Legal secretaries are considered specialists in the area of secretarial work, but their duties and responsibilities still vary widely. They are involved in a wide range of administrative tasks and office management alongside more specialist duties and directly liaising with their law firm's clients.
Tasks and duties may include some or all of the following:
It is usual for a legal secretary to work closely with one or more solicitors and be an integral part of the legal team. Many secretaries now have responsibility for case management on areas such as conveyancing and debt recovery.
There are many solicitors' practices that specialise in a particular area of law such as criminal practice, litigation, commercial law and family law. The role of the legal secretary will vary depending on the structure of the organisation and the nature of the business. Smaller firms may require an all-round approach, whereas in larger firms there may be opportunities to specialise.
Most legal secretaries work normal office hours, around 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with some larger companies offering flexitime schemes. Part-time work and temporary contracts may be available.
Though the work is varied, much of it is carried out in front of a computer screen, and a legal secretary will spend long periods of time sitting. Offices tend to be well lit and airy, and workstations are required to meet EU regulations in comfort and safety.
Personal appearance is important, particularly if the job involves receiving visitors, and smart dress may be required.
Starting salaries may be around £11,000 to £15,000 a year. In this area of work, salaries tend to be higher around major cities, particularly near London.
The majority of legal secretaries work for solicitors, but there are also opportunities to work in the legal departments of large organisations such as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, charities, public sector organisations, and in barristers' chambers and the law courts.
Most towns will have at least one or two solicitors' practices, so jobs are available nationwide. However, opportunities are greater in major cities such as London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.
Jobs are advertised online, in local and national newspapers and through many specialist recruitment agencies. Temporary jobs are often available. These can be an excellent way of gaining experience and sometimes lead to a permanent post.
It is important to be aware of significant differences between the Scottish legal system and the rest of the UK. If may be difficult to move between these areas.
There are no minimum qualifications to begin work as a legal secretary, but most employers may expect GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English and maths. A good understanding of grammar, spelling and punctuation is essential. Some graduates choose this route to begin their career in law.
Good keyboard skills are essential and there are many courses nationwide that offer recognised qualifications in business administration. Specific training in legal secretarial work is an advantage, but may not be necessary to start at a junior level. Some general secretarial courses offer modules specific to this area.
Legal secretaries train through on-the-job experience and by working with more experienced members of staff. Some companies offer formal in-house courses and others may encourage employees to work towards nationally-recognised qualifications related to their work.
There are a wide range of qualifications in this area, offering candidates a broad knowledge and the necessary skills to excel in an administrative position. General administration awards available include:
The Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) offers qualifications for legal secretaries through its business division, ILEX Paralegal Programmes (ILEXPP):
- ILEXPP Certificate for Legal Secretaries
- ILEXPP Diploma for Legal Secretaries
It is possible to study for these qualifications in the workplace, at a college or other ILEX-approved training centre, or by distance learning.
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PA's also offer two levels of qualification specific to this position:
- Legal Secretaries Diploma
- Legal Secretaries Advanced Diploma
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Legal secretaries need:
Within a firm it may be possible to become a senior secretary, personal assistant, office manager or secretary to a more senior solicitor.
Larger firms may offer more opportunities for promotion. Some legal secretaries may take additional training to become a legal executive, paralegal or licensed conveyancer. A few take a law degree or continue on the ILEX programme and go on to qualify as a solicitor or barrister.
Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX),
Kempston Manor, Kempston,
Bedfordshire MK42 7AB
Tel: 01234 841000
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs,
Blacklers, Park Road, Dartington Hall,
Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EQ
Tel: 020 7100 9210 or 01803 867 846
Main Website: www.institutelegalsecretaries.com
Legal Secretary Jobs: www.institutelegalsecretaries.com/jobs
National Association of Licensed Paralegals,
Lincoln House, 1-3 Brixton Road, London SW9 6DE
Tel: 0845 8627000
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.