Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary: 5 Key Differences [2024 Guide]

By Shannon Lambert
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on July 4, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
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Discover the 5 key differences between a legal assistant vs legal secretary in our comprehensive guide. Choose the legal career path that’s right for you.

Are you wondering about the difference between a legal assistant vs legal secretary? The two are often used interchangeably, but they are not one and the same.

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary

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If you are interested in law but don’t want to be a lawyer, you may be considering other options. But how do you know if you should pursue a career as a legal secretary or a legal assistant? What is the difference between the two?

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary

Both legal assistants and legal secretaries work in an office or law firm to support a lawyer. Their goal is to free up the lawyer’s time so the lawyer can prepare for court.

They do not have the exact same responsibilities, though. A legal secretary keeps the office running smoothly through clerical tasks while a legal assistant performs more legal duties.

What Is a Legal Assistant?

Legal Assistant

A legal assistant is sometimes called a paralegal or a lawyer’s assistant, depending on the employer. They are typically employed by a law firm, private attorney, or government agency.

A legal assistant can perform both administrative and legal duties to assist a lawyer or attorney. Legal assistants can prepare court documents, trial documents, and complete necessary supporting research.

Being a legal assistant requires knowledge of the law and legal procedures. An associate degree in paralegal studies is generally the minimum requirement for this position. Many paralegals will specialize within their field and earn national certification to advance their expertise and employability.

Legal Assistant Educational Requirements

Legal Assistant Educational Requirements

There are a few different routes you can take to become a legal assistant. You can earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. A growing number of colleges even offer accelerated paralegal programs, which may help you achieve educational requirements more quickly.

You can also earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject and then enroll in a paralegal certificate program.

Your legal assistant training may include classes on:

  • Legal services
  • Ethics
  • Legal interviewing and investigation
  • Legal research and writing
  • Substantive and procedural law
  • The legal system

Some legal assistants start as a legal secretary and work their way up, receiving on-the-job training.

What Is a Legal Secretary?

Legal Secretary assistant

A legal secretary can be employed by law firms, attorneys, and the government. Legal secretaries may also be known as legal office assistants. They manage the day-to-day office tasks, and they keep the office running smoothly.

Legal secretaries focus more on the clerical side of the law. They manage the schedules, appointments, travel arrangements, databases, and files. A legal secretary may also provide case research under the direct supervision of a lawyer or a paralegal.

A legal secretary is a specialized legal administrative assistant. They need to have extensive knowledge of legal proceedings, so most legal secretaries complete a certificate or degree program.

Legal Secretary Educational Requirements

Legal secretarial training programs

You do not need a degree to become a legal secretary, but most employers look for a candidate with at least a legal secretarial certificate.

Legal secretarial training programs cover:

  • Time management
  • Interpersonal communications
  • Administrative office procedures
  • Technologies in the workplace
  • Legal terminology
  • Legal research

Pursuing either an associate degree or legal secretaries training program may increase your chances of being employed.

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary Certifications

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary Certifications

Professional certification is not needed to become a legal assistant, but it is generally sought after by employers.

To become a certified legal assistant, you’ll typically need a degree or certificate in legal or paralegal studies. Then, you can take a certification exam through your state’s bar association.

Certification is not needed to become a legal secretary either, though many employers look for a certified candidate. To become certified, you can first complete an approved legal secretarial training program or have 1 year of experience as a legal secretary.

After meeting the necessary requirements, you can take the certification exam to become a certified legal secretary. NALS, the association for legal professionals, is an organization that commonly certifies both legal assistants and legal secretaries.

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary Roles and Responsibilities

Just as there are differences in paralegal vs. legal secretary roles, there are also differences in legal assistants and legal secretaries.

Both legal assistants and legal secretaries can work in a law office, but they have very different roles. A legal assistant helps lawyers with court documentation and research while a legal secretary focuses on clerical and administrative office tasks.

Legal Assistant Legal Secretary
  • Offers legal support
  • Interviews clients and witnesses
  • Conducts research for lawyer
  • Drafts documents
  • Attends legal proceedings
  • Assists during trial
  • Offers clerical support
  • Types correspondence
  • Schedules meetings and court dates
  • Conducts research for paralegal or lawyer
  • Transcribes documents
  • Performs data entry

A legal assistant is generally higher up than a legal secretary and typically earns more. Some legal assistants are independent contractors, working for multiple lawyers or law firms.

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary Careers

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary Careers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of legal assistants and legal secretaries work for the legal services industry, following by the government and finance and insurance industries.

Legal Assistant Careers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 10% growth for legal assistants and paralegals over the next ten years. Law firms are attempting to reduce costs and increase efficiency, and a legal assistant helps meet this need.

Many large corporations are also hiring legal assistants for their in-house legal departments, cutting the cost of outsourcing legal counsel. The median salary for paralegals and legal assistants is $52,920 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Legal Secretary Careers

Jobs for legal secretaries

Jobs for legal secretaries have begun declining since many administrative tasks are now being automated.

To keep up with the times, it can be beneficial to enroll in a legal administrative assistant certificate program that includes training for office software and computer programs. The median salary for legal secretaries and legal administrative assistants is $48,980 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary Skills

What kind of skills do you need if you want to become a legal assistant or a legal secretary? They both have very similar skill sets, but they also vary greatly. A legal secretary focuses on office management while a legal assistant focuses on law and research.

So, while employers value effective communication skills in both, they may look for exceptional critical thinking skills in a legal assistant candidate and great writing skills in a legal secretary.

Legal Assistant Legal Secretary
  • Research skills
  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Computational skills
  • Understanding of ethics
  • Organizational skills
  • Writings kills
  • Time management skills
  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills

Employers often look for candidates who excel in these areas.

Is a Legal Assistant the Same as a Legal Secretary?

legal assistant and legal secretary

No, a legal assistant and a legal secretary are not the same. The two titles are often used interchangeably, but each has distinct job roles.

A legal secretary is responsible for most of the clerical and administrative duties of a law office, and a legal assistant helps an attorney deliver legal services. A legal assistant, sometimes called a lawyer assistant, must have an in-depth understanding of the legal system and legal procedures.

This is not necessarily required of a legal secretary, though knowledge of the law field is beneficial for specialized tasks.

What Does a Legal Assistant Do?

Legal Assistant job duties

A legal assistant’s specific duties often depend on the area of law they are in. For example, if they are a corporate paralegal, they may help prepare employee contracts and shareholder agreements. If they are a litigation assistant, they may perform research and organize evidence.

Job duties also vary according to the size of the firm. In a smaller office, a legal assistant may also perform a lot of the same duties as a legal secretary. In a larger firm, a legal assistant may work on only a certain phase of a case. For example, they may only perform research or organize evidence.

What Does a Legal Secretary Do?

Legal Secretary job duties

A legal secretary is a specialized administrative assistant, trained specifically in the field of law.

A legal secretary’s job duties can vary, depending on their employer. They may perform traditional secretarial roles, such as answering the phones or preparing presentations, and they may also  assist with clerical legal tasks, such as preparing law documents.

Legal secretaries are generally responsible for every form of the firm’s communication, so this position can entail a lot of writing. They can also proofread many legal documents.

How Much Does a Legal Assistant Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants is $52,920. The highest 10% of all legal assistants and paralegals earn more than $85,160. The legal services industry hires the majority of all legal assistants. These legal assistants and paralegals earn a median annual salary of $50,600.

The federal government is the highest paying industry with a median salary of $69,490 for attorney’s assistants. The second highest-paying industry is finance and insurance. Those working in these industries earn a median salary of $66,390.

How Much Does a Legal Secretary Make?

A legal secretaries and administrative assistants make, on average, $48,980 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most legal secretaries work in the legal services industry, followed by local government. The median salary for legal secretaries in legal services is $49,110, and the median wage for legal secretaries in local governments is $46,490.

The lowest 10% of legal secretaries and administrative assistants in the field make $29,620 while the top 10% earn more than $82,270 per year.

Legal Assistant vs. Legal Secretary – Which Is Right for You?

legal assistants vs legal secretaries

If you have ever considered a career in a law but don’t want to be a lawyer, then you may be interested in the position of legal assistant or legal secretary.

Both, legal assistants and a legal secretaries work in fast-paced, rewarding environments. A legal assistant primarily performs legal duties for lawyers, and a legal secretary primarily manages the clerical and administrative work. Both help lawyers deliver services to the client.

If either of these positions is of interest to you, you can take your first step toward training by exploring online degree or certificate programs from accredited institutions.

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