Furthering Your Knowledge as a Legal Secretary

CPDAfter months of determination your hard work has paid off, and you have now qualified as a Legal Secretary. Some of you may wish to further your qualifications and strive for a career as a Paralegal or even as a Solicitor or Barrister. Whilst others are satisfied that they have an excellent qualification to be proud of, does this mean it is the end of developing your knowledge and skills?

Whilst you can relax somewhat, the law is ever changing, and it is imperative that you keep up to date with any amendments which affect the department in which you work. Although there is no specific requirement to complete additional training each year, it is in your interest to complete Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as and when required.

Certain changes in information will be provided to you internally through your colleagues, perhaps in team meetings, memorandums or emails. You may also be given in-house training either individually or in small groups. 

Fee earners often rely heavily on Secretaries and are content to leave the administration side of things to them. As a Junior Legal Secretary, you will discover that new information will often be provided to you. However, in a more senior position you may need to ensure that you are the one who keeps up to date with any changes in procedures, forms, fees, etc. You also may be responsible for taking instructions from clients and providing advice, either face to face or over the phone, and therefore you should keep up to date with changes in the law.

From a procedural point of view, the easiest way to check for up-to-date information is online. The appropriate website will depend upon the department in which you are employed. For example, the Land Registry’s website (http://www.landregistry.gov.uk/) is a first port of call for any conveyancing matters, whilst the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, Criminal Procedure Rules 2010 and Family Procedure Rules 2010 can be found at http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/courts-and-tribunals/courts/procedure-rules/index.htm. Relevant forms that you may view and use can be downloaded from these websites. Some firms subscribe to legal form providers such as Oyez, and the new forms will automatically appear on your computer system as and when they are updated. It is important that you then familiarise yourself with the content.

Of particular importance to note are changes in fees. If you quote a client one figure when a matter is taken on and then charge a higher figure in your invoice without notifying them about the change, they will query this. Most fees change around the same time as the financial year, and therefore if you are taking on a client in the new year, you may wish to tell them that the price is correct at the time of quoting but that fees are usually increased around the end of the tax year. This is the case with court fees, land registry fees and charges made by the local councils for services such as land searches. You will also need to check for changes in Stamp Duty Land Tax and Inheritance tax following the passing of a new budget.

There can also be changes in the law which you will need to keep up with. For instance, the procedure for administering an estate in the condition of intestacy was changed for deaths which occur after 1 February 2009. Before this date, a surviving spouse or civil partner was entitled to the first £125,000 plus a life interest in half the residue and the personal chattels. For deaths after this date, the surviving spouse or civil partner is now entitled to the first £250,000 plus a life interest in half the residue and personal chattels.

You can complete CPD via a variety of methods. For example, you can read relevant books, journals or Internet articles; attend courses; or sign up for in-house training. The Institute offers single-subject legal courses if you wish to study a new area of law, gain an in-depth understanding of an area you are already familiar with or gain some paralegal skills.

Above all, you have a rewarding career and will be able to take pride in the fact that you have up-to-date knowledge and skills. You can enjoy your job knowing that you have acquired the information which others are paying for.

Please contact us or take a look at our website for information on our Single Subject Legal Courses or our Continuing Professional Development programme. Members are encouraged to undertake CPD. Our programme is designed to recognise the progression of Legal Secretaries and PAs during their careers and to support those who accomplish their goals. Continuing Professional Development enhances your professional skills and, therefore, the quality of your work.