Legal Secretary Jobs and Careers in the UK
Numerous law firms, barristers' chambers and law courts run more smoothly due to the contributions of legal secretaries.
Also called legal assistants, administrative assistants or executive assistants, these staff perform secretarial and administrative duties that go far beyond the regular typing, dictation, filing and phone call handling duties.
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The legal secretary has specialised training and a range of professional skills unique to the legal profession, having additional understanding of legal procedures and the law itself. Although there has been an economic downturn, there has been growth in the legal sectors where legal secretaries are usually engaged. Law firms that really utilise the potential of legal secretaries are also those that optimise their overall performance.
Duties of a Legal Secretary
Standard secretarial duties include:
- Preparing and completing legal forms, letters and documents.
- Processing incoming correspondence, including legal forms, letters and documents, forwarding it to legal partners, responding to it or filing it.
- Responding to emails and telephone calls.
- Preparing letters and legal documents.
Specialist legal secretarial duties include:
- Preparing statements for court cases and completing court paperwork, including motions, briefs, subpoenas, pleadings, etc.
- Attending court as required for hearings.
- Scheduling meetings and appointments.
- Interfacing with clients.
- Performing legal research.
- Creating spreadsheets to track complex case documentation.
- Communicating with legal professionals such as solicitors and barristers, qualified experts, opposing counsel and others.
- Undertaking site inspections.
Employers of Legal Secretaries
The variety of the work is provided by the nature of the employer's work and the type of cases that come across the secretary's desk. A legal secretary job may be found in the following kinds of offices.
- Barristers' Chambers. Barristers are normally independent, but share offices or 'chambers'. They usually have clerks who run the administration and marketing, with additional support from specialist legal staff. Their specialist areas may be criminal law, commercial law, common law (which includes housing, personal injury and family law) and chancery (which concerns estates and trusts).
- Solicitors in mixed practice offices. These may focus on civil or criminal law, representing the private individuals, groups, companies or public sector organisations who are their clients. In civil law, they pursue private law suits or litigation, or deal with wills, contracts, trusts, mortgages, leases, etc. In criminal law, they argue their clients' case in court.
- Corporate (Company or Commercial) lawyers are concerned with the interactions of shareholders, directors, employees, creditors and other stakeholders in a corporation's activities, such as consumers.
- Conveyancing solicitors. These offices specialise in the transfer of property ownership. The partners may be solicitors (or legal executives qualified to the same level) who undertake all the legal and administrative work associated with transferring the ownership of land or buildings from one owner to another.
- Probate lawyers. These offices handle the estates of deceased people, resolving claims and distributing property under the valid will. This may involve attending probate court hearings to decide a will's validity, or to respond to challenges to a will's validity.
- Litigation lawyers. These offices represent plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases and manage each step of the litigation process from investigation, pleadings and discovery to pre-trial, trial, settlement and appeal.
- Personal Injury. These offices provide legal representation to clients who claim to have been injured, physically or mentally, through the negligence or wrongdoing of a person, company or other entity.
- Family law. These offices deal with issues around marriage or de facto relationships, including divorce and annulment, alimony, paternity fraud, domestic abuse and child custody.
- Criminal law. These lawyers represent clients who have been charged with crimes and argue their cases in courts of law, after researching their cases.
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Would a Career as a Legal Secretary Suit You?
To be successful as a Law Secretary, you need to be an excellent secretary who is able to learn above and beyond the standard duties of the job. You need to demonstrate the following:
- Excellent IT and administration skills, with good typing, dictation and a knowledge of software programs for word processing, spreadsheet, legal research, presentation and time and billing software.
- A calm, well-organised and efficient approach to work, with excellent interpersonal and communication skills. Patience is always valuable.
- The ability to work under pressure of court deadlines, both in administration and research duties. (Missing a court deadline can mean losing a case through a default judgement.)
- Superb organisational abilities, with the ability to work unsupervised.
- Familiarity with legal terminology, basic legal procedures and law office protocols.
How to become a Legal Secretary
There are no fixed entry requirements for this type of job, but it's advisable to either take a legal secretary course or, if you're already working in a solicitor's office, to work towards one. This will enable you to secure a position with one of the bigger or better paying law firms, as you will not be bound to the specialist area of your first employer.
A legal secretarial course will ensure that you are familiar with law and legal secretarial procedures. The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs offers a Legal Secretaries Diploma that is recognised by law firms and accredited by the National Association of Licensed Paralegals. This can be taken part-time and suits newcomers as well as those with former experience.
Other training courses are offered by local colleges and private career colleges. Certificates and diplomas are available, with accreditation from City & Guilds being the quality benchmark.
If you are interested in the best legal secretary jobs, then proximity to a city is going to provide you with most opportunity. Alternatively, if you're willing to relocate, the better opportunities will open up to you.
Job Sites for Legal Secretary Jobs
- The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs' website offers career and training information, plus job opportunities - www.institutelegalsecretaries.com
- Totally Legal is a job site that includes legal secretary positions - www.totallylegal.com
- Law and Legal has details of companies that deal with all disciplines and offers pages of tips for job applications and careers - www.lawandlegal.co.uk
- Law Careers is a comprehensive online resource, with editorial on becoming a lawyer, directories of employers, news and features - www.lawcareers.net
- Simply Law Jobs offers openings - www.simplylawjobs.com