Lawyers often employ two types of aides: paralegals/legal assistants and legal secretaries. The two professions are similar, and the three terms are at times used interchangeably, according to the Paralegal Certifications website. But there are differences in both professions' responsibilities and salary. Although both are trained in legal terminology and procedures, paralegals need certification and more training.
According to the Paralegal Certifications website, the fundamental difference between paralegals, also called legal assistants, and legal secretaries is their job duties. Paralegals perform advanced duties for lawyers, including researching and preparing materials for trial, and writing up contracts. In contrast, legal secretaries perform primarily clerical functions; although, there may be job training for greater responsibility or even paralegal certification. Paralegals are often salaried, the website states, while legal secretaries are frequently hourly employees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for paralegals and legal assistants was $49,960 as of May 2011. This was the equivalent of $24.02 an hour. The bureau reported 252,250 paralegals working in the United States as of that date. The best-paid 10 percent earned $75,400 or more, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned $29,390 or less.
Legal Secretary Salary:
The BLS reported the mean annual wage for legal secretaries as of May 2011 was $44,310, the equivalent of $21.30 an hour. There were 220,680 legal secretaries employed nationwide, according to the report. The best-paid 10 percent earned $66,940 a year or more, while the lowest-paid 10 percent earned $26,360 or less.
Legal Services Industry:
The largest employer of both paralegals and legal secretaries, according to the BLS, was the legal services industry, including law firms and sole practitioners. This industry employed 73 percent of all paralegals and 87 percent of all legal secretaries. Paralegals in the industry earned a mean annual wage of $47,790, while legal secretaries were paid $44,540 a year on average.