A legal secretary is a professional trained in administrative and clerical work assisting lawyers and attorneys. Legal secretaries ensure smooth workflow in law firms, in-house legal departments, and other law offices. The primary difference between a paralegal and a legal secretary is that a legal secretary’s job is more administrative than a paralegal’s. Unlike administrative assistants, legal secretaries know about legal procedures and processes, as they’re trained exclusively in law.
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Job Duties of a Legal Secretary
A legal secretary performs administrative tasks in law, which require a functional understanding of the legal system. They work in legal public and private firms, courts, and government buildings, usually for attorneys, lawyers, and judges. Secretaries in this industry need the required knowledge to file and prepare specific legal documents like appeals and subpoenas.
Their complete job duties include:
Greeting and receiving clients at the time of their appointment.
Keeping and maintaining schedules for lawyers and attorneys through digital tools.
Monitoring and inventory of physical, legal material in the office and restocking when necessary.
Transcribing interviews, court hearings, witness testimonials, and client interactions.
Dealing with correspondence and preparing legal documents such as wills, writs, and appeals.
Maintaining, organizing, and retrieving files and documents and producing them as instructed.
Performing research, analysis, document preparation, and evidence evaluation to assist attorneys and lawyers in case preparation.
Recording and verifying bills and other transactions regarding office equipment and supplies.
Legal Secretary Median Salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2019, legal secretaries’ annual median wage was estimated at $47,300. The employment rate of administrative assistants and secretaries, in general, was projected to decline 9% from 2019 to 2029.
Top Skills for Legal Secretaries
Legal secretaries are tasked with filing, communicating, corresponding, arranging, preparing paperwork, and other administrative tasks. Their knowledge of law comes in handy while drafting legal data and documents.
The top skills for legal secretaries are mentioned below:
- Reliability: Attorneys, paralegals, and workers of the legal field rely on accuracy and punctuality to manage cases successfully. This is why a legal secretary must be reliable to be able to hit deadlines. In legal practice, attorneys and clients are always running against time, and it is the legal secretary’s job to assist them.
- Confidentiality: Handling sensitive and private information discretely and responsibly is critical. Clients turn to law offices for help and give out information about their cases. They want to trust the law office, which means you would need to refrain from sharing information with individuals outside the legal team.
- Research skills: The legal secretary should navigate accurately through dense legal information. They will have to interview clients to gather information and perform electronic discovery for cases to build a solid defense.
- Legal writing: A legal secretary must understand and write eloquently, cohesively, and accurately, applying legal terms into any document. This is because the documents can and will be used in court or a legal scenario. Also, a miswritten document could represent potential hazards for the firm or the legal environment they are working in. They must also be familiar with specific types of papers around the following legal specialties:
- Trial briefs
- Amicus briefs
- Appellate briefs
- Reply briefs
- Appeals processes
- Wills & testaments
- Legal complaints, appeals, & answers
- Quitclaim deeds
- Warranty deeds
- Requesting subpoenas
- Interpersonal skills: It is imperative to have professional etiquette when dealing with clients, attorneys, and everyone related to the legal process. Interpersonal skills must be shown face to face, over the phone, or in any other form of contact.
- Organization skills: Ability to track and organize transactions. Must be skilled at filing, billing, recording, communication, case preparation, and documentation on digital and physical systems. Employers highly appreciate expertise using software such as Flextrac, LexisNexis, and Synergy International.
Educational Requirements for Legal Secretaries
There is no mandatory educational requirement to become a legal secretary, but knowledge of the laws and legal system is necessary apart from performing administrative tasks. Nonetheless, having a good education provides the required edge to get a job.
The following educational credentials allow you to gain the skills required of legal secretaries:
DegreeAfter obtaining a high school diploma, you can pursue an Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies as it equips you with the technical knowledge you’ll require in this profession. The American Bar Association has a directory of schools with paralegal programs to find colleges offering an AAS. You can also do Single Subject Legal Courses at the foundational and advanced level in various specializations and the Legal Secretaries Diploma Course from The Institute of Legal Secretaries & PAs.
LicenseA license might or might not be required, depending on the state or country you will be taking the role in.
CertificatesTo further prove your credibility and test your knowledge, you can take up certificate courses. Member associations mainly provide certificate courses for legal secretaries, sometimes in collaboration with educational institutions. There’s a whole bunch of certifications they can take, but they are not required.
Some of those are below.
- Universities and Colleges: Some colleges, universities, and junior colleges also offer online certificate courses to provide legal secretaries with administrative skills, basic legal writing skills, foundational knowledge of the legal system, and the like. For instance, Kennesaw University, Georgia, offers a 350 hour online Legal Secretary Certificate to high school and GED; graduates. It teaches legal project management, basic legal writing, and accounting for $2,295; however, the price and the time required for these courses can vary depending on the state or country in which you reside.
- Member associations: Various independent and voluntary associations provide certificates and certification exams to accredit legal secretaries. The Center for Legal Studies provides an online certificate course to legal secretaries for beginners and experienced secretaries. It teaches students about the origin and history of the American Legal System, the definition and application of legal terminology, and law office ethics, among other things.
The NALS Legal professionals’ association offers the Professional Legal Secretary/Certified Legal Professional (PLS/CLP) exam to a person with a minimum of three years in law. However, some Legal Secretaries can also hold a Certified Legal Assistant (CP/CLA)certification.
- Online education: Massive Online Open Course to students (MOOC) companies also offer students basic legal writing skills, research skills, and legal knowledge. For example, Udemy offers a certificate on Becoming a Legal Secretary, and STUDY365.co.uk, a UK-based MOOC company, provides a certificate to complete its Legal Secretary Course.
Engineering project manager resume-writing tips
An attention-grabbing resume is necessary to land the job you want. Start by choosing a resume format and tailoring it to your skills and experience.
- Mention specializations: Do not mistake excluding specialization from your resume as this is a secretarial work-intensive job. Mentioning your specialization — such as work on wills and testaments — tells your prospective employers that you’re not just determined but also an expert. They could assign you more niche tasks and involve work requiring higher expertise to your job duties.
- References are essential: Vouching for your character and capabilities is important.
- Write a powerful executive summary: Employers and hiring managers review many resumes from applicants and make quick, time-sensitive recruitment decisions. So an excellent professional summary means the difference between your dream job and disappointment. Writing a concise but detailed professional overview is another way to ace your first impression.
Which industries are the highest employers of legal secretaries?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest employers of legal secretaries in May 2018 were the legal services industry, followed by local and state governments (excluding schools and hospitals). Other recruiters were insurance companies, investment pools and funds, and scientific research and development services.
Which states are the top-paying states for legal secretaries?
As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2018, the states paying the highest wages to legal secretaries were the District of Columbia ($86,190 mean annual salary), Massachusetts ($59,020 mean annual salary), California ($56,570 annual mean wage), New York ($55,920 mean annual salary), and Washington ($54,590 mean annual salary).
Other than eResearch and trial presentation software, what technical skills should a legal secretary possess?
A legal secretary should know how to work with Microsoft Excel, Gmail, transcription software, billing and financial systems, and word processing.