So, my Legal Secretary class is over. It was actually six weeks of work, the seventh week was sort of a catch up week. They give you the opportunity to re-do assignments (quizzes? Not sure about that part), if you received below 70%. You must make at least 70% in order to pass the class and they give everyone ample opportunity to pass it, which I appreciated because that’s a lot of money to “fail.”
For those just tuning in, I took a class at CLS by Barbri – formerly known as Center for Legal Studies. This is not sponsored post – I’m just telling you where I took the class and my personal experience. Would I recommend it? Meh – the jury is still out on that but I’ll explain.
I took the Legal Secretary class. I’ve always been interested in the legal field and quite frankly, had always intended to go to school and become a Paralegal, but then I snagged the job at the hospital, which was always supposed to be temporary until I could figure out what I wanted to do, only it morphed into permanent and then my job as a scheduler was eliminated and I became a medical assistant by default. No formal training, no schooling, I learned on the job and quite honestly, it’s one of my greatest achievements. Not because the job itself is hard, per se, but because I crammed years of schooling into months of hard, stressful work and I conquered it.
Medical is like learning a new language and living in a whole different culture.
For example: COVID wasn’t that big of a deal outside the medical environment. At least, in my opinion. But you all know how I feel about THAT topic. Which actually, is one of the biggest reasons I even took the class to begin with – it’s my way of building a plan B for this Fall when the hospital will require that I either take a COVID booster, and the flu vaccine.
I’m telling you folks right now, right here, I’m done with forced vaccinations. My body is my temple and I don’t believe it’s necessary to get annual vaccines for diseases that will continue to evolve and mutate into other viruses – it’s an endless game of a dog chasing it’s tail – I choose to make healthy choices and live my life to the best of my ability.
But again, you know how I feel about this topic. I’m getting off track.
I could have taken the paralegal class. And I seriously tossed it around for several weeks, weighing the pros and cons. It’s a lot more expensive than the legal secretary class, which was a big factor, but my biggest con was time.
I’m old. I only have about nine more years before I can safely throw in the towel and collect social security. Do I really want to spend a portion of those nine years learning a whole new industry? The payoff doesn’t seem worth it. If I’m going to invest that much time and money into pursuing a paralegal career I want to get my money’s worth and reap the rewards for several years.
But legal secretary – to me, that was a compromise. I can learn it much faster, the class was not as expensive, and I can get my foot in the door relatively fast. I currently haunt Indeed.com jobs and there are always several legal secretary/assistant job openings.
But I have zero experience in the legal field. Trying to get a job in an industry I know nothing about is nothing new to me – I did it with medical. But I’m also realistic – I need to pad my resume so an employer will even glance my way. Realistically, I needed some knowledge, some baseline, to at least speak the language. The tasks themselves are not hard, more on that in a minute, but I figured earning a certificate would at least make my resume stand out a bit more.
And I’m a planner. Realistically, I know that this Fall, when the hospital starts bullying, erhm, encouraging, vaccinations and I file my religious exemption, they probably won’t approve it. They might approve the COVID booster since they granted my religious exemption last year, but they also approved it with the caveat that it was only for the year, I would have to go through the same process the next year. I’m not worried so much about that one, but the flu vaccination, yeah, they likely won’t approve that because I’ve taken the flu vaccination for the past eight years – why would I suddenly not want to take it now? I see where the hospital is coming from but people’s “sincerely held beliefs” do change and mine CERTAINLY have these past two years, no question.
So, it’s very possible that I will be fired. I’m okay with that. Well, I’m NOT okay with that, but I’m not playing their games anymore so I guess I have to be okay with that. For the record, and I’m stating this again and will continue to state it, I love my job. I love the people I work with. I’m good at my job. I’m comfortable working there and doing the work. I don’t want to leave. But when it comes to my health and my body, no one will take those choices away from me. I have to live with the consequences and I want to try and live a more healthy life so I’m strong and ready for my twilight years.
This is the hill I will die on.
So, where does that leave me? Without a job. So, taking this class and preparing myself for the next chapter of my life is my way of preparing for that very strong possibility. Spending the money on this class was a gamble, an investment really, that we were willing to make because we, me and Kevin, FEEL THAT STRONGLY ABOUT THIS.
I’m getting off track again. I just wanted you, and anyone from work reading this, to fully understand my thoughts and feelings on this. I do not have any animosity, nor hold any grudges against anyone at work. This decision is not based on any one individual, nor even the hospital I work for – it’s about the trajectory of healthcare as an industry. I don’t like where it’s going and I’m not going to play that game anymore.
My body, my rules.
Back to the class.
My textbook was “Legal Secretary Handbook” published by The Center for Legal Studies. You can not buy this handbook on Amazon, I’ve already checked. However, I do believe writing a handbook and offering it for sale on Amazon would be a great idea as there are virtually no options otherwise. If I end up working as a legal secretary, maybe I’LL write such a book.
Side note: I actually took this book to work with me a few times to read during slow times. I carried the book in the same bag I carried my water and coffee containers and I accidentally left the book in the book overnight so when Kevin got up in the middle of the night to take some Tylenol, he unknowingly knocked the bag over and my nearly full water container soaked the book. So now, it’s all crinkly and the pages stick together, but I can still read it. Oops.
Week one: Intro to the legal system and ethics
This section talks about the duties of legal secretaries: reception, sorting through/handling mail and emails, file management, schedule management, accounts management , etc.
It talks about the importance of professionalism and the ethics of being careful what you say to clients as you don’t want to inadvertently give a client legal advice – I’m very familiar with this because the same rules apply in my current job – I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV.
It also talked about the legal process, which is what I really needed to know as again, I have no idea what sort of documents are filed or what the process is from the moment the attorney accepts a client to the closing of a case. It was very interesting.
From beginning the lawsuit, the retainer agreements, the demand letters, the jurisdiction (VERY IMPORTANT component) and how to prepare for trial, this is the stuff I really needed to know. I’m very familiar with receptionist duties, answering the phone, taking messages, etc., I do that every day, but the nitty gritty of the process – that was the part I had no idea about. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert now, but again, I have a baseline and that’s better than nothing.
Week two: Reception duties, correspondence, file management and accounting practices
It covered phones, (no brainer), processing incoming/outgoing mail, composing letters, (for example, did you know that you put a colon after the salutation, not a comma?), demand letters and the various filing management systems that offices use, alphabetical, numeric, barcode, chronological, etc. We actually got to practice listening to voicemails and taking messages. Again, no brainer – I do that every day at my current job.
Week three: Calendar and docketing feels, billing, and accounting practices
This was interesting and an important duty to both the legal secretary and the law firm as a whole.
“Time is the law firm’s stock in trade, and its value cannot be overstated. Good time management produces efficiency and profit while poor time management terminates legal careers.”
This section went over court deadlines, “tickler” systems, (a system that “tickles” the memory, basically, a memo to the attorney to remind him/her that an important deadline is coming up), and how important to-do lists are. It also covered legal fee agreements, billing and timekeeping fees. I learned a lot from this section and I didn’t think I would.
For example: did you know that when a client pays an attorney it goes into a trust fund, not the attorney’s personal account? It’s because that money hasn’t been “earned” yet. Once the money is earned, then it’s transferred from the trust account to the attorney’s account. Interesting.
Week four: Word processing and legal document preparation
This section basically went over the various word processing programs and the various tools you can use to write form letters and other correspondence more quickly. For example: macros, templates, style themes, mail merge.
I also learned about legal document preparation and formatting guidelines. The courts are VERY STRICT on formatting guidelines and not doing it correctly can really mess up the process and delay resolutions. Such as: pleadings, complaints, summons, a demurrer, a cross claim and pretrial motions, to name a few.
Week five: E-discovery, computers in law office
This section covered legal citation formats, which was REALLY interesting to me.
For example: Cashen v. Spamm, 66 N.J. 541, 334 A.2d 8 (1975)
In a nutshell, this tells you all you need to know about a case. Really interesting stuff. To me, at least.
The last part of the week we spent on spreadsheets and creating databases. Admittedly, my biggest weakness. I confess, I asked Kevin to help me with that part because he’s a whiz with spreadsheets – it’s what he works in all day every day – he’s an accountant.
Week six: The practicum
This week, we worked on taking voicemail messages, responding to emails, dictating a letter, (which took me nearly an hour to do – I suck at this but it was still fun), working in a client ledger and “billing” how much time we spent on this class. It wasn’t hard, though it did take some time. Well, the client ledger was hard but I understood it way better with Kevin’s help.
If I land a legal secretary job, I’m going to definitely have to teach myself about getting around Excel.
The class was entirely online. I never had to talk to anyone and for a few weeks, I thought I might have been the only one in class, but when an email went out from my instructor I saw it was addressed to ten of us. There was a Bulletin Board that we posted some assignments to and you had the opportunity to ask questions there, but I never did. Everything seemed pretty straight forward to me. There was an opportunity to email the instructor, but again, I never really had a reason to do so.
It was always encouraged that we do our work in a word processing program, I personally use Open Office because I’m too cheap to pay for Microsoft Word, and then save the document and upload it. So I still have all of my assignments, which is cool if/when I want to go back and look them over again.
Feedback and grading was slow. However, I’m sure my instructor teaches real-live classes so I’m sure he was busy and pushed us online students to the back burner – it wasn’t that big of a deal but it was a bit annoying at times.
It took a while to get my final grade – it’s decent, not bad really, but I could have done better. I confess, I really didn’t put 100% effort into this class – it was pretty easy and I was bit bored though I did learn a lot about the legal field, which is exactly why I took the class to begin with.
The reason I said at the beginning “meh” on whether I would recommend it or not – it all depends on what you want out of the class. For me, it was just to get my feet wet, to get an idea what a law office looks like and what a legal secretary’s duties were. Since I already work in an office, some of the material was a bit redundant and elementary but to someone that has never worked in an office, I think it would be pretty beneficial.
I would recommend CLS by Barbri though. It was super easy to navigate and a pretty smooth process overall. I really like that they partner with universities around the country so that my certificate in particular will arrive from the University of Central Missouri. To me, this adds a level of legitimacy to the certificate so that if/when I apply for jobs and provide this certificate, it’s more credible to a prospective employer.
It also set you up with payments to help pay for the class. We opted for the six month option so it will be paid off by the time I have to submit my exemption request this Fall.
I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad I took the class. I think it will help me pad my resume and hopefully land a job, if/when I get to that stage.
I hope this information was helpful and I encourage all of you out there – don’t be scared to try something different if you’re unhappy with your current job. Research the industry you would like to work in and figure out what you can do to get your foot in that door.
In fact, I ran across this video – it’s called “quiet quitting” – where people just sort of give up on their jobs, do the bare minimum to stay out of trouble but they dread to go to work and hate every minute while there. I had never heard the term before, but it makes sense. I wouldn’t say this applies to me, per se, I’m just preparing to move on because healthcare as whole is trying to take our bodily autonomy away, I love my job, but I can definitely see some of these people in my job and it makes me sad. I know it’s easier said than done – “you don’t like it, get a new job!” but honestly, we spend so much time at work, it consumes so much of our energy, that there HAS to be a happy medium somewhere? Right?
I’m currently dusting off my resume. Actually, I don’t have a resume, I’m currently working on building one. I want everything to be in place for if/when the time comes that the hospital forces my hand. I have to say, thinking ahead, mentally and physically preparing myself for this change months in advance is super helpful. I have more than enough time to prepare and just get used to the idea of making big changes in my life. I hope it doesn’t come down to that, but if it does, then I’ll be prepared.
Thanks for reading!