportunities available.
The good news is that the Government of Canada Job Bank says legal assistants have a steady-to-strong employment outlook. This occupation gets three or four (out of five) stars for growth and demand in every province.
Legal assistants commonly start out at law firms. But you can also look for opportunities in courthouses, government agencies, real estate companies, land title offices, and corporate legal departments.
3. RESEARCH THE SOFT SKILLS YOU NEED TO BECOME A LEGAL ASSISTANT
Even before you sign up for a legal assistant course, you need to do some self-reflection. Do you have the skills and characteristics needed for success in this role?
Good legal assistants have:
- Meticulous attention to detail
- Top-notch communication skills
- Good problem-solving abilities
- A polite and professional demeanour
- The ability to prioritize tasks and stay organized
Nicole says aspiring legal assistants should have all of these qualities.“Attention to detail is quite important. A large part of our job includes proofreading documents and catching errors! You need to be focused and meticulous," she explains.
"Also, legal assistants typically deal a lot with clients. You need to have good customer service skills, strong conflict resolution skills, and be good at communicating with people from all walks of life.”
4. FIND A QUALITY LEGAL ASSISTANT TRAINING PROGRAM
You don’t need a degree to become a legal assistant. A college diploma is all that’s required.
Training typically takes less than a year to complete. For instance, Herzing’s Legal Assistant program is only nine months long.
A quality program will cover:
- Legal office procedures—Client records management, appointment scheduling, relevant computer software, billing, etc.
- Family law—Marriage and divorce, property division and support, how the law pertains to children
- Civil litigation—Court litigation procedures, damages and claims, documents for pre-trial and trial proceedings
- Real estate—The registration system, documents related to sales, transfer, deed, and mortgage, landlord and tenant legislation, etc.
- Wills and estates—The preparation of wills, the law governing wills and estates, the powers and duties of lawyers, etc.
- Corporate law—How businesses are structured, documentation of a range of commercial transactions, the responsibilities of shareholders, directors, and corporations, etc.
5. GET REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE THROUGH AN INTERNSHIP
Completing legal assistant training that includes a work placement is an excellent way to apply what you’ve learned and build up your resume.
Herzing students can even focus their internships on their areas of interest. Our career services team tries to place students in firms that specialize in the type of law they're interested in.
"What they do really depends on the type of law they are practicing. Common tasks would include filing, answering phone calls, booking meetings, and preparing basic forms or dictation," says Nicole.
"I find there is a lot of variation, since it really depends on things like how big the firm is, and what the supervising lawyer needs and wants.”
READY TO BECOME A LEGAL ASSISTANT?
Choosing a quality training program is key.
Have a look at the Legal Assistant program from Herzing College. Training is delivered online and takes just nine months to complete. A four-week internship is included.
Our legal assistant grads have been hired by law firms, courts, and other organizations.
Click below to get complete details on the program and chat live with an admissions advisor. We’re here to help!