Becoming a Legal Secretary
Law office secretaries, sometimes referred to as legal secretaries, perform clerical and administrative tasks under the supervision of paralegals or lawyers. Their duties might include maintaining records, distributing mail, drafting messages and making appointments. Some law office secretaries prepare legal documents under the supervision of an attorney. Many work hours might be spent seated at a desk.
|Degree Level||High school diploma or equivalent; college degree for some positions|
|Certification||Voluntary certification available|
|Experience||None for entry-level positions; some employers look for candidates with 2-5 years of experience|
|Key Skills||Organizational, writing, and interpersonal skills; the ability to use accounting, spreadsheet, and word processing software, and legal research sites; knowledge of fax machines, copiers, and other basic office equipment; knowledge of legal terminology and procedures|
|Median Salary (2015)||$46,470 annually (for all legal secretaries)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net, Monster.com job postings (September 2012)
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net and Monster.com job postings, there are many various requirements for this career. At least a high school diploma or equivalent is required, and a college degree is necessary for some positions. Voluntary certification is available. No experience is required for entry-level positions, but some employers look for candidates with 2-5 years of experience. Key skills for a law office secretary include organizational, writing and interpersonal skills; the ability to use accounting, spreadsheet and word processing software, as well as legal research sites; knowledge of fax machines, copiers and other basic office equipment; and knowledge of legal terminology and procedures. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the mean annual wage for all legal secretaries was $46,470.
Step 1: High School
A high school diploma or GED certificate is the minimum education required to work as a legal secretary. While in high school, students should focus on polishing their grammar and writing skills. They should also gain proficiency in word processing and database management.
Here's a success tip: complete keyboarding and computer classes. Many high schools offer keyboarding and computer classes that include instruction in typing and word processing software programs. Because legal secretaries must know how to type and use computers, instruction in these areas may be helpful.
Step 2: Postsecondary Program
Formal training isn't always required, but some firms prefer legal secretaries who've completed a postsecondary certificate or degree program. Legal secretary programs may cover law office procedures, court filings, state and federal court systems, billing procedures and legal research. Students may also learn how to use popular software programs, like Excel, Outlook and Word. Associate's programs include general education courses as well.
Here's a success tip: complete an internship. Certificate and associate's degree programs may allow students to complete an internship at a local law office. These internships provide hands-on experience and may make it easier to find employment after graduation.
Step 3: Work
Law offices and government agencies with legal departments hire law office secretaries. Entry-level positions don't always require experience, but some employers look for candidates who have worked in the field for at least two years. Advanced positions may require knowledge of legal specializations, such as business law or commercial litigation.
Step 4: Certification
While certification in this field is voluntary, it may increase job opportunities or lead to career advancement. Individuals who've completed an accredited law course may sit for the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) Accredited Legal Secretary credentialing exam. The NALS Professional Legal Secretary exam requires at least three years of experience. The Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation offered by Legal Secretaries International allows candidates to choose a specialty area, such as criminal law, civil litigation or business law. This certification requires at least five years of experience and completion of an exam. Candidates who hold a college certificate or degree may waive a portion of the experience requirement.
The steps toward becoming a law office secretary include graduating from high school, completing a postsecondary program, working in the field at the entry-level or beyond and earning certification.