Legal Secretaries - What They Do

Legal administrative assistants perform a variety of secretarial and administrative duties in law offices, legal departments of large firms, real estate companies, land title offices, municipal, provincial and federal courts and government.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Prepare and key in correspondence and legal documents, such as deeds, wills, affidavits and briefs, from handwritten copy, shorthand and machine dictation using computers
  • Review and proofread documents and correspondence to ensure compliance with legal procedures and grammatical usage
  • Schedule appointments, meetings and conferences for employer
  • Set up and maintain filing systems, utilizing knowledge of legal records and procedures and frequently controlling confidential materials and documents
  • Open and distribute regular and electronic incoming mail and other material and co-ordinate the flow of information internally and with other departments or organizations
  • Determine and establish office procedures and routines
  • May supervise and train other staff in procedures and in the use of current software
  • May attend court, meetings or conferences to take notes, minutes and dictation
  • May perform other general office work as required including preparing financial statements.

Job titles

  • corporate law legal assistant
  • legal secretary
  • litigation secretary
  • real estate secretary
  • administrative assistant - legal
  • legal assistant - criminal law
  • legal assistant
  • litigation legal assistant
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is usually required.
  • Completion of a one- or two-year college or other program for secretaries or legal secretaries is usually required.

Essential Skills


  • Read notes from co-workers. For example, legal secretaries in law offices read notes from lawyers to identify work requirements and determine task priorities. (1)
  • Read letters from lawyers' clients and from customers of real estate offices and other businesses. For example, legal secretaries in real estate offices skim incoming letters and documents to identify topics. (2)
  • Read legal documents such as contracts, agreements, statements of claim, legal motions and affidavits. They skim these documents to gain an understanding of the contents and to find information about current files. They review final drafts of records they prepare themselves to verify that they are accurate and that they conform to legal standards. (3)
  • Read procedural manuals and rules. For example, litigation secretaries may look up information in Rules of Court or in Forms and Rules of Civil Procedure. They read these rules to learn about legal processes and the procedures for preparing legal documents. (3)
  • Read notices and instruction sheets from financial, legal and government bodies. For example, legal secretaries may read government notices outlining changes to tax filing procedures. Legal secretaries working in real estate offices may read instructions issued by banks to understand how to process purchase agreements and complete necessary forms. (4)
  • May read legislation, regulations and legal opinions to find information relevant to cases. For example, legal secretaries working in government may scan municipal codes to find by-laws concerning construction liens. Litigation secretaries working in insurance firms may read their firms' legal opinions regarding personal injury claims. They read to identify texts that should be included and referenced in legal records prepared for these matters. (4)

Document use

  • Locate data on labels. For example, legal secretaries scan file folder labels for names, dates and file numbers. (1)
  • Scan lists and tables to find data. For example, legal secretaries working on commercial transactions may scan bank statements to find details of financial transactions. Litigation secretaries scan lists to find court and filing dates. (1)
  • Complete entry forms to order supplies, request services or record expenses. For example, legal secretaries may complete forms to arrange for printing services and to submit lawyers' expense claims. (2)
  • Enter data into lists, tables and schedules. For example, legal secretaries enter dates and times for meetings into agendas and calendars. (2)
  • Locate names, dates, amounts and other data in entry forms. For example, legal secretaries may review invoices and lawyers' billing records to verify their accuracy. They skim completed contracts and agreements to locate information and ensure they conform to legal requirements. (3)
  • Enter detailed information about clients and cases into lengthy forms. For example, they complete contracts by entering client information and details of cases. Legal secretaries working in family law complete alimony statements to record settlement outcomes. Legal secretaries working in real estate complete real estate offers to initiate proceedings. (3)


  • Write reminders and short notes to co-workers. For example, they write reminders about job tasks in daybooks and calendars. Legal secretaries in corporate law offices write notes to lawyers in which they summarize the contents of discussions with clients. (1)
  • Write e-mail to co-workers, clients, customers and service providers such as court clerks and bank employees. For example, legal secretaries write to clients to arrange meetings and confirm contact information. They may write to clients' legal secretaries to arrange for signatures on documents and to bank employees to request changes to financial records. (2)
  • Prepare meeting minutes. Legal secretaries write minutes of meetings to summarize discussions, record decisions made and note items that require follow-up. (2)
  • May write memos to co-workers. For example, legal secretaries working in large firms may write memos to workers in accounting departments to request changes to clients' billing information. (2)
  • Write letters. For example, legal secretaries write cover letters to accompany files and letters to request payments from clients. (3)
  • Write sections of documents such as legal briefs and contracts. They revise standard clauses, terms and conditions as directed by lawyers. (3)


Money Math

  • Count cash payments from clients. (1)
  • May make small cash purchases for supplies and services. For example, they may purchase coffee and snacks for meetings. (1)
  • May calculate reimbursement claims for lawyers' travel and out-of-pocket expenses. They calculate travel amounts using per kilometre rates. They add costs associated with parking, meals and accommodations. They may use exchange rates to calculate amounts for purchases made in foreign currencies. (2)
  • Calculate and verify invoice and purchase order amounts. For example, legal secretaries may confirm suppliers' invoices, such as those for court services and records retrieval. They calculate invoice amounts using lawyers' per diem rates. They add amounts for provincial and federal taxes. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Create timelines to ensure tasks and submissions are completed by due dates. (1)
  • May create and monitor lawyers' appointment and court appearance schedules. For example, legal secretaries working directly for lawyers set times for court, appointments and meetings, ensuring lawyers have enough preparation time before scheduled events. (2)
  • Prepare financial summaries, such as statements for monies held in trust. They categorize and total amounts, and review summaries against original records to verify their accuracy. (3)
  • Calculate amounts for judgements and settlement offers. For example, legal secretaries working in family law may check the accuracy of reported alimony payments. Litigation secretaries may verify total amounts of the payment schedules that are associated with settlement offers. Legal secretaries working in real estate and commercial financing may calculate amounts of mortgage payments, pro-rata payments, installments and interest. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate the amount of time lawyers will need to accomplish tasks and to meet with clients. They use estimates to plan schedules. (2)
  • Estimate quantities of supplies needed. For example, legal secretaries may estimate the number of file boxes required to store inactive client files. They may estimate catering requirements when planning a meeting. (2)

Oral communication

  • Discuss products, prices and deliveries with suppliers. For example, they may negotiate prices and delivery dates for large copying jobs with copy service providers. (1)
  • Listen to voice recordings to receive instructions, transcribe contents and prepare legal documents. For example, legal secretaries may listen to recordings of lawyers' instructions in order to prioritize and carry out tasks. They may listen to lengthy recorded messages in order to transcribe text verbatim and adhere to verbal instructions regarding punctuation and formatting. (2)
  • Discuss ongoing job tasks with co-workers. For example, legal secretaries exchange information about current transactions and cases with other legal secretaries. They make arrangements for lawyers and others to participate in meetings, teleconferences, hearings and court proceedings. Legal secretaries working in corporate offices may speak to staff in records departments to arrange for materials to be stored or retrieved. (2)
  • Discuss confidential legal matters with clients of their organizations. They provide case updates, request information and documentation, schedule appointments and arrange payments. They may reassure clients that work is proceeding as required. They must use appropriate tone and demonstrate tact during these discussions. (2)
  • Discuss legal matters and exchange confidential information about clients with lawyers and law clerks in their own organizations and with legal secretaries and lawyers working for clients. For example, legal secretaries speak to law clerks to discuss the results of records searches. They attend meetings to learn about new cases being handled by their organizations. They discuss progress made on clients' files and job task priorities with lawyers and managers. (2)
  • May orient and train co-workers. For example, they may provide new legal clerks with directions for using office equipment and guidance for carrying out work in an efficient manner. (2)


Problem Solving

  • Are unable to complete job tasks because documents are missing, information is unavailable and data are incorrect. For example, they encounter errors and inconsistencies in legal and financial records. They try to verify the information by retrieving original records and make corrections where possible. They perform searches of electronic and paper files to find missing information. In large firms, they may perform a search by engaging staff in records storage departments. (1)
  • Face unrealistic deadlines and competing demands on their time. For example, when workloads become unreasonable, they may speak to lawyers to clarify task priorities. In large organizations, they may ask supervisors to temporarily reassign work. In smaller organizations, they may informally enlist the help of co-workers to ensure that deadlines are met. (1)
  • Receive last-minute cancellations from clients and coworkers. They try to reach all individuals affected by the cancellation to inform them and to make alternative arrangements. In cases where they feel cancellations may stem from a desire to delay proceedings, they may try to persuade individuals to respect the original arrangements. (2)
  • Are unable to obtain confirmations, approvals and signatures for ongoing job tasks. For example, they may not be able to reach lawyers, real estate agents, managers and clients when arranging appointments, seeking signatures for documents and requiring answers to questions. They may resort to unusual methods such as enlisting the help of other legal secretaries and going in person to have documents signed. (2)

Decision Making

  • Select products, facilities and services. For example, they make arrangements for meetings by choosing meeting rooms and arranging catering. They may decide to send large documents such as legal briefs to copy services for printing and binding. (1)

Critical Thinking

  • Evaluate the suitability of products and services. For example, they may evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of mail delivery options such as registered mail, courier and regular delivery. They may evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of having large documents printed by copy services. (1)
  • Evaluate the accuracy and completeness of documents and files. For example, they may judge the completeness of settlement offers using their knowledge of legal and professional standards. They review letters, contracts and reports to ensure they contain no errors. (2)
  • Judge the importance and urgency of telephone calls, documents and tasks. For example, legal secretaries consider callers' requests to make judgments about their importance. Litigation secretaries consider deadlines associated with filing court documents to identify tasks which require their immediate attention. (2)
  • May judge the truthfulness of clients' and plaintiffs' statements. For example, legal secretaries working with clients involved in court proceedings may listen to reasons given for canceling appointments. They listen to determine whether reasons are justifiable under the circumstances. (2)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Legal secretaries receive work instructions from lawyers and supervisors. They sequence tasks to meet the demands and deadlines associated with their workloads. When planning job tasks, legal secretaries consider due dates associated with active files. Their plans are frequently interrupted by last-minute requests from co-workers, supervisors and clients who require their immediate attention. They are required to make changes to their schedules to meet these demands before resuming other work activities. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Legal secretaries may organize and delegate work to junior staff members such as law clerks and other legal secretaries. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Recall details of files, including their location and clients' names and codes. They use the information to find or confirm required information quickly.
  • Remember dates and deadlines associated with active files. For example, they remember court dates and document filing deadlines. They use the information to ensure documents are prepared on time and lawyers meet their obligations.

Finding Information

  • Find information about lawyers and clients. They consult lawyers, search files and perform electronic searches to find information relevant to conflict of interest investigations. (2)
  • Find information about legal processes. For example, they may find information about legal processes such as condominium sales by talking to lawyers, searching web sites and reading legal publications and reference manuals. (2)
  • Find information about new legal cases. They read lawyers' notes, review files associated with the same clients and perform database searches. (2)

Digital technology

  • Use databases. For example, they may use database programs such as Access and Modulaw to create and modify databases. They perform database searches to sort and retrieve data on clients. (2)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they use spreadsheet programs such as Excel and QuattroPro to create spreadsheets which organize and display billing data and to create financial summaries and statements. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use Internet browsers to find information and to download reports and other documents from government, legal and regulatory agency web sites. (2)
  • Use word processing. For example, they create lengthy legal and administrative records such as contracts, reports and briefs using word processing programs such as Word. They use advanced formatting features such as style guides, heading levels, section breaks, multi-level numbering and indexes. They may import financial summaries or statements from spreadsheet software into documents such as contracts and statements of claim. (3)
  • May use financial software. For example, they may use professional accounting software such as CMS to sort and view lawyers' billing data and to generate financial reports. (3)
  • Use communication software. For example, they exchange e-mail and attachments with co-workers, colleagues and clients. They may create and maintain e-mail distribution lists. They may use the calendar features of communications software to manage lawyers' schedules, set reminders and post relevant documents. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Legal secretaries work independently to carry job tasks such as keeping schedules, arranging appointments, maintaining files and preparing administrative, financial and legal records. They may work jointly with other legal secretaries when deadlines are imminent and workloads are heavier than usual. They may coordinate job tasks with law clerks when they need to perform records searches and prepare briefs. (2)

Continuous Learning

Legal secretaries learn continuously in order to maintain current knowledge of regulations, legal processes. A major source of their learning is staying current on computer software applications. They read professional publications and bulletins and browse web sites to learn about legal and regulatory topics. They learn through on-the-job training and through instruction and support from supervisors and co-workers. They participate in short-term training courses and workshops. (2)