Being a legal secretary is a challenging, varied and interesting job with plenty of opportunities to diversify and take on different roles.
Angela Sadler, team coordinator for real estate at DLA Piper’s Leeds office, has worked in the secretarial profession for years and has worked her way up into a position of authority, now leading a large group of staff.
“Not only do I have fee-earners to look after, I also coordinate the secretarial team within the department,” she explained.
Fee-earners refers to the lawyers that bring in the money – the partners, associates and assistants.
Each legal secretary is responsible for four fee-earners. As part of her day-to-day job, Ms Sadler has to deal with correspondence, phone calls, accounting, general secretarial work and put together reports.
Trips To Court.
While she now works in real estate and is mainly office-based, Ms Sadler has previously been a legal secretary dealing with criminal law.
The firm she was employed with in Harrogate was on the northern circuit, so she would be required to go to court in Hull, York, Leeds, Bradford and even Bolton on one occasion.
“That was very interesting because you usually went to court once or twice a week, you’d meet the clients, meet the barrister, get the two of them together. That’s a much more hands-on client relationship,” Ms Sadler explained.
“You were there to meet the client, make sure they turned up, introduce the client to the barrister, sit in on the conference with the barrister and take notes.”
“Then you would sit in the court during the hearing to take notes of what had happened so you could report back,” she continued.
The legal secretary was also required to answer any queries from the judge regarding certain matters relating to the client, such as bail and probation arrangements.
“You were there also if the barrister needed any further information, you would go and find something out for them, you were there as a go-between.”
“You do pick things up over the years, but you can do courses at Pitman Training which help,” she said.
“I think it assists in as much as you would know the terminology. You could get a secretary who has never worked in a legal office who could be very good but they might hear the terminology and think ‘what’s that, how do you spell it?’,” she added.
Ms Sadler compared the situation to working in a healthcare environment, where medical secretary training would be required to know specific terminology.
“I could go and work at the Leeds General Infirmary but there would be things that I would think, ‘what on earth does that mean?’. It’s all about experience, the more you do, the more you understand things,” she continued.
So how did Ms Sadler work her way up to being a coordinator in a 70-strong department of one of the biggest law firms in the UK?
“Experience, being able to manage people” are the keys to promotion, she said.
Ms Sadler actually came to work as a PA to one of the new partners at DLA Piper and when the previous real estate team coordinator left, she was offered the role.
“I had the experience of running an office, I’d managed small teams before. It’s a natural progression really,” she explained.
“You’ve got to be the right sort of person to do it. It’s a big department – we’re not as big as we were, but we’re a department of about 70 people so that’s a lot of people to manage, keep happy,” she continued.
Assisting the lawyers is of course a priority for a legal secretary.
“They’re generating the business and earning the money so you’ve got to make life as easy for them as possible, you’ve got to make sure things run smoothly. It’s quite a responsibility and it’s something you can’t learn overnight, it comes with experience.”
However, she insisted that it is “very worthwhile” and enjoyable, particularly when things are going well.
“To me its rewarding because I’ve got a good team of secretaries. But we work very hard; there are a lot of strings to your bow as a legal secretary, and as a real estate secretary particularly.”
“It’s very busy, it’s very demanding. It’s a varied job, no two days are the same.”
So what is the best thing about her work? “It’s the people and the variety,” she concluded.