The Career of Legal Secretary

Whether you are a student making choices about your future career, a housewife considering a return to the work place, or someone considering a career change, we hope the information on this page will be helpful as you consider whether the career of legal secretary is right for you. Below you will find information on the required Education & Skills, Duties, and Compensation, as well as reasons to become a legal secretary. If you are looking for a job, go to our career center and post your resume or browse job listings at no charge.

Education & Skills

A high school education or equivalent is usually all that is required to become a legal secretary. Business or secretarial schools that offer diplomas or certifications can be helpful. In addition to teaching the practical skills needed, such schools usually offer job placement assistance. Community colleges may also offer appropriate training. Skills needed include:

  • Typing. Large law firms usually require 65-80 wpm typing; government entry level jobs will often accept 45-50 wpm

  • Computer Skills. In addition to typing skills, you should become familiar with as many software programs as possible, especially word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation programs such as PowerPoint.

  • Grammar & Writing. A secretary should be proficient in the use of language and should be able to compose simple correspondence.

  • Proofreading. You must be able to proofread documents that have been typed by you or others and correct spelling and usage errors. Make it a habit to use a dictionary when in doubt.

  • Interpersonal skills. Must be able to interact with clients, attorneys, and co-workers and present a professional image to the public.

  • Confidentiality. Must understand the need to keep client confidences.
    Entry level jobs with the government or a small law firm will often provide opportunities for additional training and will allow you to sharpen your skills while earning a modest salary.

Duties

Beginning legal secretaries perform a variety of duties. Among other things, they may be asked to:

  • Answer the telephone and take accurate messages;

  • Use a computer word processor to type correspondence and legal documents from dictated tapes or handwritten notes;

  • Revise and format documents prepared by others;

  • Organize and file correspondence and legal documents;

  • Input information into a time and billing system and review final client bills;

  • Prepare court forms such as a summons or subpoena;

  • Open and sort mail;

  • Schedule conferences and depositions and maintain calendars for attorneys, including due dates for filing legal documents;

  • Make travel arrangements;

  • More experienced legal secretaries may also be expected to:

  • Become familiar with court rules and filing procedures and arrange for filing documents with the court by mail, messenger, or electronic means and make service on opposing parties;

  • Use the Internet for non-legal research such as locating news articles or company information;

  • Use the Internet or services such as Lexis or Westlaw to retrieve court decisions.

Compensation

Compensation for legal secretaries may vary widely among different areas of the country with smaller towns and cities offering lower pay than large metropolitan areas. The disparity is often offset by differences in the cost of living. Government jobs for legal secretaries are generally on the low to moderate end of the pay scale but are a good way to break into the legal market and often have excellent benefits. Compensation includes base pay, overtime pay, paid holidays, vacation and sick pay, and other benefits such as health, disability and life insurance, retirement plans or 401(k) plans.

  • Base salary ranges from $20,000 for beginning secretaries in non-urban areas to as much as $75,000 for an experienced legal secretary in a large metropolitan area.

  • Overtime pay is usually provided for work in excess of 40 hours (or in some cases in excess of 35 or 37.5 hours);

  • 2-3 weeks annual vacation time is usually provided the first year of employment and is increased after several years of service with the same firm;

  • 10-12 days of sick/personal time per year may be provided;

  • 10-12 paid holidays per year may be offered;

  • Health, disability and life insurance may be provided at reduced rates or at no cost to the employee;

  • Many firms offer retirement or 401(k) plans to which the firm contributes.

5 Reasons to Become a Legal Secretary

  1. Interesting and challenging work

  2. Opportunity to increase your knowledge and stretch your capabilities

  3. Opportunity to meet and work with interesting people

  4. Opportunity to assist in providing liberty, justice, and equality for all

  5. Good salary potential with minimum preparatory work