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A voice on the telephone recently asked me, “Are you his secretary, or do you prefer to be called his administrative assistant?” I told him, “I am his secretary and very proud of it.” You could hear the relief in his voice as he replied, “Thank goodness I can deal with a real person the one who really runs things and I don’t have to deal with a prima donna who takes offense at the least little thing!” Now, I’m serious. This really happened. And I think he voiced a common feeling, because people know that a secretary, especially a legal secretary, is close to the boss, can be trusted with information, and will handle all matters correctly. (But we know who really runs things and it’s not the secretary.)
The United States of America is the leader of the free world and its President is the most powerful individual in the world. And what are the President’s cabinet members called? Secretaries!.
Yes, I am very proud to be a legal secretary. I am proud of the knowledge and experience I have gained from my 29 years as a legal secretary. I have met famous people, worked on important cases, been given important responsibilities, and learned more than I could from any law school. I have been trusted with information that is so confidential that, had I been working for the government, I would have had the highest security clearance. And some secrets I will take with me to my crematory urn. For what is the base of the word “secretary”? It is secret.
Webster defines the word “secret”: as an adjective, it is “kept from the knowledge of others,” such as a secret agreement. As a noun, it is “something kept from the knowledge of others,” as to keep a secret is to refrain from communicating a secret to others. Legal secretaries understand, appreciate, recognize, and honor the value of confidentiality in communications. So our position in the office where we work is one that inspires confidence, because third parties know of the confidential nature of our business.
Special Traits and Skills
The legal secretary must possess skills and traits far above average, such as excellent keyboarding, transcribing dictation, general knowledge about computers and other office machines, and ethics.
In addition to all that, the legal secretary:
- Must be an expert at time management, juggling many activities and roles at the same time;
- Must possess psychological skills, dealing daily with many personalities;
- Must possess excellent judgment to make dozens of critical decisions; and
- Must have talents as a travel agent, personal shopper, living calendar, telephone directory, and mentor.
Wow! What a collection! Perhaps that is why J. Wiedemer in his textbook, Real Estate Finance, says in the chapter on “Analyzing Borrowers” that “the top legal, professional and executive secretaries not only command good salaries but are virtually assured of continuous work today.”
Merriam-Webster’s Webster’s Legal Secretaries Handbook, which is one of the resources for our specialty certification examinations, is an excellent work and reference for new legal secretaries.
In discussing “Employment Opportunities,” it cautions legal secretaries who are contemplating becoming legal assistants, because “competent and experienced legal secretaries are becoming a rare commodity . . . . As the need for good legal secretaries continues to increase and their numbers decrease, each one becomes more valuable.”
Legal secretaries belong to one of the most employable groups in the world. One important reason is that the skills necessary to be a good legal secretary carry over to many other positions, professions, and businesses. Have you ever noticed the admiration from those outside the legal community when you say you are a “legal secretary”? I have, many times.
Legal Secretaries International Is for Legal Secretaries
The LSI association has been established:
- For the beginning legal secretary or one reentering the legal secretarial field
- For the legal secretary whose work is a lifetime career
- For the legal secretary whose skills convert to other positions in the law office or elsewhere
- For the retired legal secretary, whose vast experience can benefit so many
- For the legal secretary who is a mentor, teacher, and role model
How can we best help legal secretaries? By being the best we can be. By living good ethics. By being dependable. By being honest and never making excuses, but learning from our mistakes. By increasing our competencies every day. By being good examples.
I close with a poem my dad memorized when he was a child. Both title and author are unknown.
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one would walk with me than merely show the way;
For the eye’s a better pupil, and more willing than the ear.
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.
And the best of all the creatures are the ones who live their creeds,
For to see the good in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it, if you let me see it done;
I can watch your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather learn my lesson by observing what you do.
For I may misunderstand you, and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act, and how you live.
May we be good examples and show that each of us is “Proud to Be a Legal Secretary.”
About the Author
Carol Ann Wilson holds several certifications, including Certified Legal Secretary Specialist in Civil Trial Law. A charter member of Legal Secretaries International, she currently serves as Director of Outside Program Development. Carol lives in Houston.