The Do’s and Don’ts of Working as a Legal Secretary
The role of legal secretary is important in the day-to-day running of a law firm. The duties span from general office administration to research and co-ordination,depending on where you work. Like with any other profession that deals with sensitive, confidential matters, there is a certain level of conduct that you need to adhere to.
To work in this role, you need to exercise excellent judgement and know which lines not to cross – both ethically and professionally.
Here is a list of things you should and shouldn’t do when working as a legal secretary:
Don’t: Give legal advice
A legal secretary may under no circumstances give legal advice to a client of the firm or organisation they work for. With the permission and instruction of a lawyer, the legal secretary may be tasked with briefing a client on the progress of a case, but may not give a client independent legal advice on any matter.
Don’t: Break confidentiality
The information that the legal secretary has access to about a client or a case is confidential. The confidentiality agreement between the lawyer and the client applies to the legal secretary too.
Disclosing information could not only jeopardise the client’s case, but could also cause the lawyer or the firm to be held responsible for leaking confidential information. If you want to work in this position, you need to demonstrate that you are trustworthy and that you respect the position of trust you hold.
Don’t: Be careless with paperwork
Working as a legal secretary requires you to work on multiple tasks at a time. It is therefore crucial that you stay focused and aware of what you are doing, and that you see all your tasks through to completion. Human error,while not entirely avoidable, can be detrimental to both the firm and the clients.
When working with paperwork and files, small things like leaving them lying around on your desk (instead of locking them away) could result in sensitive information landing in the wrong hands, putting the clients and the firm in a difficult position.
On top of the list of things legal secretaries should not do, there are also a few things you should do to be effective at your job:
Do: Be compassionate and pleasant
As the legal secretary, your role extends further than the office work you are tasked with. You are also the “right-hand man” of the lawyer, and because of this, clients will interact with you first, before they interact with anyone else.
Being compassionate and pleasant will help you to establish trust with the client, and will help to make them feel comfortable. Remember that clients who use the services of the firm may be struggling with a particularly difficult and sensitive problem. Being able to interact with someone who is compassionate may make all the difference.
Do: Pay attention to detail
The ability to pay attention to detail is a crucial part of the job of a legal secretary. Something as small as an amount written out incorrectly could cost the law firm a client (or a lot of money), or even worse, give the firm a bad reputation. It is important that even the smallest things don’t go unnoticed, and that you are meticulous about the work you do.
Do: Be organised
It is essential for a legal secretary to have excellent organisational skills. The law firm depends on this to function effectively. Tasks such as maintaining paperwork, managing projects and schedules, and responding promptly to e-mails can only be handled by someone who is focused and well-organised. How well a legal secretary handles these tasks plays a key role in how effectively the lawyers are able to do their work.
The role of legal secretary is one that is central to the firm. The responsibilities require someone who respects confidentiality, someone who pays attention to detail, and someone who can be compassionate. When you know what’s required of you and what you should not do, it makes it easier for you to be effective at your job.
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