When looking through job listings, you will sometimes see postings asking for a legal secretary or a legal assistant. Paralegals are sometimes referred to as legal assistants, which can be confusing to someone who is just starting out. After all, our general definition of a secretary is that of an assistant.
Assisting the Lawyer
It is true that the responsibilities of a paralegal and a legal secretary intersect. They both provide assistance to the lawyer that they work for. Generally speaking however, a paralegal usually holds a higher position than that of a legal secretary.
Paralegals typically have a higher level of educational attainment. They may hold a college degree and may have several certifications, such as the ones offered here at CSL. On the other hand, a legal secretary may only need a high school diploma and some on-the-job training. Paralegals typically have a more in-depth knowledge of the law than secretaries do.
Paralegals are more Involved
Paralegals typically are more involved in various tasks around the law firm. Whenever a lawyer prepares for a case, a paralegal will likely have to perform research and gather information from witnesses. On the other hand, a secretary will be more focused on completing clerical work, such as organizing work files and scheduling appointments.
A typical paralegal has a good understanding of legal doctrines, statutes, and regulations that a secretary generally lacks. As such, paralegals may also be allowed to draft documents and to explain its contents to the client. They cannot however, provide legal advice or appear in court, as this is work limited to board certified lawyers.
Someone who is a certified paralegal can choose to apply for a legal secretary position if they wish to do so. The main downside is that legal secretaries often earn less than paralegals do, as the job generally requires fewer skills.