While judges and lawyers typically garner the lion’s share of the media attention, the legal field offers a wide array of career opportunities beyond just these two.
Paralegals and legal secretaries, for example, both play essential roles in the legal system, and both of these disciplines can lead to rewarding and exciting careers. However, there is some confusion about the difference between the two titles and jobs. Further complicating matters is the fact that while the term “legal assistant” has historically been used to refer to paralegals, the titles are synonymous according to CA law [B & P 6450]
Education Levels Required for Each Profession
While some paralegals have earned their job titles by climbing the career ladder from entry-level positions, many modern paralegals undergo associate’s, bachelor’s, or even master’s degree programs in paralegal studies and related fields.
In contrast, legal secretary positions may not require any education beyond the high school level. While some legal secretaries certainly do possess college degrees or certifications, a lack of said credentials isn’t necessarily a barrier for employment, provided the candidate possesses strong clerical skills and the related experience.
Earning Potential and Career Prospects
Due to their generally higher education levels, paralegals tend to earn higher salaries than legal secretaries. Both disciplines can look forward to strong job growth and career prospects in the coming years; in fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a job growth rate of 17% between 2012 and 2022.
Different Titles, Different Duties
There is some overlap in the duties that are typically performed by paralegals and legal secretaries, but legal secretaries generally specialize in addressing the clerical needs of the attorney or law firm. Legal secretaries set appointments, transcribe reports, file and organize documents, answer phones, and assist with day-to-day office duties, among other things.
Paralegals may also handle secretarial tasks, especially if smaller firms employ them. But the scope of their duties also extends into the legal realm, as well. Paralegals may interview clients and witnesses under the supervision of their superiors, perform case summaries and legal research, and assist attorneys in caseload management. Paralegals may also take on management roles, supervising the work of legal secretaries and other law firm employees.
Evaluating Education Options for Paralegals and Legal Assistants
There are degrees and certifications available for both paralegals and legal secretaries, and as mentioned before, there is some overlap in terminology. If you’re seeking a career as a paralegal, make sure your educational program emphasizes legal knowledge, critical thinking, and research methodology over clerical tasks. Contact MTI College today if you’re ready to make a career in the legal field; admissions counselors are here to help you take the first step down this rewarding career path.