College Advice Blog

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Jan 15, 2012

Bilingual Legal Secretary Finds Satisfaction By Helping Others


This interview will take you through the ups and downs you can expect as a Bilingual Legal Secretary, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more.
I am a female legal secretary. I have worked in this field for one year. I would describe myself as attentive, quiet and determined. I don't feel that my gender or Caucasian ethnicity have affected me in any negative ways in this position. I work with people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, and I welcome this diverse environment – the people I work with are a great team. I answer the phones, perform basic office duties, help prepare legal documents and translate some of our informational pieces. I also attend meetings with clients who need translation services, and work as a verbal mediator between clients, paralegals and attorneys. If clients can't come to the office, I initiate a conference call with them and their attorney.

On a scale of one to 10, I rate my job satisfaction at nine. Sometimes I feel like there is too much work placed on me, however, it doesn't bring my satisfaction ratings down further because I know it can't be controlled. There is no way to regulate how many clients need my services each week. For example, one week I may help two clients who need translation services and 20 people the week after that. When this happens, I have to put in extra hours that I may have planned to spend doing other things. I've learned to limit my commitments outside of work.
I feel happier when I'm able to help people, so this job speaks to my heart more than most jobs I've had in the past. This job gives me the feeling that I'm valued, and having responsibilities makes me feel good about myself. Though I haven't worked here long enough to know if it's my calling, I can definitely say that my calling involves helping people. If I can't help people in some way, I feel like my work is pointless and, thankfully, I haven't felt that way in this job.
I never thought I would be able to get the kind of job I have now. I started in this field by responding to an ad in the newspaper! I didn't take formal language courses. Instead, I learned my second language from my grandmother who immigrated to the United States with my family. Although I was born as an American, I feel comfortable enough with my language skills to help others.
Fortunately, I haven't experienced any hard lessons yet. I was recently assigned to a case, however, that was out of our office's specialty area. The client had a long relationship with the office, so we agreed to handle the case of his father's suspicious sudden death. I was asked to make photo copies of the cough syrup bottle the client's father had left by his bedside. I thought that was the strangest thing I've had to do. I felt like a detective instead of a legal secretary.
I've learned that the most important thing I can do to help the people I serve is to simply listen to them. I have to listen carefully in order to properly translate their words because not all phrases, words, and ideas are exactly similar in two different languages. I take my responsibility of accurate recording very seriously. I go to work each day to make a difference in the lives of others, and I feel proud each time I receive a smile or words of thanks.
When I get overwhelmed, sometimes I feel like storming out. When this happens, I take a short break, count to 10 and calmly return to my work. If there is a specific project that makes me feel this way, I budget the amount of time I spend on it each day. If clients and attorneys are talking to me at the same time in different languages, I have to interrupt and ask each party to take turns. I have to be firm about this sometimes. The job is very stressful, so I exercise daily to help reduce my stress. I also spend one weekend day each week talking to family and friends on the phone. Hearing their voices makes my stress levels drop.
The rough salary range for my job is between $15,000 and $20,000 annually. These figures are accurate for people starting in the field. I feel that I'm paid adequately for the work I do. If I didn't enjoy the work or get intangible rewards from helping others, I probably wouldn't feel that my pay is adequate. I take vacation for one week each year, and I feel that is sufficient for me right now.
I'm sure one of the reasons I got this job was because I had previous office experience. Since the language I was hired to translate isn't a popular one, my employers didn't test my language abilities, which surprised me. I'm sure they would have let me go, however, if the work I produced wasn't producing income. I definitely wouldn't be able to perform in my bilingual job without a lifetime of exposure to my second language.
I would encourage a friend considering this line of work to research it first. Although it's rewarding, it's not a job for anyone. Trying to think in two different languages and constantly making a mental transition between the two is difficult.
If I could write my own ticket, I'd like to become a freelance paralegal offering bilingual services. I know the amount of help I would be allowed to offer as a paralegal is limited. I also know there are several things, however, I could do to help reduce the cost of legal paperwork for honest immigrants who have very little money.
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About the Author
This is a true career story as told to JustJobs.com's Academy.
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