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Legal Secretaries Indispensable for Law Firms

published July 25, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 14 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Despite what many attorneys think, law firms probably couldn't function without legal secretaries. They're the ones who really know how to get things done in a law firm. There are even some experienced legal secretaries who probably know enough about the practice of law to pass the bar exam. And in my opinion, even the advances of computer technology won't eliminate the need for an experienced legal secretary or administrative assistant. You may be asking yourself about now, "What's so great about legal secretaries, and what do they know that makes them so indispensable?" They know plenty. It takes more than just good secretarial and computer skills to become a legal or administrative secretary. (I'll use the term "legal" secretary, but you can substitute "administrative" if you prefer.) I'm probably being a bit overzealous, but legal secretaries seldom get the credit and recognition they deserve, and they are extremely hard to find, even in today's tight job market.

What Legal Secretaries Do?

Good legal secretaries become the right arm of their attorney boss. They eventually learn enough about the practice to anticipate the attorney's needs even before a request is made. Again, I'm not trying to patronize the profession, but good legal secretaries run the attorney's office in such a way that when the attorney is away, he or she doesn't have to worry about something falling through the cracks, because it won't. Legal secretaries are able to manage the administrative functions of the legal practice and recognize the types of emergencies for which the boss should be contacted.

The Many Hats of the Legal Secretary

Legal secretaries wear many hats. They type correspondence. They keep files up to date and organized. They answer the phone and send faxes. They greet clients. They keep track of attorneys' time and billing records and send bills to clients. Some even make collection calls and repair the computer system. In smaller offices, legal secretaries may act as the office manager, purchasing agent, or personnel director. In essence, legal secretaries do whatever it takes to keep the law office running smoothly-or at least the offices of the attorneys they work for.

If you do a little research, you'll quickly discover that legal secretaries are highly paid in any job market. They earn more than associates in some cases and are possibly the highest-paid type of secretary or executive assistant in the marketplace. I think that only administrative assistants to the very top executives are paid more. Good legal secretaries are worth their weight in gold, literally. Keep in mind, however, that the operative word is good.

What It Takes to Become a Good Legal Secretary

So how do you become a legal secretary, or more important, what does it really take to become a good one? It is clear that not every secretary or administrative assistant in the marketplace has what it takes to join this elite group. Picture this:
  1. Legal secretaries must have good skills-typing, taking dictation (yes, some people still use it), excellent proofreading and editing skills, the ability to learn new software packages easily, basic accounting skills, and exceptional organizational skills with a strong attention to detail.

  2. Legal secretaries possess a special level of dedication and steadfastness. Not everyone has this. And I'm not talking exclusively about working long hours, even though that's sometimes necessary. You have to be willing to go that extra mile-to put the practice of law first, from time to time. When you know it's imperative to be there, you are there.

  3. Legal Secretaries have to be able to never let the ball drop, which requires dedication, conviction, and the ability to focus 120 percent on a job until it's completed. Few people today possess those skills.
Other Requirements

What type of training is needed for these positions? The skills must be there, so whatever type of education is necessary for you to gain them is acceptable. Some legal secretaries have college degrees, while others barely made it through high school. Technical or secretarial school training is useful, but not mandatory. You may find it difficult to enter a law firm with no secretarial or administrative experience, but again, I've seen some really good secretaries with the right attitude and a strong foundation from which to work in firms become excellent, highly paid members of a firm with little previous experience. You need good basic skills, but the rest is up to you. They sky can be the limit in a sense. I believe the following poem sums it up nicely. This poem has been going around law firms for years, and I'm not sure who wrote it, other than I'm sure it was written by a legal secretary. Or perhaps her boss wrote it.

How to Find a Position

You have many options in terms of looking for a legal secretarial position. If you already have legal experience, finding a new position is a piece of cake. If your experience is limited, your job search will be a little bit more difficult, but not impossible. I'll point you in the right direction.
  1. Check out the Sunday newspaper. There are always legal secretarial positions in the paper. Since these positions are often difficult to fill due to the law of supply (not enough of it) and demand (lots of that), many firms keep ads running all of the time.

  2. Use a personnel agency. Law firms use agencies frequently to fill legal secretarial positions. Don't be afraid to contact them as well. In the larger markets, there are agencies that specialize in legal secretaries. (That tells you a little about the market.)

  3. If you attended a secretarial or trade school, contact the placement office. Many have job banks and newsletters with job openings for their graduates.

  4. Contact law firms directly. This may be a tough assignment if you're in an area in which there are lots of firms and you aren't familiar with them. Some firms are better to work for than others. But if you know the firms you're interested in, call the personnel director, and then fax or mail your resume. Make sure, however, that you follow up a week or two later.

  5. If your experience is limited, you may have to rely on the "N word." Networking may be necessary. Contact any friends you may have who work in law firms. If they put in a good word for you, then a firm may be willing to take a chance on an unknown entity. And many firms give referral bonuses to staff members who help them fill positions.
It should be readily apparent that you have many options when it comes to locating a position as a legal secretary. It's really all up to you.

Other Non-legal Positions in Law Firms

Up to this point I've only talked about the administrative and managerial non-legal positions in law firms. There are several other types of positions that provide excellent jobs for many people, perhaps with lesser technical skills or ambitions. Nevertheless, these positions are an integral part of any law firm, providing excellent sources of work and income for many, and they're worth considering if they match your skill set and career track.

While the legal secretary may be the majordomo of law firms, there are other secretarial positions in firms that don't require that level of dedication or experience. Word processors, floater secretaries, entry-level secretaries, receptionists, and general clerks are all positions that fall into this category. And they are certainly worth exploring as an employment option.

Word Processors

Many law firms have word processing staffs who do nothing but straight typing or word processing on a computer. Some firms have word processing centers that operate two or more shifts, six or seven days a week! These are great jobs for individuals who want and need predictable schedules and for those who want to know exactly what they'll be doing at work every day. A premium is usually paid for second and third shift work. Word processors are typically well paid for their work, too.

Floater Secretaries

Floater secretaries are hired to work wherever extra help may be needed in a law firm. Often firms use floaters as an alternative to calling a temporary employment agency. Floaters are familiar with the firm and know how things operate, which makes integration into unfamiliar areas easier than when using a temporary secretary. A floater might fill in for someone who is ill or on maternity leave, or a floater might work in an area where there is an unusually heavy workload. Sometimes floaters fill in when there is a vacancy, until the position is filled.

Working as a floater secretary can be extremely challenging, since you never know what you may be doing or whom you may be working for. Usually, floaters have excellent secretarial skills and some previous law firm experience. Working as a floater is an excellent way to gain experience in many different areas of a law firm. Some people choose to work as a floater until they decide which area in a firm they want to work in.

Entry-Level Secretaries

Working as an entry-level secretary is a great way to gain experience and work your way into an experienced legal secretarial position. I'm talking about an entry-level secretarial position that doesn't require previous legal or even secretarial experience. You may find these positions in smaller firms where they can't afford to pay for someone with many years of legal experience. Finding someone who is willing to give you an initial opportunity is your biggest obstacle. If you can't find someone who is willing to give you a chance, you might have to work as a temporary first, demonstrating your ability and positive attitude firsthand. I know I sound like a broken record, but use your networking skills to find someone who's willing to give you a chance as an entry-level secretary.

I encountered one secretary during my law firm years who found an attorney who was willing to give her a chance. She had no previous experience and recently graduated from a two-year post-high school program. All she really had going for her was her great attitude. She came across a partner who didn't want to pay high legal secretarial rates, so he hired her.

She wasn't the best secretary I ever came across, but what she lacked in technical skills, she made up for everywhere else. She ultimately developed a strong bond with her partner boss, and when she decided to relocate to the West Coast, the partner helped her find a new position. A good attitude and the willingness to succeed can go a very long way.


Receptionist positions in law firms are another job that many people tend to overlook. Most firms have at least one receptionist position, and others may employ numerous people in this position if they occupy many floors or have different shifts. If a receptionist position suits your fancy, a law firm is an excellent place to be one. Law firm receptionists, however, are usually very professional, and some have multiple language capabilities.

This job, in a law firm, differs little from receptionist positions in other industries. However, you may find that firms are combining this position with other jobs. For example, the receptionist may have a computer terminal on his or her desk and may have the additional responsibility of data entry, accounts receivable, or composing an internal newsletter. The combinations of responsibilities are numerous.

General Clerks

Last, but certainly not least, are general clerks. I am referring to the gofers, grunts, couriers, or whatever a firm chooses to call them. These are the people who do all the other tasks in law firms. These are the tasks that usually fall to the bottom of the barrel, the ones that no one likes to do-making deliveries, cleaning up after conferences, moving furniture, sorting mail, delivering mail and faxes, sending faxes, and so on. Someone has to fill in the holes.

Clerk positions aren't glamorous by any means, but they are good jobs for someone between jobs or for someone who is still trying to figure out where to go next.

published July 25, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 14 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.