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“A well-known law firm is looking to recruit a highly motivated and skilled legal secretary. Work 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for a competitive salary and the opportunity to develop your own professional skills in a challenging and fast-paced environment.”
Does this advert look familiar? If you have been job hunting for any length of time, you will have seen dozens of adverts similar to the one above. You might get a few more details, like these:
- A very high-caliber, polished candidate needed
- Solid CV a must
- Experience is an advantage
In the best adverts you might be lucky enough to be told such things as:
- The role will require administrative assistance, such as filing and archiving.
- We are looking for speed and accuracy; you must have a typing speed of 50+ wpm.
- The successful candidate will be responsible for the secretarial requirements of one fee-earner (or other possible alternatives, such as …of two fee-earners/the managing partner/the department).
So what does a law firm actually mean when it uses these types of phrases? What are the recruiters really looking for? In a nutshell, the starting point for anyone recruiting a legal secretary is to find someone who can type, is organized, is methodical, can concentrate, is accurate, will proofread, and has knowledge of legal terms and procedures. Having these skills means you should be shortlisted for an interview. Then, if you are able to demonstrate them during an interview, there is no reason that you should not gain employment as a legal secretary.
Now, assuming you get the job, what is going to make you stand out as a great secretary rather than just someone who is competent?
Organize those around you
It is not unfair to say that many lawyers work in a state of “organized chaos”. It might even be more accurate to say that there are lawyers who work in absolute chaos. To really be noticed, it is not enough to be organized yourself. The best secretaries become indispensable by organizing the people for whom they are working.
If you understand techniques for managing your own workload – e.g., using diaries, time sheets, planners, to-do lists and schedules to prioritize tasks – then help your boss to use these techniques, as well. Many professionals are not good at managing their time, so if you can do this for them, you will be worth your weight in gold.
Be ready and able to make changes
If you are happy to drift along in work and be told what to do, you are unlikely to stand out. On the other hand, if you have energy, enthusiasm and ideas of your own, you can make yourself an asset to your organization. Take the point from above about organizing those around you. Just having the thought that this would be a good idea is not enough. You need to convince others that your approach is best. The best secretaries who worked for me were able to see when something could be done more efficiently and then convince me that their changes were a good idea. Sometimes they were so good at influencing me that I would think the idea to change the way I worked was mine in the first place! If you want to improve your ability to influence others and “sell” your ideas, learn to ask and use questions effectively and listen to what you are being told.
Continue developing your skills as a professional
It goes without saying that to get ahead in a law firm you should be professional in appearance, but there are other ways to demonstrate to those you work for that you are a professional. One definition of a professional is someone who exhibits great skills – an expert. If you are a competent legal secretary, you will already be an expert typist and administrator. To be a great legal secretary, however, you should be willing to develop extra skills. The best firms will encourage you to do this, as they know it is in their own interests to have a highly skilled workforce. Consider obtaining additional IT or legal qualifications. If you are working in a particular area of law, consider seeking higher qualification relevant to that area. It is possible to develop your role from that of a secretary into a full-fledged fee-earner, provided you are willing to spend the time obtaining the professional qualifications.
These are just a few suggestions that could make you not only a great legal secretary, but also someone who is indispensable.