When it comes to working as a construction legal assistant, many people think first of a law firm. But working in this field can build your career in other ways. In addition to working in a law firm, a construction legal assistant has skills transferable to related industries, such as architecture, real estate and property management.
Constructing Your Skill Set
A legal assistant, or paralegal, is likely to possess a bachelor’s degree and a certificate of completion from an American Bar Association–approved paralegal education program. Growing more common is a “hybrid” position that consolidates the duties of a paralegal and legal secretary. Regardless of how the position is styled, the skill set remains the same. In addition to excellent word processing and document preparation skills, you will need to communicate well with attorneys, clients and other professionals with whom you come into contact. You will be expected to learn the relevant terminology, to possess an affinity for working with facts and figures and to have great attention to detail.
Building a Niche for Yourself
Your primary responsibilities as a construction legal assistant include such diverse tasks as reviewing zoning laws, reading blueprints and assisting your supervising attorney with research related to the client’s project. You assist in putting together proposal packets for submission to administrative bodies, which may entail entering data into spreadsheets and preparing graphs and other presentation materials. There are also the usual law office activities of drafting correspondence, fielding phone calls and keeping up with paperwork.
Construction, land use and real estate law often have overlapping areas of interest and may be placed in the same practice group in the law firm, so construction legal assistants should be conversant in these related areas of law. An understanding of real estate contracts and an ability to read title reports and legal descriptions are important components of this work, and you provide the most benefit to your employer as you become increasingly knowledgeable about such specialized concepts as HOAs, partitions and architectural terminology, for example.
Hammering Out the Future
Certification will go far in helping you land a construction legal assistant position or in furthering your career goals. The most sought after assistants are those who can make an immediate contribution through advanced technical proficiency with legal software and systems. And just as experience in a law firm is transferable to related industries, a background in real estate, for example, is transferable to a law firm. Annual salaries can range from a low of $40,000 at small firms to a high of $68,000 at large firms, which was an increase of 2.7 to 3.4 percent over 2012 salaries, according to the Robert Half Legal 2013 Salary Guide. Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects paralegal and legal assistant jobs to increase by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is just above the average for all occupations.
- Kara Stauffer Jordan: Law Firm Administrator, Portland, Oregon
- American Bar Association: Rule 5.3: Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistant
- NALA - The Association for Legal Assistants - Paralegals: Welcome to NALA
- Robert Half: Legal 2013 Salary Guide
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Paralegals and Legal Assistants: Occupational Outlook Handbook
Writing online and print content, Jordan Lane, an attorney and human resources specialist, has expertise in finance, human resources, business, legal, tax and retirement issues, and is conversant in medical issues. Lane also has experience writing about cooking, entertaining and golfing,