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Legal Secretary Career Guide

Legal secretaries are different than paralegals even though the terms were once synonymous. Legal secretaries provide administrative support to attorneys and paralegals. Over the past two decades, paralegals and legal secretaries have sought to differentiate themselves from one another. Legal secretaries handle all of the day to day tasks for attorneys, such as setting appointments, scheduling meetings, and maintaining the tickler systems, which are automatic reminder systems used in law firms to remind lawyers and paralegals of important filing dates.

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Legal Secretary Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Legal secretaries provide administrative support under the direction of the attorneys or the paralegals with whom they work. Legal secretaries’ traditional tasks include:

  • Answer phones
  • Dictation
  • Draft memos
  • Schedule appointments
  • Send bills to clients
  • Take charge of incoming and outgoing mail
  • Word processing

How to Become a Legal Secretary: Requirements and Qualifications

Legal secretaries often have previous secretarial experience even if it is not in a law related field. They, unlike paralegals, are not usually required to have as much legal training or certification since they handle mostly administrative matters, such as billing clients and managing the calendar of the attorney for whom they work. Legal secretaries used to have a much more law-oriented role in law offices until the mid-eighties, when paralegals started to distinguish themselves from secretaries (and vice versa) and did less administrative tasks and more tasks that lawyers used to do. This shift in job descriptions allowed lawyers to bill clients less because they no longer had to perform all of the law-related tasks at a lawyer’s rate and left the legal secretary to focus primarily on administrative duties. Most firms require that legal secretaries possess some legal training or equivalent experience and a minimum of a two year degree.

Legal Secretary Job Training

Novice legal secretaries can gain hands-on experience through internships and entry-level employment where they will work under the direct supervision of a seasoned legal secretary, legal assistant, or paralegal.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Legal secretaries should have a strong grasp of basic legal terminology, should have strong computer skills, and should be able to work well under pressure to meet deadlines.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Legal administrative assistant

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Career Opportunities and Employers

With additional education, legal secretaries may advance to such positions as legal assistant or paralegal. Some may opt to go on to law school. Legal secretaries may be employed by law firms, insurance companies, and government agencies.

Legal Secretary Outlook and Salary

Legal SecretaryAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for legal secretaries is $45,030 per year in the United States and the top 10% earn a median salary of $69,360 per year as of 2012.1 Legal secretaries have less room for advancement and are being replaced by paralegals in some cases, making the job market more competitive. The BLS asserts that secretaries and administrative assistants make up one of the largest occupations in the US.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

How has evolving technology impacted legal secretaries?
Because of technology like emails and the internet, attorneys have begun to rely less on secretaries, instead opting to craft their own emails and documents on their own computers. As a result, many law firms, according to the American Bar Association, have begun reducing their support staff, including secretaries.

What kind of hours do legal secretaries generally work?
Secretaries who work in law firms generally work full time. However, because large law firms are cutting back on their support staff, legal secretaries may work for a handful or more lawyers at a time, requiring longer hours and overtime.

Are legal secretaries’ services billed to the client?
No. Only attorney, legal assistant, and paralegal services are billed to clients.

What is the difference between a legal secretary and a paralegal?
In the simplest terms, legal secretaries are primarily responsible for administrative tasks while paralegals, who have more advanced legal education, perform legal tasks, such as drafting motions and corresponding with clients.

Additional Resources

1. Dedicated: The Legal Secretary Journal – An international journal, based in London, for legal secretaries in the United Kingdom and abroad.
2. Legal Secretaries International, Inc. – A professional organization that promotes education and career development opportunities for legal secretaries.
3. National Association for Legal Professionals – A national association that provides networking, education, and certification opportunities for legal professionals.
4. The Legal Secretary, Incorporated – A professional publication for legal secretaries packed with articles relating to the legal profession.

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References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436012.htm
2. American Bar Association: http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/2014/january-february/the-changing-role-of-legal-support-staff.html
3. O’Net Online: http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-6012.00