As young lawyers navigate the terrain of setting up a successful practice, they eventually find nonbillable duties burden their time. Hours a new layer spends on clerical tasks take away from time spent on building a successful practice. It may be advantageous to look at hiring support staff. A legal practice can employ several types of personnel, depending on its size and type of practice.
A legal administrative assistant, legal assistant or paralegal requires a commitment to increase business overhead. Each level of support, however, can justify the cost by the respective professional’s ability to add value.
Legal administrative assistant
For a beginning lawyer, a qualified administrative assistant, also called a legal management professional, can greet clients, answer phone calls, create and file documents, track time, bill and collect fees, and purchase supplies. Good administrative assistants are familiar with office equipment and procedures, adept at learning new software, and possess excellent writing and proofreading skills. Hiring a strong administrative assistant will require excellent compensation and benefits. Retention of an expert legal administrative assistant will prove its value many times over.
The terms “legal assistant” and “paralegal” have often been interchangeable, but the trend is to separate them. Some state laws specify the education and requirements necessary for the use of each title. At least two years of formal legal training is preferable. A legal assistant’s work is administrative and performed under the supervision of the attorney. The work can overlap with some parts of a paralegal’s function. A legal assistant, guided by a lawyer, prepares legal contracts or other documents and may research materials for trials. The person should have advanced knowledge of legal proceedings and law terms.
A paralegal will have excellent formal education and training in law. One advantage to a young attorney is that he or she can bill for a paralegal’s time, though at a lesser rate. Paralegals have the training to perform tasks usually assumed by the attorney, as long as the attorney provides oversight of the work. A good paralegal will conduct research, prepare advanced legal documents, and assist during closings. The paralegal can interview the firm’s clients as well as potential witnesses. A paralegal must not advise a client or act as an attorney for a client. In some types of law and with state approval, a paralegal may establish and carry out a nonlawyer practice.