Philadelphia legal secretary Jane Merryless has more than 20 years of legal experience. She has terrific communication and organizational skills, and she knows the state and federal rules of civil procedure very well.  She’s taken recent courses in Microsoft Office programs, even though she was proficient in the software before the classes.

But she hasn’t been able to find another legal secretarial position since she lost her job of 11 years with a public interest non-profit law firm in April 2008.  She’s wondering it it’s due to her lack of a college degree.

Merryless is one of the unemployed individuals featured in Jane Von Bergen’s Jobbing column in a series called “60 Profiles in 60 Days.”  Von Bergen reports:

For more than 20 years, until the economy pulled the legal business up by its briefs, Merryless, 58, a high school graduate, had functioned perfectly well in several law offices, handling ever more complicated cases. She became proficient in federal, state and local rules of [civil] procedure in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She scheduled client appointments and depositions and typed and edited legal correspondence.

It hurts me that I don’t have a degree,” she said. “But why do I need one?”

I did a quick search of legal secretary want ads in North Carolina, and most require five years of legal experience, outstanding computer and communication skills, and high typing speeds. A couple of positions, including several judicial assistant jobs with state courts, require two-year degrees.

I do think there are legal secretarial jobs out there, especially with smaller firms, that do not require degrees. But I also think it’s a good idea, in any field and in our current economy, to get at least an associate degree, even if you work on it part-time while working full-time. It’s just good long-term career insurance.

Readers, do legal secretaries need a degree in your area of the country?  Would your firm hire a legal secretary with years of experience and great references, if she had no post-secondary education?


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