March 26 is National Legal Assistants Day, recognizing the many contributions made by legal assistants within the legal profession. The role of legal secretaries continues to grow and evolve. According to the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide, legal secretaries are taking on a broader array of duties and supporting more attorneys than ever before. In fact, many of today’s legal secretaries work for five or more lawyers.
Thanks to their ever-expanding career responsibilities, legal secretaries are also earning higher salaries than ever before. In 2015, legal secretaries with three to six years of experience working at large law firms (more than 75 lawyers) will earn a starting salary between $47,750 and $61,750, according to the 2015 Salary Guide. That’s a 2.6 percent salary increase as compared to 2014.
Starting salary for a mid-level (7 to 11 years of experience) legal secretary at a large law firm will range from $56,000 to $67,750 in 2015, and a senior/executive legal secretary (12 or more years of experience) can earn a starting salary of up to $73,000. (Use our Salary Calculator to adjust compensation levels for your region.)
If you’re a legal secretary looking to expand your role and climb the corporate ladder, here are four career advice tips that are certain to boost your opportunities:
1. Sharpen your technical skills. According to the 2015 Salary Guide, legal secretaries who demonstrate flexibility, resourcefulness and initiative are the most likely to be successful in their roles. Of course, part of being adaptable and resourceful in the legal field these days means learning the latest and greatest technologies, including:
- Microsoft Office® software
- Videoconferencing programs
- Desktop publishing software
- Billing software
- Litigation support programs
- Case management software
- Transcription programs
- Time and attendance programs
If you are not proficient with all of these programs, you might want to sign up for a software course online or at your local community college. By taking the initiative to learn new software applications, you will demonstrate to your boss that you’re ready and willing to tackle more challenging tasks and assignments -- which could eventually lead to a promotion.
2. Get certified. Legal secretary certification is a growing trend because it often leads to promotion opportunities. You can receive a PLS® (Professional Legal Secretary) designation from the National Association of Legal Professionals (NALS) by passing a one-day, four-part examination. The test covers written communications, office procedures and technology, ethics and judgment skills, and legal knowledge and skills. Any legal secretary with three or more years of experience in the legal field is qualified to take the exam.
3. Explore hybrid roles. As law firms continually search for ways to cut costs, blended paralegal/legal secretary roles are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, 64 percent of lawyers said hybrid paralegal/legal secretary positions are more common today than they were two years ago, according to the 2015 Salary Guide. If you are interested in taking this route, you’ll find formal training programs available through certain paralegal associations and colleges.
For many legal secretaries, becoming a paralegal is a natural progression in their legal careers.
4. Consider a paralegal career. If the thought of taking on more challenging and technical legal assignments excites you, you may want to consider a profession as a paralegal. For many legal secretaries, becoming a paralegal is a natural progression in their legal careers. According to the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE), a paralegal “performs substantive and procedural legal work as authorized by law, which in the absence of the paralegal, would be performed by an attorney.” In fact, today’s paralegals often handle tasks that previously were the responsibility of junior-level lawyers, including trial preparation, patent filings and eDiscovery projects.
If you are interested in transitioning to a paralegal career, explore paralegal programs at local colleges and universities in your area. Most paralegals have a four-year degree and a certificate of completion from an American Bar Association-approved paralegal education program. For a listing of paralegal training programs, visit one of the following paralegal association websites:
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA®)
- American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI)
By following these four pieces of career advice, you can take your legal secretary career to the next level.
To learn more about compensation for paralegal and legal secretary positions, download a complimentary copy of the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide.
What career advice would you offer legal secretaries looking to expand their role? Share your comments below.