When it comes to a legal secretary vs. a paralegal, it’s crucial to know where responsibilities for each lie in a firm’s daily working processes.
A typical legal team comprises a variety of individuals who fill a number of roles, including lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, and other staff members.
The attorneys have the ultimate responsibility for the cases handled, and the rest of the team members typically have a wide range of duties, depending upon the law firm, area of law, skills, and other considerations.
The most successful law firms work within a clear outline of what needs to be done and when, who is assisting whom, and who is qualified to do what.
Knowing what paralegals and legal secretaries can and cannot do is vital to the efficiency, compliance, and overall success of any firm.
In this article, we will be taking a look at legal secretaries vs. paralegals, comparing the two positions, and the key differences in responsibilities for both.
According to NALA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, paralegals are qualified to perform a variety of legal duties under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
These include conducting legal research, interacting with clients, drafting legal documents, helping to prepare cases for trial, and more.
These substantive legal tasks require knowledge of legal concepts and procedural law, and are billable to the client, which is important for several reasons:
Paralegals have a wide range of responsibilities within the legal field. Their tasks can vary depending on the specific practice area, the size of the law firm or legal department, and the jurisdiction in which they work.
When compared with a legal secretary, a paralegal will usually be expected to perform:
Paralegals work under the supervision of attorneys and provide essential support to ensure the efficient functioning of legal cases.
There are also guidelines regarding what duties paralegals are not allowed to perform, which may constitute the unauthorized practice of law.
Here’s an overview of what paralegals aren’t allowed to do:
Despite being unable to engage in all the same behavior, paralegals are held to the same rules of professional conduct as an attorney. Failure to do so could result in their supervising attorney being sanctioned, disciplined, suspended, or even disbarred.
Paralegals are prohibited from sharing anything learned through the representation of a client with anyone outside the representation. If a paralegal gleans information from the representation of a client, it must be kept confidential.
Although the terms legal secretary, legal assistant, and paralegal are sometimes used interchangeably, the jobs are distinctly different. Some people think that legal assistants and legal secretaries are one and the same, but in reality, a legal assistant is just another name for a paralegal, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).
Legal secretaries are extremely valuable members of the legal team, but what they can do varies from the type of work that a paralegal is qualified to perform. A legal secretary is an administrative assistant with legal training, but their work is not of a substantive legal nature.
Legal secretaries have no legal requirement to meet any specific educational or training standards and may or may not have a college degree. They can specialize in certain areas of law and must follow the same client confidentiality requirements as lawyers and paralegals do.
Both paralegals and legal secretaries perform vital functions within a law office. And in many small firms, one person will fulfill both roles.
Firms can maximize the power of their legal support staff by more effectively allocating duties according to the skills and capabilities of the members of their team, resulting in a well-rounded firm that can meet the needs of the clients and the office alike.
As we’ve mentioned, legal secretaries provide valuable administrative support within law offices or legal departments.
The responsibilities of a legal secretary vs. a paralegal will typically boil down to the following:
It’s important to note that the specific responsibilities of a legal secretary may vary depending on the size and type of the law firm or legal department.
Legal secretaries play a vital role in facilitating smooth operations within the office and supporting attorneys and other legal professionals in their work.
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