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How To Become A Legal Secretary

Becoming A Legal Secretary - Overview

Man and woman doing research

Law offices across the U.S. depend on trained legal secretaries to help business run smoothly. With their broad knowledge and technical abilities, legal secretaries perform a wide range of important tasks within their field. They are valued by lawyers, clients, and court officials for their ability to help bridge the gap between individuals and entities in the complex legal system.

Training to become a legal secretary means adding specialized skills to your existing knowledge. As the reliance on technology spreads through law offices across the country, legal secretaries are an important part of the legal team, working with new hardware and software and operating on the front lines of law offices to keep systems current while catering to the needs of clients.

Legal Administrative Assistant Secretary

What Do Legal Secretaries Do?

Legal secretaries work closely with paralegals and attorneys to prepare materials and provide other essential functions in a law office. These specialized administrative professionals use a strong working knowledge of technical terminology and procedures to keep business running smoothly. Under the supervision of a paralegal or attorney, legal secretaries prepare materials such as:

  • Legal correspondence
  • Trial papers such as motions and responses
  • Legal papers such as subpoenas, complaints, and summons

Beyond paper preparation, legal secretaries serve a variety of valuable purposes in law offices, where duties can change on a day-to-day basis. On any given day at the office, a legal secretary might have one or more of the following tasks:

  • Proofreading essential documents
  • Assisting with legal research and fact-checking
  • Teaching new lawyers how to follow document procedures

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there were approximately 220,680 legal secretaries working in the U.S. as of 2013. Due to changes in the makeup of most legal offices and teams, employment for legal secretaries is expected to decrease from 2012 2022, resulting in a net loss of around 7,000 legal secretary jobs nationally.

According to the BLS, legal secretaries earned mean annual wages of $42,390 in 2013. Higher salaries may be expected with additional experience and training, as legal secretaries move to supervisory or paralegal positions. The BLS reports that the top ten percent of earners in this field brought home an annual mean wage of $69,360 in 2013. The following states had the highest annual mean wages for legal secretaries in 2013, according to the BLS:

  • District of Columbia: $68,940
  • New York: $54,190
  • California: $51,760

Group of legal secretaries in a meeting

Legal Secretary Careers: Getting Started

Although high school graduates may qualify for entry-level secretarial positions, working as a legal secretary typically requires formal education designed to teach you the language of the industry. Legal secretary programs usually last from one to two years and are available in vocational schools both online and on campus.

Becoming a legal secretary involves training in legal terminology, technology, and software as well as developing skills in typing, verbal and written communication, and grammar. Legal secretaries should be able to communicate professionally and effectively, using the advanced legal language of their profession.

Most legal secretaries have to go through specialized training in the intricacies of a law office. In order to become certified in the special procedures used on the job, aspiring legal secretaries can take tests through the following professional organizations:

  • National Association of Legal Secretaries, Inc. (NALS)
  • Legal Secretaries International, Inc.
  • International Association of Administrative Professionals

NALS offers the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) designation to legal secretaries who either have one year of experience in the legal field, or have completed an approved training course. A Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) designation is considered an appropriate designation for paralegals.

How to Become a Great Legal Secretary

Becoming a great legal secretary requires training, experience, and continuing education. The best legal secretaries must have a strong awareness of the shifting rules and regulations in the legal world, and often secure certifications as proof of their skills. Once you have five years of experience and pass an examination, you can earn the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation, conferred by Legal Secretaries International. The designation allows legal secretaries to specialize in one of the following areas:

  • Intellectual Property
  • Criminal Law
  • Civil Litigation
  • Probate
  • Business Law

Whether you choose to specialize or keep your skills broad, advancing as a legal secretary requires operating at high levels of proficiency. While no career training program can guarantee a certain career or salary, hiring managers in the legal secretary field typically prefer to see applicants with formal training. Whether or not you have a career history in administrative work, career training can help you succeed as a legal secretary.

Resources for Legal Secretaries

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Legal Secretaries
  • National Association of Legal Secretaries
  • Legal Secretaries International, Inc.
  • International Association of Administrative Professionals

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm#tab-1

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2013," Legal Secretaries, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436012.htm

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