It will come as no surprise to those reading this article that Legal Secretaries need to be good with technology. A Legal Secretary’s role is primarily computer-based. It is automatically expected that they will have skills such as fast and accurate typing, a good understanding of commonly used computer programs and knowledge of how to use standard office equipment. Technology is a big part of their day-to-day role, and the right technology can make the position a whole lot easier. But what is the top tech, or more particularly the top programs that a Legal Secretary should know? We spoke to working Legal Secretaries to see what their favourite programs and apps are, and to gain some insight into the main technology they rely on each day.
This is an old and obvious favourite still used in the majority of law firms. Most firms will need secretaries to create legal documents from scratch, or at least complete existing templates of the document in Microsoft Word. This requires Legal Secretaries to have an excellent understanding of the program so that they can complete tasks that require them to set formatting, use track changes and utilise the review options such as word compare.
Excel is also a commonly used Microsoft program. Many firms will use Excel to track their billing hours, monitor invoicing, and send and record quotes. If you work in a conveyancing practice, you may also need to use Excel to create completion statements and cash accounts for your clients.
The third popular program Microsoft offers is Microsoft Outlook. Email is now a fixed aspect of the legal world. Whether it is internal or external, be prepared to deal with plenty of them. A good email management system is therefore vital. The main factor that makes Outlook a good management system is that you can do so much more than simply organise emails with it. You can set reminders, list tasks and even manage and share diaries. Organisation is important to Legal Secretaries and having one program that can help organise all these factors is a real plus.
Diary and Email Management Systems
Besides Microsoft Outlook, there are other programs that will also aid you in your email organisation. We would strongly recommend that you do your research and find whichever one works for you. The main thing is that you have a system in place. Popular choices are Outlook, Gmail, Mozilla Thunderbird and Opera. It may be that your workplace already has an email system in place that you will need to be familiar with.
Legal Secretaries will often be in charge of one or more of their fee earner’s diaries. To enable both parties to monitor, track and update the diary from anywhere at any time, diaries are now more commonly electronic than traditional paper books. This has brought a whole new area of essential technology into the law firm. There are many different types of diary management software that you can choose from, including the previously mentioned Outlook and Osprey.
Case Management Systems
Legal cases come with a lot of paperwork. Paperwork that has to be tracked, shared, updated and worked on by different parties throughout the process. Legal processes also normally have various steps and stages. Conveyancing, for example, has multiple stages, all of which require a variety of searches, documents and paperwork. Case Management Systems allow the professionals working on the cases to keep track of what has and hasn’t been done and see what stage in the procedure the case it at. It also allows for different people to do different tasks as and when they need. Case Management Systems not only allow for case and matter management but also make tasks such as tracking time and billing, research, communication and collaboration, data security, storage, and archive accessibility a lot easier than with paper case files.
Most firms will source case management software and then adapt it to fit their own processes, meaning each firm’s system will differ slightly. However, the basic principles and uses will remain the same, making it easy for Legal Secretaries to adapt between different systems if they change roles.
Currency Converters and Translation Software
Law firms who work internationally will need to be able to work with different currencies and languages. Legal Secretaries will often be the people given the task of adapting the files and figures. Therefore, a good currency converter and access to reliable translation software is indispensable. Some of the examples provided by working Legal Secretaries include Google Translate, Wordfast and Smartcat for translation, and the XE Currency Converter.
These will also be helpful for Legal Secretaries whose fee earners travel a lot, allowing for easier planning and booking of travel arrangements.
An eCopy is simply an electronic copy of a paper document. Law firms will often need to have paper and electronic copies of legal files, and this can create a lot of extra work for a Legal Secretary if they are the ones having to type up received documents or edit them. eCopy software converts paper documents into editable electronic files, making it very easy for people to share, store, edit and update documents. This is particularly useful for deeds that often have multiple versions sent between parties before finally being engrossed.
There is a wide range of eCopy software available from recognised names such as Nuance, Adobe and Kofax.
Legal Secretaries and PAs also use a variety of apps to help with their day-to-day workload.
A popular use for apps is to allow Legal Secretaries to manage their to-do lists and keep organised by having access to them on the go. Apps like Microsoft ToDo (formally Wunderlist), Todoist and Trello are popular choices.
ToDo allows you to create personalised to-do lists that can be synced across all your devices. You can categorise, colour-code and prioritise multiple lists, while also adding notes, reminders and alerts as you go. This app is great for people who constantly add or expand on their written to-do list, making it messy and confusing. The ToDo app will help you keep all those notes and lists organised and neat.
Todoist describes itself as a task management app rather than just a to-do list. It offers all the organisation and clarity that other apps give but it also allows for multiple people to work on projects, so workload can be delegated.
Trello is a very simple and easy-to-use app. It gives you the options to create lists, boards or cards (like post-its for your phone) to help you plan and remember things easily.
Apps also facilitate communication. Instant Messaging such as Whatsapp for Business allows secretaries and their colleagues or fee earners to communicate quickly and privately. It helps with organisation and is especially useful when fee earners are out of the office.