For school leavers wondering what to study, or those keen on a career change or to upskill themselves, pursuing a legal administration job, such as a legal secretary, is a good choice – especially for those who want to try out the legal field and see if it fits before pursuing a full law degree.
Legal secretaries have tremendously different jobs compared to your average office secretary, and through their activities at work, they play a crucial role in ensuring that the legal system functions properly. Legal secretaries require extensive knowledge of legal proceedings and documentation and it is not uncommon for the most experienced and high performing legal secretaries to go on to be promoted to paralegal positions within a law firm.
What are a legal secretaries’ responsibilities?
Khanyisa Tlala, Student Relations Officer at Oxbridge Academy, a private college that serves more than 20 000 South African distance learning students every year, unpacks some of the various fields of law that legal secretaries can enter, and their hugely varied roles within these specialist fields.
“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, the legal secretary 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.”
According to Tlala, 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. They may be called on to attend hearings and make notes, and may also need to be on hand to support the counsel who has been instructed to present the case on behalf of the client.”
The process of purchasing a property 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 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,” says Tlala. “Many different stakeholders are involved in a property-purchase process, including the buyer, the seller, both parties’ lawyers and estate agents, local municipalities – 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.”
Wills and Estates
Tlala says that 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. “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 lawyer.”
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.
“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 lawyer is unavailable. Family law legal secretaries will be involved with communicating with a variety of clients, including those going through divorce proceedings and cases involving children,” advises Tlala.
“As can be seen from the above, there are many career prospects and a large variety of career development opportunities within the legal industry as a legal secretary. Having a legal background also gives you a great foundation to move into other industries, as employers recognise that working within the legal industry requires you to work within particular standards and codes.
“The legal industry also tends to remunerate very competitively in comparison to administrative roles in other industries,” concludes Tlala.