Becoming a Certified Legal Secretary
|Degree Level||Varies; associate common|
|Degree Fields||Law, legal secretary/assistant, paralegal|
|Certification||Voluntary but often required|
|Experience||2-3 years experience typically required|
|Key Skills||Excellent interpersonal, organizational, writing, and proofreading skills; ability to work under pressure; knowledge of law and government practices; ability to type at least 65 words per minute; proficiency in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook|
|Salary||$43,200 (2015 median for legal secretaries)|
Sources: Job postings (August 2015), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine
Legal secretaries work under the supervision of attorneys assisting with preparation of legal documents 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 full-time in an office setting, although virtual assistant opportunities may be available.
Legal secretaries should have a few key skills including organizational skills, writing skills, proofreading skills, the ability to work under pressure, a knowledge of law and government practices, and the ability to type at least 65 words per minute. Legal secretaries in the U.S. made a median annual salary of $43,200 in 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While a degree is not always required for legal secretary positions, the skills garnered though educational and/or certification programs prove to be valuable and necessary assets for a career in this field. Individuals seeking these secretarial positions need to be adept at communicating, typing, and writing and proficient with various software programs. Classes in speech, communications, English, writing, and computer technology completed in degree programs help develop all these skills. Specific degree programs in legal assisting and programs specifically designed for paralegal studies provide coursework in legal writing, research, and terminology and discuss various legal forms.
Seek Employment Opportunities
Most employers hire certified legal secretaries who have at least two to three years of previous experience. As such, those who are new to the field and have no prior secretarial experience generally begin in entry-level office positions within a law firm and advance positions as experience is gained. Once a position as a legal secretary is obtained, he/she will perform a wide range of secretarial duties including preparing legal paperwork, scheduling meetings, making travel arrangements, handling daily mail, and answering the telephone.
On occasion, employers need to hire certified legal secretaries with work experience in a specific legal field. This may include defense litigation, worker's compensation, real estate, or international trade. To increase job opportunities, individuals can seek training and/or employment in any one of those areas to acquire the knowledge and experience needed for that specialty.
Several certification options are provided for legal secretaries. The National Association for Legal Secretaries (NALS) offers numerous certification opportunities including the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS), Professional Legal Secretary (PLS), and Professional Paralegal (PP) credentials. Each certification has specific eligibility and experience requirements, as well as individual examinations that must be passed to obtain the credential.
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.
Certified legal secretaries should also be sure to keep their 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.
In summary, while a formal degree is not technically necessary to become a certified legal secretary, those aspiring to work in the field can benefit from a knowledge of legal writing and research in addition to work experience.