Legal Secretaries help with the smooth running of law firms and can work in barristers’ chambers, local authorities, law courts and with the police. They hold a wealth of professional skills and overall they must be excellent secretaries with an understanding of law and legal procedures, computer literate, have good communication and organisational skills, an eye for detail and professional acumen. The work can be challenging and demanding so being calm and confident is essential.
The work of Legal Secretaries varies greatly, as law and legal procedures do. Areas such as Conveyancing, Probate, Litigation, Personal Injury, Family Law and Criminal Law are common to work in and valuable experience is gained on the job. Legal Secretaries find their work enjoyable and rewarding as they work on interesting cases, are given important responsibilities, liase with a diversity of clients and are at the heart of the legal profession.
We are pleased to feature the day-to-day working life experiences of some of our Fellowship Members.
I am pleased to be able to say that no two days are ever alike in the life of a Legal Secretary. Legal matters reflect the ups and downs of everyone’s life. The good, bad and the ugly! Divorce, family matters, buying and selling property – life’s rich tapestry.
I am involved in both commercial and residential conveyancing so the job is very busy and varied. No two transactions are ever alike and certainly no two sets of clients are the same. I am often asked: “How long will it take?” My stock answer is: “Do you know how long a piece of string is!” That is the only sensible reply I can give.
More often than not, the simplest of matters can turn into a protracted, complicated affair and yet other matters, which you may think will be long and arduous, turn out to be straight-forward – you can never tell.
However, the more experience and knowledge you gain, then the more you can deal with and handle a difficult situation because you are able to recall similar situations and, hopefully, remember how to deal with it.
The post arrives in the morning and is sorted and inevitably this will dictate how the workload will be distributed that day. Of course, urgent telephone calls or faxes may interrupt and stop the work flow but, generally, the day’s work is in order and in accordance with the correspondence that needs to be dealt with.
Once exchange has taken place on a sale and/or purchase then the file is then given to the Secretary to take charge of and see through to the end, ie., completion. A checklist is already on the file so it is easy to follow the list and prioritise the jobs.
Sometimes telephone calls come in thick and fast from both clients, estate agents and Solicitors and these have to be given priority. However, it is much more satisfactory to have a clear, uninterrupted day because it is so easy to forget to do something and it is far more conducive to have continuity.
Quite often I start the day with a whole of priorities to get on with and find at the end of the day I have not been able to do any of that set work because of more urgent jobs being given throughout the day. This cannot be helped and it is something you get used to.
I never stop learning and the role changes all the time because of, for example, dealing with HIPS or a new computer software package. It certainly makes the day go quickly and there is never a dull moment.
On the whole, I enjoy being a Legal Secretary and like the idea of seeing a job through from start to finish. The majority of clients are very grateful when everything goes through smoothly and it is rewarding when you know a job is well done.
Sheila Parissien FILS, Fellowship Member
Don't believe anyone who tells you that being a legal secretary is a boring job because all you do is type and fill in forms. Although it is becoming more common now for a solicitor to specialise in one particular area of law, for example, conveyancing, personal injury, landlord & tenant or probate, I am lucky in that the partner I work for is "old school" and still dabbles in more than one area of law. His primary area of law is commercial, which covers commercial agreements, franchising, sales and purchases of businesses etc, but he also deals with residential and commercial property matters, for example, sales and purchases of residential and commercial property, grants and surrenders of leases etc.
Obviously, typing takes up a large amount of my day but, as well as normal correspondence, I can be typing up a draft Lease or contract and carrying out Land Registry or Local Authority searches one day and the next day be typing a commercial agreement or a report to be sent to the client on a franchise agreement he wishes to enter into. Sometimes I type from dictation and sometimes I copy type from a previous document that has been mangled and cut to pieces to create another - as a result I have developed the skill of a psychic that enables me to know exactly what my fee earner wants! Telephone calls are frequent, but are an added bonus adding to the variety of my day - calls to and from clients, the Land Registry or a Local Authority among others - one day phoning around for a quote on a Chancel Repair Liability policy, the next day setting up a telephone conference call and another day arranging a client meeting, as well as taking messages and fielding calls when my fee earner is absent. Every day there is at least one new file to open and money laundering administration to be carried out. An important part of the process is ensuring that the correct documentation has been received from the client (sometimes with a bit of a giggle over the passport photograph). More than once during the day I hear a plaintive cry from my fee earner of "Where's the file?” Luckily, I have attained the ability to think like a detective and am quickly on the case - usually finding the missing file sitting at the bottom of a pile on my fee earner's desk even though he swears he has looked there twice!
IT can also cause a trauma if the person you work for is a bit of a technophobe – again, a despairing cry of "What's happened now?" might lead to trying to recover a lost document or trying to print an attachment that has come through by email in a different format. (I keep threatening to start a swear box in our office because I'm sure that by Christmas there would be sufficient in it for us all to go for a slap-up meal purely on the strength of the language caused by IT problems).
Interspersed with everything else is the requesting of cheques, filing, scanning, photocopying, making up bibles of documents, filling in forms, preparing the post, research, attending training courses and team meetings, fetching stationery, maintaining databases, closing files, maintaining the diary, undertaking conflict checks - phew, when do I get time to breathe!!
I have worked as a legal secretary for the last past 12 years, in most of the different areas of law, each of which had their own particular appeal. I can honestly say that, although hectic, no two days are the same - it is a very interesting, enjoyable and rewarding job and I wouldn't want to do anything else.
Lilian Watson FILS, Fellowship Member
When the alarm shrieks at 6.45 a.m. I’m just like everyone else - I want to roll over and go back to sleep, but it’s only because I’m comfortable and not because I dread going to work. I’m lucky, I love my job! Life in a legal office is never dull and never boring.
I usually arrive at work at around 8.20 a.m. I don’t have to, but it fits in with the school run and that half hour of peace and quiet before the phone starts ringing and the front door opens is really great and gives me a chance to update my diary and retrieve all the files needed for the daily file review. I have a meeting every day at 9.00 a.m. with my boss (who is a sole practitioner) when we go through all of the files listed for that day and any others which he has set aside during the previous twenty-four hours. Following that meeting, my next port of call is my computer diary, which is an invaluable tool; almost every legal step is governed by a time limit and entering up each important step is essential.
The rest of my day is usually comprised of a variety of file types: from taking instructions from a client with a view to completing an application for Legal Aid, to drafting an Inheritance Tax Return for an estate valued at several million pounds. Perhaps I might draft a Conveyance in the morning and type a plethora of simple reminders in the afternoon. Each task holds its own attraction and satisfaction; it’s fulfilling at the end of the day to see a neat pile of correspondence ready for the post and equally satisfying to complete the drafting of a complicated Deed or Estate forms.
No two days are ever the same; for me the day passes very quickly and I enjoy every minute of it. I personally gain tremendous satisfaction from my work and find there is always something new to learn, since the Law and the legal system are constantly subject to change.
The work is challenging and often demanding; it requires dedication, concentration and focus. However, the rewards are many and great and I would have no hesitation in encouraging anyone to follow this particular career path.
Amanda Grant FILS, Fellowship Member