About the Profession
Persons serving as lawyer's assistants (the new interchangeable term for legal secretaries) are generally very pleased with their careers; they enjoy being valuable parts of the legal profession. In some practices you may hear that firms will work very hard to retain a good legal secretary - even more than working to retain a paralegal or even an attorney. Individual attorneys who have a good lawyer's assistant will also work hard to keep that person. While there is not much upward mobility in the career field, there are opportunities for increasingly good salaries depending on experience and the range of legal skills that the assistant has mastered.
Lawyer's assistants were traditionally assigned one-to-one with a lawyer, but the realities of the marketplace and the increased use of automation is moving law firms toward a ratio of one lawyer's assistant to three or more lawyers, though this is influenced by the type of practice. For example, litigation is more administratively intensive and the ratio of lawyer's assistants to lawyers might be smaller. There is also a trend to create specialized positions such as legal file clerk and legal calendaring assistant so that lawyer's assistants can focus on the major tasks. In larger law firms, these other positions can serve as the entry level for persons new to the field.
Salaries for legal secretaries vary a great deal, however, reflecting differences in skill, experience and level of responsibility. Certification in this field may be rewarded by a higher salary, or offer a chance to enter the field without previous experience. Once established, in addition to competitive salaries, law firms typically offer excellent benefits packages. If you are new to the field, new employers may not offer you a salary at a level you desire; higher salaries might be earned in the future once requisite experience is gained.
Lawyer's assistants serve everywhere there are attorneys, from small offices to mega-firms. As with all fields, employers are seeking to fill vacancies with highly qualified and experienced people. In many cases large firms hire lawyer's assistants from applicants who have served in smaller firms and gained the requisite experience and skills. But large firms do hire persons with qualifications and experience who are new to the field, and we discussed possible entry level positions above. The goal of our program is to accept applicants with proven administrative experience and to give them the skills of a lawyer's assistant. We want our program graduates to be marketable to both large and small firms. In this regard we have solicited the advice and counsel of legal professionals so as to be able to deliver the best possible program.
Lawyer's Assistants vs. Paralegals
In law offices you will find lawyer's assistants, who are also known as legal secretaries - and - legal assistants are also known as paralegals.
So, what's the difference?
A lawyer's assistant (a.k.a., legal secretary) is a person who works in a legal department or law firm and performs highly specialized work requiring knowledge of technical terminology and procedures. For instance, lawyers' assistants prepare correspondence and legal papers such as summonses, complaints, motions, responses and subpoenas under the supervision of an attorney or a paralegal. They also may review legal journals and assist with legal research- for example, by verifying quotes and citations in legal briefs. Additionally, lawyers' assistants often teach newly minted lawyers how to prepare documents for submission to the courts. A lawyer's assistant cannot give legal advice, represent a client in court, set a fee or accept a case which functions are generally considered the practice of law. Our program teaches you how to work as a lawyer's assistant (legal secretary) and gives you the training to be eligible to take the NALS ALP certification examination.
A paralegal (a.k.a., legal assistant) is a person who assists an attorney in the delivery of legal services. They have the training to qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney. This person is qualified by education, training and/or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. A paralegal cannot give legal advice, represent a client in court, set a fee or accept a case which functions are generally considered the practice of law. Working under the supervision of an attorney, the paralegal's work product is merged with and becomes part of the attorney work product. A paralegal may perform any function delegated by an attorney including but not limited to conducting client interviews, locating and interviewing witnesses, conducting investigations and legal research, authoring and signing correspondence provided the paralegal's status is clearly indicated and the correspondence does not contain independent legal opinions or legal advice. This program is not a paralegal program.