What is a Legal Secretary?
A legal secretary is a professional who fills a vital function within law firms or other organizations with a legal focus. Successful legal secretaries are individuals who embrace technological advances, adapt well to change, are flexible, and enjoy learning new things, all in an effort to meet the complexities of the U.S. legal system.
What Do Legal Secretaries Do?
Legal secretaries primarily work in law offices, though they can also be found in government agencies, corporate legal departments, and public interest firms.
As a legal secretary, there are many task you will be asked to perform. Legal secretaries perform essential administrative duties within a law office or other legal setting. What sets them apart from typical administrative assistants is their advanced knowledge of the legal system. While legal secretaries will perform some of the traditional tasks of normal administrative assistants, like answering phones, filing papers, and organizing information, they also take on a much larger role in law offices by performing high-value activities like managing client relationships and drafting important legal documents.
Here is a list of some of the tasks legal secretaries commonly perform while on the job:
- Greet visitors
- Answer and transfer phone calls
- Schedule and arrange meetings and conferences
- Enter and process docket cases, notices of hearings, postponements, reports, and other data into computer files
- Produce legal documents such as pleadings, briefs, complaints, orders, and subpoenas from notes, dictation, shorthand, or other rough drafts
- Transcribe legal dictation, minutes of meetings, conferences, and interviews
- Proofread materials
- Maintain and update system databases
- Receive, sort, log, and distribute incoming mail
- Log and schedule administrative hearings
- Prepare trial notebooks, exhibits, documents, and other materials
- Maintain office inventory and order supplies and equipment
- Maintain attorney calendars
As you can see from this sample list, legal secretaries are highly adaptive professionals who are capable of working to adequately meet tight deadlines. To be successful in this field, you must be self-disciplined and good at time management. You should also possess excellent interpersonal communication and organizational skills. As a legal secretary, you will be tasked with drafting important legal documents. You must have strong writing skills to do this well.
It is important to remember that legal secretary job duties will vary depending on the place of employment, including office environment, firm size, and legal specialty. If you serve as a senior legal secretary, you will be given even more important tasks, including:
- Overseeing the calendar of activities for several attorneys or attorneys within a specific department
- Establishing and revising forms, procedures, and standards for office correspondence
- Serving as a liaison between attorneys and department personnel
- Coordinating the administrative support activities for a legal division
- Serving as a liaison between attorneys and the court system
What is the Difference Between a Paralegal and a Legal Secretary?
Some people make the mistake of using the terms “paralegal” and “legal secretary” interchangeably. While these two professions often intersect, they are actually two very distinct support professionals within a law firm.
Legal secretaries are responsible for most of the administrative duties of a law office, while paralegals are takes with assisting attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Those who become paralegals will possess a deep understanding of the legal system. Individuals who wish to become paralegals must complete an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved formal paralegal program, which can be offered as a certification or a degree, like an associate or bachelor degree. Paralegals often work on case management, including preparing case summaries, researching, and documenting cases. Paralegals often assist attorneys in the courtroom, although they are not legally permitted to give legal advice or represent a client in court.
How Can I Become a Legal Secretary?
There are several ways you can become a legal secretary. One of the best ways to become a legal secretary is to complete a formal Legal Secretary Certificate or Career Diploma Program. A well-constructed program will teach you the skills and knowledge you need to be successful in your chosen career. Legal secretary programs are offered through a vocational, professional, or technical school or college. Legal secretary diploma programs often include between 6 and 12 months of study and practical training, which is intended to prepare the student for tasks he or she will be assigned on the job, including managing office finances, computer skills, and filing court documents. Courses in a program like this will be supplemented by practical experience. A good program will prepare students to take the NALS certification examination once they graduate.
Skills taught within a legal secretary certificate/career diploma program typically include:
- Stress and time management
- Administrative office procedures
- Technologies in the workplace
- Interpersonal communication skills
- Office management
- Using a personal computer and common software platforms
- Legal terminology
- Professionalism, risk management
- Writing, punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization
- Legal research
In addition to a completing a program, you can earn a voluntary professional certification. Though voluntary, many people who wish to become a legal secretary gain certification. This will make you much more marketable because it will show potential employers that you have taken extra steps to learn what you need to know to be successful in this field.
Job Outlook for Legal Secretaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), legal secretaries earn an average salary of $43,200, with the top 10 percent in the profession earning more than $72,890 (Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436012.htm). The top paying cities for legal secretaries include:
- Washington D.C.
- New York
Along with a good salary, legal secretary jobs are widely available. According to the BLS, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations.