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Choosing a Career as a Legal Secretary

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Looking for a job at a law firm? You might be surprised at how many positions the average legal partnership needs that aren't actually for lawyers. There are positions for secretaries skilled in legal terminology who have the right mix of people skills and ability to keep information confidential. Legal file clerks and other support personnel also help keep law offices running smoothly by handling legal research, filing, building up case files, and tracking important records. Whether you're good at research, routing correspondence, keeping track of files and legal briefs, or just a fast typist, you'll soon find out that not all law careers require years of training and passing the bar.

The Role of Legal Secretaries

Remember the old Perry Mason TV show? There was Perry Mason, brilliant legal eagle and tough cross-examiner. But behind him, there was his loyal assistant and legal secretary, Della Street, making sure that Mister Super Attorney had all his papers in order and that his legal briefs were legibly typed. As a legal secretary, it is your job to make sure that your boss has his own Della Street—you. Legal secretaries screen calls; take messages; keep lines of communication open between attorneys and their clients; do whatever research the law clerks can't handle; prepare all the lawyers' correspondence, documents, briefs, and pleadings; file all the relevant papers and make sure they can be easily found; deal with travel arrangements; proof legal documents—in short, become the dependable center of a well-run legal office.

Legal File Clerks

Less well-known but equally important are legal file clerks who help clear the busy work out of the attorney's way so that he or she can concentrate on clients. Like legal secretaries, legal file clerks are responsible for maintaining legal case files. This includes tracking all pertinent legal correspondence, notes from attorneys, legal research papers, and documentation. Legal clerks are more specialized in that they are trained to do extensive research.

Working as a Floater

As the workload for legal secretaries can vary based on the size of the legal firm and the number of cases the firm is handling, many temp firms offer positions for floater secretaries and clerks. These professionals are well-versed in legal secretarial procedures and are often brought in to handle heavy workloads caused by major cases. Floaters are often part-time workers. Because these workers are brought in to different offices over time, working as a floating legal secretary or legal clerk is a good way to appraise potential law offices with an eye towards applying for a long-term position.

Working Conditions

As a legal secretary or clerk, you will be working alongside attorneys, traveling to and from the courtroom, the law library, and the legal office. You'll probably spend more time in the last two; clerks are often engaged in long hours researching cases and gathering information, while legal secretaries must prepare legal papers, briefs, motions, and other important documents. Legal secretaries will also on occasion go with attorneys to interview clients or witnesses; they will be expected to compile notes and have all relevant documents on-hand in case the attorney needs them. There will be long hours; most lawyers put in fifty-hour-plus weeks and often need legal clerks or secretaries on hand during the critical parts of an ongoing case. Floater legal professionals' hours may be far more variable—often you are filling in for an unavailable person or are on call to handle work overflow.


A formal legal education is not required, but basic legal administrative assistant skills are important for all legal secretaries. Excellent typing, editing, and proofreading skills are even more important. Legal secretarial programs are offered by many community colleges and universities and are an advantage in any legal secretarial job search.

Legal clerks also do not require special legal training; in most cases, a high school diploma is sufficient. Experience with law firm procedures and records management is a plus and strong communication, organizational skills, and computer/office skills are critical.


Salaries for law careers such as legal secretaries and clerks are typically around $47,000, with a high end of around $52,000 for ten or more years of experience. Salaries can be expected to vary based on the type of law practice, with patent and intellectual property secretaries topping at $54,000 yearly.

How to Find Jobs

Floater legal secretaries and clerks are often hired by temp-worker firms that specialize in legal help. Positions can be found online or through specialized legal help service ads. In addition, ads are often found in law school publications and through general temp services (although not as often).


If you are looking for a good job working in the legal profession, but would like a better work/life balance, the position of floating legal secretary or clerk may be just what you need to build up your skills for a full-time position or just to keep your skills up to snuff if you've already been a legal support professional.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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