Firm insights: the changing role of legal PAs

As we continue to explore the different legal careers on offer, we teamed up with the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA) to offer some insight into how the role of the legal PA is evolving along with the legal profession.

  • Last updated Jul 5, 2018 2:02:23 PM
  • By Becky Kells, Editor, AllAboutLaw

The legal profession is a varied and rewarding area to work in. With law continuing to be a popular course with undergraduates there is always a steady influx of people hoping to fulfil their dream of working within the industry. The popular roles of solicitor and barrister are not the only opportunities available to law graduates looking to enter the profession, though. Their detailed knowledge of the law and understanding of legal procedure makes them ideal candidates to work as legal secretaries and PAs also. The annual review of the legal market, produced by Career Legal, has offered enlightening insight into legal PAs – in particular, their position within the big-city law firms. 

There are a number of reasons why the traditional role of the legal PA is changing. Technology has changed the way administrative tasks are carried out, and firms are seeking alternative methods of delegation to ensure that high-ranking members are staff can use their time as productively as possible. This could mean outsourcing work, assigning it to junior staff members, or delivering it to regional hubs in the case of national firms. 

Ultimately, this means more responsibility for legal PAs, who in recent years have found themselves involved in high-level senior management work. From taking care of clients and handling important decisions to developing business and project management, this new set of tasks requires a new skillset of legal PAs. In firms where PAs are required to take on a higher amount of responsibility, and involve themselves in cases and projects more heavily than before, a PA with a law degree would have a distinct advantage, being in possession of a key combination of commercial awareness and tailored qualification.

It’s worth noting, however, that different sized firms have different demands. While larger city firms have seen a lot of development in recent years, smaller firms still follow a similar structure when it comes to work delegation. Legal PAs at this type of firm will not have seen much change to their roles: tasks will include managing personal timetables, diaries and travel arrangements, as well as organising events and engagements, alongside producing legal documentation. Above all, legal PAs at this type of firm will be the first point of contact for clients. A strong understanding of the law and of legal procedures, as well as an awareness of clients’ cases, is therefore essential.

“We have found that evolving firms are now offering their PAs the chance to take on more responsibility and be team managers or executive assistants”, said the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA). “A main goal of ours is to encourage professional development so that legal secretaries and PAs are continually progressing and developing their skills in order to be the best they can be at their jobs.” 

ILSPA also advises legal PAs to adapt accordingly to changes within the legal market – ILSPA’s Continuing Professional Development programme emphasizes the importance of continuing professional development within the field. 

“It is essential for Legal Secretaries and PAs to develop themselves professionally so that they have the best skills and can adapt to changes. CPD enhances the knowledge and skills of legal secretaries and PAs, which in turn improves the quality of their work. Solicitors are required to carry out mandatory CPD each year in order to practice law, and we believe it is just as important for support staff to be encouraged to do the same.”

ILSPA also recommends that its members – those working as legal secretaries and PAs - undertake CPD, which you can find out more about here.

Any law graduate with an interest in becoming a legal PA will be asking the all-important question: how much do legal PAs earn? Depending on firm, experience level and role, legal PAs can expect to earn between £22,000 and £65,000 per year. For those entering the profession for the first time, it’s going to be more like £22,000, with the option for the salary to increase as the position of the PA does. For the PA to a managing director, for example, the top end of the salary range would be expected. In general, PA salaries have gone up across the board due to PAs taking on more responsibility, Career Legal reports. 

The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs is delighted to work with Career Legal to inform people about changes in the industry and ensure that law firms hire the best staff. ILSPA is a professional body who are dedicated to your career every step of the way. Whether you would like to become a Legal Secretary or you would like to advance your Legal Secretary career, they are there to support you through your journey. For more information visit ILSPA's website.

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