If you’re hoping to build experience in the legal field while also honing your administrative skills and experience, a legal assistant role could be a great point of entry. Not only will you be able to put your administrative skills to the test in a fast-paced working environment – you’ll get on-the-ground insight into the day-to-day business of a law office. It’s demanding work, but the rewards can be serious, both financially and in terms of your professional development.
But all this means that legal assistant jobs can be competitive. This is particularly true among applicants who hope to build more specialized legal careers of their own someday. Having prior legal assistant work on your resume can be a huge asset when it comes to applying for law school programs or first jobs in law – which means you may have to really fight other candidates for the job you want.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. This helpful guide to interviewing for legal assistant roles will give you the advantage you need to stand out from your competitors. We’ll give you the insight you need into the questions you could be asked at a legal assistant interview, as well as some advice on how to give the answers that hiring managers will want to hear.
In this article, we’ll cover the following points:
Legal assistants aren’t the same as paralegals, in that they don’t usually take on specialized legal work on behalf of attorneys. Instead, they support attorneys by carrying out administrative work. Tasks like diary management, document organization, and client communications can all fall within the remit of a legal assistant.
No two legal assistant roles are exactly the same, and most law firms have different expectations of their legal assistants. In particular, some legal assistants may be asked to carry out basic legal research – though this is usually only the case for people who have been trained appropriately. But in general, as a legal assistant, you’ll be expected to pick up any administrative tasks that will enable attorneys to work more efficiently and focus on their billable tasks.
Because legal work is so specialized – and so high-stakes! – specialist training can be an advantage when applying for legal assistant roles. Many firms will look for candidates who have an associate’s degree or certification from a legal assistant program; these programs will usually teach basic legal terminology and principles, as well as standard office procedures for law firms. However, it’s perfectly possible to find work as a legal assistant with a bachelor’s degree, provided you’re willing to train on the job.
Interviews for legal assistant roles will likely involve a mixture of behavioral and situational questions. These are designed to test how suitable – and prepared – you are for the role. You may also be asked to take a short test or perform a short exercise, such as prioritizing a list of office tasks, which will then form a basis for discussion at your interview.
To help you prepare for your interview, we’ve compiled a list of common interview questions for aspiring legal assistants. We’ve even written up some example answers, which you can draw on as you think about your own relevant experience. Remember, though, that hiring managers will want to hear from you, not us – make sure you answer the questions in your own voice, speaking to your own work history and skills!
It’s also important to remember that you can prepare yourself for your interview in other ways. Make sure you reread the job description before arriving at your interview, for example, and think about how you’ve demonstrated the qualities it’s asking for in the past. This will help you to think of ways you can answer the questions you’ll face.
People say that the law is a living thing – it’s always subject to change and growth. As a legal assistant, you’ll need to stay up to date with any new developments in the field, as they might have a real impact on your day-to-day work. Hiring managers will want to see that you’re able to stay alert to new information, and adapt to it accordingly.
But this question is also about your research skills, and your ability to learn and grow on the job. How proactive are you in making sure that you take in all the information available to you? How seriously do you take your professional growth?
Answering this question well means answering both of those implied questions, too. Show that you’re invested enough in your field to seek out news and developments, and hiring managers will believe that you can conduct thorough and diligent research from day to day, as well. Show that you’re willing to learn new things and respond to them appropriately, and your interviewers will see that you’re capable of taking in new information on the job, too.
Example answer: “I’m passionate about the law, and have always made an effort to read up on new developments in my free time. I’m subscribed to several industry publications, and I’m an avid reader of law blogs which discuss the impacts of any new developments in the industry. I also love seeking out informed and insightful commenters on social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn – it’s a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of what fellow professionals think about legal news.”
Legal assistants are often on the front lines of client communications, which means that a certain level of customer service skills will be a great help. But clients working with legal professionals are usually clients under some form of pressure – and they may be prone to taking out that pressure on you, especially when you have to deliver challenging news. That’s why hiring managers will be keen to find out how you cope when faced with difficult clients in previous roles.
Remember, you don’t need to have prior legal assistant experience to answer this question. Angry clients can be found across almost all industries, and approaches to dealing with them tend to be pretty consistent. If you’ve never worked in the legal field before, talk about your particular experience in whatever roles you’ve held in the past – and, if you can, consider how you might apply that experience in a legal assistant role.
This answer is an opportunity to showcase your customer service and communication skills – both of which are vital for any administrative role. Make sure you focus on your experience of using both to smooth over difficult situations at work!
Example answer: “While I’ve never worked as a legal assistant before, my previous role as a personal assistant to a CEO brought me into contact with many frustrated members of the public. I learned how to assert boundaries on my employer’s behalf, while still making it clear how highly we valued our disgruntled clients. I would always try to find effective compromises with them, so that they would leave our conversations feeling as though their concerns had been taken seriously.”
In the legal industry, sensitive information needs to be treated with extreme care. The consequences for mishandling sensitive information range from evidence being rendered inadmissible to serious damage being done to an attorney’s professional reputation. If you want to find work as a legal assistant, you’ll need to prove to hiring managers that you have the skills necessary to handle sensitive information with the delicacy it demands.
Those skills include personal organization and legal awareness. While it’s important to show how you worked to keep information private where necessary, it’s also vital to show that you understood why that privacy was needed. If you can show that you understand the consequences of carelessness with sensitive information, hiring managers are more likely to take you seriously as a prospective legal assistant.
Remember that this question explicitly asks you to draw on your past work experience. If you can refer to specific times when you’ve had to deal with sensitive information, your answer will seem much more credible to your interviewers.
Example answer: “As a personal assistant, I was responsible for managing my employer’s email correspondence, which meant I was able to read a lot of confidential information about the company. Obviously that information needed to stay within the company to avoid legal violations and protect the company’s reputation. I always took care to follow best practices for data protection, including locking my computer screen when away from my desk and only accessing my workplace’s systems on secure internet connections. In the office, when I had to deal with letters and printed emails containing sensitive information, I would personally ensure that they were stored safely when not in use, and that they were disposed of in the shredder rather than the recycling.”
We’ve all made mistakes at work, even if we’d rather not admit to it! Everyone makes mistakes – but not everyone knows how to handle them with accountability and honesty, both of which are crucial qualities in a legal office. If you can show that you know how to own, fix, and learn from your mistakes, you’re guaranteed to impress your interviewer.
Think about a time when you were able to really own a mistake, taking accountability for your actions and working efficiently to set it right. Remember, efficiency is as important as honesty in this scenario – when working for a busy attorney, you should do what you can to set any mistakes right before they have a direct impact on your employer. You should aim to show hiring managers that you can handle yourself without needing excessive direction from day to day.
Crucially, you shouldn’t be embarrassed when digging into your past mistakes! This question is asking you to point out and celebrate the ways in which you rectified a mistake. That should be your focus, and you should take pride in it.
Example answer: “In my previous role as a personal assistant, I once scheduled two meetings at the same time. They were pretty important meetings – one with a very busy C-suite executive within the company, and one with an important client. As soon as I realized the mistake, I contacted the executive’s PA to reschedule that meeting; I didn’t want to inconvenience the client, so I hoped that we could find a new slot in the executive’s diary instead. Fortunately, we could, and both meetings were able to go ahead within the week. I owned the mistake from the beginning, and worked as quickly and discreetly as I could to rectify it – I’m still proud of that today.”
A difficult boss is one of the most common challenges you’ll face as an admin professional. In particular, legal assistants have to work very closely with attorneys. It’s never guaranteed that you will get along easily with every attorney you work with – so you’ll need to be able to show that you can keep things efficient and professional, whatever your personal feelings.
Remember, this isn’t an opportunity to lay into a former boss! If anything, you should minimize any challenges you faced in working with a difficult employer in the past. Be understanding of their stresses and frustrations, and explain how you worked to minimize them to the extent that you could.
Example answer: “Having worked as a personal assistant for three years, I can honestly say that my boss was great to work for! Of course, as a CEO, he was often quite tense and stressed, but I understood that helping to manage those stressors was part of my job. I took real pride in anticipating those stressors and doing what I could to minimize them while I worked for him, which I know he appreciated.”