Jul 17, 2012

Starting out as a legal secretary

This writer worked for eighteen years in the legal profession in both Canada and South Africa and knows something about what goes on in an office where lawyers go back and forth from court leaving their secretaries with mountains of work. For the most part the offices resemble those of Boston Legal without the shenanigans of Danny Crane. To get serious, the following is what is required of a legal secretary who works in a legal office for the first time:

* Take a course in etiquette in a legal office as well as legal studies and the law.

* Typing up of a summons, statement of claim and other legal documents including a petition for divorce, a Decree Nisi and so on. One learns how to do all of this on the job.

* Preparing affidavits and supporting documents.

* Interviewing clients and witnesses in personal injury cases where the clients have been in an accident and are suing for back pain and broken legs and other damages.

* Writing lengthy reports for the lawyers and preparing affidavits to go to court.

* This area of criminal law is a harried and fast-paced experience which can sometimes take up to five and six lawyers to participate in defending a case. We have all seen the dream team in the OJ Simpson case.

When you first start out in a legal office you are strange to the process and the people who are all smarter than you and you have to have energy and work fast to accommodate this kind of work. In between all the work that needs typing, you have to answer your phone, look for documents, talk to clients, run out for croissants and coffee from Starbucks. In corporate law the process is quieter, smoother; in criminal law it is harried and fast paced and everyone gathers around a table and give their dime's worth on a big or difficult case.

Cases and evidence are parcelled out to the different attorneys depending on their skill, such as being a good closer for closing arguments or where another lawyer is good at putting a case together and managing it but not good in front of the jury sealing the deal. Watching programs like Damages and Boston Legal can sometimes skewer one's perception.

For the most part in your first year you will be a typist, note taker, errand girl, and be at everyone's beck and call. Because you are in your first year; you won't say no. You learn the personalities of the staff. You are not qualified yet to interview clients because you are not yet familiar with the law and you don't know enough. Working in criminal law also means that you come across witnesses and offenders in difficult criminal trials where a day in the life of a lawyer can easily become a nightmare. A job as a legal secretary is exciting, but do not go near it if you can't handle the pressure and expect to only sit and type all day. That is the least exciting part of the job.