A career in the legal field is often touted as highly lucrative. However, the thought of a prolonged college education, higher tuition and college loans, and a strict bar exam can dissuade many people from pursuing a career as a lawyer.
Lawyers are far from the only professions in the legal field. In fact, some of the more rewarding legal job opportunities today don’t require a time-intensive or expensive education. Paralegals are among the fastest growing professions (both legal and non-legal) today. Additionally, legal courses and programs for aspiring paralegals in New York and other cities with a high demand for lawyers and other legal professionals are increasing in number.
If you’re aiming to change careers and become a paralegal, the first thing you need to do is not to confuse the profession with legal secretaries.
Education and Salaries
Becoming a paralegal requires a higher level of education (or experience) than a legal secretary. The strictest law firms only take in paralegals who graduated with a four-year bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or at least a paralegal certificate program. As a paralegal, you would need to learn the legal basics.
Meanwhile, legal secretaries have no mandatory educational requirements. They can take individual courses to learn more about the law and strengthen their legal administrative skills, such as producing legal documents and maintaining docket systems. However, these courses aren’t required to start a career. Rather, they are options to further advancement.
The educational requirements to become a paralegal pay off in the long run. Paralegals earn significantly more than legal secretaries. While paralegals earn an average base salary of $48,453, legal secretaries with a year or two of experience receive a midpoint starting salary of $40,750.
Casework and Client Interaction
Paralegals are more deeply involved in casework. You need to be prepared to handle legal research and draft legal documents from different areas of litigation like family law, bankruptcy, and more. Paralegals also often participate in witness interviews and preparation of statements or arguments. They may also help in court during the trial.
Legal secretaries are mainly involved in administrative responsibilities. They handle tasks like scheduling meetings, taking messages, and collecting information. Unlike paralegals, legal secretaries have less contact and interaction with clients.
A Stepping Stone to a Better Law Career
Paralegals have a better overall outlook, with employment projected to rise 15 percent until 2026. As a paralegal, you’d also have better prospects in the legal field.
A paralegal career can be leveraged into a career as a lawyer, too. It gives you experience in the field and a way to build up funds for a law degree. There are also law firms that cover the Law School Administration Test prep classes for their paralegals.
While both paralegals and legal secretaries are members of a law firm’s support team, they have different educational requirements, potential salaries, job descriptions, and more. People looking for higher salaries and better job opportunities would benefit more as a paralegal than a legal secretary.