What is the Difference Between a Paralegal and a Legal Secretary?

Individuals interested in working in the legal field but not interested in spending eight or more years in college to become lawyers often wonder what the difference is between a paralegal and a legal secretary. While many think these two professions are the same, there are actually many differences between the two. The differences are not just in educational requirements but also job duties and wages. Learning how these two professions differ can make it easier for aspiring legal professionals to make a career choice.

Related resource: Top 10 Best Value Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Paralegal Studies

Educational Requirements

An individual interested in working as a paralegal is usually required to have a degree in paralegal studies from a program accredited by the American Bar Association. The most common degree is an associate’s degree in legal studies, which is a two-year program. An individual who already has a bachelor’s degree in another field may become a paralegal by completing a one-year certificate program in paralegal studies. Paralegals may also be required to obtain certification.

Legal secretaries are not required to have a degree. Depending on the employer, a legal secretary may be hired with only a high school diploma. It’s generally beneficial if the candidate has some experience or knowledge of the law, but it’s not necessarily required. In many cases, the legal secretary will obtain some on-the-job training.

Job Duties

The job duties of a paralegal and a legal secretary may also vary. They both perform administrative duties such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, and filing documents. The legal secretary’s duties keep him or her pretty much confined in the office while the paralegal may accompany the lawyer into the courtroom. Paralegals perform a lot of the research required for a case. Paralegals are not allowed to offer legal advice to clients, but they can interview witnesses and draft court documents.

Wage Potential

The wage potential between paralegals and legal secretaries is another area where these two professionals differ according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of May 2018, the wages for paralegals and legal secretaries were as follows:

• Average annual wage for paralegals – $54,500
• Average annual wage for legal secretaries – $50,040
• Wage for lowest 10% of paralegals – $31,400
• Wage for lowest 10% of legal secretaries – $27,920
• Wage for top 90% of paralegals – $82,050
• Wage for top 90% of legal secretaries – $78,280

Job Outlook

The biggest difference between the paralegal and the legal secretary is probably in their job outlook as reported by the BLS. Paralegals are expected to see job growth of 15% during the 2016-2026 decade. Legal secretaries fall under the category of secretaries and executive assistants.

While overall employment of secretaries and executive assistants is expected to decline -7% during that same time period, legal secretaries are expected to see a -19% decline. The largest reason for the decline is the addition of paralegals in the legal office. Paralegals are now being hired to perform many duties previously handled by legal secretaries.

Working in a legal office can be not only exciting and challenging but can also be very fast-paced. Lawyers often have several cases going at one time and utilize the services of both legal secretaries and paralegals to assist them in their duties, thus allowing them to see even more clients. Since there is a noticeable difference between paralegals and legal secretaries, candidates can decide which occupation best meets their career goals and interests.