Legal assistants are highly skilled administrators who are an important part of the legal team.
In addition to maintaining files and scheduling appointments, they help prepare legal documents like statements of claim, petitions for divorce, wills, and transfers of land and mortgages. They may also assist a lawyer with case research.
In other words, they keep legal offices running smoothly. But it seems there aren’t enough of them to go around.
Considering a career in this field? Below, we explore the factors behind the growing demand for legal assistants and explain what you need to know about training, skills, earnings, and career opportunities.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Overview of the Current Job Market for Legal Assistants in Canada
- How to Become a Legal Assistant
- Career Opportunities for Legal Assistants
- Where Legal Assistants Can Work: Industries and Settings
- Future Growth Projections for Legal Assistants in Canada
OVERVIEW OF THE CURRENT JOB MARKET FOR LEGAL ASSISTANTS IN CANADA
The market is currently seeing strong demand for legal assistants. Data from the Labour Market Information Council shows that there were almost 3,500 online job postings for legal administrative assistants across the country over the past year. On any given day, there are more than a thousand related job openings on sites like Indeed, Workopolis, and LinkedIn.
In fact, in a 2023 Robert Half survey of the Canadian legal industry, 45 per cent of respondents said legal assistant was the hardest role to fill in a corporate environment.
Here at Herzing, we’ve been offering legal assistant training for many years, and we’ve noticed the trend. Caroline Glowatski works with Herzing’s career development team and organizes internships for our students. She says legal assistant graduates are a hot commodity.
“Our legals are scooped up like nothing,” she says. “We don’t have a lot going out, but we probably have three to five employers per week contacting us directly for either interns or positions. Our grads are scooped up immediately, usually from their internship, because there are so few of them.”
Legal assistants are in demand to help lawyers with scheduling and document preparation
Factors Contributing to the Growing Demand
At many colleges, there are fewer students enrolling in legal assistant programs, so there’s a shortage of qualified candidates for employers to choose from.
“This tends to be a steady field where there’s usually people hiring,” says Herzing legal assistant instructor Nicole Page. “I think we’re just not meeting the demand because I would normally have considerably more students than what I’ve had for a while now, and the situation seems to be the same at other colleges.
“There’s always that demand, and now suddenly we’ve got a lower supply than normal. So the demand is now considerably higher than it normally is.”
Plus, like many businesses, law firms are facing pressure to produce more in a cost-efficient way. Hiring legal assistants is an excellent way to do that.
“Productivity has been a critical success factor over the past year as firms strive to keep up with demand during significant labour shortages, and it will continue to be key,” according to an article from RSM Canada. “The focus will be on a firm’s ability to remain competitive and provide value to their clients if there is an economic downturn.”
Salary Ranges and Compensation
Legal assistant salaries depend on how much experience you have and what part of the country you live in. We gathered the latest data from the Government of Canada Job Bank to give you an idea of what to expect.
For those just starting out on this career path, the average wage is $17 per hour or about $35,000 per year. The highest-earning legal administrative assistants make more than $37 per hour, which works out to upwards of $77,000 per year.
Nationally, the median wage is $24.73 or roughly $51,000 per year. “Median” means half the people in this occupation make more than that amount and half make less.
But as we mentioned, salaries vary across the country. Here are the regions with the highest median wages:
- Yukon: $29.69 per hour or around $62,000 per year
- Alberta: $28.85 per hour or about $60,000 per year
- B.C. and Saskatchewan: $25.13 per hour or approximately $52,000 per year
HOW TO BECOME A LEGAL ASSISTANT
It takes a unique combination of education and skills to launch a career as a legal assistant.
While there is no legal assistant certification in Canada, most employers look for assistants who have completed a post-secondary diploma. A good program will cover every aspect of running a law office and assisting a lawyer.
You can expect to learn how to:
- Use Microsoft Office software
- Schedule appointments
- Edit and proofread reports and emails
- Handle reception desk duties
- Manage client records and process billing
- Prepare legal documents related to several areas of law (e.g., family law, wills and estates, litigation, corporate law, real estate)
Quality legal assistant training also includes an internship. This is your chance to apply all the skills you’ve learned in a real law office and get experience for your resume. While you’re not guaranteed a job offer, many students do get hired straight out of their internship.
Legal assistant training will show you how to prepare various kinds of legal documents
A college program will teach you the essential technical skills for legal assistants. However, there are a few other qualities and skills you’ll need to thrive in this role. These include:
- Strong attention to detail to ensure all legal documents are accurate and complete
- Good organization and time management skills to manage competing goals and stay on top of deadlines
- Discretion when handling confidential files or conducting legal research
- Excellent interpersonal skills for dealing with clients and lawyers
“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,” says Nicole.
“An interest in law really helps too, as some of the work can be a little repetitive. People who are genuinely interested in law will feel happier in this role. Also, legal assistants typically deal a lot with clients. You need to have good customer service skills and strong conflict resolution skills, and be good at communicating with people from all walks of life.”
CAREER OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEGAL ASSISTANTS
As you gain experience as a legal assistant, your job title may not change, but you can take on more responsibilities.
“A legal assistant is a legal assistant. But because every client is different, and every file is different, experience is the main differentiating thing. There is a massive difference in what somebody can do if they’ve been in the field one year than if they’ve been in the field five years or 10 years,” says Nicole.
“So a lot of the movement is pay raises or that little more autonomy. If I’ve been with the lawyer this long, he trusts me to handle this all on my own. Or he doesn’t look over everything as carefully because he knows what kind of work I’m going to be giving him.”
In some areas of the country, experienced legal support staff and assistants can work their way into paralegal positions. However, in Ontario, paralegals require specialized training and must be licensed by the provincial law society.
WHERE LEGAL ASSISTANTS CAN WORK: INDUSTRIES AND SETTINGS
Assuming they have the right education and skills, where can legal assistants work?
Law firms are one obvious setting. Some firms deal with several areas of law, while others focus on a specific niche like corporate law or family law.
Legal assistant career opportunities can also be found in:
- Corporate legal departments
- Real estate firms
- Government agencies
- Land title offices
“Most legal assistants find their first job at a law firm,” says Nicole. “Family, real estate, and wills and estates seem to be some of the most common areas. Some grads get hired at a courthouse, either provincial or federal, but this is less common.”
FUTURE GROWTH PROJECTIONS FOR LEGAL ASSISTANTS IN CANADA
Future legal assistant job prospects look pretty solid. The Job Bank says 18,000 legal administrative assistant jobs are expected to become available across Canada between 2022 and 2031. Ontario alone expects up to 3,000 openings for legal admin assistants between 2023 and 2027, according to the provincial government.
The Job Bank gives this occupation three out of five stars for job outlook in most provinces, which indicates moderate growth. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have particularly strong outlooks, with both provinces receiving a four-star rating.
EXPLORE LEGAL ASSISTANT TRAINING
Want to take advantage of the growing demand for legal assistants? Your first step is to get some quality training.
Have a look at the nine-month legal assistant program from Herzing College. It’s delivered online and includes a four-week internship for real work experience. Many of our grads get job offers directly from their internships.
An admissions advisor can walk you through the program and answer any questions you have about admissions requirements, financial aid, course scheduling, and careers.
Chat live with an advisor right now. Or click below to explore the legal assistant program and request more information. We’re here to help!