A legal secretary’s role is primarily computer-based. If you are looking to enter the profession it is therefore expected that you will have a fast and accurate typing speed and be competent using computers. Understanding the types of programmes that legal secretaries are likely to use daily will give you a great advantage when highlighting your skills to a prospective employer, and allow you to make sure you are proficient in the right areas.
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs spoke to working legal secretaries to see what their favourite programs and software are, and to gain some insight into the main technology they rely on each day.
Microsoft Office is an old and obvious favourite still used in the majority of law firms. Firms need their legal secretaries to be able to create legal documents from scratch or at least complete existing templates of the document in Microsoft Word. So legal secretaries have to have an excellent understanding of the Microsoft Word program so that they can set formatting, use track changes and utilise the review options such as word compare.
Excel is also a commonly-used Microsoft program. Many firms will use Excel spreadsheets to track their billing hours, monitor invoicing, and send and record quotes. If you work in a conveyancing practice, you may also need to use Excel to create completion statements and cash accounts for the firm’s clients.
The third popular program Microsoft offers is Microsoft Outlook. Email is a fixed aspect of the legal world. Whether it is internal or external, be prepared to deal with plenty of them. A good management system for email is therefore vital. The main factor that makes Outlook a good email management system is that you can do so much more than simply organise your emails with it. You can set reminders, list tasks and even manage and share diaries. Organisation is important to legal secretaries and having one program that can help organise all these factors is a real plus.
If you have knowledge or experience of Microsoft Office make sure that you state these skills specifically on your CV. Don’t be vague or generalise by saying you’re computer literate, or have great IT skills.
Diary and Email Management Systems
As previously mentioned, email is now a fixed part of the day to day running of a law firm. It is also something that many of us will already be accustomed to through our own personal use. However, due to the vast amount and significant nature of their daily emails, law firms will normally employ an email management system. Popular choices are Outlook, Gmail, Mozilla Thunderbird and Opera.
Legal Secretaries will often be in charge of one or more of their fee earner’s diaries. To enable both parties to monitor, track and update the diary from anywhere at any time, diaries are now more commonly electronic than traditional paper books. This has brought a whole new area of essential technology into the law firm. There are many different types of diary management software that you can choose from, including the previously-mentioned Outlook and Osprey.
Case Management Systems
Legal cases come with a lot of paperwork that has to be tracked, shared, updated and worked on by different parties throughout the process. Legal processes also normally have various steps and stages. Conveyancing, for example, has multiple stages, all of which require a variety of searches, documents and paperwork. Case Management Systems allow the professionals working on the cases to keep track of what has and hasn’t been done and see what stage in the procedure the case it at. It also allows for different people to do different tasks as and when they need. Case Management Systems not only allow for case and matter management but also make tasks such as tracking time and billing, research, communication and collaboration, data security, storage, and archive accessibility a lot easier than with paper case files.
Most firms will source case management software and then adapt it to fit their own processes, meaning each firm’s system will differ slightly. However, the basic principles and uses will remain the same, making it easy for legal secretaries to adapt between different systems if they change roles.
An eCopy is simply an electronic copy of a paper document. Law firms will often need to have paper and electronic copies of legal files, and this can create a lot of extra work for a legal secretary if they are the ones having to type up received documents or edit them. eCopy software converts paper documents into editable electronic files, making it very easy for people to share, store, edit and update documents. This is particularly useful for deeds that often have multiple versions sent between parties before finally being engrossed.
There is a wide range of eCopy software available from recognised names such as Nuance, Adobe and Kofax.
Legal secretaries and PAs also use a variety of apps to help with their day-to-day workload. This allows them to manage their to-do lists and keep organised by having access to them on the go. Apps like Microsoft ToDo (formally Wunderlist), Todoist and Trello are popular choices.
Apps also facilitate communication. instant messaging such as Whatsapp for Business allows secretaries and their colleagues or fee earners to communicate quickly and privately. It helps with organisation and is especially useful when fee earners are out of the office.
It is unlikely that you will be asked about the use of apps and your skills in this area during the recruitment process. However, thinking about how you may use these apps once you have the job could score you bonus points and show an employer how organised and professional-minded you already are.
Taking some time to research or familiarise yourself with programmes such as those mentioned in this article is a great way to prepare to work as a legal secretary. Showing that you have knowledge of the sort of programmes that you will be required to work with will help you stand out from the crowd and feel confident going into your first role in the sector.
If you are interested in becoming a legal secretary or PA then contact The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs.