Sometimes, legal secretaries may find opportunities to prepare marketing seminars, coordinate special interest group meetings, or arrange travel schedules. In some smaller practices they may be asked to manage the accounts, purchase stationery or office supplies, and maintain software. A legal secretary must also be very computer savvy, as he or she may be required to know various computer programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Visio, to mention a few. Compare that with knowledge of legal terminology, and it's clear to see why finding a good legal secretary is not always easy.
While most legal secretaries don't initially choose a particular area of law, once experienced, they usually stay in the same field. They may wind up working in criminal law, family law, legal aid, commercial law, or litigation. Whether working in a large corporation or a smaller, less stressful setting, legal secretaries usually work for three or four members of the professional staff. Most legal secretaries work a 40-hour workweek, and many times it may be necessary to work additional hours to complete documents on time or catch up on work.
"Being able to leave something half-finished and move on to something more urgent is a very necessary skill," advises "Liz," a senior secretary with one of Western Australia's "top six" law firms.
A good legal secretary can find work with a top law firm and command a good salary. Lawyers at big firms generally want someone who can maintain their accounts as well as prepare legal documents at a moment's notice. Highly skilled legal secretaries often advance to becoming paralegals, sometimes with training, sometimes without.
Legal secretary Sharon Lea Hill states, "I have been a legal secretary for over 20 years. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best secretarial position one could hope for. The pay is excellent, and there is always a demand. Once you've been a legal secretary, you can advance to becoming a paralegal and increase your salary by at least 20% without having to take a paralegal course. Most firms like to promote from within. Obviously, you can take a paralegal course first if you want. I never took any legal secretarial courses to prepare myself, but I did know how to type (really fast) and take shorthand."
The job prospects for legal secretaries are very good, and legal secretary salaries can range anywhere from $28,000 to $60,000.
Sharon Lea Hill adds, "I'm sure you're interested to know how much you can earn. I can only tell you the rates in the two states in which I recently worked. In Texas the average salary (through an agency) for a legal secretary with some experience is between $35,000 and $45,000. In Washington you can expect to earn about the same in the Tacoma area but about $50,000 to $60,000 in the Seattle area.
"The smaller firms will be more inclined to hire someone with very little experience, but expect your salary to be a little lower at first. I liked working with the larger firms because of the benefits and training opportunities. Most will provide 401(k) match in addition to the health benefits, and the one I worked for also paid year-end bonuses. Good luck, and I hope you will consider entering into this lucrative field."