The Legal Secretary



What is a legal secretary?

Great question!

Legal secretaries are more than administrative support staff. While they may handle administrative duties, they possess a special knowledge and understanding of legal procedures. They work very closely with their attorneys filing and serving pleadings.

Long before the paralegal, there was the legal secretary. They are and have historically been the backbone of the law office. It is not uncommon for people in this position to take on managerial duties and work their way into office manager.

Legal secretaries are also referred to as Legal Assistants.

There can be some confusion over the use of Legal Assistant, but it is not uncommon for either title to be used interchangeably.

Paralegals and legal secretaries are distinguished often by a bachelor’s degree and paralegal certificate while a legal assistant is not required to have education beyond high school in the United States.

You will find, however, that many legal secretaries hold bachelor degrees. They simply choose not to work as paralegals.

Moreover, paralegals and legal assistants are titles that are also used interchangeably depending on the law firm.

Becoming a legal secretary is accomplished by taking a few community college courses on legal procedure. Often this isn’t even required because many law offices will train the right candidate for the position.

Training is done in-house and in accordance with the law office procedures on how documents are handled, saved, shared, formatted and filed.

The work of a legal assistant can be stressful. You are continually juggling deadlines, managing attorney calendars, serving pleadings and/discovery, calendaring deadlines with legal trigger dates, scheduling conferences and making flight and hotel arrangements.

You are also working with some unpredictable personalities. When the heat is on, some lawyers can’t manage the stress well and they do get snippy or curt. Depending on how long you’ve worked for your attorney, this can be temporary insanity on the attorney’s part.

However, some attorneys are just bad bosses and mistreat everyone and anyone they can.

The best legal secretary is one who can anticipate his/her attorney’s needs.

  • You’ve pulled together the exhibits for the motion to compel,
  • you’ve got the hearing on calendar with the court,
  • you’ve got envelopes ready to go for mailing to opposing counsel, or
  • you’ve coordinated with a courier to get the documents personally delivered.

You’re on top of things and you put your boss’s mind at ease with how quickly and seamlessly you produce copies of letters, pleadings or discovery whenever your attorney asks for it.

You don't ever come back with, "I don't know" as an answer because, in theory, you know it all! At least everything that has to do with your attorney's work.

Lastly, there are many career opportunities for the driven legal assistant. Once you’ve gained two or more years’ experience in the legal field your salary and overall compensation will climb.

Naturally those employed in larger firms in metropolitan areas perform better financially. It is not unusual for patent legal secretaries to earn over $75,000. Your level of experience, skill and education can help you climb the economic latter to a more rewarding career.

And, legal secretaries can visit www.legalsecretaries.org to learn more about this profession. The legal secretary is very much in demand today.

You can take different paths with your career – become an office manager, information manager, paralegal or recruiter depending on the size and needs of your office as well as your aptitude. It's really up to you!

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