Home / Career Advice / Job Hunting / Understanding the Difference Between Paralegals and Legal Secretaries

Understanding the Difference Between Paralegals and Legal Secretaries

Two professionals looking through a legal book

The legal field boasts an array of professionals who handle a variety of complex and important tasks. In addition to attorneys, who are licensed to practice law and who represent clients in legal matters, there are several support roles that are necessary for that attorney to excel in their legal practice. Those support roles include paralegals and legal secretaries. It is an undisputed fact that paralegal and legal secretaries play a major part in the legal field, especially in Florida law firms handling complex legal matters and litigation.

Paralegals and legal secretaries are effectively the individuals in the background who are largely responsible for helping attorneys prepare cases, digging through voluminous documents, helping with the filing of court documents, and much more. In fact, here is an overview of some of the most common tasks that paralegal and legal secretaries assist with on a day-to-day basis:

  •    Maintaining an attorney’s daily schedule;
  •    Tracking cases that are in litigation and ensuring important court deadlines are met;
  •    Entering billing data on behalf of the attorney;
  •    Making travel arrangements for the attorney;
  •    Assisting with legal research
  •    Assisting with administrative tasks like returning client phone calls, maintaining office items, etc.

Differences Between Paralegals and Legal Secretaries

Is there a big difference between paralegals and legal secretaries? Yes, quite a bit. Although these professionals sometimes perform similar duties, there are many tasks which are reserved exclusively for one or the other. The following will highlight what each professional does in their daily work environment and qualifications they have to make them a perfect fit for their individual roles.

What Do Paralegals Do?

A paralegal completes a variety of duties, many of which are legal-based in nature. Some of the tasks which paralegals perform include researching case law, drafting legal documents, compiling evidence for trial, and other duties. Paralegals work closely with attorneys to help them get ready for trial and perform intensive law-related duties. These individuals can specialize in specific areas of the law, such as criminal law, family law, and personal injury, and tend to become quite well-versed in that particular area.

Related: How to Become a Paralegal

What Do Legal Secretaries Do?

Legal secretaries have a job role that is more clerical in nature. These professionals may schedule appointments for the attorney, answer phones, perform transcription services, prepare legal documents with information provided by the attorney and paralegal, and take on other tasks as required. Legal secretaries help both the attorney and paralegal complete their work-related goals when needed to do so.

Related: How to Become a Legal Secretary

How Do They Both Help an Attorney Fulfill Their Responsibilities?

The attorney, paralegal, and legal secretary work together to fulfill the many multi-faceted jobs which the law firm performs on a daily basis. Each individual knows their role and performs alongside the other to achieve the common goals of the office. The legal secretary performs the clerical-based duties while the paralegal performs the legal-based duties. This is not to say that a paralegal will not schedule appointments once in awhile or that the legal secretary won’t draft legal documents every so often, however, they both have their distinct roles for the most part. Every attorney is different and will assign tasks to their legal team as they see fit to make each case be carried out in an efficient manner.

Qualifications of Paralegals and Legal Secretaries

The qualifications needed to work as a paralegal and legal secretary often differ. A paralegal sometimes needs a college degree in order to be hired as a paralegal, in addition to a paralegal certificate. As for a legal secretary position, someone straight out of high school can often fill this job role with no higher education requirements needed. The exact qualifications will depend on the law firm and attorney who hires the individual as a paralegal or legal secretary.

How Much Do Paralegals and Legal Secretaries Make?

The salaries of paralegals and legal secretaries will vary depending on the location of the law firm, size of the law firm, duties of the paralegal or legal secretary, and other factors. In general, paralegals often make more than legal secretaries. As for salary estimates produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, a paralegal makes around $50,940 per year, whereas the median annual wage for a legal secretary is $46,360.

Why Paralegals and Legal Secretaries are Essential to the Smooth Working Order of a Law Firm

Legal professionals of all types have very busy jobs. An attorney needs the assistance of paralegals and legal secretaries to help them with a multitude of tasks to ensure that their clients are getting the best possible representation. From family law to real estate law, plentiful documents, extensive research, addressing the needs of clients, filing court documents, and ensuring that all of this is done in a timely manner is a big job. An attorney can’t handle this job alone. It takes the competent assistance of paralegals and legal secretaries to ensure smooth working order of the entire office.

When an attorney has these individuals by their side, they are able to perform their tasks as an attorney and ensure that the proper documents are ready for court, clients have been contacted in a timely manner, research is completed, and the client’s case will be an orderly process from start to finish.