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Legal Secretary vs Paralegal?
(4 Key Differences Between Them)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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Lawyers can depend on a team of experts to work as one and help accomplish their objectives. Paralegals and legal secretaries are vital members of this group, but do you know the difference between them?

As a lawyer, I can tell you that both legal assistants and paralegal positions are instrumental for any lawyer’s success — let’s take an in-depth look at each one!

Quick Summary

  • A legal assistant plays an essential role in the legal field, performing administrative duties such as editing and organizing legal documents and other general office duties.
  • Lawyers depend on legal secretaries to remain orderly and meticulous in scheduling, avoiding conflicts between court dates and client briefings.
  • A legal secretary is a vital aid to paralegals and attorneys, but they are not the same caliber as a paralegal or legal assistant.

A paralegal and a legal secretary standing beside each otherParalegals and legal secretaries are both integral aspects of the legal industry, yet each has unique roles that distinguish them from others.

Paralegals specialize in providing legal aid to lawyers, while a Legal Secretary’s job mainly consists of clerical and administrative tasks.

Unlike legal secretaries, who work closely with lawyers and other legal professionals, the role of a legal secretary is akin to that of an administrative professional – like secretaries or administrative assistants.

What Is a Paralegal?

A paralegal is an integral member of a legal team. They are also known as a legal assistant. Although they aren’t legally qualified, paralegals possess extensive knowledge of the law and legal matters.

They are regularly called upon to complete various administrative duties for lawyers, barristers, or chartered legal executives. In other words, they perform substantive legal work due to their understanding of the law.

Legal assistants are also responsible for managing paper or digital filing systems, drafting legal documents related to the case; creating drafts of legal papers; and preparing all required exhibits, briefs, affidavits, and appeals associated with proceedings. Let us talk more about the roles of legal assistants.

Roles of a Paralegal

A paralegal doing paperworkParalegals have an ever-changing set of duties, depending on the law firm and case they are working with, from preparing cases to collaborating with other legal professionals, offering close counsel to lawyers, and delving into details through legal research [1].

A legal assistant is integral to any legal team, providing indispensable research and investigation into relevant laws and court rulings for specific cases.

Not only that, but legal assistants also prepare legal documents and create summaries of their findings to aid attorneys in formulating effective arguments in court. 

Paralegal Education

Students who wish to pursue a career as a legal assistant can expect to cover topics such as:

  • Introduction to law
  • Legal research and writing
  • Litigation: evidence, discovery, trial, and appeal
  • Legal computer applications
  • Family law practice
  • Real estate practice

Certified paralegals can apply for a legal secretary role if desired. Still, it is important to be cognizant that these positions generally pay less than those of paralegals, as fewer skills are required.

What Is a Legal Secretary?

A legal secretary working on a tabletA legal secretary is a person who performs administrative and clerical tasks as well as addresses projects, issues, and responsibilities in legal settings.

These specialized staff members answer phones and emails, set up meetings or appointments accordingly, and efficiently manage all incoming/outgoing mail.

As a legal administrative assistant, it is essential to know law terminology. This entails preparing legal paperwork, including summonses and subpoenas, and assisting with research concerning the law.

Roles of a Legal Secretary

A legal secretary must possess comprehensive law knowledge and have exceptional computer proficiency and organizational skills.

This is to ensure that all legal files are accurate and up-to-date, in addition to other tasks such as:

  • Answering phone calls
  • Managing client relationships
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Editing and proofreading legal documents

Legal Secretary Education

A person studying legal secretary educationTo become a legal secretary, you must obtain matriculation or its equivalent. Plenty of accredited courses can help set you up for success.

Once these courses have been completed and passed with flying colors, you will be equipped with the knowledge and expertise necessary to take on roles in the world of legal affairs.

Certified legal assistant programs are typically offered at two-year associate degree or certificate levels.

The curriculum combines training a legal administrative assistant in:

  • Law Office Legal Procedures
  • General Office Management
  • Communications
  • Law Terminology
  • Legal Ethics And Liability
  • Civil Litigation
  • Real Estate Law
  • Family Law
  • Immigration Law
  • Criminal Law

“Paralegals or a legal assistant at law firms earned a median annual salary of $51,740 while legal secretaries earned a median annual salary of $44,180.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics

A legal secretary and a paralegal talkingCertified paralegals are legal professionals who have successfully finished the official testing administered by NALA or the National Association of Legal Assistants.

On the other hand, we have legal assistants – often called ‘paralegals’ – who possess similar roles and duties but lack certification from NALA. 

Moreover, larger law firms tend to employ certified paralegals and uncertified legal aides who may be working on their certifications while employed at the law firm.

Skills 

For paralegals and uncertified legal assistants to succeed in their roles, they must possess the same essential skills.

These include attention to detail for research purposes; an understanding of the field that applies to them; proficiency in business writing, document editing, and contract creation; and familiarity with common office programs.

Moreover, using these applications efficiently is a critical component of job performance.

Legal secretaries should maintain high accuracy when transcribing dictation or recording oral hearings. Furthermore, some legal secretaries may be in charge of billing clients and therefore require an understanding of accounting fundamentals.

Yet more than anything else, the organization is essential; attorneys rely on their clerks to keep orderly records so that court dates never conflict with client meetings.

Education

A lawyer studying at homeMultiple educational routes are available for those seeking a career in paralegal or legal assisting. The most common paths involve two-year courses at universities or four-year programs offered by community colleges.

After completing their studies, students can opt to take the NALA exam for certification as a paralegal or work without it as an uncertified legal assistant.

Legal assistants can take a vocational secretarial course for up to one year. Alternatively, they may prefer customizing their abilities with shorter courses such as typing and filing. These activities are essential for those seeking success in this profession.

Compensation

Paralegals offer immense value to the legal system by charging much lower hourly rates than solicitors while still providing critical services. 

Their charges are billed as ‘legal fees’ based on how long they spend working on clients’ cases, making them indispensable in an increasingly competitive market and cost-conscious environment. Paralegals are essential for keeping legal services competitive.

Paralegals are expected to handle most of their typing in some legal settings. However, where they have access to secretaries who specialize as Legal Secretaries, these individuals can take on the burden of typing paperwork while allowing the legal assistant more time and energy to provide exceptional legal services for specific clients.

Even as law firms look to scale back, numerous job opportunities and other prospects will be available for paralegals and legal assistants. Paralegals offer many of the same abilities as newly admitted attorneys but at a lower expense.

According to an assessment conducted in 2008, it is projected that employment openings for paralegal positions are estimated to grow by 28% within ten years (by 2018) [2].

Duties & Responsibilities

A lawyer looking at paperworkParalegals and uncertified legal assistants are essential partners in law practice, responsible for important tasks like investigating applicable jurisprudence, crafting official documents, and gathering evidence for court.

It’s possible to become an expert in certain areas of law just as attorneys do; litigation paralegals, corporate lawyers’ aides, family-law specialists–they’re all out there. In many cases, they can be even more adept at their specialties than the attorneys themselves.

Serving a more supportive position, legal secretaries work with attorneys to help keep their calendars updated and organized.

This includes making arrangements for court appearances, client meetings, depositions, and other activities that need the lawyer’s physical presence.

They could be asked to digitize or encode documents and meetings, even if they aren’t physically present during these legal proceedings.

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FAQs

Is a Paralegal a Legal Professional?

Yes, a paralegal is a legal professional who contributes significantly to the operation of a law office or the legal department.

Can a Paralegal Provide Legal Advice?

No, a paralegal can’t provide legal advice; they can help with the legal process in several ways, such as through case preparations.

Is a Legal Secretary Position a Good Career?

Yes, a legal secretary position is a good career. As a legal secretary, you’ll have the unique chance to expand your horizons and explore various fields of work, such as professional and scientific services, government positions, educational settings, or healthcare.

Do Legal Assistants Make More Money Than Legal Secretaries?

Yes, legal assistants usually make more money than legal secretaries. However, this depends on experience and location.

Paralegal vs Legal Secretary: What Is the Best Choice for You?

When choosing between a career as a legal assistant and one as a legal secretary, as well as when deciding whether to pursue paralegal or secretarial work, there are numerous aspects you must take into account.

Such issues may include the type of job you would like to do, your experience level in such roles, and what salary expectations you have for yourself.

Ready to begin your journey in the legal field? Then trust Schmidt & Clark, LLP for a complimentary, personalized consultation. Our experienced team will be with you every step of the way and offer knowledgeable advice on what is most suitable for achieving your future goals.


Reference:

  1. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-2
  2. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm

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