Skip to Content

Is it Worth the Effort Going From Legal Secretary to Paralegal?

A young female legal secretary carrying a documents.

When it comes to working in the legal field that is not performed by a lawyer, there are two professions that come to mind. A paralegal and a legal secretary are the other two most common jobs you will see in a lawyer’s office or firm. The answer to the question is it worth going from legal secretary to paralegal is a personal choice and decision, as both jobs have similar salaries and workloads.

A paralegal is a job that requires a little more education than a legal secretary, and this job performs more legal work and research. A legal secretary performs some legal duties, such as filing and court office paperwork, but performs more daily administrative tasks such as appointment setting and taking calls. Learn more about these fields and see for yourself if it is worth moving from a legal secretary to a paralegal.

What is a Legal Secretary?

A male hand marked on rubber stamp.

A legal secretary is exactly what it sounds like, but as a secretary or administrative assistant that works in the legal field. These are the people that are at the front desk of every law firm or practice, and greet clients after they’ve taken their calls and made appointments. A legal secretary can perform the tasks of transcribing, filing, making and taking calls, and working on clerical or administrative matters.

Some legal secretaries do enjoy their jobs so much that they want to see some upward mobility in their field. For them, considering being a paralegal is a natural next step. More education will be required and a legal secretary will have to weigh the job duties, the pressure in each field, and whether or not it is worth the money to invest and make.

What a legal secretary will do every day is to arrange for and deliver paperwork, and this often involves trips to the courthouse. They will create correspondence as dictated by their employers, the lawyers, and send it to the clients. Legal secretaries will also conduct some research, but will also ensure that court dates are met and calendars are maintained for the law firms or practices they work for.

What is a Paralegal?

Legal office of lawyers, justice and law concept.

A paralegal is often confused with a legal secretary, but they do a lot of different work. Paralegals are considered legal professionals, whereas legal secretaries are considered just that, administrative assistants. A paralegal has more influence in the preparation of documents, and will also help lawyers investigate their clients and cases and create reports on that.

Paralegals can not represent a client or conduct themselves in a way that suggests that they do. They are not permitted to offer legal advice either. Most paralegals will have a specialty of law they prefer to work in, such as family law, estate law, criminal law, or immigration law.

The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as someone that is qualified by education and training who has been retained by a law firm or government agency to perform “substantive legal work” that a lawyer is responsible for. So, a legal secretary may be responsible for making the appointments for a lawyer, but a paralegal is responsible for legal work that the lawyers’ names will go on. For paralegals, that could mean interviewing clients, drafting their pleadings, summarizing their affidavits, filing an appeal, compiling evidence, billing their clients, and locating necessary people and witnesses for cases.

Legal secretaries are not permitted to do any of those things.

What are the Salaries and Job Outlooks for These Fields?

Professional paralegal signing a contract.

Paralegals do make more money than legal secretaries, but not by much. This will be the first thing many learn when wondering if it is worth moving from a legal secretary to a paralegal. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that legal secretaries have a mean salary of approximately $53 thousand annually.

Legal secretaries can start at approximately $14 hourly, but after a long career in one location, can make as much as $80 thousand annually. Paralegals can have starting pay at $25 per hour, with the national median average of salaries for paralegals hovering slightly over legal secretaries $54,100 for the first year on the job. As long as there are lawyers, there will be a demand for both of these positions.

However, advances in technology have eliminated some jobs from the field, and that is taking a hit on the legal secretaries of the world. This can be considered redundant work if a computer can do the same thing. For legal secretaries, the days of one secretary per lawyer are not as common as there are five secretaries per lawyer, according to a report produced by the Association of Legal Administrators.

This report indicates that, in 2017, there were 792,500 lawyers1917 and200 legal secretaries where the field of paralegals is a growing field with a workforce of over 428 thousand employees.

Are the Requirements Different Between Jobs?

A brown envelope with a text of "requirements".

A key factor in determining if changing fields is worth it is the consideration of what investment you need to make to get there. Legal secretaries will need to make an investment in education and receive at least a certificate to become a paralegal. Secretaries don’t always require education to enter the field and will learn on the job.

A paralegal certificate can take anywhere from six weeks to four years, and this will cost thousands of dollars either way. It can be worth the investment, but it is a requirement that you can not overlook. You will need to investigate what kind of places you want to work for, and what they require from their paralegals when it comes to education.

When you look at the salary median, the pay is very similar across both jobs. The educational investment for paralegals is an initial one-time investment. For people that love the law and want a more advanced involvement in the field than that of a legal secretary, a paralegal is worth consideration.

Is it Worth Going From a Legal Secretary to a Paralegal?

Law legal service concept.

The answer to this question rests on personal choice. With every career change, there is going to be a weighing of pros and cons, and investments and salary outcomes in addition to job outlooks are to be considered. For some, the salary expectations won’t change much and they won’t want to make the change.

Additionally, paralegals have more responsibility, however, a legal secretary that misses an appointment with the court is in a lot of hot water with people’s lives on the line. How important these factors are will be specific and unique to the individual, and largely determined by what you are looking for in your career. Either career is very rewarding.

Would you consider making the move?