What Is a Legal Support Specialist?
Legal support specialists perform administrative and secretarial duties in a law firm and will assist lawyers with documents, record keeping and database maintenance. Additional responsibilities may include filing, word processing, scheduling and data entry. Many work hours may be spent seated at a desk in this occupation.
|Degree Level||Formal training required (degree or certificate)|
|Degree Name||Legal secretary or legal studies|
|Certification||Voluntary certification offered through NALS|
|Key Skills||Communication and basic computer skills; ability to multitask and work in teams|
|Salary||$43,200 (2015 median salary for legal secretaries)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); Monster.com (November 2012)
Legal support specialists have formal training, associate's degrees, or bachelor's degrees in legal studies. They have strong communication abilities, basic office computer skills, and the talent for multitasking and working in teams. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for legal secretaries, which include support specialists, was $43,200 in 2015.
Steps for Legal Support Specialists
What should I do to become a legal support specialist?
Step 1: Complete a Legal Training Program
Legal support specialist training involves completing a 1-year program for a legal studies or legal secretary certificate through a community college. These programs offer courses in word processing, accounting and business communications, along with specialized courses in legal terminology, legal transcription and legal office procedures.
You will want to consider getting a college degree. Some employers may prefer applicants who have earned an associate's or bachelor's degree in the field. A legal-related degree will offer higher level courses in the field, and graduates may have additional responsibilities with legal firms.
Step 2: Obtain the Accredited Legal Professional (ALP) Certification
After graduating from a legal program, individuals can sit for the ALP exam, which is administered by NALS, a national association for legal professionals. Although the process is voluntary, employers may prefer to hire certified professionals. The exam consists of three parts. Topics covered include written communications, office procedures, legal knowledge, ethics, human relations and legal judgment. Certified professionals need to complete continuing education requirements to maintain the designation every five years.
Step 3: Gain Employment
Once hired, certified legal support specialists are responsible for preparing legal documents, such as summonses, subpoenas, motions and appeals. They transcribe legal depositions, court hearings and legal correspondence as well as perform secretarial duties, such as preparing bills for clients, scheduling appointments and answering phones. Professionals may specialize in a particular area, such as family, real estate, environmental or criminal law. Unlike attorneys, legal support specialists do not have to be licensed by the state in order to practice.
Step 4: Acquire the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) Certification
After working at a law firm for three years, legal support specialists have the option of taking the PLS exam, which is also offered by NALS. The 1-day exam consists of four parts, which include advanced concepts in written communications, office procedures, ethics, legal judgment and legal knowledge.
Legal support specialists are good communicators and team players who help lawyers with myriads of administrative and secretarial duties. They have formal education beyond high school, which often includes associate's or bachelor's degrees, and they earn a median annual salary of $43,200.