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Legal Secretary Jobs — What to Expect

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Definitions of Legal Secretary Employment

Legal Secretary Jobs — What to Expect

There are a number of official definitions of a legal secretary, or paralegal, but most of these definitions differ only slightly. For instance, according to the American Bar Association, a legal secretary is "a person qualified by education, training, or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."

In ordinary English, that means that a legal secretary performs a large quantity of work to assist a lawyer, but in the end, the lawyer is responsible for that work, and must make certain it has been done correctly.

Required Education for Legal Secretaries

To get legal secretary employment, you'll need some sort of educational background, certification, or experience. In the US, there are a number of different paths you can take to this career, composed of varying education levels, different certifications, and on-the-job training. Legal secretary jobs may be found with corporations, real estate companies, nonprofits, law firms, and government agencies. The work that legal secretaries do depends on their particular backgrounds and employers.

In most US states, there's no particular education requirement for legal secretary jobs. In fact, some legal secretaries have only experience learned on the job. Others will have earned a two-year or four-year degree in paralegal studies, a bachelor's or master's degree in some other field, or a paralegal certificate. Many legal secretaries complete all their training before seeking legal secretary employment. However, this isn't necessarily required. A significant number of people in legal secretary jobs have worked their way up from a law firm's mail room. Many legal secretaries also take courses in continuing legal education to satisfy the requirements of a specific state, firm, or professional association.

Courses of study for people seeking legal secretary jobs have been available for some time as part of certificate programs and associate's degree programs at private colleges and community colleges. In recent years, similar programs at four-year universities have also been expanding. More and more respected universities are offering post-baccalaureate certificates and bachelor's degrees for people looking for legal secretary employment.

Legal Secretary Employment Certification

In the US, there are no licensed legal secretaries. Instead, someone looking for a legal secretary job can be certified, registered, or certificated. While this is voluntary in most areas, such credentialing does help make sure that you're prepared to enter the profession, and can increase your odds of getting legal secretary jobs. The two major national organizations offering certifications to legal secretaries are the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

<<Graduating from a degree or certificate program doesn't technically certify you as a legal secretary. In fact, in most states, passing an exam by an appropriate entity is the only thing necessary. However, in some states, licensing for legal secretary jobs has been introduced into legislation to help control quality.

Expected Salary for Legal Secretary Jobs

In the US, the median salary per year for someone in legal secretary employment is around $45,000. People working as legal secretaries for the federal government tend to average $53,000 per year. Those working in legal secretary jobs for state and local governments make around $34,000. A larger law firm may pay as much as $100,000 annually, including benefits, for someone with a lot of experience, and as much as $50,000 a year for someone just starting in a legal secretary job. In smaller cities and firms, starting salaries are likely to be closer to $24,000 per year.

Duties of a Legal Secretary

There are five specific things that can only be done by a licensed attorney. These include establishing a relationship with a client, giving legal advice, signing legal papers on another party's behalf, appearing in court on someone else's behalf, and setting or collecting fees for legal services. That means that outside of those particular acts, a legal secretary is legally allowed to perform any other task that an attorney can do.

Legal secretary jobs may require performing legal research, doing legal writing, preparing exhibits, and performing day-to-day case management. Legal secretaries, like other kinds of secretaries, need to have superb secretarial skills, such as high typing speed and word processing acumen. Legal secretaries usually take dictation, write up drafts, properly format legal documents, and save attorneys when trouble strikes, among other things. Attorneys are effectively responsible for anything that a legal secretary does, however. That means that if a lawyer signs documents that a legal secretary has prepared, he or she is claiming them as his or her own.

Demand for Legal Secretaries

State bar associations and law schools use admission and licensing to control the number and quality of licensed attorneys. That means that attorneys are both of higher quality and more expensive than they would be without these controls, and that there are a number of tasks for which one doesn't need a full legal education.

As the cost of litigation goes up, the demand for legal secretary jobs increases accordingly. That's because insurance companies and other clients don't want to pay an attorney to perform tasks that a legal secretary is capable of doing for a lower cost. The increase in the number of legal secretaries allows attorneys to be more efficient, concentrating only on the substantive legal issues in a case, rather than on case management.


Legal secretaries are quickly becoming more in demand as legal costs rise and clients become unwilling to pay for the full services of a lawyer unless absolutely necessary. This means that the duties of legal secretaries are expanding to include more case management. A legal secretary can be expected to take care of most things that an attorney is not required to do by law. Fortunately, legal secretary jobs are open to many people, even those who don't have formal training. All that's required is the ability to do the tasks required. Education and certification are readily available, and salaries are competitive.

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