The career of a legal secretary is akin to that of a regular secretary or administrative assistant. However, these guys understandably work in a legal environment and law will form the core business of their employer.
Legal secretaries are employed by law firms, multi-specialty consultancies with a separate legal division, barristers’ chambers and other law and judicial establishments. However, the job titles used to describe these legal administrators may vary from organisation to organisation, e.g. barristers’ clerk, court secretary or legal personal assistant (LPA).
The bulk of your professional life will be dominated by general administration and office management activities. You might be managing incoming telephone calls, taking minutes or dictation and then typing up correspondence or preparing other paperwork.
Furthermore, you will be setting up client appointments and assigning workspaces and resources for new employees and trainee solicitors, such as telephones, computers and LAN and internet connections. You’ll also be required to flex your organisational muscles by managing and maintaining databases and library resources.
Essentially, you’ll also be the ‘go-to’ guy or girl for senior lawyers in the firm. Therefore, you’ll be making travel and accommodation arrangements for partner-members and other employees, maintaining expense accounts or handling the entire financial and accounting responsibilities for the company. However, this will only usually be the case if you are working for a small firm, which doesn’t have a separate finance department.
Salary & benefits
Salaries for legal secretaries depend upon the size, location and type of employer. The size of your pay packet will also rely on your level of experience and expertise.
Legal secretaries with more than five years’ experience, who are based in metropolitan locations and are employed by medium, large or multinational law firms, can expect higher levels of remuneration.
Starting salaries tend to range between £18,000 and £22,000 per annum. However, legal secretaries may earn between £25,000 and £50,000 a year once they have gained a decent amount of experience.
They may also receive good extra benefits, such as a pension, life assurance and private health insurance.
Working nine-to-five is the way you’ll make your living if you become a legal secretary. The work is mainly office-based. A substantial majority of legal secretaries are women and employers make sure to provide mandatory benefits, such as maternity leave, childcare vouchers or onsite crèche facilities.
While there are no specific minimum academic requirements for this line of work, candidates with good grades at GCSE and A-level (i.e. grade C and above), particularly in maths and English, are normally preferred.
Alternatively, vocational qualifications in business administration, secretarial studies or another similar course would be a bonus.
There are also specialist legal secretarial courses offered by institutions across the UK, including HNDs (Higher National Diplomas), NVQs and City & Guilds certifications. It could be worthwhile for you to obtain one of these qualifications to get a head start over the competition.
Furthermore, fluency in more than one language, typing skills and excellent computer literacy in Microsoft Office programs (Excel, Word and PowerPoint) and database management are highly preferable.
Training & progression
Training is primarily facilitated through hands-on experience and personal study. However, a few employers may sponsor secretarial employees to undertake advanced or professional training courses.
Gaining the membership of recognised professional bodies, such as the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators (ICSA), the Institute of Legal Secretaries & PAs (ILSPA) and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) are useful in career progression and increasing your knowledge base.
The ILSPA offers a Legal Secretaries Diploma Course, which is recognised as a qualification standard for legal secretaries, while CILEx offers certificate and diploma courses which are specially designed for legal secretaries.
As you progress, you could end up taking on an office manager’s role. You could also look into becoming a paralegal and legal executive. Some legal secretaries even complete a law degree to train as a qualified solicitor.
Another viable alternative is self-employment or freelancing, where you’d be specialising in legal administrative work or expanding into generalist secretarial work.