Duties and responsibilities
A legal secretary is an administrative support professional who provides support specifically for lawyers, solicitors and legal executives. They carry out administrative and clerical duties to ensure that the law firm runs smoothly and to allow the lawyers to focus on serving their clients. Like always, specific responsibilities vary depending on the size and location of the law firm. However, a legal secretary can expect to do the following:
- Answer incoming calls and distribute them to the relevant employee
- Type and process legal documents, such as appeals, summonses and subpoenas
- Schedule meetings and organise the calendars of legal executives
- Carry out administrative and clerical tasks, such as filing, faxing, photocopying and ordering stationary
To become a legal secretary, you will need a high school diploma to get an entry-level position, and experience in the field to get higher-level positions. Once hired, you will receive training, that can last for a few months, to teach you about administrative and clerical duties and to teach you the specific legal terminology and processes. Due to the understanding and knowledge of the legal system required, some employers prefer to hire legal secretaries with a bachelors degree in relevant field (i.e., criminology or sociology)
Skills and relevant work experience
As mentioned previously, it will be beneficial to have experience in an administrative role, where you will learn the skills needed for administration, and experience and knowledge of the legal field so that you can understand specific terminology and processes. As well as this, other desirable skills include:
- Interpersonal skills are essential as legal secretaries are required to interact with clients, customers and lawyers and therefore must be able to formulate trusting and professional relationships
- Organisation skills are essential as legal secretaries are responsible for keeping on top of diaries, calendars and paperwork of legal executives
- Communication skills are also essential because legal secretaries help with liaisons between the clients and the lawyer. Therefore, they must have excellent written communication skills to answer emails and excellent verbal skills to communicate clearly over the phone or in person
- Decision making skills are key as legal secretaries will need to prioritize tasks and make decisions, meaning that good judgement is absolutely essential
- Technology skills are also key as legal secretaries will need to use different software programs, such as Microsoft office, to keep documents updated. They will also need to use fax machines and multi-line telephones to communicate with clients
Legal secretaries tend to work normal full time hours (Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm). However, they may sometimes have to work additional hours when supporting lawyers on meeting deadlines or if they have to travel with them to attend meetings, attend court hearings or go to other offices.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for secretaries and administrative assistants in the United States was $39,850 in 2019. The lowest 10% earned less than $25,720 and the highest 10% earned more than $65,510. Out of all administrative support professionals, legal secretaries are the second best paid, with a medium annual wage of $47,300.
The employment of legal secretaries is expected to decline by 21 percent from 2018 to 2028, as paralegals are able to do the administrative duties once delegated to legal secretaries. However, there are progression opportunities, as with the right skills and experience, legal secretaries can become a senior secretary, personal assistant or office manager. It is also not uncommon for legal secretaries to gain more qualifications and become a legal executive or paralegal.