A legal secretary is an administrative assistant trained exclusively in the field of law. Through a comprehensive and specialized training program, legal secretaries are proficient at handling all administrative duties within a law office or legal department setting.
Although the terms legal secretary and paralegal are often interchanged with one another, these two terms describe distinctly different professions. A legal secretary serves in more of an clerical capacity, typing, transcribing and filing, while a paralegal typically assumes more legal responsibility, often writing legal drafts and creating legal correspondence on behalf of the attorney.
However, many legal secretaries go on to become paralegals after obtaining an associate’s degree in paralegal studies and gaining professional certification.
Legal Secretary Job Functions
Employed in a number of settings, including law firms and legal departments within private corporations, insurance companies and real estate firms, legal secretaries may perform a number of daily tasks, including:
- Arranging for the delivery of legal paperwork
- Typing correspondence and legal paperwork
- Transcribing court proceedings and other recorded meetings
- Scheduling, coordinating and confirming court dates, appointments, and meetings
- Conducting research in legal matters
In smaller law firms, it is also not unusual for legal secretaries to also answer phones and greet clients.
Legal secretaries must have excellent phone and computer skills and must be able to effectively perform a number of routine tasks at a moments notice:
- Maintain calendars and schedules for a number of attorneys
- Develop and maintain a comprehensive and organized billing system
- Ensure all billable hours are accurately recorded
- Understand the basics of a number of court documents, such as summons and subpoenas make travel arrangements
- Arrange for the filing of court documents
The Role of the Legal Secretary Within Law Offices and Practice Settings
Similar to lawyers and other law professionals, legal secretaries often specialize in certain areas of law, such as family law, contract law, or will and estates. If a legal secretary specializes in trial law and works for a trial lawyer, accompanying the lawyer to court to take notes for the trial is also commonplace.
Legal secretaries serve as trusted members of a law firm, as they must ensure precision in their work; respect strict confidentiality requirements; organize, classify, and categorize mountains of paperwork associated with complex cases; and navigate the often-complex legal and billing software.
Successful legal secretaries possess many of the same qualities as paralegals and even attorneys do, such as:
- Attention to detail
- Keen observation skills
- Excellent time management skills
- Strong organizational skills
- Impressive communication skills
Further, legal secretaries must possess excellent judgment and make important decisions within the scope of their duties on a daily basis.