In a previous article we considered four “basic” skills that any legal secretary should have – communication, discretion, organisational and I.T. This month we will highlight some further skills and consider how to create a development plan to fill any gaps you may have.
Lawyers rely on having good information, therefore document management and record keeping are skills that a legal secretary must be proficient in. You may be opening and closing files, storing information in accordance with a firms’ processes & procedures or ensuring that files are correctly archived and stored at the end of a matter. The files you will be dealing may be digital, paper-based or both. You may also have to duplicate records across several systems. Since the pandemic, many more firms have moved to paperless or paper-light filing systems. These have the advantage of making it quick and easy to find information, provided it has been correctly added in the first place. The ease of access that digital systems allow is welcomed, but be aware that you may also be one of the main gatekeepers when ensuring that information is properly distributed and secured. If you do not feel fully “digitally competent” then add this as an action point on your personal development plan.
This is something that normally falls into the job description of a lawyer but having good research skills is not exclusive to them. The internet provides an almost infinite pool of information and often the research you are doing is not legal research but factual in nature. For example, if you are asked to book flights, accommodation or training courses you will be expect to “research” the options fully. Finding the best price, suitable availability or providing multiple alternatives requires you to research the answers efficiently and accurately. This skill boils down to being able to competently use search engines and assess the information you find.
Self-motivation & concentration
A large part of dealing with “admin” is being able to complete repetitive tasks well. Anything repetitive can become boring so you need to bring high levels of self-motivation. You may set yourself personal goals or targets when completing some tasks. Alternatively, you may break down larger tasks into more manageable components and reward yourself as you reach certain points. As well as struggling with motivation, it can be difficult to maintain good levels of concentration for long periods of time. Concentration is essential as you will be expected to complete your work on time and to the highest standard. In addition to taking regular breaks between tasks, you should remove any distractions during the day. This may mean putting your phone into a desk drawer, allocating certain times of the day to tackle challenging tasks or finding ways to block out surrounding noise in the workplace.
Creating a personal development plan
Even if you already feel that you are competent in your legal admin skills you should still consider creating a personal development plan (PDP) as it demonstrates that you have a growth mindset. It also provides a road map for where you want to go in your career. A PDP should include a clear reason your motivations for wanting to learn something, state what your goals are, confirm when development will take place and how you will get development opportunities. If we break this down further, consider this four-step plan:
- Evaluate what you are doing. Ensure that you know the extent of knowledge and skills required. You should find some of this information in your job description, but it could also help to ask others who are doing similar roles to ensure that you do not miss anything.
- Identify the right type of training. The best way to develop your knowledge and skills may be academic, technical or practical training. Alternatively, you may identify that a work mentor is better suited to help with your development needs. Finding a suitable mentor can be as easy as just asking someone that you work with for guidance. It is also worth bearing in mind that many employers are willing to sponsor employee development but without a clear plan you may struggle to persuade them.
- Build skills based on your experiences. There are some skills that are best learnt by doing a task many times. If your current role will not allow you to practice a particular skill, then consider volunteering to help with tasks or work that will. Once you are “learning by doing” you should self-reflect on your performance and ask simple questions like - “what went well” with a task or “what will I do better next time”. If you have found a mentor this is also an excellent opportunity for them to provide you with improvement feedback.
- Monitor your progress. It is not only mentors who can provide you with feedback. You should also seek formal or informal feedback from colleagues, as without this how will you really know if you are making progress? As the old management adage goes - “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”, and feedback can be a great way to measure your progress.
As a final thought, remember that personal development is just that - personal. Your personal development plan may not follow this neat four-step plan but these questions should help you to get started on your own development journey.
Author: Seamus Ryan
Seamus is ILSPA's course tutor, a CILEx examiner and a law coach. He has been teaching law for over 20 years with much passion and positive feedback from our Students.