How Much Does a Legal Secretary Earn Yearly?
- Top Ten:
- Bottom Ten:
- Mean: $0
- Top Ten: $0
- Bottom Ten:
A legal secretary is indispensible in any legal environment. Legal secretaries are employed in law firms, corporate legal divisions, tax firms, and the insurance and banking sectors. While a legal secretary does not have the level of sophisticated legal knowledge that an attorney has, a good legal secretary ensures that a law office runs smoothly.
From handling clients, to opening and sorting correspondence, to organizing files and managing documents, a legal secretary's duties may be as varied as the office in which he or she works.
A legal secretary's duties are dictated in large part by their working environment. In a small office, a legal secretary's daily duties may be more diverse. In a large law firm, a legal secretary may handle files for 2 or 3 attorneys and so his or her scope of duties may be quite a bit narrower.
Many law firms consist of 1 or 2 attorneys. This kind of firm may employ one person who acts both as receptionist and legal secretary. In addition to answering phones, in this situation, a legal secretary may format documents that an attorney has drafted, or transcribe documents dictated by an attorney. A legal secretary may also prepare simple legal documents, and legal forms for an attorney to review and finalize.
This secretary may also answer calendar court appearances and deadlines for filings and document responses. Finally, this secretary will also be in charge of filing internal documents in a timely fashion and ensuring that documents are easily retrievable.
In a larger firm, a legal secretary types and prepares correspondence, court pleadings, and discovery, maintains calendars, and files documents. A legal secretary may also interface with the court, opposing counsel and with clients. This secretary rarely has any receptionist duties.
A legal secretary must also make arrangements for the timely and proper filing of all court documents, arrange for service of process when needed, and follow up with vendors to make sure that documents were filed and served correctly.
In this setting, legal secretaries prepare correspondence, maintain files, set up and manage meetings, transcribe meeting notes, and format and finalize reports.
As technological advances have made it easier for attorneys to do much of their own work, the role of legal secretary is one that is flux. Some firms employ traditional legal secretaries. Other firms have begun to combine the role of paralegal and legal secretary into one. In this situation, in addition to the more traditional role of typing and transcribing, a legal secretary may also possess a paralegal certificate and may also perform legal research and prepare routine discovery responses.
Most often, a legal secretary works in an office. If the secretary is being shared between 2 or more attorneys, that secretary may work in a cubicle area near the offices of the attorneys he or she works with.
Most legal secretaries work a regular 9 to 5 shift. However, legal secretaries who work in litigation firms often work extended hours when those attorneys are preparing for and are in the middle of trial, arbitration or mediation.
Increasingly, legal secretary work is being done at least in part, from home. Telecommuting legal secretary positions are available. Some of these positions are freelance positions. As technology advances, it has become easier to work as a virtual secretary. Documents can be shared online, telephone calls can be made via computer, most legal research is done online these days, and dictation files can be shared digitally.
A paralegal has different duties than does a legal secretary. Those duty differences require more education for the paralegal.
A paralegal works more with clients, engages in more legal research, and more case preparation. A paralegal may work directly with clients in eliciting discovery responses in litigation cases, may also work more closely with clients in the drafting of transactional documents under an attorney's supervision.
A legal secretary is an administrative position. A paralegal works in a more substantive manner with facts, often helping an attorney prepare for court appearances, by working with the documents, clients, witnesses and facts of a case. In contrast, a legal secretary works to prepare documents for filing with the court, manages the calendar, and has limited substantive work with clients.
This is a profession that is grounded in experience rather than in formal education. At a minimum, a legal secretary will need a high school diploma and experience. For example, an employer may require two to three years experience in a wide variety of complex legal secretarial duties. Some employers are willing to substitute some college, or secretarial school classes for experience.
However, formal education in legal administration, experience and certification can make you more competitive. Since much of a legal secretary's work is involved in typing, transcribing, and writing, classes in speech, communication, English composition, and computer software can be quite helpful.
Certification is voluntary and is available from a number of organizations. The National Association for Legal Secretaries (NALS) offers certification opportunities as an Accredited Legal Professional (ALP) or a Professional Legal Secretary (PLS). The ALP is an entry level certification while the PLS is for people with at least three years of legal work experience.
Legal secretarial training programs are also available. For example, a training program for legal secretaries is available from UCLA. The training program also offers certification. Some of the areas of focus in this and other training programs include the following:
Civil litigation unfolds along a predictable path. A complaint is filed, then answered, discovery commences with interrogatories, requests for production and depositions, settlement discussions and conferences follow and if they are unsuccessful, the case moves to trial, mediation or arbitration.
Each of these areas of civil litigation includes different tasks and the preparation of different documents. A legal secretary learns the basics of civil litigation and what duties he or she will have to undertake during each of these area of litigation.
Document preparation is tied to the area of law practiced. Documents in these areas of the law are very different. The practice of wills, trusts and estates includes drafting wills, trusts, powers of attorney, petitions for guardianship and the appointing of a conservator. Many of the documents used in family law and bankruptcy are forms. Forms are meant to simplify document preparation, but it is important to know how to prepare these forms correctly. Incorrect forms are often rejected by the court for filing.
Organizing client information and documents is a critical skill. When an attorney needs a document, finding that document quickly and easily is important. A legal secretary learns standard filing systems for different sorts of cases. Litigation files are usually kept differently than are bankruptcy files for example.
Courts are particular about filings. A legal secretary needs to know the procedures for filing. This could include how many copies the court wants, the fees involved, how to get stamped filed copies back from the court, e-filing procedures and the like.
Many courts have adopted the fast track system to allow speedy disposition of cases. The courts which fast track cases have their own procedures and deadlines for filings and responsive pleadings. In a fast track court, the judge assumes the responsibility for managing the litigation. Dates are set for settlement conference and trial almost as soon as the case is filed. The goal is to dispose of a case in 1-2 years after filing.
Calendaring is a huge issue in a law firm. Dates must be carefully calendared to avoid a loss to a client. A legal secretary must learn the how to calendar all the dates relevant to a case. These dates include the last date to file a complaint, the date an answer is due, the date discovery responses are due, and the date responses to motions are due. When you have many cases open, this task can be difficult to keep up with.
A good tickler and calendaring system is one of the most important tools in a law firm to ensure that deadlines are not missed and files are not neglected. A good tickler system allows the immediate and automatic entry of all dates for a case and entry for reminders for all critical deadlines. A legal secretary must become adept at using a tickler system to ensure that all deadlines on files are met.
Law has its own language. Legal terms are precise and learning the language of the law can be one of the most important fundamental skills that a good legal secretary learns. This allows efficiency and clarity.
Federal and state courts all have their own rules, regulations and procedures. Court procedures cover everything from the look of pleadings to whether motions must be blue-backed, to the formatting of an appellate brief. When procedures are not followed, these courts often reject the filing of a document and this can have disastrous results for a client.
Litigation documents can be divided into pleadings which include a complaint and answer, summons and proofs of service, Judicial Council forms which can also be used for pleadings and some discovery, discovery requests and responses, subpoenas, motions, and trial and arbitration briefs. Each of these documents must be formatted precisely and it is important to know how to use and prepare each of these types of documents. In the course of any day, a legal secretary will prepare several of these documents.
More schools are now offering online courses for legal secretaries. Many of these are certificate programs. For example, the Center for Legal Studies has its certificate program for legal secretaries entirely online – i.e. there are no on-campus classes and no fixed duration to complete the program. Student learn how to handle e-discovery, file documents and manage files, to use common software programs to create pleadings and other legal documents, how to create citations correctly, and the like.
Legal secretaries are highly skilled. They must possess a number of skills that are indispensible in their work. Some of these include the following:
Job growth for legal secretaries is estimated to decline in the coming years. The BLS estimates that the job market for secretaries in general will decline by as much as 5% from 2016 to 2026. However, the projected job growth for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to rise by as much as 15% during the same period. Many law firms are now combining these positions in order to make better use of employment dollars.
Paralegals and legal assistants do much of the same work that legal secretaries do, but they have a higher degree of legal education and experience and can do more substantive work such as legal research, client intake, review discovery responses with clients, and the like.
A court reporter transcribes deposition testimony and court proceedings. Using stenographic equipment, a court reporter can transcribe up to 200 words per minute or more, taking what is said and creating a verbatim written transcript of the proceeding. Court reporters can work part time or full time.
With the advance of technology, much of the discovery taking place in litigation these days, takes place electronically. In larger litigation firms, e-discovery specialists help identify, preserve and manage electronically stored information generated in discovery. These jobs can often be done both remotely and on a part-time basis.