In the world of legal practice, the fundamental skills of a legal assistant are the key determinant to their success and that of the operations of a firm’s efficiency and support capabilities.

In my work as a Chief Innovation Officer, I’ve had to navigate building an efficient practice that leverages all the technology and skillsets expected of a modern firm, and I’ve learned a thing or two about the distinct role legal assistants play.

From legal research and organizational prowess to precise attention to detail and strong communication, these competencies serve as the backbone for a thriving law firm environment.

I’ve worked with legal assistants for years, so I thought I’d put together this guide to offer practical insights into honing these skills and how to brush up on new ones to keep improving in your professional career.

We’ll also be examining how you can improve your resume and drive your career forward to success through continuous professional development.

Skills every legal assistant should have

As the linchpin between legal professionals and efficient workflow, legal assistants must possess a core set of competencies.

From conducting rigorous legal research and writing to maintaining impeccable organizational skills, attention to detail, effective communication, and adeptness with technology, these foundational abilities are paramount.

In my experience operating a law firm, the following skills not only define the success of a legal assistant, but also help contribute significantly to the overall effectiveness and profitability of the legal practice.

Organizational skills

The legal field often involves handling a multitude of tasks simultaneously. Legal assistants must excel in organizational skills to efficiently manage deadlines, court filings, and client communications. Demonstrating the ability to stay organized in a fast-paced environment is a key attribute that law firms look for in potential hires.

Attention to detail

In the legal profession, precision is paramount. Legal assistants prepare and proofread legal documents, contracts, and correspondence. A keen eye for detail ensures accuracy and minimizes the risk of errors, which is crucial in maintaining the integrity of legal proceedings.

Communication skills

Clear and effective communication is fundamental in the legal field. Legal assistants must be able to communicate professionally with clients, court personnel, and colleagues. Whether it’s drafting emails, talking to clients on the phone, or participating in meetings, strong communication skills are a must.

Technology proficiency

The modern legal landscape relies heavily on technology. Legal assistants should be comfortable using legal software, case management systems, and other technology tools. Being tech-savvy streamlines workflow and demonstrates adaptability in a technology-driven legal environment.

Understanding of legal terminology and documentation

Working with attorneys requires understanding how they speak. As a legal assistant, the most challenging part of learning how to work with attorneys will be understanding what they mean when they ask you to draft a subpoena duces tecum, a motion in limine, or to research whether res judicata applies to the client’s case. In any event, you will have to learn what these words mean, and you can start with resources available online, such as a court glossary or free legal dictionaries.

Be a juggernaut of activity

Part of any role within a law firm includes managing a vast amount of information in a whirlwind of chaos. When deadlines pile up, and the workflow gets heavy, top legal assistants work flawlessly under pressure and manage numerous cases simultaneously. Being able to multitask is a crucial skill for legal assistants, and if you don’t walk in the door with that ability, you will learn quickly why it is so essential. Most firms are willing to train legal assistants to get to this level, but knowing how to do so before being hired increases your value as a new employee.

Practical tips for enhancing your resume

Building the foundational technical and professional skills necessary to become an exceptional legal assistant takes time and practice. Whether you are a seasoned legal assistant or a rookie looking to land your first post, here are some strategies for enhancing your resume and landing your dream job.

Tailor your overall job package to the job

Great legal assistants do not work on autopilot; they know every project requires care and customization. Show the recruitment and hiring team that you know that through your actions. One-size-fits-all resumes rarely cut through the competitive legal job market.

Tailor your job package (resume, cover letter, etc.) to align with the specific requirements of each job application. Adjusting, for instance, your resume to better show that you have the desired skills mentioned directly in a job ad.

Don’t be afraid to copy and use some of the exact language the hiring team used in their job ads in your application materials.

Highlight the most relevant experiences and skills to the position, showcasing your suitability.

Demonstrate with your actions that you aren’t a copy-and-paste drone and care enough about the role to customize your job application.

Don’t be afraid to showcase your achievements and responsibilities

There’s a delicate balance between being a braggart and highlighting your accomplishments. Of course, you do not want to come off like an egomaniac.

Most people are so worried about looking braggadocious that they don’t take advantage of the opportunity to talk themselves up.

A route listing of prior jobs and job duties is a big opportunity missed. Don’t be afraid to showcase your achievements and contributions in previous roles. Did you streamline a document management system?

Were you instrumental in a successful case outcome? What were the biggest challenges you learned to overcome?

Highlighting specific accomplishments gives potential employers tangible evidence of your capabilities, as well as demonstrating that you take pride in your work will impress any hiring team.

Emphasize continuing education and technical skills

As a legal secretary,  you will likely produce legal deliverables differently than a paralegal, law clerk, or associate. But everyone on a legal team should be aware that the legal field is ever-evolving and should understand at least some parts of the legal production process.

Law firms value candidates who are committed to staying abreast of industry changes. Include relevant continuing education courses, certifications, or workshops on your resume.

This demonstrates your dedication to professional development and keeping your skills current.

Beat resume filter software by strategically utilizing keywords in your application

Many law firms use applicant tracking systems to screen application packages and resumes.

Software screen and remove applications that don’t conform to a preset of rules, for example, removing applicants whose application materials do not contain specific keywords that the law firm programmed into the software as important.

To beat the system, incorporate relevant keywords from the job description to ensure your resume makes it through this initial phase. This helps your resume get noticed and demonstrates your familiarity with the position’s specific requirements.

Some keywords include:

Be sure to continuously research these systems and do more in-depth research on current best practices regarding keyword utilization, as this topic is constantly evolving.

Be concise!

Legal professionals are busy people. Recruitment teams at law firms are sometimes inundated with thousands of resumes for one legal assistant position.

To capture the attention of the recruitment team, you’ll want to get to the point quickly. A standard resume tip, for instance, is to try to fit all relevant details into one page. That requires precision and planning while you write your resume.

Keep your biggest accomplishments or skills towards the top of your resume and any weaknesses towards the middle. Finish with more strengths to give them a great overall impression of your abilities.

Make the layout easy to read, but don’t leave so much space that you struggle to get everything on paper. Use passive voice when describing your past job duties.

Conclusion

Becoming a standout legal assistant requires essential skills and a well-crafted resume.

By honing key competencies such as legal research, organization, attention to detail, communication, and technology proficiency and strategically enhancing your resume with tailored content, achievements, and relevant experiences, you can be a top candidate in the competitive legal job market.

Remember, continuous learning and adaptability are keys in a constantly evolving field, so stay proactive in your professional development to ensure a successful and fulfilling career as a legal assistant.

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