From Secretary to Judge

From Secretary to JudgeAchieving Your Full Potential

With the right training and attitude, you really can achieve anything. Consider the example of Britain’s longest serving judge - Lady Butler-Sloss. She took a secretarial course and then worked her way up to the top of the judiciary becoming the first woman justice of the Court of Appeal. This is not the usual path to legal eminence but shows what can be achieved if you are determined enough.

Lady Butler-Sloss was Britain’s longest serving judge at her retirement in 2005. When she was called to the bar in 1955, she was one of only 60 women among 2,000 barristers. Not only was she able to tackle the very male dominated legal profession of the 1960s, but she did this while raising her three children.

Although the Institute is not aware of any members rising to the rank of a high court judge, it is not for want of ability or determination. The Institute comes across many students who would not only excel as legal secretaries, but also as fee earners in their own right.

Obtaining your diploma is a great first step to achieving your full potential. The diploma may be your means of obtaining your first job as a legal secretary, or for those already working in the profession, it will help enhance your skills. With the diploma in hand, what else can you do to further your career in law? The answer depends on what you would like to eventually achieve. We have set out below two possible career goals open to you as a diploma graduate.

The Specialist Legal Secretary

Imagine that you have been working as a legal secretary for several months. Depending on the size of the organisation you may have had the opportunity to work in several different departments. Alternatively, you may have settled into one department specialising in a particular area of law. In either case it is not unusual for diploma graduates to seek additional specialist knowledge. The Institute recognises the need for appropriate specialist training and has Advanced Single Subject courses available in areas such as:

  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Corporate & Commercial Law
  • Conveyancing
  • Civil Litigation
  • Wills, Probate and Administration

By taking these types of courses you are demonstrating to your firm a desire to continue your professional development. Professionals, including solicitors, expect to take additional training every year. When your performance is evaluated it speaks highly of your commitment and professionalism if you can show that you take your own development as seriously as those who employ you.

The Legal Secretary and Fee Earner

The next stage to being a specialist secretary is to consider doing fee-earning work in addition to or even instead of your secretarial work. The opportunity to do this type of paralegal work varies from firm to firm. In general, it is rare that a firm is unwilling to give smart, ambitious and competent staff the chance to earn the business some money! The advantage of becoming a fee earner is that the more you earn for the firm, the easier it is to justify (or in some cases insist upon) a pay rise. If you are interested in pursuing this career goal, then training can be obtained from organisations such as the National Association of Paralegals. Please take a look at their website at

No matter how your legal career has begun, examples such as that of Lady Bulter-Sloss show that it is possible to reach the very top of the legal profession. What is required to do this is drive, determination and training.