Articles and Advice on Legal Secretary Careers
- How to be a successful Legal Secretary
- How to write an outstanding Legal Secretary CV
- How to increase your salary as a Legal Secretary
There are lots of qualifications that a legal secretary can now get and plenty of professional bodies to join. A career can be forged out of very humble beginnings and some legal secretaries stay in the same role for many, many years.
So what makes a successful legal secretary? Qualifications? Experience?
The answer is very simple, loyalty. Employers value loyalty amongst legal support staff more than they do amongst their qualified staff. Whilst it is expected that solicitors will make a lot of moves in their careers – this can be to gain salary increases, better job prospects, change geographical locations, etc – legal support staff, particularly legal secretaries, do very well in their careers by staying with the same law firm for a very long period of time.
To give an example of how this works, let’s take Jane, a fictional legal secretary. She starts her career with a firm, say Smith & Co. When she is 16, Smith & Co offer her a job as their receptionist paying the minimum wage. She does this role until she is 19 before deciding that it is time to move on to bigger & better things, and enrols at the local college and undertakes the ILEX legal secretary’s qualification. Smith & Co recognise that she needs more from them and promote her to a job as a legal secretary. Her pay goes up to £18,000 per year and Jane finds herself working as an assistant secretary with another legal secretary covering all the senior partners’ work. She still does some receptionist work but accepts this because this has always been part of her job at the practice.
After 5 years, during which time here pay has gone up every year, and now stands at £21,000, the senior secretary retires and Jane becomes senior secretary at the practice, responsible for the senior partners’ work.
After a further 5 years, her pay has reached £25,000 and there is talk in the practice of her becoming the next practice manager when the present incumbent retires.
Unfortunately a calamity hits the practice – the junior partner runs off with all the money and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority close the practice down. Jane finds herself unemployed with her most recent salary being £26,000.
At this point, you would expect that Jane, with all the years’ experience that she has, would be able to walk into a similar role elsewhere at the same sort of level.
This is where the issue of loyalty arises.
The only way Jane will get the same sort of money from another practice would be if they recognised her years of loyal service to the one firm and decided that she was worth the investment to offer her the same money that she had been getting from Smith & Co. However it is more likely that another firm would offer her considerably less because she has no qualifications to back up her experience and her experience is only relevant to the law firm she has been with.
Chances are at the new practice, her salary would drop until she had established herself and generated good will with the partners by demonstrating loyalty to them.
This is often a shock to legal secretaries who try to make a move at some point in their career.
Loyalty to one firm will get a decent amount of salary and usually good career prospects. Law firms like to offer support roles internally and usually avoid recruiting externally if they have good quality staff in the practice who they earmarked at an early stage for future promotion should a present incumbent retire. All of this comes from loyalty and moving firms regularly without any obvious reason does not provide a good demonstration of this.
Pete Gresby is a specialist legal recruitment consultant concentrating on legal support staff in solicitors’ firms of small to medium size across the UK. He is a qualified recruitment consultant and is happy to advise generally on salary levels and job moves. Contact Peter via email@example.com.
How to write a successful legal secretary CV.
Writing a CV for a legal secretary is different to most other types of staff in the legal profession. These are the main points to consider when preparing your CV.
Firstly at the top of the page have a personal details section and don’t forget your name (so many people do). Include your full postal address, email address, mobile number, landline number, date of birth and nationality. You can also include your marital status and number of children although this is entirely optional. (It just adds a personal touch to the CV).
Underneath this, if you are a very experience legal secretary, it can be worth having a summary on the CV. This should read something like, “A legal secretary with 20 years’ experience, concentrating on conveyancing, wills and probate and commercial property. Looking for a new role in the Oxfordshire area. Salary levels negotiable and available within 3 months”.
The next section should be your education but for most people this is a very brief section indeed. Always do it in reverse chronological order with the most recent first, and state your highest qualification first, particularly if this is a professional qualification with an institute such as the Institute of Legal Secretaries. For your schooling keep the summary brief. Law firms do not employ legal secretaries on the back of their qualifications and are much more interested in their experience. The faster you can get someone to read your experience the better.
The next section after your education is your experience and this should be as detailed as possible, despite what other career websites will tell you. As a recruitment agent, I want to see exactly what you have done in each of your jobs. Include the dates you started and finished in a role, the name of the firm and the post town, together with your job title. Make sure your job title is similar to the post you are applying for if at all possible.
Underneath this, set out all your experience in bullet point format not forgetting to include your IT and case management software skills.
Employers and recruitment agents want to see the numbers of files you work on at any one time, your typing speed, confirmation if you have done audio typing, filing, bundling, file preparation, dealing with quotation requests, diarising, scheduling meetings, billing, assisting with the recruitment of staff, any legal cashier duties, banking, any fee earning work undertaken (fairly common for conveyancing secretaries for example), and everything else you have done in your role to date. Do not worry about including too much information as it is much better to include detailed information than it is to omit it on the CV.
Make sure in this section you have all your jobs dating back to school showing and ensure there are no gaps. This is very important because employers look for gaps and area always worried if there are obvious gaps indicating that you may have been off doing other things.
The next section should be computer and language skills. The computer skills firms are interested in are typing speed, software packages used and case management systems dealt with, including legal accounts packages.
Finally, don’t forget to include activities and interests on the CV. This can be very useful in job interviews because it gives you and the interviewer something to talk about if you share a common interest.
Finally include two references, ensuring that one of them is not your current employer in case anyone decides to contact them whilst you are still working at the firm.
Your CV should fit onto two or three pages if possible, and should be no longer than three in any event.
Carefully check your CV for spelling errors and then save it with a name, probably not CV if working on a firm’s computer.
I hope this helps you with the preparation of your CV. If you need advice or assistance relating to your CV please contact me.
Pete Gresty is a specialist legal recruitment consultant assisting with permanent secretary recruitment and legal support staff in law firms across the UK. You can contact Pete at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to get more salary as a legal secretary.
Firstly, do not move firms regularly to try and increase your salary. This does not work and eventually ends up with firms reluctant to recruit you because you are moving around so often. Whilst it may gain you an extra £500 in the short-term, it will not add to your salary in the long-term.
The main attribute of a legal secretary is loyalty to the firm they are working for. Very often, firms will pay their legal secretaries more than they pay their qualified staff because they are rewarding the legal secretary for their loyalty and not for their ability to generate fees for the practice. It is important to understand this because so many people think if they qualify as a legal executive or progress on to become a solicitor after working as a secretary, they will see their salary increase massively. This is a fallacy and very often it will cost you more to qualify as a solicitor than it would to stay as a legal secretary. If you are happy as a legal secretary, it is worth considering remaining in that role.
So how do you get pay increases?
Firstly, try to stay with a firm for as long as you feel comfortable. Generate trust with your employer and demonstrate willingness to take on new tasks. Some of the most successful legal secretaries I’ve come across are those who are very modest about their ability but are always willing to help senior staff and junior staff alike. These legal secretaries tend to be highly sought after and are well rewarded. If your employer is looking for someone to be the fire safety officer, volunteer. It does not take much effort, may even get you onto a course at some point (which means a day out of the office sometimes with a delicious lunch) and will score you brownie points. If the senior partner acts if anyone can assist him with a particularly complicated case, volunteer. If you spot something wrong with a file, point out the error to the fee earner and offer to help them with it. If one of your colleagues had a huge pile of typing to do and looks like they are struggling to cope and you have plenty of capacity, consider offering to help them.
All of these things make a better working environment for you and your colleagues, but similarly they demonstrate to management and other staff that you are helpful, considerate and prepared to muck in.
Legal secretaries tend to get rewarded the salary for their loyalty rather than their qualifications and experience. If you are with a practice for a considerable time it is quite common for the salary to go up at regular intervals and not really reflect a level of experience that you have compared with others in the practice. This is not the same for qualified staff who very often have to move jobs or take on more senior roles or increased work capacity in order to generate evidence of the need for a pay rise.
A loyal legal secretary is a much sought after one. When law firms are looking for new staff they very often filter out CVs from those who have moved about a lot or do not have a lot on their CV despite having been at practice for a considerable amount of time.
Pete Gresty is a specialist recruitment consultant concentrating on permanent legal secretary recruitment market in the UK. He is a qualified recruitment consultant and is happy to discuss career prospects and new vacancies at email@example.com.