If you are contemplating entering the legal career field, but are not interested in becoming a paralegal or an attorney, there are several other career options available. Many law firms rely on a large network of support staff in addition to paralegals and lawyers, which includes legal assistants or legal secretaries. If you are planning on completing law school and a having a potential career as an attorney, you may be interested in pursuing a law clerk position. All of these different types of legal career choices will be explained in detail below to give you a better idea of which one may be the right fit for you.
Legal Assistants or Legal Secretaries
Legal Assistant vs. Paralegal
Before providing the information on Legal Assistants and Legal Secretaries, it is important to clarify what types of positions are being discussed. In some law firms, the term paralegal and legal assistant are used interchangeably. In fact, the American Bar Association added the term “paralegal” to the definition of “legal assistant” as both are frequently used to describe the same position. However, many law offices today utilize both titles in order to identify which employees perform more administrative tasks and which employees perform what is typically considered “paralegal” work such as legal research and drafting. The information provided below is specifically related to legal secretaries or legal administrative assistants who do not perform paralegal duties and do not have paralegal training.
Legal Administrative Assistant Job Description
A legal administrative assistant or secretary usually functions within a law firm as an assistant to the paralegals and attorneys. They typically perform basic administrative duties such as scheduling, directing calls, filing paperwork, stocking office supplies, and calendaring. They are often in charge of welcoming clients as they enter the office or call on the telephone. They may also perform legal duties such as preparing legal documents or letters, or creating and maintaining client files and client database information. Some law firms also have their legal secretaries perform tasks such as entering billable hours and expenses, and keeping track of invoices or payments.
Because many of the tasks of the legal administrative assistant revolve around scheduling and organizing, someone who is interested in this type of position should be detail oriented, very well organized, and have excellent written and verbal communication skills. The legal secretary is often the first employee that a potential client makes contact
Legal Administrative Assistant or Secretary Training
There are several options for training as a legal administrative assistant or secretary. The most commonly offered type of training is a Legal Secretary Certificate. This is not a degree but is an educational training course which seeks to provide students with the knowledge necessary to function within a law firm as an administrative assistant. Those interested in becoming legal secretaries may also choose to pursue an associates degree program which will provide the education to become a legal secretary, and also some additional training which may prepare you for becoming a paralegal. Legal secretary training is more specified than typical administrative assistant training because legal assistants must have a more specific skill set and knowledge of the legal profession. Legal secretary training often consists of several topics including communication, decision making, critical thinking, basic word processing skills, office technology, legal theory, and legal correspondence and documentation. Legal secretary training programs can take as little as 6 months to complete, but the length of each program may vary. Becoming a legal secretary is a great way to get your foot in the door at a law firm quickly and can also provide the foundation for continuing education if you are interested in becoming a paralegal in the future.
Legal Secretary or Administrative Assistant Jobs and Salary
Legal administrative assistants may most commonly be found in law firms, but they can work in other locations including insurance companies, private corporations, and government organizations. Legal secretaries play a very important role within their place of employment. They are counted upon to provide accurate scheduling and calendaring information to the attorneys and paralegals, organize client files and paperwork, and keep track of billing and invoice information. All of these duties are essential to the smooth functioning of a law office and require organization skills, attention to detail, self-motivation, and strong communication skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015 report, the mean annual wage for legal secretaries is $46,690. The highest 10% of earners made $72,890 per year while the lowest 10% made $26,760. The variations in average salary are caused by many factors including experience and education level of the employee as well as geographic location. The top paying states for legal secretaries are the District of Columbia, New York, California, Delaware, and Massachusetts. The top paying metropolitan areas include New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, and Newark.
What is a Law Clerk?
A law clerk is a professional who provides assistance to a judge. Law clerk positions are generally given to recent law school graduates or law students. While they are known as “clerks” the amount of training and education required to work as a law clerk is more than an average administrative professional or legal secretary. Law clerks are also known as judicial assistants or judicial clerks because they work directly for a judge. They can work as clerks in state courts, federal courts, and state supreme courts or federal Supreme Court.
Law Clerk Schooling
Deciding to work towards becoming a law clerk is a big commitment. Law clerks work directly with judges in the courtroom and holding the position of law clerk is considered quite prestigious. As such, becoming a law clerk will require quite a bit if time and dedication.
The first step to become a law clerk is to obtain an undergraduate bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is required for entrance into any law school so it is essential to first obtain such a degree. It does not need to be a degree that is specific to the legal field as most law schools do not have a requirement regarding what type of undergraduate degree their applicants obtain. The next step is to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and apply to law school. You must be able to pass the LSAT with a specific required score in order to qualify for law school application requirements.
Once you have completed you bachelor’s degree and been accepted into law school, you must then attend law school full time to work towards a law degree. If you go to law school full-time it will usually take about 3 years (in addition to the 4 years it usually takes to earn a bachelor’s degree). In order to become a licensed practicing attorney after law school you must take and pass the Bar examination. Most judges will hire law clerks who have already passed the Bar exam, but there may be some who will hire a law school graduate or student who has not yet passed the Bar.
Because law clerk positions are highly coveted, it can be quite difficult to secure a law clerk position right out of law school. If you maintain a high GPA and do well in law school, you can give yourself a competitive edge and a stronger resume when it comes time to enter the job market. Another way to stand out as a potential law clerk candidate is to gain some legal experience after law school. Judges may be more interested in hiring graduates who have some work experience such as working in a legal practice as an intern.
The path to becoming a law clerk can be very long and difficult, but having the pride and prestige that comes along with a law clerk position can make the hard work pay off. Starting a career as an attorney by clerking for a judge can be a wonderful way to gain valuable experience and insight into the legal field.
Law Clerk Jobs and Salary
A law clerk performs many different kinds of work for the judge. According to the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR) law clerks conduct legal research, draft documents, proofread judge’s memos and orders, and assist the judge during courtroom proceedings. They also work together with other members of the judge’s chambers, counsel, and members of the public who enter the courtroom. Law clerks must be knowledgeable of legal ethics and maintain a high level of professionalism and integrity as they are working on behalf of and representing their employing judge.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary for judicial law clerks is %59,910 as of May 2015. The top 10% of wage earners make an average of $108,730 per year while the bottom 10% make $31,820 annually. Salary for law clerks varies depending on the type of court, geographic location, education, and experience level. The BLS lists the top paying states for law clerks as New York, Connecticut, Illinois, North Dakota, and Maryland. The iop paying metropolitan areas include Tacoma, New York City, Baltimore, Washington DC, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Seattle.