What's the Difference Between Legal Assistant and Legal Secretary?

If you want to work in the legal system without having to attend law school, you may consider working as a legal assistant or legal secretary. The distinctions between a legal assistant and a legal secretary can be seen in the differences in education, training, job responsibilities and salary between the two positions. Schools offering Paralegal degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Legal Assistant and Legal Secretary Compared

Both legal assistants and legal secretaries provide assistance within a law firm to help free up the attorney's time to focus on preparing for court. In neither position are you allowed to give legal advice or carry out any duties that are considered practicing law under state or federal definitions. While the roles are similar, a legal assistant tends to have a position of higher authority as compared to a legal secretary and typically receives higher compensation.

Important Facts About These Occupations

Legal SecretaryLegal Assistant
Work Environment May work in the firm office or from home, usually full time Work primarily in the firm office or law libraries full time, travel is sometimes required
On-the-Job Training Short-term training often lasts two weeks Not provided
Professional Certification There are several professional certification options for legal secretaries from national and international associations Professional certification is available from national and local organizations
Key Skills Interpersonal skills, integrity, organizational skills, writing Research, organizational skills, communication, computer, interpersonal skills

Definition of Legal Secretary

If you want to focus more on the clerical side of law, you might want to become a legal secretary. As a legal secretary, you are a specialized administrative assistant who manages office tasks to help a law firm run smoothly. You may complete tasks, such as case research or preparing and sending legal documents, under the supervision of an attorney or paralegal.

Education Required

To learn the legal terminology and research techniques you will need to work as a legal secretary, you may want to pursue a legal secretary certificate or diploma program. You may also learn proper techniques for formatting legal correspondence, office management training and legal ethics.

Salary and Employment Outlook Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that legal secretaries' median annual wage was $42,770 in May 2014 (www.bls.gov). Job openings for legal secretaries were expected to decline by 3% between 2012 and 2022, per the BLS. You may find job opportunities in many of the same areas of employment for paralegals. You may work to advance to a paralegal position.

Definition of Legal Assistant or Paralegal

A legal assistant, often called a paralegal, may prepare legal documents, contracts and other legal materials for trials under the guidance of a lawyer. Much of your work as a paralegal will require advanced understanding of the law and legal proceedings. You will likely handle the research and administrative work for a lawyer who is preparing to go to court.

Education Required

You may be able to advance to a paralegal position by starting in a legal secretary position and working your way up to paralegal status. However, many employers prefer hiring candidates with some formal education, such as an associate's degree in paralegal studies. Paralegal programs usually combine courses in legal writing, family law, estate law, bankruptcy and other areas of litigation with general course requirements in the liberal arts. If you already hold an associate's or bachelor's degree, some schools offer a paralegal certificate program.

Salary and Employment Outlook Information

According to the BLS, in May 2014 the median annual wage of paralegals was $48,350. Traditionally, you can find most job opportunities as a paralegal in a law firm, but many opportunities are increasingly available in other settings, such as corporations or local and state government. The BLS also reported that employment of paralegals was expected to increase by 17% between the years 2012 and 2022.

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