In today’s fast-changing legal profession, there’s no one job description that can encompass all the duties of a legal secretary. The most reliable guide, then, is to look at the general responsibilities that recur in job descriptions for this position.
When reviewing the major themes, you’ll see employers seeking capabilities like these:
- Mastery of clerical, secretarial, and general administrative duties
- Organizational capabilities for both digital and analog files and support materials
- Proficiency in written communications
- Knowledge of relevant legal policies, procedures, institutions and documents
- Up-to-date capabilities with major office technologies and software
- Ability to coordinate schedules, travel arrangements, client meetings, and court dates
- Trustworthiness, initiative, sound judgment, and impeccable ethics
- Excellent interpersonal skills. Not only with attorneys and clients, but also with court personnel and other members of the legal services team.
But identifying these broad generalizations only gets one so far. A candidate must pay close attention to the subtle differences between legal secretary job descriptions. A little detective work here can prove invaluable. It will help determine your “fit” with a specific position, and allow you to custom-tailor your application.
Legal Secretary Job Requirements
These positions usually require an associate degree and 0-3 years of relevant experience. It’s also becoming more common for top employers to require legal secretary certification. Even if this is not a job requirement, candidates who receive certification can enhance their professional credentials, and their employability.
Technology: A Legal Secretary’s Friend and Foe
It was not so long ago that most lawyers were strangers to the computer keyboard. If there was a legal problem that needed solving, a legal secretary’s involvement was an unquestioned necessity. They would need to take dictation, capture the shorthand notes, transcribe the recordings, enter the text, format the documents, and assemble the printed drafts, etc.
But when a new generation of computer-literate lawyers entered the workforce, the relationship between lawyers and secretaries began to change. Within a few years it became more common for a lawyer to execute necessary casework from his/her personal computer. Once lawyers reached this level of self-sufficiency, employers started to question the role of legal secretaries within the organization.
Legal Secretaries and the Search for Productivity
While technology was transforming the legal environment, economic matters also began playing an important role in the lives of legal secretaries. In every legal environment — law firms, government agencies, corporate law departments, and nonprofits — managers were becoming increasingly interested in cost-containment measures. Clients were demanding more legal services for their shrinking budgets, causing legal service providers to seek greater productivity gains — in workflows, technologies, and staffing arrangements.
These “cost saving” initiatives often meant the loss of jobs for legal secretaries. Yet, many organizations soon found that dismissing a legal secretary proved to be unwise. After all, the Average National Base Salary for a legal secretary (according to our 2017 Salary Guide) is $50,342. That means a legal secretary with talent, motivation, and interpersonal skills can produce certain “legal outputs” far more cost-effectively than a lawyer can. By understanding this basic math — and being clear about the capabilities an organization values most — a savvy legal secretary can quickly prove his/her worth, and earn membership as a valued team member.
That’s what we hear from experienced recruiters, who also offer this straightforward bit of advice: “Want to succeed as a legal secretary? Make yourself indispensable to the individual or organization you serve.”
Contact one of our recruiters today to see if a position as a legal secretary is right for you!
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