Simply open a newspaper or pull up a news site on the computer, and it becomes clear that lawsuits are a way of life in our world today. With so many suits being filed, how can lawyers keep up? They need plenty of help from paralegals and legal secretaries.
Working as a paralegal or legal secretary
Paralegals, sometimes known as legal assistants, are an integral part of most law practices. They do in-depth research for attorneys, draft documents, write reports, maintain and organize files, and handle a variety of other tasks that support the needs of attorneys. Specific duties might vary depending upon whether a paralegal works for a small or large firm, as well as the area of law in which they work.
Legal secretaries work under the supervision of a paralegal or attorney in drafting legal documents, performing research, verifying information in legal briefs, and more. They also tend to all the secretarial work required of the position, including taking messages, scheduling appointments and meetings, handling mail, maintaining file systems, basic bookkeeping, and the like. Just as with a paralegal position, legal secretaries might have other duties depending upon the area of law and the size of the firm.
Legal secretary or paralegal career information
Though most secretaries can begin work without formal education, those who intend to work as legal secretaries can enroll in programs that may help prepare them for work in the legal field. These programs are often available through community colleges and trade schools. Some employers might seek out those who have earned an associate or bachelor's degree in management, administration or a similar field of study. Legal Secretaries International offers the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation, which requires five years of legal experience and passing a comprehensive exam.
Working as a paralegal requires completion of the associate or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies, and for those who have already earned a bachelor's degree in another field, a paralegal certificate program may be sufficient. Earning voluntary certification through the Association for Legal Professionals or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations may offer some qualified paralegals an advantage at hiring time.
Legal secretary and paralegal salaries
The BLS reports a decline of 3 percent in the job outlook for legal secretaries from 2012 to 2022. This is attributed to many law firms now delegating the work of legal secretaries to paralegals and legal assistants. The paralegal career outlook is good, however, with expected job growth of 17 percent from 2012 through 2022. Those with formal education, strong computer and database management skills and experience in the job are expected to see the best prospects. Those with experience in high-demand practice areas could also see a hiring boost.
- Legal Secretaries, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2013/may/oes436012.htm
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2013/may/oes232011.htm
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm
- Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm