An Overview of Legal Practice for Legal Secretaries and PAs
In this article, the Institute of Legal Secretaries & PAs provides an overview of some of the most popular legal practice areas among PAs and Secretaries.
Something that can often feel overwhelming and complicated when looking for work within the legal profession is the vast amount of different areas of law there are to work in. Law is a sector with many different specialities. This means that people who decide to be Legal Secretaries or PAs are often faced with the extra decision of then working out which area of law they would like to specialise in.
For many this may be as simple as applying for the area that interests them the most. For others, especially those transitioning into the legal sector from other professions, it may be based in which area they can use their existing skills and strengths.
In this article The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs will explain what it is really like to work in some key areas of legal practice as a Legal Secretary or PA. We hope that this gives you an insight into the different aspects of a Legal Secretary’s day to day role, and will help potential Legal Secretaries and PAs see where they skills may be best applied.
Starting with civil litigation, the first thing to consider is that working in this area of law involves a lot more than just knowing how the Civil Procedure Rules 1999 work. The unit has natural links to most other areas of contentious practice including dispute resolution, personal injury and employment law. In terms of the variety of work it would be fair to say that there is often no “typical” day. On any given day your boss might be in court, attending on clients, instructing counsel, preparing evidence or responding to correspondence. The subject matter of the work a fee earner does in a litigation department can also typically be very broad. For example, a general litigator might potentially deal with a slip and trip claim, a boundary dispute, a breach of contract or a breach of someone’s human rights. The working culture is only semi-predictable, and the job can often involve long hours. To assist effectively in this environment, you will need to have good organisational and communication skills as you will often have to cope with urgent matters, lots of paperwork and occasionally nervous or demanding clients.
Family law and practice is another area of contentious law and again high levels of organisational skills are needed. It is also very important to be sensitive and caring as clients are often under a lot of stress and may be at the end of their emotional tether. Not only do you need to be good with people and an excellent listener, but you should also be comfortable in a fast-paced, challenging environment.
So how does the work done in a non-contentious area such as conveyancing compare? A major part of a conveyancer’s job involves drafting documentation. There is much more of a team spirt among a group of property lawyers as all the parties are working towards the same outcome. Organisational skills have already been mentioned as important in a litigation context, but this is doubly the case in a conveyancing setting. You will be helping progress many different client matters at the same time so it is vital that work is kept on top of. It is also the case that this is an area of legal practice that has and continues to develop rapidly in terms of the use of technology. You will not be expected to know how a firm’s case management system works from day one, but you will need to have the ability to learn and a willingness to embrace technology is a definite advantage.
Wills & Probate
Finally, the area of wills and probate throws up an interesting challenge in trying to define it as just a non-contentious area of practice. The reality is that the work has developed from simply drafting wills and trust documents into an area where there is a real risk that a contentious dispute can arise, say over an inheritance. For several years the number of contested estate matters has risen so a good working knowledge of civil litigation is a distinct advantage. Because there is a lot of drafting involved an excellent eye for detail is vital. The nature of the work can cross over many different areas of practice so it can be more technical in nature. Finally like the matrimonial lawyer you may be dealing with very sensitive personal issues (e.g. a client starting to suffer dementia or recently bereaved) so an ability to deal with matters sensitively will be valued.
A firm will not expect you to know everything about an area of work from day one, but it will help you to job hunt if you have a basic understanding. Do keep an open mind about what areas of practice you might be interested in. Even if you feel a practice area might not suit your natural abilities do not let this put you off trying it out if the opportunity presents itself.
The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs (ILSPA) is a professional body who are dedicated to your career every step of the way. Whether you would like to become a Legal Secretary or you would like to advance your Legal Secretary career, they are there to support you through your journey. For more information visit www.institutelegalsecretaries.com.