Running a law firm effectively requires collaboration between a number of parties, all of whom must perform their roles effectively in order to ensure that clients receive the highest possible level of service. 

One key role is the legal assistant, a professional who provides a range of services to lawyers to aid them in managing their cases. They may help with essential organization across the law firm, assist with research, and more. 

Below, we’ll dive into what legal assistants do, what you should know before hiring them, and how to decide if your firm needs one.

A legal assistant may serve a number of vital roles within the law firm. Common tasks include:

  • Answering phone calls and making sure that they are directed to the right individual
  • Setting up appointments between attorneys and clients, as well as associates, partners, and other parties
  • Preparing vital documents for legal proceedings
  • Offering help with legal research
  • Organizing paperwork

Legal assistants often take on a variety of tasks simultaneously. They fill needed roles within the firm and ensure that lawyers can spend their time on the tasks that only they can perform.

While legal assistants typically take on primarily administrative tasks, paralegals are generally more focused on the legal side of things.

They may do research for the lawyers in the firm, write contracts and briefs, and handle other essential tasks that are part of the legal process, including:

  • Filing information or exhibits with the court
  • Connecting with clients to gather information
  • Managing paperwork related to a case

While legal assistants may provide some of the same services as paralegals, they are generally more focused on the organizational side of the process. They take on essential tasks that can be completed by someone who does not have the same understanding of the legal system. 

Paralegals, on the other hand, generally focus on managing legal-focused tasks.

According to Indeed, the average salary for a legal assistant is approximately $53,428 per year. A number of factors can influence that salary, including:

  • Location. In some areas, legal assistants are in higher demand than others. Furthermore, some areas of the country have a higher cost of living and pay more as a result.
  • Specific job duties. A legal assistant who is expected to understand the legal process and manage tasks like filling out court paperwork or collecting information from clients may receive a higher salary than one who is only focused on handling organizational tasks around the office. 
  • Experience. An experienced legal assistant will naturally have a higher salary than one who has less experience. Furthermore, a legal assistant who has experience in other areas of the legal field may be in higher demand and draw a higher salary than one who has not worked in the field before.

A lawyer who intends to hire a legal assistant should have a strong understanding of their expectations and the salary they can offer before they begin negotiations. 

If you need a legal assistant for your practice but aren’t sure that you have the work to keep them busy full-time, a freelance legal assistant could be the perfect solution. 

Reduce Costs

You can often cut costs with a freelance legal assistant rather than a full-time legal assistant. You won’t have to pay for their benefits, vacation time, or sick time. 

Furthermore, you’ll be able to focus on the hours when you actually need someone, rather than constantly having someone in the office whether you need them or not. 

Get the Work You Need

For any practice, work ebbs and flows. There will be times when you have work for everyone in the office and times when you don’t have enough work to keep your full-time staff busy. 

When you have a freelance legal assistant working for you, you can tailor their hours to suit the needs of your office. 

Furthermore, a freelance legal assistant may have more general knowledge and experience than a dedicated legal assistant who works with your office alone, which can prove useful when you need someone to take on more responsibility over time. 

Scale Your Practice

Sometimes, you may not know whether a bump in work is temporary or permanent or what it will mean for the future of your practice. 

When you work with a freelance legal assistant, you can easily scale your practice to fit your current needs. If you have the work to support a full-time legal assistant over time, you can then add them to your roster or choose a full-time employee. 

Rules and Ethics to Know

Just as lawyers and paralegals alike must follow a specific set of ethics, often set by the state in which they practice, your practice must also follow a specific set of ethics when hiring legal assistants and setting them work. 

While legal assistants can perform a number of tasks that can help make a lawyer’s life easier and streamline the firm’s day-to-day work, they should not take on tasks that should be performed by the lawyers themselves. 

They should also not take on direct legal work that would normally be performed by paralegals, like creating contracts or submitting documentation to the court. Instead, legal assistants should perform administrative duties in the office. 

Lawyers bear a high standard of care when it comes to protecting their clients’ privacy. 

Legal assistants may often be privy to information or documentation that the clients would not want just anyone to know. Therefore, your firm should make sure that legal assistants maintain the highest degree of integrity and understand both privacy requirements and data protection standards that will allow them to help protect clients’ sensitive information. 

If a legal assistant does breach a client’s privacy, your firm will generally be responsible for any damage caused. 

Often, legal assistants are responsible for taking on many client communications. They may answer phone calls as they come in and may, in fact, be the first point of contact a new client has with the office. 

However, legal assistants should take care not to provide legal advice to anyone they speak to. Instead, they should direct those queries or requirements straight to the attorney. 

While the legal assistant stands as a representative of your practice, they are not authorized to practice law and should not take any steps that could be construed as practicing without a license. 

Legal assistants often serve as essential representatives of your firm. They should maintain a high degree of integrity in all their interactions with clients. 

Furthermore, you may want your legal assistants to maintain that integrity in their outside interactions as well. You may want to have a code of ethics that encompasses anyone who works for your firm: not just the lawyers themselves, but anyone who interacts with clients or helps with the legal process. 

In general, your attorneys should set your office’s fees and handle any negotiations with clients. 

Whether you have a specific fee for completing a task for clients, like an estate planning attorney creating a basic will, or you are a personal injury law firm that takes a percentage of your client’s claim in compensation for the services you have performed, your lawyers should set and negotiate those fees. 

You should not leave these negotiations in the hands of a legal assistant. 

Hiring a legal assistant can be a big step for your firm, especially if you have previously handled all those tasks on your own or worked primarily with a paralegal. 

However, before you make the jump to hiring a legal assistant, there are several things you may want to take into account. 

A legal assistant can perform many vital functions around the office: answering the phones, filing paperwork, taking care of essential organization in the office, and much more. 

In some cases, you may find that you have plenty of work for a single legal assistant or that you have work for more than one legal assistant in your office. In other cases, however, you may not have enough work for a full-time position. 

Carefully consider how many legal assistants you will need to handle those tasks adequately. If you do not have adequate work for a full-time position, you may want to consider a freelance legal assistant, whose hours may be more negotiable. 

Is Your Work Consistent or Variable?

Some law firms find that they have consistent workloads. While there may be some times when your work increases slightly, they are often predictable, and by controlling the number of clients you accept, you may prevent overwork. 

On the other hand, some firms – especially those that are still establishing themselves – may not know how much work they will have from one season to the next. 

If you are dealing with an unpredictable workload or worry that you may not have enough work for a full-time legal assistant, choosing a freelance legal assistant – or a firm that offers legal assistant services – may work better for your needs. 

What is Your Budget?

Any time you bring on a new staff member, you need to carefully consider your budget. Not only do you need to take care of your new legal assistant’s salary, but you may also need to manage:

  • Office space and supplies
  • Benefits
  • Paid time off for vacations and sick leave

Carefully consider whether your budget will support a full-time position and what compensation you are able to offer. If you want top talent, you will need to provide reasonable compensation and a positive work environment. 

In order to ensure the best possible experience as you onboard your new legal assistant, carefully consider what experience you may need from them. 

If you have a lot of paperwork that needs to be taken care of and an employee who can hit the ground running, you may want to choose an experienced legal assistant who has the skills necessary to get your office organized as soon as possible. 

On the other hand, if you have the time to train a new legal assistant from the ground up, you may be able to pay out a lower salary.

In addition, consider whether you will need your new legal assistant to perform tasks like legal research. An experienced legal assistant, or one who has worked in the legal industry before, may be able to learn those skills or adapt them to your firm’s needs more easily than one who has just entered the field for the first time.

Before you onboard your new legal assistant, make sure you have a solid idea of what their job duties will be. 

Write a clear job description and lay out the tasks they will take on each day. While you can adapt the position as time goes on, you want to make sure that you have clear expectations for the new role in your office before you bring someone in.  

Improve Your Firm’s Performance

There are many steps involved in improving your firm’s overall performance, including making sure that you have the right staff for all your needs. A good legal assistant can take a lot of administrative work off your shoulders and keep your firm running smoothly.

At LawRank, we provide legal marketing services, including everything from improving your website’s search ranking to managing your social media accounts. 

If you want to improve your law firm’s performance, bring in more business, and generate qualified leads more effectively, contact us today to learn more.