What is a legal clerk?
A legal clerk operates within the legal profession, typically supporting lawyers and judges in their work. These individuals act as the backbone of the legal process, aiding in the day-to-day tasks that ensure the smooth operation of legal proceedings. They provide important services, such as conducting research for cases, maintaining legal files, drafting documents, and assisting the administrative needs of an attorney or judge. This position’s value to any legal organization is vital, as many of the basic yet critical tasks are performed by clerks, allowing attorneys to concentrate on the more complicated aspects of the law.
These professionals also assist in a range of practical duties that uphold the integrity of the law. They make sure that all documents and actions comply with legal standards and that a level of detail and thoroughness maintains the accuracy and fairness of legal processes. Their commitment, often behind the scenes, supports the broader team of legal professionals, contributing to the outcomes of cases and ultimately to the delivery of justice.
Duties and responsibilities
A legal clerk’s duties include managing various administrative tasks, such as filing, photocopying, composing letters, and scheduling meetings. They are responsible for inputting and maintaining information in databases and case management systems. They must keep each file organized to allow easy access to case materials when needed.
They are also tasked with drafting documents under the supervision of an attorney. This could include writing briefs, wills, contracts, or even affidavits. Not only do they prepare these materials, but these professionals are also expected to proofread and edit them accordingly. Clerks might conduct legal research under the direction of an attorney, gathering information on relevant case law, regulations, or legal articles that can be used in a case.
Legal clerks usually work within an office environment. With a wide range of settings, they can be found in law firms, government agencies, corporate legal departments, or courtrooms. It’s a professional environment where attention to detail, discretion, and a deep understanding of legal procedures are essential. They are expected to interact with all levels of personnel within the legal profession, including partners, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals, and other clerks.
Typical work hours
Standard work hours for a legal clerk are typically 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. However, during busy periods or when there are impending deadlines, extended hours might be required. Clients’ needs or the timing of court sessions may also prompt some variation in their schedule from time to time. It’s also not uncommon for some clerks to work part-time or on a flexible schedule.
How to become a legal clerk
This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a legal clerk. The key steps involve acquiring skills through education and gaining practical experience.
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma
The first step is obtaining a high school diploma. This is typically the minimum education requirement for most legal clerical positions. It provides the basis for more advanced study in English, government, and social sciences, which is useful in understanding the legal field.
Step 2: Consider post-secondary education
Though not a strict requirement, some prospective clerks may wish to pursue post-secondary education. This could be an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, paralegal studies, or law. These programs offer in-depth knowledge about the legal system, which can benefit this career.
Step 3: Gain practical experience
Office experience, especially in the legal profession, is valuable for this role. This can be obtained through internships or volunteer work at law firms, courts, or other legal institutions. Practical experience helps develop essential skills like organization, communication, and understanding legal documents and procedures.
Step 4: Attend vocational training or certification programs
Several vocational schools or community colleges offer certification programs for clerks. These programs provide specialized education tailored to the demands of a legal office environment. They include courses in business communication, computer skills, legal office procedures, and other relevant topics.
Step 5: Apply for entry-level positions
After gaining the necessary education and experience, the final step is to apply for entry-level legal clerk positions. These positions serve as stepping stones, allowing newcomers to familiarize themselves with the daily workings of a law office and gain experience before moving on to more advanced roles.
How much do legal clerks make?
Legal clerk salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Additional factors, such as the complexity of the cases being handled by the firm and their knowledge of specialized areas of law, may significantly impact the salary.
Highest paying industries
- Federal Executive Branch – $60,410
- Securities and Commodity Contracts – $57,220
- Natural Gas Distribution – $56,060
- Monetary Authorities – $54,700
- Electric Power Generation – $54,170
Highest paying states
- Alaska – $57,160
- Washington – $54,060
- Connecticut – $52,930
- New Jersey – $51,850
- Massachusetts – $51,240
Types of legal clerks
Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for legal clerks. This section aims to guide you in understanding these specializations and how they fit into the various aspects of the legal field.
Document management clerk
Usually found in law firms or the legal departments of large corporations, document management clerks are responsible for organizing and maintaining legal documents. They establish efficient document filing systems, ensuring that documents can be accessed easily. Their work is crucial when documents are required for court cases or legal consultations. This role demands exceptional organizational skills, attention to detail, and a solid understanding of legal documentation.
A highly specialized role within the legal industry, litigation clerks assist lawyers in preparing for trials. They’re often tasked with drafting legal documents such as pleadings and motions, researching relevant laws, and collating evidentiary documents. Working in this role requires strong research skills, knowledge of court procedures, and the ability to work under pressure.
Court clerks play a critical role in the administrative functioning of the court system. Their key duties include maintaining court records, administering oaths to witnesses and jurors, and managing court schedules. Some may also assist judges in their day-to-day tasks. To be successful in this role, strong administrative skills, excellent communication abilities, and a detailed understanding of court systems are necessary.
Real estate clerk
In real estate law, real estate clerks facilitate transactions. This involves preparing essential paperwork, coordinating with various parties involved in the transaction, conducting title searches, and ensuring compliance with local laws. This role requires sound knowledge of property laws, good coordination skills, and meticulous attention to detail for document review.
Corporate legal clerk
Within corporate settings, the corporate legal clerk’s role involves handling legal matters related to the organization. Their duties may include drafting corporate policies, preparing legal contracts, maintaining corporate records, and offering administrative support for legal activities. The ability to interpret legal language, strong organizational skills, and expertise in corporate law is crucial for this role.
Top skills for legal clerks
This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a legal clerk.
Clear and effective speaking, listening, and writing abilities are vital. Ensuring accurate messages are relayed between clients, attorneys, and court officials promotes smooth legal operation and helps prevent misunderstandings.
Due to the meticulous nature of their work, a good sense of organization is critical. They manage and retrieve legal documents, schedule appointments, and maintain organized case files. Efficient organization enables them to rapidly find needed documents, saving precious time in this fast-paced industry.
Attention to detail
Close attention to detail is paramount as they handle vital legal documents. Overlooking minor details can lead to major legal repercussions; thus, they must accurately review and process legal papers such as lawsuits, depositions, and subpoenas.
In this profession, strong research abilities are a significant advantage. They often aid attorneys in preparing for trials, settlements, or hearings by researching legal articles, laws, and judicial decisions.
Knowledge in legal terminology
Understanding legal jargon and principles is crucial to this job. Familiarity with legal terminology eases communication with other professionals in the field and helps in understanding and drafting legal documents.
Legal clerk career path options
Embarking on a career path as a legal clerk can open doors to various professional opportunities in the legal sector. Initially, they often support attorneys by maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents. Over time, they can acquire valuable legal knowledge, practical skills, and professional contacts, which may lead to upward mobility in the legal field.
Become a paralegal
One common path that many clerks take is to become paralegals. In this role, responsibilities expand to include more direct support for the attorneys at a firm, such as assisting with trial preparation, drafting legal documents, and interacting with clients. Paralegals often specialize in a particular legal field, meaning that a legal clerk’s prior experience can play a significant part in determining the area of law in which they’ll advance.
Attain law school admission
For some, the clerk position is a stepping stone toward law school and becoming a practicing attorney. The knowledge gained, and relationships developed can significantly benefit prospective law school students, with the experience greatly aiding their applications and increasing their chances of admission.
Advance to legal executive positions
A third career trajectory often pursued is that of a legal executive. Legal executives hold administrative and management roles in a law firm, government agency, or corporate setting. The pathway to such a position often includes a combination of substantial experience in the legal field, a strong educational background, and exemplary professional performance.
Transition to compliance roles
The skills and knowledge accumulated as a clerk can also be integral to transitioning into a compliance role. Compliance officers, for example, are responsible for ensuring that an organization complies with relevant laws and regulations. This career trajectory provides a dynamic option, often involving working in various industries and sectors.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for legal clerks
The legal clerk job field has greatly evolved with the introduction of technology, shifting from traditional secretarial duties to a more technologically advanced position. Today, these professionals utilize numerous software applications to manage and organize a vast amount of documentation effortlessly. This trend of technological innovation is set to increase further, allowing for a faster and more efficient workflow for those in the profession.
The industry is heavily influenced by economic fluctuations. During periods of economic stability, there’s a higher demand for legal services, which translates to increased opportunities for clerks. On the contrary, when there is an economic downturn, the demand decreases. As a result, those in the profession must adapt to the changes in demand and requirements by employers. This includes having a flexible skill set relevant to varying economic climates, ranging from familiarity with legal software to basic administrative tasks.
Further influencing the role is increased specialization in legal procedures. Firms are now seeking clerks who exhibit a profound understanding of their specialized area of law. This aspect pushes the necessity for continuous learning and skills upgrading. Individuals interested in this profession must show commitment to professional development to meet the evolving needs of law firms.
According to the latest projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of legal clerks is expected to grow 14 percent through 2031. While technological efficiencies may reduce demand for some routine legal tasks, their essential function should preserve demand for this role. Higher demand is especially expected in healthcare and litigation, fuelled by the increasing complexity of these sectors.
Legal clerk career tips
Understand and embrace the role’s dynamics
This role can vary greatly depending on the firm’s size, clients, and cases it handles. It is important to be flexible and open to the multifaceted aspects of the task. You should be ready to handle diverse responsibilities, from research, document preparation, file management, and client correspondence to case coordination. Adapting to different routines and cases can make you indispensable to your employer.
Master your research skills
In a legal environment, research is a valuable skill. Mastering this skill can significantly boost your career. Quickly and accurately locating legal precedents, court decisions, legal articles, laws, and other legal documents is a fundamental requirement in this role. Enhance your research skills by taking courses or workshops on legal research and writing.
Familiarize yourself with legal terminology
Legal documents can be difficult to comprehend due to the specific terminology used. Knowing and understanding the language used in these documents is essential. Regularly staying in touch with legal vocabulary, perhaps by keeping a dictionary handy or using online reference tools, can be very beneficial.
You come across delicate and confidential information when working in this role. Knowing how to handle and keep this information confidential is not just about professionalism but also legal requirements. Observance of client-lawyer confidentiality shows integrity and can help build trust with your employers and clients.
Build a professional network
Creating professional connections within the legal field can benefit your current position and long-term career growth. Networking can expose you to new opportunities and expand your knowledge. Participation in legal forums, both online and offline, can help you create these valuable connections.
- American Bar Association
- Association for Legal Professionals
- International Paralegal Management Association
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
Continual learning and professional development
The legal field is dynamic, with laws, legal processes, and strategies always evolving. Encouraging continuous learning is key to staying competitive and moving forward in your career.
- Attend professional workshops to enhance your skills
- Pursue short-term courses in your free time
- Engage in online training sessions and seminars
- Stay updated with legal publications and journals
Having a certification not only advances your skills but also enhances your credibility in the eyes of potential employers. In line with your career goals, look for certifications that will give you an edge when looking for better opportunities.
- Certified Paralegal (CP) from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Registered Paralegal (RP) from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
Where the legal clerk jobs are
- Jones Day
- Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
- Latham & Watkins
- Kirkland & Ellis
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
- New York
Top job sites
What qualifications are necessary to be a legal clerk?
Most employers prefer a combination of post-secondary education in law or legal studies and some level of prior work experience in a legal environment. Skills in computer applications, such as word processing and legal research software, are also a plus.
What type of duties does a legal clerk position typically involve?
Tasks often involve assisting lawyers in preparing for trials, hearings, or meetings. This may include organizing case files, conducting legal research, and preparing legal documents. They might also correspond with clients and handle administrative duties like answering phones or filing paperwork.
Are there any special skills needed for legal clerks?
Apart from education and experience, excellent organizational skills, attention to detail, and good written and verbal communication abilities are crucial. Familiarity with legal terminology and processes is highly beneficial.
What are the working hours like for legal clerks?
Working hours can vary, but standard office hours from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, are typical. Additional hours may be necessary during busy periods or leading up to a trial.
Is it stressful to be a legal clerk?
Like any job, it can be stressful at times. This happens especially during busy periods when multiple cases are being handled simultaneously. However, good time management and organizational skills can significantly reduce stress levels.
Will I need to interact with clients regularly as a legal clerk?
Yes, client interaction is often a part of the job. This might involve interviewing clients to gather case details or communicating about case progress or legal documents. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are important to do this effectively.
Is there any room for advancement in a legal clerk position?
Yes, with gained experience and proven abilities, there’s a chance for advancement. Some have been promoted to paralegal positions or even worked their way up to legal assistant roles with more responsibilities. Taking additional courses or getting professional certifications can also boost career progression prospects.
How important are computer skills for legal clerks?
Computer skills are very important. They are routinely required to use computer programs to write reports, perform legal research, and communicate with clients. Familiarity with legal research software and document management systems can be particularly useful in this role.
Is ongoing education or professional development important for legal clerks?
Yes, ongoing education and professional development are valuable. Laws and legal procedures can change, and staying updated is important. Further, pursuing additional qualifications or certifications can open up more opportunities and help in career advancement.
Is being a legal clerk a good job for someone who prefers working quietly on their own?
While some tasks can be done independently, including research and document preparation, there’s also a fair amount of interaction with lawyers, other staff, and clients. However, the balance between solitary and interactive tasks can vary depending on the specific role and employer’s expectations.