Attorneys know a good legal secretary can make their workday easier, workflow seamless and productivity high. A bad legal secretary can not only disrupt the flow of work, but their mistakes can be devastating and costly.
Finding the right legal secretary for your organization means preparing for what you need, assuring you have a wide pool of candidates, then verifying they have the skills and qualifications necessary to keep things moving smoothly.
Legal secretaries are not the same as other administrative support professionals, such as a paralegal. While they may not take on the tasks that a paralegal would perform – creating documents and filings; performing research - they still must have a good grasp on the basics of the profession. A legal assistant or paralegal - the terms are interchangeable - has been qualified to perform "substantive legal work" under a lawyer's supervision as defined by the American Bar Association.
The BLS outlines the duties of a legal secretary to be performing secretarial duties and preparing legal documents using legal terminology. A legal secretary should be skilled enough to understand the running of a law firm, but is not expected to perform any legal work. More than just setting appointments and schedules, these professionals may be responsible for a range of tasks not typically assigned to an admin assistant. The best legal secretaries have a host of talents that make them invaluable to their firm. When it comes time to hire, look for these traits and skills to assure getting the support you need.
Legal documents require precise language that’s flawlessly written. A legal secretary must have outstanding written communication skills to assure everything that crosses their desk and out to the client or the courts is equally flawless. Look at the resume, cover letter, and other correspondence sent during the interview process. Are there typos or formatting mistakes that make the document look less-than-professional? If so, move on to the next candidate.
Busy lawyers and firms understand highly organized individuals are needed to keep work flowing, meet filing deadlines, assure schedules are accurate, and avoid conflicts. Finding a candidate with top organizational skills can be challenging. It may be something a job seeker lists as a skill set, but verification is often needed. When interviewing the candidate, posing behavioral questions – ‘what would you do if a scheduling conflict occurred’ – can give insight into their problem-solving skills and sense of urgency/responsibility.
While most secretaries are expected to keep their company’s business confidential, legal secretaries must have the highest level of integrity. It may be difficult to gauge during an interview, but it will be critical to verify during pre-hire testing, reference checks and background searches.
The smallest mistake can create a domino effect with devastating results. Detail-orientation, although important in most jobs, is a top priority for legal secretaries. How resumes and cover letters are constructed, whether thank you notes are sent in a timely fashion, and other touch points along the interview process can provide insight on this highly necessary trait.
Knowledge of billing and bookkeeping
Legal secretaries will need fluency in billing and bookkeeping to assure billable hours are logged correctly. While there will not be accountant-level skills required, an understanding of spreadsheets/billing software will be needed.
Legal secretaries must understand the industry terminology and know how to spell those terms correctly. In addition to proofreading documents for errors, they’ll likely be called upon to make sure context is appropriate. Fluency in the language will be necessary and may require testing pre-hire to verify.
Although not on par with a paralegal, a secretary who can do basic research would be a huge asset to any organization. Their work will need to be verified by others, but in many cases, they can begin the process or start paralegals or attorneys on the right pathway for further research. A legal secretary with this skillset will be highly sought-after.
When it comes to finding the right legal secretary, attorneys should create a list of ‘must-haves’ for qualifications, experience and proficiency. Careful screening and pre-employment testing take the guesswork out of hiring a legal secretary. Once skills are verified, it’s easy to make the right selection for a solo practice or a large firm.
A great secretary can be the backbone of any business. They can keep an organization running smoothly while being knowledgeable about every interdepartmental intricacy. No matter the industry, there are typical responsibilities that secretaries undertake. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics specifies these duties usually include organizing files, preparing documents and scheduling appointments. In other words, general administrative duties and clerical work are a key component of a secretary's work.
While this may seem like a relatively easy position to fill, it is dependent on the industry. Law firms, in particular, need a secretary with specific knowledge and a skill set that will be an asset to their practice. If your law firm is hiring a legal secretary, make sure to consider evaluating them for those skills. Even though hiring a secretary can seem like an easy task, treat it as you would for any other highly specialized role and consider utilizing a skills test to determine if they are the right fit for your firm.
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