What does a federal legal assistant do?
August 8, 2014 9:14 PM   Subscribe

I recently applied for and am now actively being considered for a legal assistant/senior case technician position with the federal government (Social Security Administration). The job description sounds a lot like what I used to do as a paralegal (reviewing records, analyzing cases, making recommendations for further action, contacting medical providers), but I'm worried that what I've actually applied for is a secretarial position (e.g., making travel arrangements, maintaining calendars, hanging out a copy machine a lot, collating and binding copies).

At the firm I used to work at (less than a year ago), legal assistants and paralegals were 100% different with 100% different responsibilities, but there are some Websites I found that say legal assistants and paralegals are the same thing. I'm more confused about this than I feel I should be.

Can anyone tell me what a federal legal assistant/senior case technician actually does? Bonus question: can anyone share what the hours/work atmosphere would actually be like? Federal government makes me think it'll be 8-5, weekends and holidays off, but I've been burned by the legal field before and don't feel like repeating those three years of endless, unstable hours and absolutely no personal life again. Overall, I want to have a family in the near future, and I don't want to still be in a job where I worry about when I'll be getting off work every day.

I realize these are questions I can ask at the interview; however, I have very few days off from my current job, and if this is a secretarial position, I'm likely not going to waste my one day off a week going to the interview, or risk having the agency contact my current employer (who is known for demoting employees for expressing interest in stepping down or going elsewhere).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's worth at least going to the interview. A federal position can be a plum deal.

I was considered for a legal assistant role at a navy base several years ago, a job for which I temped first. (I ended up moving instead of taking the job.) In my case, it was pretty much straight secretarial/admin, with a dash of Lexis-Nexis research and some project tracking. A cakewalk.

Aside from the healthcare and vacation time, the most appealing thing for me was the vast quantities of personal life I had at my disposal: Everyone had families. Lots of people sneaked out the second the lead counsel made it out of the parking lot. The whole office was a ghost town by 330pm and I never worked weekends. The job was a creamy nougat of glorious, glorious slacking and novel-writing for 37 hours a week and I even held down a second job as a barista at night just to fill the time.

That said, my job title did not have anything remotely related to "senior case technician," which sounds way juicier.

So yeah, I know it's a day, but I'd try the interview. It might be perfect.
posted by mochapickle at 10:09 PM on August 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

What grade is the job? If it's a 11 or above it's probably a paralegal like job. However you should really just ask. My guess is it's more likely to be a paralegal type job as secretarial jobs are a dying breed in the federal government and most agencies have a glut of secretaries already and if they needed someone to do secretarial work they would opt for a contractor, not hire one as a federal employee. However, it's impossible to say. I would just ask and I would definitely go for the interview. If you want life work balance, the federal government is one of your best bets. Especially in the legal field.
posted by whoaali at 12:23 AM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work as an ALJ in an SSA ODAR and we employ many SCTs. It is absolutely not a secretarial position. SCTs work up files, organize them, request medical and school records, contact claimants and representatives, schedule hearings, and work as clerks for ALJs. In our office, they rotate duties every six months or so. The federal government is a great place to work as far as flexibility is concerned. You can work the hours you want so long as they fall within the timeframe of 6:30 am to 6:00 pm. If you don't want to work any overtime, you don't have to. If you do, it is often available, as the workload is heavy. The leave policy is generous, certainly in comparison to my former life in a private legal practice. Work environments obviously differ, but I can say my office is collegial and the SCTs get along and have each other's back. Please feel free to PM me if you have any questions.
posted by pasici at 3:41 AM on August 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

What grade is the job? If it's a 11 or above it's probably a paralegal like job.

That's a great point. My legal assistant boondoggle job (described above) was just a GS-8 or so. Maybe even a 7. Obviously, roles vary by location, so mine's just a datapoint if it helps.
posted by mochapickle at 9:51 AM on August 10, 2014

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