Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment assist Legal Secretaries find permanent jobs across the UK. Register as a candidate and we will keep you posted with vacancies cropping up. You can also search our vacancy database. We have put together a guide below on working as a legal secretary.
What does a Legal Secretary do?
The definition of a legal secretary is a secretary who works within a law firm. There are lots of different sorts of secretaries working in law firms but they all fall under the category of “legal secretary”.
What qualification does a legal secretary need to have?
None. Although there are lots of qualifications that legal secretaries can get if they want to, there is no formal requirement to have any qualification whatsoever. Most will have a GCSE or O-Level in maths and English at grade C and above. It would be very unlikely that someone without this would get into a solicitors’ firm at the junior end so this will probably be the only qualification we would recommend you making sure you have before embarking on a career as a legal secretary.
What are the different sorts of legal secretary?
The main types of legal secretary are conveyancing legal secretaries, litigation legal secretaries and legal secretaries with commercial law firm experience. There are lots of fields within the law that are practised in solicitors’ firms across the UK. The main two different types of firm are commercial law firms, practice in commercial law and representing companies and large corporations, and high street law firms who tend to practice law that is more applicable to individuals and small companies. High street law firms are usually found in towns and cities on high streets next door to retail shops. Commercial law firms tend to be in large office blocks either in city centres or on business parks.
The vast majority of legal secretary work is interchangeable. More on this later, but there are certain specialisms where former experience in that particular area has great weight on your ability to be successful with the job application. These include conveyancing, family law, wills and probate, crime, civil litigation, commercial litigation and shipping.
This is because in these areas a legal secretary is effectively expected to undertake some fee earning work or more technical work than in other areas where legal secretary work is more menial, for want of a better term.
How much does a legal secretary earn?
This again breaks down into two sections. Firstly, high street legal secretaries earn between £18,000 and £28,000, sometimes going up to £30,000 after many years of service. Commercial legal secretaries earn anything from about £25,000 up to £60,000. There are a small bubble of law firms in the centre of London who live in their own world, representing banks and large multinational corporations who similarly live in their own world, with salaries that can only be dreamt about in other areas of the country. It is not unusual for secretaries to spend the majority of their career within one of these large firms and then expect to move to a smaller practice closer to home and receive a similar salary. They often get a shock when they see what the rest of the country earn. To break into one of these large central London practices, you have to have a bit of luck and experience in a similar sized firm in the centre of London. This can be a Catch-22.
So what does a legal secretary do exactly?
A legal secretary has a whole host of different tasks and the following list is simply a flavour of what types of things you will be doing.
Firstly there is the typing. Traditionally the main part of a legal secretary’s role was to type the letters required by the fee earners. A fee earner is defined as someone who earns fees for the firm as opposed to somebody who provides support to other people who are earning fees. A fee earner can include a solicitor, legal executive or paralegal. However, in recent times quite a few fee earners do their own typing because either they have voice recognition systems or the computer software they are using makes life a lot easier with precedent letters and emails. However, for lots of firms there is still considerable amounts of typing and a lot of fee earners still dictate their letters and emails whenever possible. You can except to do audio typing, copy typing, typing into online forms and documents and your own typing from precedents. This means that if you cannot type you need to start practising before applying for a job as a legal secretary. One way into getting legal secretary work is to register with temporary agencies such as Office Angles and Pertemps, but they will do a typing test and check your speed. If you cannot type at more than 40 words per minute then you need to start practising. There are plenty of online tools to enable you to do this.
If you have not done audio typing before, try it out. There is free software online, one of which is called Express Scribe. You can download a voice file from the internet, load it up into Express Scribe and have a go at transcribing the dictation. It is a very different experience to simply typing up via copy typing or typing your own letter.
The other main stay of your role will be filing. Fee earners (i.e. solicitors, legal executives and paralegals) hate filing and will try every trick in the book to get their legal secretaries to do the work for them. Quite a bit of your day will be spent putting sheets of paper into files or copying & saving digital files into case management systems. At some interviews you may be asked to demonstrate your filing ability and to understand what the difference items are within a file, such as file notes, letters received, copies of letters sent and payment details.
The other main part of a legal secretary’s job is to meet and greet clients, handle telephone calls on behalf of the fee earners, and book appointments, meetings and court hearings into numerous diaries and appointment software.
This work can be very time-consuming but a lot of secretaries enjoy it and it is this element that leads most on to try and qualify as a legal executive or solicitor/paralegal, because they very often (and quite rightly) think they could do a better job than the fee earner they are referring the client through to.
So what does a conveyancing secretary do that is different to this?
A conveyancing secretary, by definition, will be working with a conveyancing fee earner and as a lot of conveyancing is simply going through a transaction in order it very often becomes the case that the conveyancing secretary will handle files from start to finish, i.e. from the moment somebody decides to purchase a house through to the completion of that purchase and the sale of the house they are currently in. As the work has become very low profit, high volume, it has become more profitable to use a legal secretary to do the majority of the work under the supervision of a qualified member of staff.
So as a conveyancing secretary, you can often make it easy progression from being a secretary through to becoming a legal executive. Quite a few legal secretaries really resent doing the fee earning work for what they view as a low wage and at the same time be expected to do their own administrative, meet and greet and typing.
So what does a family secretary do that is different?
A family secretary will very often have a particular knowledge of certain forms that are required to be filled out. At a number of law firms, the secretary will deal with all straightforward divorce matters from start to finish and be left to get on with these. It is again an example where fee earning work is undertaken by a secretary for no reward.
Other specialist types of secretary will have similar tasks where they will be aware of how to complete particular forms or conduct certain transactions and procedures, whereas a standard legal secretary will not know how to do this.
Is it worth having a career as a legal secretary?
Yes. We can say this confidently because so many legal secretaries stay in their roles for so many years and seem very satisfied with their jobs. Whilst at a number of law firms the legal secretaries can turn into monsters and thoroughly dislike everyone they come into contact with including the senior partner, junior staff and the clients; most are loyal, earn reasonable money and remain in their roles for considerable amounts of time wherever possible. They become an irreplaceable asset to the firm they are working for.
Pete Gresty is a specialist secretary recruitment consultant working on behalf of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. He is qualified, with a Cert RP and MIRP to his name, and has been in legal recruitment since 2007. To contact Pete please visit www.ten-percent.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.