A day in the life of a legal secretary
“Varied” is a word often used to describe a legal secretary’s role. Along with the more predictable secretarial duties that are associated with the job, there are also a range of specialist tasks and procedures that legal secretaries need to assist with to ensure the smooth running of the firm. Here, we take an in-depth look at what a legal secretary does on a day-to-day basis in some of the more commonly practised areas of law.
Litigation is a particularly busy area of law, as it involves a large amount of paperwork and a large amount of interaction with people. Quite often, you will be required to communicate with the clients of the case and the other party’s solicitors, as well as the witnesses who may help your firm win the case.
A large part of a litigation secretary’s role is to produce high-quality documents and complete the court forms relevant to each client’s case. The information will often be dictated, or provided to the secretary, who will then have to apply it to the relevant documents. Once all forms and documents have been completed, they need to be uploaded to the case-management system.
One of the most exciting aspects of a litigation secretary’s role is when they get to attend court. You may be called on to attend hearings and make notes. You will also need to be on hand to support the counsel who has been instructed to present the case on behalf of your client, and your firm’s client will need to be well looked after and kept informed about how the case is progressing.
Another task that can be passed on to legal secretaries in this area of law is that of legal research. Although it’s perhaps more the job of lawyers themselves, you may still be asked to research and check details of the relevant law pertaining to a case. Your firm will provide you with access to the main legal databases in England and Wales (e.g. LexisNexis, Westlaw) in order for you to do this.
The process of purchasing a property in the UK comes complete with a vast array of paperwork, documentation and administration. In order to ensure the viability of the purchase process, most of the work must be carried out by a licensed conveyancer or law firm. The role of a legal secretary in conveyancing, therefore, is to compile, check and summarise the information gathered in order to support the conveyancer in reporting back to the client prior to the final confirmation of the purchase.
Many different stakeholders are involved in a property purchase process, including the buyer, the seller, both parties’ solicitors and estate agents, local government bodies and councils, and builders and tradespeople, to name but a few. Legal secretaries are tasked with the job of liaising with all these individuals in order to manage expectations in relation to timescales, process and outcomes, and they often spend a good proportion of their time taking phone calls, answering queries and requesting and receiving information from these parties.
Carrying out the mandatory searches on properties is a time-consuming yet essential part of a property purchase, and legal secretaries are often involved in gathering this information. They will also be involved in chasing the relevant parties where required, prior to passing the information to the conveyancer so that the contracts may be finalised.
Wills and probate
Wills and probate is an area of law that people will often seek advice on. For this reason, a legal secretary working in this area will need to get used to managing a busy diary of clients. Your clients will comprise people wanting to write their own wills, as well as people who are in need of assistance with the probate of another’s estate.
A legal secretary might assist a client in writing a new will; this is simply a matter of typing up the draft of the will that has been discussed with the solicitor and then engrossing the final deed when it’s complete.
A larger part of a legal secretary’s job in this area is assisting with the winding up of a person’s estate after they have passed. Winding up an estate can be quite a task, and it will be a legal secretary’s role to help gather all the necessary information. This involves contacting banks, organising valuations and communicating with stakeholders and trustees in order for the full extent of the estate to be established. Secretaries will also communicate with the client, who is often the deceased’s personal representative who has been appointed to wind up the estate.
Family and matrimonial law
Family law firms are there to assist with matters concerning marriage, divorce and children. This will also include adoption, custody and prenuptial agreements. As with most areas of law, this comes with its own court forms to complete and documentation to produce.
A legal secretary working in this area will be required to keep detailed records for each case they are working on, including a client-information form that will set out all the particulars and important facts. Secretaries may be called on to speak directly to clients if the solicitor is unavailable. It is very important in these situations that you note down everything that is said to pass on to the solicitor and don’t commit the firm to anything without first being expressly told by your senior. Family law legal secretaries will be involved with communicating with a variety of clients, including those going through divorce proceedings and cases involving children. As such, this can be a highly emotional area of law in which to work and it’s important that you’re able to maintain a good level of impartial professionalism.
Next article: Where can I work as a legal secretary?
If you’re interested in becoming a Legal Secretary or PA, please contact The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs.
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