A school's business technology department typically offers a legal secretary or legal administrative assistant associate degree program. Legal secretary degree programs teach students the skills needed to ensure a law office runs efficiently, whereas a paralegal studies program educates students about legal proceedings and working for trial lawyers.
Applicants to associate degree programs need a high school diploma or GED for admission. These two-year programs also require the completion of a practicum or internship before graduation. Online legal secretary and hybrid paralegal studies programs are available.
Legal Secretary Associate Degree
Students learn the communication and computer skills needed to schedule appointments, produce legal documents and manage a law office's records. They also get an introduction to business law and complete internships or cooperative work experiences that give them hands-on training in a legal setting. Common courses in these programs include:
- File management
- Computer applications
- Law office procedures
- Business law
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Paralegal Studies Associate Degree
Students in paralegal studies associate degree programs spend a great deal of time developing their ability to comb through statistics, legal databases and other types of documentation. They also learn procedural rules for civil and criminal litigation as well as the formatting and citation styles needed to produce legal documents. Additional coursework covers legal specialties ranging from contracts and tort law to wills, trusts and estates. Common courses are listed below:
- Legal research and writing
- Computer applications
- Civil litigation
- Criminal law
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), legal secretaries earned a median salary of $43,200 as of May 2015. A 4% decline in employment opportunities was projected for legal secretaries through the 2014-2024 decade, due to the fact that many of their job duties are beginning to be performed by legal assistants and paralegals. Legal assistants and paralegals could experience an 8% job growth over the same ten-year period. Individuals with specialized training and extensive experience are likely to see the best employment prospects, according to the BLS. As of May 2015, paralegals and legal assistants earned a median salary of $48,810.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Graduates of legal secretary and paralegal studies associate degree programs might consider transferring course credits or matriculating into a paralegal studies bachelor's degree program. These degrees require an additional two years of study and can allow students to choose electives in an area of interest or specialize in litigation or personal law.
Individuals who would like to enhance their employment opportunities can pursue professional certifications from several organizations such as Legal Secretaries International, Inc. and the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS). NALS offers an entry-level Accredited Legal Professional designation to applicants who've completed a year of relevant office experience or an approved course. The Professional Paralegal credential is also available to graduates of paralegal degree programs that feature sufficient law coursework or accreditation from the American Bar Association. Both credentials require passing scores on a written exam.
Students interested in careers as paralegals or legal secretaries can gain the required knowledge in approximately two years in an associate degree program. While both careers support work in the legal field, they each have different objectives and duties.