Important Job Skills for Legal Secretaries

Legal Secretary in office
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Not to be confused with paralegals, legal secretaries fill vital roles in law firms across the country. While paralegals often perform attorney duties under supervision from an attorney, legal secretaries must keep track of all details circling the law firm.

Law has been and always will be a world of red tape and semantics. Attorneys must be fully prepared for each and every legal proceeding. As such, attorneys and paralegals alike depend heavily on their legal secretaries.

What Kind of Skills Do You Need to Be a Legal Secretary?

The role of legal secretaries, also known as attorney administrative assistants or legal assistants, has evolved in the past two decades. As with everything else, technology continues to transform the traditional law office.

Legal secretaries must transcend conventional roles of typing and answering phones to overseeing high-value activities between attorneys and clients and with regards to legal proceedings.

Legal secretaries do what any administrative assistant might do, except that the legal world is a bit more convoluted. All deadlines are priority, and a minor detail overlooked could jeopardize the case of a client or merit legal action from opposing attorneys.

Types of Legal Secretary Skills

Legal secretary roles have evolved over time. These skills will help you succeed in single attorney offices and law firms.

Technology Skills

Many attorneys have neither the time nor expertise to operate law office technology well. They rely on tech-savvy legal secretaries to perform a variety of computer-based tasks such as: building spreadsheets, preparing presentations, auditing timesheets, managing invoices, creating/typing documents, maintaining calendars, and tracking deadlines. 

Therefore, legal secretaries who are proficient in a variety of computer software applications will have the most career opportunities. Some of the most common technologies that legal secretaries must master include:

  • Word Processing Software
  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • Presentation
  • Information Management
  • Digital File Organization
  • Data Backup Software
  • Billing
  • Invoicing
  • Transcription
  • Desktop Publishing
  • Videoconferencing
  • Email Management

Interpersonal Skills

Legal secretaries interact daily with attorneys, paralegals, staff, clients, opposing counsel, judicial personnel, vendors, and more.

Therefore, top-notch interpersonal and communication skills are essential. In addition to face-to-face contact, secretaries communicate by email, telephone, and video conferencing systems.

  • Reception
  • Phone Etiquette
  • Oral Communication
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Initiative
  • Formality
  • Bearing

Written Communication

Do you think that attorneys compose their own written correspondence? Think again. Legal secretaries are frequently responsible for drafting routine correspondence and file memos, in addition to proofreading legal documents for pleadings, briefs, discovery, and transactional purposes.

Writing is an integral part of the legal secretary’s job; those that develop strong writing skills will become indispensable to the attorneys they assist.

  • Email Composition
  • Following Strict Document Formats
  • Attention to Detail
  • Cover Letters
  • Strong Grammar Skills
  • Transcription

 Organizational Skills

Attorneys are notoriously disorganized. Since legal secretaries are the attorney’s “right-hand” man or woman, organizational skills are essential to efficiently manage a law practice or corporate legal department.

Legal secretaries must maintain paper and electronic files, manage projects, track multiple deadlines, maintain calendars, schedule meetings, organize events and keep everything orderly and accessible.

  • Attention to Detail
  • Calendar Management
  • File Management
  • Confidential Information Management
  • Transcription
  • Process of Packaging and Sending Legal Documents
  • Receiving and Organizing Affidavits
  • Note Taking

Transcription Skills

Transcription skills are foundational to secretarial practice. In addition to a fast typing speed (employer requirements vary from 50 to 100 words per minute), active listening skills are required to comprehend voice dictation files.

Strong grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and language skills are necessary as well an understanding of legal terminology. As mentioned above, secretaries must be proficient in word processing applications and transcription equipment.

  • Active Listening
  • Typing
  • Word Processing Software
  • Audio Recording Devices
  • Memory
  • Written Communication

Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is critical in the legal profession. For example, typing $600,000 in a settlement offer instead of $60,000 could cost your firm a client. Legal secretaries handle the minutiae of daily law practice, and attention to detail is important in nearly every secretarial task from drafting and proofreading documents to scheduling meetings and calendaring deadlines.

Familiarity With Legal Documents and Terminology

What’s the difference between a secretary and a legal secretary? Legal secretaries are familiar with all things pertaining to law and court proceedings. Terms like “subpoena,” “pro se,” and “voir dire” don’t confuse legal secretaries. 

They understand the nuance of legal procedure and know how to create and format pleadings, discovery and transactional documents.

  • Trial Brief
  • Amicus Brief
  • Appellate Brief
  • Reply Brief
  • Interrogatories
  • Appeals Process
  • Wills & Testaments
  • Legal Complaints, Appeals, & Answers
  • Quitclaim Deed
  • Warranty Deed
  • Requesting Subpoenas

Teamwork

Teamwork is crucial to the role of legal secretaries in delivering legal services. In all practice settings—from large corporate legal departments to solo practitioners—legal secretaries must team with attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, file clerks, vendors, and others to deliver legal services effectively.

The most efficient legal secretaries know how to get along with co-workers and collaborate with third parties to get the job done.

  • Active Listening
  • Oral Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Problem Sensitivity
  • Collaboration

Multitasking Skills

Most legal secretaries work for more than one person on more than one file.

Performing multiple tasks simultaneously should be second-nature to a competent legal secretary. 

They know how to juggle multiple assignments and competing priorities and how to manage growing workloads in today’s busy law office where one person frequently performs the job of three.

  • Attention to Detail
  • Time Management
  • Prioritization
  • Delegation
  • Scheduling
  • Stress Tolerance

Research Skills

Legal secretaries perform Internet research for a multitude of tasks such as finding directions, gathering client information, researching the competition and locating expert witnesses.

Many legal secretaries, particularly those in small law offices, also perform paralegal duties, including legal research, cite checking and tracking down case law. Learning legal research platforms such as Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis can give you a competitive edge.

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Interviewing
  • Note Taking
  • Noticing Trends
  • Data Analysis
  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Research Law Software

More Legal Secretary Skills

  • Troubleshooting
  • Social Media Management
  • Proofreading
  • Revising
  • Drafting
  • Spelling
  • Proper Use of Search Engines
  • Report Writing
  • Final Manuscript Production
  • Mark-ups
  • Develop and Maintain Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Deadlines
  • Multilingual
  • Friendliness
  • Adaptability
  • Efficiency
  • Critical Thinking
  • Compliance
  • Bookkeeping
  • Professionalism
  • Customer Service
  • Resilience
  • Pretrial Agreements
  • Fax Machines
  • Maintain Law Libraries
  • Manage Case Files
  • LexisNexis
  • PACER

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Add Relevant Skills to Your Resume: Be sure to highlight the skills above in your summary and work history. Law firms care about your experience and attention to detail, particularly in how you construct your resume.

Highlight Skills in Your Cover Letter: Do not waste words in your letter. Since creating cover letters is a significant part of your job as legal assistant, stick to the point and demonstrate your ability to be clear and direct.

Use Skill Words in Your Job Interview: Be prepared to discuss types of projects you’ve managed in other roles without violating a client’s confidentiality at other law firms. Do not be afraid to describe how you used the skills above in other roles outside of the legal world if the scenario is applicable to the role you seek.