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Legal Secretary: Education Requirements, Duties & Skills

Jan 07, 2021

Legal secretaries use their skills to assist with administrative tasks surrounding legal procedures, and they may be expected to obtain either a legal secretary certificate or associate's degree in order to fulfill their roles. These programs teach individuals legal terminology and how to prepare legal documents, readying them for a career in which they may an earn a median annual salary of $47,300, per 2019 BLS figures. Job opportunities for legal secretaries are typically found in law firms.

How to Become a Legal Secretary

Legal secretaries need a combination of basic legal knowledge and secretarial skills in order to effectively perform their duties. They must be familiar with court filing rules, legal documents, legal terminology and law office procedures in order to perform tasks that range from answering telephones to preparing documents. Prospective legal secretaries should also be aware of the specific ways in which the legal system functions at their local and state levels as well as the federal level in order to maximize their ability to assist a law firm. The steps to becoming a legal administrative assistant can include:

  1. Obtain a high school diploma or GED.
  2. Take courses in keyboarding or administration.
  3. Consider obtaining a certificate or associate's degree.

While not all employers require formal education for legal secretaries or other legal support workers, legal secretary certificate and degree programs can often prepare individuals to perform the required job duties and also advance in their careers.

Required Education Legal secretary certificate or associate's degree may be required
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) 22% decline*
Median Salary (2019) $47,300 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Legal Secretary Education Requirements

While some legal secretaries have no formal postsecondary training, many have completed legal secretary certificate or associate degree programs at community colleges or career schools. Legal secretary programs equip students with an understanding of general legal office procedures and legal terminology. They also prepare graduates to produce legal documents, including subpoenas, legal memos, complaints, motions, charges, discovery documents, deeds, pleadings and briefs. In some cases, legal secretaries can obtain this training through accredited online certificate programs that allow students to complete all coursework on a computer in under a year.

Courses that individuals going through legal secretary training may encounter include business math, legal research, records management, legal technology, business law, legal transcription, legal writing, business communications, word processing and law terminology. Upon completion of a legal secretary program, graduates will be familiar with court filing rules, probate and estate planning, proper legal symbols and filing techniques, as well as legal fundamentals such as employment law and torts.

Legal Secretary Job Duties and Work Environment

Legal secretaries provide administrative support to lawyers. They help with legal research, maintain office records, type briefs and subpoenas, maintain docket systems, record trial dates and schedule witnesses. They also schedule depositions and hearings, as well as updating discovery binders.

Most legal secretaries work with law firms. Other employment settings may include courts, government agencies, public interest firms, non-profit organizations and corporate legal departments. Legal secretaries may also find employment as legal word processors, document clerks, litigation assistants or legal receptionists.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for legal secretaries will decline by 22% between 2019 and 2029. Legal secretaries earned median annual wages of $47,300 as of May 2019, according to the BLS.

How to Be a Good Legal Secretary

Being a good legal secretary is all about organization. One of the things that a legal secretary can do to assist the law firm that they work for is to have a strong organizational system for all documents. Clarity and accuracy in the use of written documentation is also of the utmost importance so that lawyers and clients can understand information set down by legal secretaries with ease. Communicating clearly with the law firm, lawyers, paralegals, and others is also essential for legal secretaries in order to prevent misunderstandings, troubleshoot, and resolve any issues that may arise. To the extent that legal secretaries may interact with clients of lawyers, as well as juries and other members of the public, it is essential that they act with discretion and respect, as legal cases can be very emotional or stressful for those involved in them, and there is a great deal of information that legal secretaries work with that is sensitive in nature.

What Is the Difference Between a Paralegal, Legal Assistant and Legal Secretary?

Although paralegals, legal assistants and legal secretaries provide legal support, they do so in somewhat different ways. Paralegals and legal assistants require more formal legal education. Individuals interested in learning how to become a legal assistant might want to be aware that these individuals often need an associate or a bachelor's degree and legal studies certificate. These professionals do more substantive legal work on a day-to-day basis, such as conducting research and drafting legal documents.

Legal secretaries require a basic legal understanding, but their roles are primarily administrative in nature. Paralegals, legal assistants and legal secretaries may often work side by side in a law firm and their duties may overlap to some degree.

In summary, becoming a legal secretary will likely require that you receive the appropriate certificate or associate's degree and learn both the fundamentals of administrative support and a basic understanding of law that will allow you to effectively assist lawyers where you live. Through this education you'll be prepared to create legal documents, maintain office records, and keep things running smoothly in law firms, possibly earning a median salary of $47,300 per year.

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