Photo: Nicole Page, Legal Assistant instructor at Herzing College Winnipeg
Looking for a legal career that doesn't require years of university study? Have excellent communication and organizational skills, and can see yourself thriving in a busy law office?
Legal assistant could be the profession you're looking for. Legal assistants work under lawyer supervision, providing valuable support with case preparation, drafting documents, scheduling clients, and running the legal office.
They work at courthouses, private law firms, real estate firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies. You can specialize in a particular area of law, or work at a firm that provides services in several legal areas.
Are you a good fit for this role? Should you consider legal assistant training?
This week, we interviewed Nicole Page to find out what is involved in becoming a legal assistant and what to expect at work.
Nicole has many years of experience working at courthouses and private law firms, and has spent the past six years teaching the Legal Assistant program at Herzing College Winnipeg.
She gave us some great insights into training, careers, and key skills you'll need to succeed as a legal assistant.
Q: Nicole, can you tell us a bit about your professional experience in legal office administration?
Nicole: I actually graduated from Herzing's Legal Assistant program! I interned at the Court of Queen’s Bench and stayed with them in various positions for a while before switching to working in law firms.
I worked in a few different law firms in areas like corporate law and wills, but most of my time was spent doing real estate work.
I came back to Herzing to teach the Legal Assistant program in 2013. I've been an instructor for almost seven years now.
Q: What exactly does a legal assistant do? What are some typical tasks?
Nicole: The short answer is a legal assistant does whatever the lawyer needs! But what that looks like will vary a little depending on things like the lawyer's preferences, how many assistants that lawyer has, etc.
Generally, legal assistants are responsible for booking meetings, handling client phone calls, preparing legal documents, and managing files for the lawyer. The role can also include things like witnessing documents, running errands, or being in a courtroom.
Q: This training covers a lot of topics in just nine months. What’s the most challenging aspect of the program?
Nicole: It really does! It’s a very fast-paced program. Our goal is to get students working in the field as quickly as possible. The biggest challenge for students is keeping themselves organized so they can stay on top of all the different assignments.
Time management is critical since there are often multiple things to be done. For example, you might have a single assignment to complete, along with a larger project due at a later date, and a test on a recent topic.
Typing speed also becomes quite important, because if you have a lower typing speed it will take longer to get assignments completed. The faster you can improve your speed, the easier it will be to stay on top of the workload.
Organization, time management, and good typing skills are all important for success at work, too. Our Legal Assistant program is an excellent preparation for a real work setting.
Q: What are the most valuable legal assistant skills students learn in your class?
Nicole: I really focus on helping students adapt and apply the skills they learn, so they're fully prepared for all kinds of scenarios at work. For example, we might be working on a new legal document they've never seen before– but I'll help them see that it's quite similar to other documents we've completed before.
I help them make those connections and transfer their skills to new areas, so they can solve problems independently. This is a very valuable skill to have in a legal office, where you're expected to learn quickly and be resourceful.
I ensure students strengthen the logical, critical reasoning side of their brains. They learn when it's appropriate to ask for help and which tasks they can figure out for themselves without involving anyone else.
By the time our students graduate, they are familiar with the main forms and documents handled in the most common areas of law. But they also have the skills to apply that knowledge to other documents and legal areas. This makes them a valuable asset at a law firm.
Q: How deep do you go into legal theory?
Nicole: We cover the most important aspects of the most common types of law. This includes family law, corporate law, wills and estates, litigation, and real estate.
Students learn legal terminology, including Latin legal terms, many of which get used in class during dictation assignments or document preparation.
Most of the legal theory and procedures students learn are related to preparing legal documents. We focus on practical applications of the law - the skills and knowledge they will need to get hired as legal assistants.
Q: Can you give some examples of the legal documents students learn how to prepare in your class?
Nicole: There are too many to name! For many of the courses, we do a final project that involves creating a client file from start to finish. For example, students learn how to handle a client's entire estate. They prepare all the documents related to a separation and a divorce. They complete the purchase and sale of a house. They will also handle preparing a minute book for a corporation.
Some of the documents students prepare include statements of claim and statements of defense, petitions for divorce, wills, transfers of land and mortgages, minutes of a meeting, etc.
Q: Where can a new legal assistant expect to find work after graduation?
Nicole: Most legal assistant graduates find their first job at a law firm. 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. We also have some that work at MPI.
Q: Where do students usually complete their four-week internship? What kinds of tasks are they assigned?
Nicole: We actually work with each student, so they have a say in the type of law office they intern at. If they have a favourite area of law, we try to place them at firms that specialize in that area.
What they do really depends on the type of law they are practising. Common tasks would include filing, answering phone calls, booking meetings, and preparing basic forms or dictation.
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.
Q: How does someone know they’d make a great legal assistant? What qualities are most important?
Nicole: 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.
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, strong conflict resolution skills, and be good at communicating with people from all walks of life.
Check out this post for more tips and advice: Life as a Legal Assistant: Everything You Should Know Before You Begin
Have more questions about Legal Assistant training?
Herzing College Winnipeg offers a nine-month Legal Assistant diploma program. Training includes a four-week internship. This program is available on campus and online.
If you want to learn more, we recommend speaking with an admissions advisor. An advisor can answer any questions you have about admissions, financial aid, class schedules, and how to apply.
Click below to get started. Explore Herzing's Legal Assistant program and chat live with an advisor right now. We're here to help!