Since starting her legal career as an Administrative Assistant at a well-known global law firm over 15 years ago, Michelle Clarke has progressed to the point where she is now working as a Fee Earner in her current firm, Land Law LLP. Along the way, she studied ILSPA’s Legal Secretaries Diploma and went on to study ILSPA’s Civil Litigation Advanced Diploma. Michelle kindly spoke to ILSPA about her career, her studies and the exciting new opportunity as a Fee Earner.
How did you come to work in the legal profession?
I became interested in the legal profession while I was still at school; however, I also knew that going to university just wasn’t for me. After finishing sixth form, I applied for a job as an Administrative Assistant at a well-known global law firm. My interview was successful and I stayed there for about 18 months before moving out of the city centre for a Junior Legal Secretary role in 2004.
What made you decide to expand your knowledge and study further?
After a few years at my current firm, Land Law LLP, the Lawyers I work for saw that I had the potential to progress and asked whether I wanted to start doing some basic fee earning work. I decided to enrol on the Advanced Diploma in Civil Litigation so that I could build a good foundation of knowledge before taking my role further.
How did you find your studies with ILSPA?
I really enjoyed studying with ILSPA and appreciated the flexibility that the distance learning option offers. It took me a while to complete the Legal Secretaries Diploma with ILSPA back in 2007 because, at the time, I was planning my wedding and buying my first house! Distance learning allowed me to take gaps in my studies when life got a bit hectic and to resume once things were more settled. When I decided to enrol on the Advanced Diploma in Civil Litigation in February this year, I set myself a timetable to study two nights per week and every Sunday – I found this achievable while working full time and I completed the course in just over three months.
How has gaining your qualification helped you progress in your role?
After studying the Legal Secretaries Diploma in 2007, I progressed from Junior Legal Secretary to Legal Secretary, then to Senior Legal Secretary/Branch Administrator. I then moved to a different law firm in 2014 and began working in a completely different area of law. Now, after gaining experience and knowledge “on the job” and receiving a distinction upon completion of the Advanced Diploma, I have been offered a hybrid role whereby I split my time between legal secretarial work and fee earning. I have a monthly target of 40 chargeable hours to begin with and, depending on how this goes, it may increase in the future.
In your experience, what skills are highly valued in a Legal Secretary?
I think a Legal Secretary needs to be able to multi-task and to prioritise their workload. My role involves legal secretarial work, PA duties and fee earning tasks, so it is vital that I be proactive and prioritise my work for the day, whilst being able to immediately deal with anything urgent that materialises. A Legal Secretary also needs to be resilient and able to deal with tough days when heavy workloads can lead to Lawyers feeling under pressure and stressed.
If there is one piece of advice you would give someone who has just entered the profession, what would it be?
The legal profession can be a high-pressured environment at times and anyone looking for a Legal Secretary role needs to be able to deal with this in a calm and professional manner. Being someone on whom your Lawyer can rely for assistance when they are drowning in work will be a huge benefit for them and will ensure that you gain recognition for your skills.
Thank you so much, Michelle, for taking the time to talk to us about your career. It is fantastic to see such a good example of how a Legal Secretary can progress in the industry.
If you are interested in expanding your knowledge and gaining a legal secretarial qualification like Michelle, please take a look at our Legal Secretary Courses page.