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Differences Between Legal Secretary and Paralegal

By Wendy Souter

Legal Secretaries are sometimes referred to as ‘Paralegals’. This, in reality, is not the case as they are unable to be ‘fee earners’ unless they have a Paralegal qualification.

The work which they do is ‘billable’ not as ‘legal fees’ but as ‘disbursements’, which cover items such as photocopying, postage, administration work and so on. All their work should be opened to possible scrutiny in case of an ‘Order for Taxation’ if there is a complaint. Attendance Notes and File Notes must always reflect the time spent attending meetings and courts and the administrative work done.

Work carried out by legal secretaries differs from that of general secretaries. Most general secretaries carry out filing, photocopying, arranging meetings, making appointments, a bit of reception duty, if necessary, typing letters or other general correspondence. Legal secretaries primary task involves dealing with property transactions, preparing and filing court papers, arranging for service of summons or other court orders with Process Servers, carrying out searches for bankruptcy, property registrations and a host of other aspects. A large percentage of their work is typing and within such busy environments, their typing speeds are expected to be in excess of 60wpm.

This makes it difficult for a person to be accepted within a legal office if they have no previous knowledge or experience. Prior to our developing the Legal Secretary Courses in 1988, legal secretaries were in desperately short supply and many general secretaries were left frustrated at not being able to obtain lucrative jobs as Legal Secretaries.

Many businesses have since entered the training market to take advantage of this very popular development. Some are operating as ‘institute’ or ‘association’ which could be misinterpreted as having the authority of governing bodies. In many instances, they are training providers and are not governing bodies. Governing bodies are independent and impartial organisations. Governing bodies set competency standards and professional conduct for their members. They do not run their own courses as this creates a conflict of interest.

The legal secretarial world is not entirely the preserves of females as some Legal Secretaries are male.

Paralegals’ work is billable as ‘legal fees’ which are based on the amount of time they spend on clients’ legal affairs. Their hourly rate is a fraction of that charged by solicitors and as such, their contribution to legal services is invaluable, in these cost-conscious days. Paralegals remain crucial for the continued competitiveness of legal services!

While some Paralegals are expected to do a great amount of their own typing, some will have access to legal secretaries who will do their typing, leaving them to concentrate on providing excellent legal services to designated clients.

Some paralegals may wish to work independently and for this they will need either a law degree in addition to their procedural law training or previous work experience within the area of law they wish to become independent in. They will also need permission to set up an agency from the Ministry of Justice, in addition to the usual insurances and tax registrations required for businesses.