How to Become a Legal Secretary in 5 Steps
Research what it takes to become a legal secretary. Learn about job duties, educational requirements, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the career for you.
What Does a Legal Secretary Do?
Legal secretaries have specialized training to support the work of lawyers and paralegals. They prepare legal documents, distribute correspondence, and organize case files. They are often in charge of keeping track of multiple cases at once, so it is essential for legal secretaries to be very organized and efficient. Legal secretaries may work for one lawyer and handle their schedule and appointments or may work for multiple lawyers, depending on the size of the firm. The table below outlines the general requirements for becoming a legal secretary.
|Degree Required||High school diploma or equivalent; some employers recommend an associate's degree|
|Certification||Certification from Legal Secretaries International Inc. is an option.|
|Key Responsibilities||Preparing legal documents and correspondence; taking phone calls; scheduling appointments; organizing case files; billing clients; assist with researching|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||-21% for legal secretaries*|
|Median Salary (May 2018)||$46,360 for legal secretaries*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What is a Legal Secretary?
A legal secretary is a clerical-level worker with specialized training in law to support the work of lawyers and paralegals. Your main duties include preparing and distributing legal documents and correspondence, placing or taking phone calls, scheduling appointments, organizing case files and billing clients. Complaints, motions, responses and subpoenas are among the documents you might help prepare. You may also help review legal journals, assist with legal research and instruct new lawyers in document preparation procedures.
Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma
High school can prepare you to enter this profession in at least two ways. Courses in math, English and computers provide background knowledge you could adapt to a legal office setting. You can learn basic office procedures if your school offers vocational courses for secretaries. Formal training programs for legal secretaries also require a diploma or GED for admission.
Step 2: Complete Formal Training
Legal secretary certificate programs are available from community and technical colleges and 4-year colleges and universities. Community and technical colleges also offer associate's degree programs. These programs train you in legal office procedures and the ways to create and edit legal documents and correspondence. In addition to standard business software, legal terminology and legal procedures, courses may also cover legal research, records management and legal ethics.
Step 3: Obtain a Job
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most of your job opportunities will be with law firms, but state and federal agencies, insurance companies and business services firms are potential employers too (www.bls.gov). As of May 2018, about 180,100 people worked as legal secretaries. As of May 2018, the BLS reported the median annual salary for legal secretaries to be $46,360.
Step 4: Consider Certification
Multiple certification options are available to you if you voluntarily want to pursue it. Legal Secretaries International offers the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CL) designation in seven legal specialties, including business, criminal, probate and intellectual property law (www.legalsecretaries.org). The National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS) offers the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) and Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) credentials (www.nals.org).
To be eligible for the CL certification exams, you need at least five years of law-related experience. Education can substitute for up to three years of experience. The ALS requires that you work in an office for a year or complete the NALS legal training course or an equivalent course in business or law. Exam topics include written communications, office procedures and ethics. Eligibility for the PLS calls for three years of legal experience. Education or passage of the ALS exam may substitute for one year of experience. The PLS exam tests your knowledge of law, ethics and office procedures.
Step 5: Advance Your Career
Advancement depends on whether you prefer to focus on your secretarial skills or your legal knowledge. If the former, you could gain enough experience to become an executive secretary, executive assistant or office manager. If the latter, you could become a paralegal. Unless you employer is willing to train you on the job, you typically need to earn an associate's degree in paralegal studies to work as a paralegal.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
Individuals with a strong interest in the legal profession could also consider pursuing careers as paralegals, which would allow them to work more closely with the law. Jobs that require a similar administrative skill set include general secretaries and assistants for a variety of businesses. Other industries that individuals may want to explore include insurance claims adjustment and appraisal, which require similar communication and interpersonal skills as legal secretaries.