I don’t know about other states, but in the large metropolitan areas of California, legal secretaries make damn good money – and they are in high demand.
How did I become a legal secretary/paralegal? I learned how to type fairly fast and accurately; I learned shorthand; I had a good grasp of English grammar and language. And I had a reasonably good mind for learning things and solving problems.
I went to college, but never took any courses related to my (eventual) career. In fact, except for the classes I took to become certified as a medical transcriptionist and insurance coder, I never took classes toward any specific career. I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up and I felt spending money on college when you don’t have any goal in mind is an expensive way to “find yourself”.
And it turns out, whether it’s what I wanted or not, when I grew up, I was a legal secretary, estate planning/probate paralegal, legal word processor.
I fell into my first legal secretary job. I was working for a garment manufacturer (first as a receptionist, then as the person who keeps tallies of the fabric used on a day-to-day basis). The bookkeeper there convinced me that I was going to be fired. Soon as I heard that, I went job hunting, found another garment industry job and quit.
The next day the accountant for my former employer called me and told me that an attorney who shared offices with the accounting firm needed a secretary and would I like to come in and interview.
The accountant also told me that my former employer was going to fire the bookkeeper and offer me her job.
And that was the beginning of my working with Neal Rimer (R.I.P.).
At first I worked part time for Neal and part time as a typist for the accountants. Then I worked part time for Neal and part time for other attorneys in the office. Finally, Neal took me on full time.
And throughout that time, I typed really fast and accurately, took shorthand, translated dictation from lawyer-speak to human-speak, and learned everything I could. (I also was his bookkeeper, payroll person, and did all the timekeeping/expense entries and billing.)
I was very lucky because Neal was always willing to sit and talk about cases and answer my questions. And I had a lot of them. I also got my hands on The Legal Secretary’s Handbook – which told you everything you needed to know. And your California Rules of Court – which told you the special rules each County in California had for its Courts.
This was before everyone had access to the internet and all of the knowledge tucked away there (like the Rules of Court are now online, as is the whole California Code, and the California Styles Manual – all kinds of resources, if you just know what you’re looking for).
A good legal secretary in San Francisco can usually get a higher starting wage than a baby attorney. Why? Because a good legal secretary is a lot rarer than a baby attorney. The baby attorney will probably outpace the legal secretary’s salary, but along with the attorney’s salary goes a lot more responsibility that, personally, I can do without.
So all I’m saying is, if college is not for you, you can make decent money through some basic skills. (Because I paid attention in math class, I have also worked as a bookkeeper and full payroll clerk.)
So those college prep classes are great (especially English and Math), but don’t stick your nose up at the vocational classes too – if nothing else, they can help you earn money while you’re going to college – if that’s your thing.