An associate's degree in legal administrative assisting can lead to a career as a legal assistant or legal secretary. It's also possible to prepare for a secretarial career through a certificate program or continue studies and complete a bachelor's degree in legal assisting.
Degree programs in legal administrative assisting or legal assisting are typically available at the associate's degree level; however, bachelor's degrees and certificates are also available. Students acquire excellent communication skills that help them interview clients and relay information to colleagues. This involves a strong command of legal terminology. Future legal administrative assistants may also learn skills like legal documentation, which ranges from preparing, filing, and fact-checking reports or testimony to using legal data-entry software. Programs in this field can be found online.
|Career||Legal Assistant||Legal Secretary|
|Education Requirements||Associate's degree||Post-secondary certificate or degree program|
|Other Requirements||Professional certification could be preferred or required||Voluntary professional certification|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||8%||-4%|
|Average Annual Salary (2015)*||$52,390||$46,470|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Those who complete a legal administrative assisting program are prepared for careers as legal assistants or legal secretaries, two very closely aligned career paths. Professional certifications are available, and these generally require a combination of education and minimum work experience. Read on for a snapshot of these careers and related occupational outlooks.
Legal assistants - also known as paralegals - conduct research, format documents, and assist attorneys in a variety of capacities. To prepare for this career, it's useful to learn basic legal procedures, legal terms, and office administration skills. Most employers seek job candidates with an undergraduate degree, and some may also prefer or require professional certification. To qualify for certification, candidates generally need to meet minimum education and employment standards and take a test; continuing education may be required to maintain the credential.
The demand for paralegals is projected to grow 8% from 2014 to 2024, which is as fast as the national average, according to the BLS. One reason for job growth is law firms' efforts to cut costs by hiring paralegals to do some research, office, and prep work that might otherwise have been done by lawyers or legal secretaries. The agency also reported that in 2015, paralegals and legal assistants earned a mean annual salary of $52,390.
Legal secretaries provide key office support to lawyers, working under their supervision to prepare documents and assist with legal research; legal secretaries may also assist paralegals. They perform typical office tasks, such as covering phones, sorting mail, handling correspondence, and using common office equipment, like fax machines, postage machines, and computers. Some post-secondary education is generally required, such as through a certificate or degree program. Professional certification options include Accredited Legal Professional (ALP) and Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) designations through NALS.
According to the BLS, employment of legal secretaries is expected to decline by 4% from 2014 to 2024; this is attributed to cost-cutting measures taken by employers, who shift legal secretaries' responsibilities to other legal support team members, like paralegals and legal assistants. In 2015, legal secretaries earned an average annual salary of $46,470. The highest-paying industries were national gas distribution and navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing. States with the highest level of employment in 2015 were California, New York, and Texas.
Legal assistants prepare documents and research information related to the cases lawyers are working on. Legal secretaries, on the other hand, perform routine office tasks, such as answering phones, relaying messages, and filing, in addition to assisting paralegals with research. Students interested in these careers can earn an associate's degree in legal administrative assisting or legal assisting, though a position as a legal secretary is also available to graduates of related certificate programs.