What is a legal secretary?
A legal secretary is a specialized administrative assistant who plays a key role in supporting lawyers and legal executives. Found mostly in law firms, corporations, and government agencies, they ensure that the legal office runs smoothly. They maintain organizational efficiency by providing comprehensive clerical and administrative support. These secretaries assist in intricate legal processes and enhance lawyer-client relationships by acting as intermediaries.
These professionals deeply understand legal documentation, court systems, and language. They significantly influence the productivity of a legal firm by relieving lawyers of routine paperwork and enabling them to focus on case preparation and representation. Secretaries play an essential role in the legal framework, working on the front lines of law practices and providing the first impression of legal firms to clients and visitors.
Duties and responsibilities
A legal secretary handles various tasks, ranging from administrative duties to legal assistance. They maintain the firm’s calendar by scheduling appointments, managing case timelines, and alerting attorneys of approaching deadlines. They may also coordinate travel arrangements for attorneys. These professionals handle client communications, pass messages to attorneys, and update clients on case progress.
They produce, format, and proofread all types of legal documents, including pleadings, contracts, court forms, and deposition notices. They also manage legal correspondence with clients, attorneys, and courts. Secretaries also assist in the preparation of case files and legal research. They’re responsible for filing systems, keeping client files organized, and ensuring the information is accurate and current.
Most legal secretaries work in law offices, while others may find positions in government agencies or corporate legal departments. The work environment is typically office-based, requiring sitting for extended hours to complete tasks. It demands continuous interaction with lawyers, legal professionals, and clients, both in-person and through digital platforms. As they deal with sensitive information, professionalism, ethical conduct, and confidentiality are fundamental parts of their work environment.
Typical work hours
Relatively, legal secretaries adhere to a standard 40-hour workweek, often active during normal business hours from Monday to Friday. However, the nature of legal work may entail additional hours, particularly during busy periods or when significant deadlines approach. Consequently, they may need to stay late or work extra hours to finish pressing tasks or urgent filings. Flexibility is an attribute inherent in this role.
How to become a legal secretary
This career guide section outlines the steps to becoming a legal secretary. The key steps in this path include getting the proper educational credentials, developing relevant skills, and undertaking practical experience.
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent
A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum education requirement for most legal secretary positions. This level of education provides foundational skills in reading, writing, and computer usage, which are vital in a legal environment.
Step 2: Enroll in a legal secretary program or legal studies degree
While not always required, some individuals choose to pursue a degree in legal studies or enroll in a legal secretary program. These specialized programs offer coursework that covers basic legal concepts, office procedures, and relevant software programs.
Step 3: Develop legal terminology and processes knowledge
Understanding legal terminology and procedures is integral to this role. This knowledge can be gained through coursework, internships, or on-the-job training. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer certificate programs in legal studies that can teach these skills.
Step 4: Participate in an internship
Internships, whether paid or unpaid, provide valuable hands-on experience and can often be essential for securing employment. Interns work under the guidance of experienced legal professionals, which allows the learning of industry-specific strategies and techniques.
Step 5: Acquire necessary computer skills
Secretaries need to be proficient in various software programs, including but not limited to word processing, spreadsheets, email, and legal research software. These skills can be learned through school or free online training programs.
Step 6: Seek employment
Entry-level positions can be found at law firms, government agencies, and corporations’ legal departments. It’s recommended to prepare a professional resume, highlighting any relevant skills, education, and experience to make oneself attractive to potential employers.
Step 7: Consider certification
Certification, while not mandatory, can enhance career prospects. The National Association for Legal Professionals offers professional certifications for secretaries, which require passing an examination and potentially some work experience, depending on the desired certification level.
Step 8: Pursue continuous learning opportunities
The legal field is continuously evolving, making it important for these professionals to stay updated on changes in law, legal procedures, and technology. This can be accomplished by attending workshops, training programs, or relevant courses.
How much do legal secretaries make?
Legal secretary salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Within this role, experience in various legal fields, the stature and size of the law firm or organization, and proficiency in specialized legal software play significant roles in influencing compensation.
Highest paying industries
- Security and Brokerage – $86,500
- Computer Systems Design – $84,950
- Insurance and Employee Benefit Funds – $80,450
- Other Support Services – $79,370
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services – $78,620
Highest paying states
- Washington – $72,710
- Delaware – $71,570
- California – $69,710
- Massachusetts – $67,000
- Colorado – $66,040
Types of legal secretaries
Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for legal secretaries. Their duties can vary greatly depending on the type and size of the organization, as well as the specific area of law involved.
Criminal law secretary
Working in this specialization requires an understanding of criminal law terminology, procedures, and documentation. They often manage scheduling for attorneys, create and manage case files, and correspond with clients and other legal professionals on behalf of the attorneys they support. Their tasks may include preparing motions, briefs, and other legal documents.
Corporate law secretary
There’s a significant demand for legal secretaries in the corporate world. In this role, they can be charged with a range of duties, from preparing legal documents and assisting with mergers and acquisitions to managing contracts and shareholder agreements. Familiarity with corporate law and business terminology is essential in this role.
Family law secretary
In fields like family law, secretaries handle more emotionally charged matters like divorce cases, custody battles, and domestic abuse. Sometimes, this role involves interacting with clients going through a tough time in their lives. A family law secretary must have excellent interpersonal skills, empathetic understanding, and a strong knowledge of family law procedures and documentation.
Intellectual property law secretary
Secretaries in this field are usually required to have knowledge of trademark, copyright, and patent law. They might often assist with the submission of patent applications, maintain databases of a company’s intellectual property holdings, and help manage disputes relating to copyright, patents, and trademarks.
Some legal secretaries may decide to specialize in paralegal work, which involves a higher level of legal work compared to standard secretarial tasks. This might include conducting legal research, drafting legal documents, and assisting attorneys during trials. Paralegals need to have an in-depth understanding of legal terminology, procedures, and document preparation.
Top skills for legal secretaries
This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a legal secretary.
Legal transcription and documentation skills
Succeeding in this profession requires mastering the art of legal transcription and documentation. Transcribing legal proceedings accurately and preparing essential legal documents form a significant chunk of their day-to-day activities. Efficient transcription amplifies professionalism and ensures the business operation progresses without a hitch.
Proficiency in legal terminology
Understanding and using legal terminology appropriately is another skill one must possess. It not only allows for effective communication within the legal environment but also ensures accurate preparation and management of legal documents.
Strong interpersonal and communication skills
Secretaries often serve as a significant link between the law firm and its clients. Therefore, possessing strong interpersonal and communication skills is paramount to facilitating clear and concise information exchanges. This ability also aids in building and maintaining professional relationships.
Organizational and multitasking abilities
These professionals must manage different tasks simultaneously while maintaining a high degree of organization. Scheduling meetings, organizing files, managing timelines, and coordinating efforts among team members are some of the routine responsibilities that require these skills.
Commitment to client confidentiality
Respecting and upholding client confidentiality is a non-negotiable requirement for anyone in this role. They often handle privileged information, and discreetness, along with understanding and adhering to confidentiality norms, are crucial.
Proficient computer skills
The ability to navigate various computer applications benefits professionals in this role. Proficiency in word processing, data management, emails, and legal research software allows for more efficient and effective operation in the dynamic environment of a law firm or court.
Career path options
If you are currently working as a legal secretary, your path forward might look like this: You may find opportunities to move up within the legal support staff ranks and advance into positions such as senior or executive secretary, where responsibilities typically include taking on a higher level of tasks. Many secretaries also transition into a paralegal role after gaining sufficient experience and additional academic qualifications or certifications.
In the long run, some might find their career trajectory heading toward administrative management roles within the law firm, including office manager or operations manager. Gaining exposure to the broader aspects of law firm operations often facilitates such movements.
Another significant opportunity for career progress is exploring specialized areas of law. You might want to specialize in corporate law, family law, or criminal law to ensure your work stays unique and challenging over the years. Specialization often leads to opportunities to work directly with senior partners or team leads on high-profile cases or projects, increasing your visibility within the organization.
Continuing education and obtaining relevant certifications can significantly enhance your career progression. For example, the certified legal secretary specialist (CLSS) designation or other similar certifications can increase your credibility and marketability. Along with experience, these certifications could pave your way to more challenging roles or positions in larger or more prestigious law firms.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook
The legal field has always been a hub of activity, and this is no exception for legal secretaries. In the past, their core work involved a significant amount of administrative work. However, in recent years, we’ve seen trends emerge where those in this role have expanded their tasks beyond traditional administration and instead started handling more specialized work. For instance, legal technology has become a vast domain, and many secretaries have sought to increase their skills in this area. Familiarity with e-discovery platforms, contract management systems, and electronic filing systems for court documents is becoming necessary.
We are also seeing an increased demand for bilingual legal secretaries. As the legal industry becomes more globalized, they are expected to handle international correspondence, which may require proficiency in foreign languages. This ability not only increases their employability significantly but also enables them to demand higher salaries.
Employment projections for legal secretaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for legal secretaries is projected to decline by 8 percent from 2021 through 2031. This decline is attributed to the increased use of digital tools, which has automated some of the tasks traditionally performed by these professionals.
Legal secretary career tips
Stay current with law updates
As a legal secretary’s day-to-day tasks require a good understanding of legal terminology and law updates, it’s important to stay updated with the ever-evolving laws and regulations. You can do this through online research, reading law-related articles, or attending online webinars or courses. Any changes in the law may significantly impact the daily tasks of a legal secretary, so keeping current in pertinent areas can make your work more efficient and accurate.
Master relevant software
Mastering relevant software programs, like case management systems, Microsoft Office Suite, and billing software, can increase your efficiency. You’ll often deal with a significant amount of data processing and document preparation in this role. Therefore, being proficient with the necessary software can make your tasks easier and quicker, thereby boosting your productivity.
Confidentiality is a key requirement in the legal sector. As a legal secretary, you can encounter sensitive information. Handle it with care, maintaining its confidentiality. Respect for confidentiality not only supports the firm’s reputation but also strengthens your integrity and reliability as a professional.
Build a professional network
Establishing connections with other legal professionals can provide opportunities for career advancement, learning, and mentorship. Tap into networks specific to your field that offer educational and networking events.
- Legal Secretaries International Inc.
- American Bar Association (ABA)
- International Association of Legal Administrators (IALA)
- National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)
Pursue continuous learning
Regularly brushing up your skills and knowledge can lead to significant career growth. Consider enrolling in online courses or attending workshops and seminars that allow you to develop the necessary skills and remain abreast of industry trends. Here are a few areas that you may consider:
- Legal research and writing
- Conflict resolution
- Document management systems
- Legal transcription
Where the jobs are
- Jones Day
- DLA Piper
- Baker McKenzie
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
- Latham & Watkins
- New York
- Simply Hired
What skills are required to become a legal secretary?
This role involves performing administrative tasks within a law setting, which requires excellent organizational skills, managing time effectively, and proficiency with office tools and software. Communication is also key, as you must regularly liaise with clients, lawyers, and court personnel. Lastly, knowledge of legal terms, procedures, and documents is essential.
What does a typical day for a legal secretary look like?
A typical day can vary widely depending on the size and nature of the law firm. However, common tasks include managing calendars, preparing legal documents, answering phones, scheduling appointments, and liaising with clients. They also file and retrieve case documents, research legal precedents, and handle incoming and outgoing mail.
Are there any certifications that can enhance my career in this role?
While it is not always required, gaining certification can enhance your career and may open doors to higher-paying positions. Certificates like Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) or Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) offered by legal professional organizations can make you more employable.
What are the typical industries for this role?
They are most commonly found within the legal field. They work in law firms, corporate legal departments, government agencies, and courts. Some may also work for legal aid societies, non-profit organizations, or within the education sector, supporting law professors at universities and colleges.
What are common challenges encountered in this role?
Some challenges they face include handling multiple tasks under tight deadlines, managing multiple bosses, and dealing with difficult clients. Staying up-to-date with changes in legal procedures and terminology can also be challenging. The role may also involve long hours during busy periods.
What are the best aspects of being a legal secretary?
Many find satisfaction in being part of a team that helps people resolve legal issues. They may also appreciate the variety of work, as each case can be unique. The role can provide a comprehensive glimpse into the legal system and can offer opportunities for learning and growth.
What is the job outlook for a legal secretary?
The job outlook varies based on factors like geographic location, the health of the economy, and the demand for legal services. The evolution of technology is also influencing this profession, with some tasks becoming automated and others requiring more specialized knowledge.
What qualifications do I need to become a legal secretary?
Generally, you will need a high school diploma or equivalent. Some firms might require a certificate or associate degree in a related field like legal studies or legal administration. Additionally, relevant work experience or a background in law can be beneficial. Skills in office and communication software, as well as familiarity with legal terminology, can also prove advantageous.
What is the role of technology in this profession?
Technology plays an integral part in today’s legal operations. Proficiency in document management systems, billing software, and legal research platforms can be necessary. They must be comfortable with general office tools like word processors, spreadsheets, and email platforms. As technology advances, they may also need to adapt to new tools that assist in document preparation, data management, and communication.