How to Become a Certified Legal Secretary
Research the requirements to become a legal secretary. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the legal profession.
Do I Want to Be a Certified Legal Secretary?
Legal secretaries work under the supervision of attorneys and help assist with preparing a wide variety of legal paperwork, including subpoenas, summonses, motions and complaints. They may also assist with legal research, review professional legal journals and perform other secretarial duties. These secretaries typically work in full-time in an office setting, and virtual assistant jobs may be available.
While the educational requirements of most employers can vary, individuals typically need some college coursework to learn the skills relevant to this career. A legal secretary can achieve certification through the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) or Legal Secretaries International. A degree is not required for certification. The following table contains the core requirements for certified legal secretaries:
|Degree Level||Employer requirements vary from a high school diploma to a bachelor's degree*|
|Degree Fields||Legal secretary, legal assistant, paralegal*|
|Certification||Certification is voluntary; must pass exams offered by NALS or Legal Secretaries International to become certified**|
|Experience||2-3 years experience typically required*|
|Key Skills||Excellent interpersonal, organizational and writing skills**; proofreading skills and the ability to work under pressure*|
|Computer Skills||Proficiency in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook*|
|Technical Skills||Knowledge of law and government***|
|Additional Requirements||Ability to type at least 65 words per minute (wpm)*|
Sources: *Job postings by employers (November 2012), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***O*Net OnLine.
Step 1: Learn Necessary Skills
Solid communication, typing and writing skills as well as proficiency with various computer applications are just a few skills that employers require. Classes in speech, communications, English or writing can help develop these skills. Improving typing speed, such as through keyboarding classes, and learning how to use different computer applications like Microsoft Word or Excel, are also beneficial.
- Complete a postsecondary education program. Although a certificate or degree is not required to find employment as a certified legal secretary, having a degree can help with job prospects. By enrolling in a certificate or degree program, individuals can learn a variety of skills directly related to this profession, including legal forms and terminology, Microsoft Office applications, legal writing and legal research.
Step 2: Gain Related Experience
Entry-level secretarial positions can help workers gain the experience required by many employers. Prospective legal secretaries may look for positions that help them develop a background in related areas, such as litigation or insurance defense.
Step 3: Get a Legal Secretary Job
The majority of employers prefer to hire certified legal secretaries who have previous experience, particularly 2-3 years of experience. In addition to performing a wide range of secretarial duties and preparing legal paperwork, legal secretaries may also be expected to schedule meetings, make travel arrangements, handle daily mail and answer the telephone. Available positions may be found at legal firms, private offices or other businesses.
- Gain work experience in a legal field of interest. Some employers prefer to hire certified legal secretaries who have work experience in a particular legal field. This may include defense litigation, worker's compensation, real estate or international trade. To increase job opportunities, individuals can consider working in a specific legal field.
Step 4: Earn Certification
Depending on their work experience, there are several certification options for legal secretaries. NALS offers numerous certification opportunities, including the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS), Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) and Professional Paralegal (PP) credentials. Although each certification has its own eligibility requirements and specific years of experience required, one must pass an examination for each certification offered by NALS.
Legal Secretaries International offers the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist credential in specific legal fields, such as criminal law, business law, probate, intellectual property and civil litigation. To obtain this certification, one must meet eligibility requirements and successfully complete an examination.
- Keep certification current. The NALS requires that certified legal secretaries meet continuing education requirements to maintain their certification. These requirements vary by credential, but typically include attending educational sessions or activities in the field.
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