Legal Secretary Career Profile
Legal secretaries, also called administrative assistants, legal assistants or executive assistants, perform the daily clerical functions required for the efficient operation of a legal office. Beyond the usual filing, typing, dictation and phone-answering duties of the secretary, legal secretaries possess specialized skills unique to the legal profession.
Legal secretaries sometimes start out as legal receptionists before moving into a secretarial role. Experienced secretaries are often promoted to senior secretarial positions or paralegal positions within the law firm or organization.
Legal secretaries prepare correspondence and type legal documents, including pleadings, motions, briefs, discovery documents, and subpoenas. They maintain complex docket systems to track the myriad of legal filing deadlines; create spreadsheets; index and update pleadings and discovery binders; schedule depositions, site inspections, hearings, closings, and meetings.
Legal secretaries also draft correspondence and routine legal documents such as deposition notices and legal invoices. Legal secretaries also assist with legal research and communicate with attorneys, experts, opposing counsel, vendors and other staff.
Familiarity with legal terminology, state and federal court filing rules, basic legal procedure and law office protocol is important for the legal secretary. In addition to excellent typing and dictation skills, legal secretaries must be extremely deadline-oriented since missing a filing deadline can result in a default judgment (automatically losing a case).
As office and legal processes become more automated, legal secretaries must possess excellent computer skills and be proficient with word processing, spreadsheet, legal research, presentation, and time and billing software.
The large majority of legal secretaries work in law firms. However, corporate legal departments, the government, public interest firms and the judiciary also employ legal secretaries.
Legal secretarial programs are offered by community colleges, technical centers, and private career schools and take one to two years to complete. While some secretaries in the industry possess no formal training, the most career opportunities exist for formally trained legal secretaries who have completed some post-secondary training or a four-year college degree.
Certification for legal secretaries is a growing trend and may enhance employment opportunities. The National Association for Legal Professionals (NALS) bestows an ALS designation upon legal secretaries who pass a four-hour, three-part examination.
Legal secretary salaries vary depending upon experience, geographic location, and practice setting. Salaries range from $28,000 for entry level professionals employed in a small firm to $65,500 for senior legal secretaries employed in a large firm, according to the Internet Legal Research Group.
An increased demand for legal services and client-driven efforts to reduce legal costs should continue to create job opportunities for legal secretaries. According to Monster.com’s career advice center, legal secretarial jobs will continue to multiply, particularly in the corporate arena.
The National Association of Legal Professionals is an organization offering professional development by providing continuing legal education, certifications, information, and training to individuals in the legal services industry.