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Legal Secretary Career Guide

The term legal secretary was once synonymous with the term paralegal, but over time the occupations have become differentiated. While paralegals perform attorney support tasks such as legal research and drafting legal documents, legal secretaries provide administrative support to attorneys and paralegals, focusing on day-to-day tasks such as answering phones, setting appointments, scheduling meetings, and maintaining automatic reminder systems.

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:

  • Answering phones
  • Taking dictation
  • Drafting memos
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Sending bills to clients
  • Taking charge of incoming and outgoing mail

How to Become a Legal Secretary: Requirements and Qualifications

In the mid-1980s, paralegals began to distinguish themselves from secretaries. This shift in job descriptions allowed lawyers to charge clients for fewer billable hours as administrative tasks are considered part of a firm’s overhead, unlike legal tasks which are usually billed directly to clients. Legal secretaries often have previous secretarial experience. Unlike paralegals, legal secretaries are not usually required to have formal legal training or certification since they handle mostly administrative matters, such as billing clients and managing the calendar of the attorney(s) for whom they work.

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

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 US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for legal secretaries was $43,200 per year as of 2015.1 The top 10% earned a median salary of $72,890 per year during the same time period, while the bottom 10% earned a median of $26,760.1 Legal secretaries are being replaced by paralegals in some firms, making the jobs market more competitive.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

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 several 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

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1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages May 2015, Legal Secretaries: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436012.htm