Overview of Programs
Online training programs for legal secretaries may lead to a certificate or diploma, which can take anywhere from just a few months to close to a year to complete. These programs are designed to provide students the knowledge and skills needed to prepare legal documents and provide office support to attorneys. Community colleges and online career schools are where this training is commonly found. Applicants to these programs need to have strong keyboarding and word processing skills.
Those aspiring to be paralegals can find numerous options through community colleges, four-year universities and private online schools. Distance learning programs in this field may lead to two-year associate's degrees, four-year bachelor's degrees or post-baccalaureate certificates for those with bachelor's degrees in other fields. Online students study a variety of subjects including how to perform legal research, interviews and analysis under an attorney's supervision. Some programs are approved by the American Bar Association.
Both legal secretary and paralegal training programs can be found in fully online formats. Some may also be offered in hybrid formats that include some on-campus training.
Online Learning & Coursework
Students enrolled in an online program for paralegals or legal secretaries use their school's virtual classroom environment to independently progress through the course material. These sites contain lectures, assignments, tests and other supplements that are usually available any time of day. Discussion boards and chat rooms can be used to foster class interaction. While many programs in this field are totally online, some do require on-campus classes.
Legal Secretary Programs
Online training programs for legal secretaries expect that learners will have adequate keyboarding and word processing skills. Those abilities are built upon through a curriculum that incorporates general office skills and knowledge of the legal system.
Online coursework usually includes the following topics:
- Office management
- Legal document preparation
- Legal research and citations
- Interview skills
- Legal ethics
- Legal procedures relevant to tort and contract law
- Legal terminology
Courses in online paralegal training programs for lawyer's assistants typically confer substantive legal knowledge. While paralegals are not authorized to give legal advice or represent clients in court, they may handle basic legal matters and trial support under attorney guidance.
The curriculum generally includes the following concepts to prepare them for this role:
- Legal authority
- Basics of legal research
- Selection of jurors
- Preparing legal documents
- Overview of tort and contract law
- Legal interviewing
- Legal investigation
- Legal analysis
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of paralegals and legal assistants is expected to grow 8% in the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). Job growth isn't projected to be as favorable for legal secretaries, as projections during that time period show opportunities actually decreasing by 4%; this is due to firms cutting costs by letting paralegals take on secretarial duties. The BLS reports that the average annual wage for legal secretaries as of May 2015 was $46,470, and the average salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $52,390.
Continuing Education Information
Both legal secretaries and paralegals can opt to pursue professional certification in their field. Legal secretaries with at least three years' work experience are qualified to sit for the National Association of Legal Secretaries' (NALS) Professional Legal Secretary certification (www.nals.org). While there are no academic prerequisites to take the exam, the test measures the abilities demonstrated by successful legal secretaries such as clerical skills and knowledge of legal procedures, terms and ethics. A legal secretary can take continuing education classes in order to maintain NALS certification, which lasts five years.
Professional organizations like the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc., the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. and the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. each offer voluntary certification for paralegals. Paralegals who are working as lawyer's assistants usually take continuing education courses to keep up with changes in legal procedures and technology.
In online legal secretary training programs, students develop the administrative skills and basic legal knowledge necessary for entry-level work in a law office. Those who choose online paralegal training programs can expect to take more in-depth courses in both the theory and practice of law so that they can effectively support the work of lawyers.