Effective January 1, 2001 California Business & Professions Code sections 6450 through 6456 regulate legal assistants. Only persons with the qualifying preparation may call themselves legal assistants, paralegals or any of several other titles specifically included in the law as being equivalents. One such qualifying preparation method is to successfully complete a program of study such as American River College's, which is American Bar Association approved, and provides 30 units of specialized study. The college and the program are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the same accrediting body that accredits the California State University and the University of California campuses.
The law also requires that anyone using the title "Legal Assistant" work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney. Some offices are large, with several attorneys, and the legal assistant may work with one or several of the attorneys. Client contact may be extensive or not, depending on the practice. Some law offices have only a single attorney and a legal assistant.
Legal assistant responsibilities can include office management, reception, and drafting of legal documents for approval by the employing attorney. Law practices may specialize in civil or criminal litigation, transactional work such as real estate and financial dealings, family law, estates and probate, or taxation issues.
Legal assistants do not give legal advice.
Legal assistant skills are also suited for employment in business and government agencies. Responsibilities in such settings include interpreting rules and regulations and monitoring compliance on behalf of the employer.
The types of businesses and organizations that hire legal assistants include:
- Law offices, from sole practitioners to the largest law firms
- Government agencies, such as the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the U. S. Trustee, and the Franchise Tax Board
- Courts, such as the Sacramento Superior and Municipal Courts
Persons with the skills learned in a legal assisting program may find those skills useful for employment in various other settings:
- Corporations, such as Proctor & Gamble and Pacific Gas & Electric
- Financial Institutions, such as Western Farm Credit Bank and The Money Store
- Insurance companies, such as Claims Management, Progressive Insurance Company, and CIGNA
- Land development firms, such as Steel & Nelson and Dunmore Homes
- Health care organizations, such as Eskaton Health Corporation and Mercy Healthcare Sacramento
- Correctional institutions, such as the Sacramento County Jail
- Professional associations, such as the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the California Restaurant Association, and the California Trial Lawyers Association
Career surveys done by both private and government groups indicate that the legal assisting field is expected to be one of the fastest-growing careers.