Legal Support Workers
Legal support workers perform tasks for lawyers. The term legal support worker covers a wide array of work from filing documents to performing legal research. They work in occupations such as paralegal, legal secretaries, legal transcriptionists and other occupations. Legal support workers need to be knowledgeable about legal terminology and protocol. Some legal support personnel primarily perform administrative tasks while others such as paralegals are involved with actual legal work.
Some of the job titles are brief writer, contract clerk, case briefer, law researcher, legal research analysts, patent researcher, trail examiner and legal technician.
A paralegal performs actual legal work and not just administrative tasks. Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, are often given tasks carried out by lawyers such as preparing trial materials and identifying laws and judicial decisions that are relevant to cases. Investigating the facts of cases is also part of the occupation.
A paralegal also helps prepare lawyers for corporate meetings. Some paralegals help draft mortgages, contracts and separation agreements. They also help with planning estates and establishing trust funds. In addition, paralegals are not allowed to represent clients in court, set legal fees or offer legal advice.
Legal transcriptionists utilize the skills of court reporters to create verbatim transcriptions of meetings, interviews and other events for recording purposes and later review. Many legal transcriptionists work for legal support services companies that offer their services to law firms. Some legal transcriptionists are employed by large law firms.
Legal secretaries perform office administrative tasks for legal firms. Some of the tasks are information processing and storage, scheduling, preparing documents and performing research. They should have a strong foundation in the court system and legal terminology.
Legal secretaries often spend time preparing documents including subpoenas, complaints and court motions. They also verify information, sources and quotes that will be utilized in court trials and other types of legal proceedings.
Legal transcriptionists should have skills with stenotype and other types of transcribing machines. They should have excellent typing skills and have a solid foundation in legal terminology. They also need good grammar and spelling skills.
Paralegals perform most of their work in offices and law libraries. They occasionally travel to collect information and to perform other tasks. Paralegals typically work 40 hours per week.
Legal secretaries usually work 40 per week, however sometimes overtime is necessary. Legal secretaries should be detailed oriented.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts employment growth for paralegal and legal assistants to be 22% between 2006 and 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 12% employment growth for legal secretaries from 2006 to 2016.
The median annual earnings for paralegals and legal assistants in 2006 was $43,040. The median annual earnings in 2006 for legal secretaries was $38,190.
Those who have a bachelor's degree or some formal training as a legal secretary have the best career opportunities. An increased demand for legal services and a need to lower legal costs should continue to provide employment opportunities for legal secretaries.
Law firms are using paralegals to perform a wider array of tasks. Law firms reduce costs by allowing paralegals to perform tasks typically done by lawyers.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Partaking in a community college paralegal program that leads to an associate degree is a common path for becoming a paralegal. Bachelor's and associate degree programs typically combine paralegal training with classes in other subjects. A small number of schools provide a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in paralegal studies. In addition, graduating from an American Bar Association approved paralegal program can improve the chances of getting a job.
Certificate programs are also available for the paralegal field. The National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Certified Paralegal credential and the Advanced Paralegal certification. The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., and the National Federation of Paralegal Association also offer credentials.
Community colleges, private careers schools and technical centers provide legal secretarial programs that take one to two years to finish. Through a testing process, the National Association of Legal Assistants offers the Accredited Legal Secretary designation to those that have at least one year of experience in the legal field and to those that have completed an approved training course. The association also offers the Professional Legal Secretary certificate for legal support professionals.
Legal transcriptionists are required to have certification. A strong foundation of the legal system and legal terminology are vital. Business law training, typing and computer skills are important to prospective employers.
- National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- Standing Committee on Paralegals, American Bar Association
- National Association of Legal Secretaries
The primary employment sectors are law firms, legal support services, the government, insurance carriers and corporations.
Schools for Legal Support Workers are listed in the Browse Schools Section.