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 looking to bring on a legal secretary, make sure to consider evaluating them for the following skills.
Legal secretaries are in a unique position
An important note before discussing what makes a good legal secretary is to make sure the role is clearly defined. As ParaLegalEDU points out, the duties of a legal secretary differ from that of a legal assistant or paralegal. 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. On the other hand, 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.
The ideal legal secretary excels in the following areas:
- Confidentiality: Working alongside lawyers, legal secretaries are privy to a massive amount of confidential legal proceedings and client information. It is expected that a legal secretary not disclose any of the personal information they acquire outside of their job. This is also true when handling paperwork. Sometimes it is necessary to read a file to know where to place it or who to contact, but if you do not need to know the information, do not read it.
- Understanding legal jargon: A legal secretary is going to be dealing with a lot more paperwork than just spreadsheets. They should know the legal terminology so they can best assist members of the firm. This can even extend to preparing legal papers and communications like summonses, complaints and subpoenas, according to the BLS. For this reason, it is beneficial for a legal secretary to have a legal background, or better yet a legal education, to understand how a law firm communicates and operates.
- Proficient in Legal Research: On the same note as above, a legal secretary that has experience with legal research can be a great asset to your firm. Even though they cannot be expected to do any legal work, there is no reason they cannot assist with it. Having a secretary who is comfortable taking on small research tasks can take pressure off of paralegals and lawyers who might be overwhelmed with information. Of course, their research should always be corroborated by the lawyer they are assisting because they are ultimately responsible for their work.
- Organized: It should come as no surprise that a secretary in any field should be organized. A secretary essentially organizes the entire office, or in this case firm. They can handle communications, scheduling, and paperwork. In a field where paperwork may be needed at a moments notice, an organized legal secretary is a must.
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.