Last month, my article ended by emphasising how smiling can make you more approachable and likeable, and by maintaining that if you smile at someone, they will almost invariably smile back. In other words, if you are consistently cheerful, you will definitely be noticed and make a difference.
The next trait that will help you to stand out is efficiency. One dictionary’s definition of the word “efficient” is “functioning or producing effectively and with the least waste of effort; competent”. Look up the synonyms for this word, and you’ll see mention of attributes such as ability, adeptness, capability, competence, effectiveness, productivity, proficiency, skill and organisation.
Modern technology, of course, has increased efficiency for us all – computers and the internet help us to do things which were unheard of a mere 20 years ago. It follows, therefore, that you need to be on top of current and new developments in the technological world, and to be computer literate and internet savvy.
So, how can we be more efficient and more effective? To be more effective is, in essence, to produce the result that is desired. Desired by whom? Well, there are two parties involved – the person you work for (we’ll call him or her your “boss” for the sake of ease) and also the person (or entity) for whom your boss is working for, i.e. the client. Don’t ever forget that your firm’s most valuable assets are its clients – without them, you and all your colleagues would be out of a job.
Now, is there any way you can think of to make your clients happier? Many years ago my Secretary at the time suggested that it would be a profitable idea to devise a system that would keep our clients updated on a weekly basis as to the current state of their transaction, irrespective of whether or not it had progressed. She held that the majority of phone calls she took from clients were asking for just that. I told her to run with it, and she did! It was decided that weekly was too often, but bi-weekly wasn’t. So she devised a pro-forma list for each area of work, starting with conveyancing (because that was the area in which current progress was the clients’ greatest worry) but extended it across the board. That was in the days when communications were either by post or by telephone – how much easier would it be today?
If there is anything that you think might be a good idea to introduce, don’t be afraid to mention it. Always be looking for ways to improve what you are doing, and don’t hesitate to make suggestions to your boss.
Reliability is an adjunct to effectiveness. Making sure that you are always on time and are prepared to go the extra mile (for example, by staying late at the office if need be). This is very important in certain areas like litigation and criminal work where meeting deadlines is crucial. Is there any way you can think of to help alleviate the pressures on your boss? For example, say you are a civil litigation Secretary. If your boss attends his or her own Court Interim Applications (where necessary) before a District Judge, start by asking whether you could go with your boss for experience, with a view to eventually asking whether you could do the applications yourself (where appropriate) to save your boss from having to do the job.
Discretion is an attribute that is absolutely essential in a Lawyer’s office. Everything regarding a client is absolutely confidential. Disclosing any information, even inadvertently, is a sure way of ending a legal career. So don’t talk about your day at the office, except in the simplest of terms, with anyone outside of it. Lawyers are sworn to protect the confidentiality of their clients, and it is a large part of their code of conduct – and that means you as well! A good motto for a Legal Secretary would be: “Leave your personal life at home and leave your working life at work”. Write it out in Latin in large letters (“Relinquo vobis personalis vitae ad domum et opus vita ad munus”), and pin it to the wall behind your desk – it will be a constant reminder to you, and everyone will ask you what it means and will be impressed. It will certainly make you stand out!
The most successful Secretaries in all spheres of work stay on top of what needs to be accomplished for any given period, and so drive and initiative are extremely valuable. Are you a person who instinctively knows or anticipates what needs to be done? Or do you only do what you are told to do, and hesitate to go further, saying to yourself (or your colleagues), “I’m not paid to do that”? If I were a boss, I know what type of attitude I would prefer.
Finally, be a good work colleague. If you can, always lend a helping hand or do a favour for someone, especially if you see that the other person has a big workload. Never talk about colleagues behind their back, and treat everyone else in exactly the same way as you would want and expect them to treat you. If there are ever any issues that need resolving, it is always best to talk to people face to face in a fair and diplomatic way.
The law is a great profession – and the English legal system is the best in the world! Feel proud that you are a part of it, and make the very most of your opportunities.