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What to Look for When Hiring a Legal Assistant

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on January 06, 2016 12:06 PM

Finding the right legal assistant for your law firm may not be as easy as you think. The position of legal assistant or paralegal may attract job-seekers with any combination of skills and professional competencies. When hiring for the position, what do you look for?

First, Get the Name Right

Once upon a time, the term 'paralegal' and 'legal assistant' referred to two different jobs. However, the National Association of Legal Assistants together with the ABA declared that forthwith the two terms were (probably) interchangeable.

There still isn't universal agreement on this point. My preference is to reserve the term paralegal for someone who is a certified paralegal. That too is something you can look for when searching for "legal help."

Aside from getting the name right, here are the two most important things to consider when hiring:

  • Experience: Look for a broad range of experiences including familiarity with local court rules (eg., San Francisco), scheduling, etc. Be picky about this. The less on-the-job-training you have to do, the better. For example, I joined an office that had a legal assistant working at the front desk assisting several attorneys. Everybody liked this person, but it became apparent over time that she just did not have the requisite experience. Had she a few months more experience before going into the job, she would have probably been an excellent assistant. Unfortunately, the volume of the work necessitating the office's finding someone else.
  • Technical Skills: Technology is here to stay and paralegals are either on the front lines or they are being blown away by law firm software. If you can, find someone who knows law firm software well. This will save you time and allow you to find more clients. If possible, search for applicants who have social media dashboard experience. He or she can assist you by expanding your presence online. Additionally, look for someone who can handle case management software, forms, motions, and the more routine scheduling issues. You should handle the briefs, of course. You should include this in your list of duties.
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