A legal secretary is an important part of a legal team, taking responsibility for both normal secretary tasks and certain legal-specific tasks to ensure that the lawyers can concentrate on giving the best service to clients.
With a role that includes administrative tasks like filing, answering phones, and photocopying as well as researching legal precedence, taking notes at client meetings, and ensuring that legal documents and forms are completed, the role of a legal secretary needs to be filled by a candidate who can support the senior members of the legal team.
A legal secretary needs several skills and abilities to successfully complete their day to day tasks, and in this article, we will discuss what a legal secretary should be able to do for a legal team, what skills, competencies and abilities they need, and the best way to test a potential legal secretary to ensure that they have what it takes to be successful in the future.
What should a legal secretary be able to do?
The day-to-day tasks of a legal secretary blend typical secretary and administrative work with tasks that are specific to the legal profession.
Working with senior members of the team, and sometimes with more than one lawyer, a legal secretary is in charge of scheduling appointments and meetings as well as arranging travel.
Legal secretaries also prepare invoices and deal with account expenses on behalf of the legal team.
A legal secretary types notes, photocopies important documents, and handles telephone calls on behalf of the legal team. Often, a legal secretary will also be responsible for drafting and typing office memos and sharing important information with other lawyers and departments.
The legal secretary also prepares, proofreads and processes documents, completes research in past case history and precedents including reviewing legal publications, and attends client interviews, court proceedings, and depositions to take notes.
They are also often responsible for completing court forms and ensuring that legal documentation is delivered to clients and the courts in the safest and most appropriate way.
Legal secretaries will be required to organise and maintain case files and law libraries, and ensure that documents are copied and filed appropriately so they can easily be found if needed in the future.
Skills to look for in a legal secretary
To hire a successful legal secretary, recruitment teams should look for the following skills in applicants for the role:
- Reading comprehension: legal documents can contain very specific and often unfamiliar language, so a legal secretary needs to have a high level of reading comprehension to be successful.
- Active listening: legal secretaries are required to take notes in meetings and during various court proceedings, so it is important that they are able to listen. Understanding the point of view of a client and transcribing conversations needs specific listening skills.
- Time management: responsible for both their own time and for the time of the senior team members, a legal secretary needs to be highly organized. They need to be able to complete tasks to set deadlines and manage the busy diaries of the lawyers too.
- Critical thinking: research tasks have to be completed with some critical thinking to decide on the most important information to share - and this is especially true when there are several sources to consider. Critical thinking skills will help the legal secretary to work confidently when they need to make important decisions.
- Microsoft Office: while there are several different software programs used in a legal office, including client management software, accounting software, and law-specific software, skills in using the well-known Microsoft Office suite will be needed to complete basic office-based tasks like sending emails and preparing documents.
Useful abilities for a legal secretary
There are certain abilities that a successful legal secretary needs to have, and recruiters should look out for the competencies that are needed to complete the various daily tasks.
These might include:
- Oral comprehension and expression: being able to speak clearly so that others can understand, and also understand the speech of others is necessary when dealing with clients and with the senior legal team. Good oral communication skills will make it easier for a legal secretary to solve problems and give good service.
- Written comprehension and expression: a major part of the tasks that a legal secretary needs to complete are related to written expression in different forms, from completing legal documents to taking meeting notes and creating internal communications. Legal secretaries also need to be able to read complicated documents and understand them for research purposes.
- Deductive reasoning: logical thinking processes are important for problem-solving but also for dealing with multiple deadlines, busy schedules, and other people. Deductive reasoning skills will also help a legal secretary choose the most appropriate and useful research sources to use when looking through legal publications and previous case history.
- Information ordering: presenting research in an informative and useful way means that a legal secretary needs to be comfortable in ordering information. This skill is also important for the filing of documents and the maintenance of the law library.
- Problem sensitivity: legal secretaries have to deal with clients who are often going through difficult times, so they need to be aware of the needs and feelings of both clients and lawyers to ensure the best service. Being sensitive to problems - and being able to predict where problems might arise - will help the legal secretary to be proactive in dealing with hard situations.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a legal secretary?
Soft skills are the often intangible abilities that a candidate has which make them excel in the role you have advertised. In the case of the legal secretary, the most useful soft skills are to do with communication and organisation, so the below soft skills tests will be useful.
- Communication skills: covering all aspects of communication skills, including speaking, understanding, and active listening, the communication soft skill test demonstrates a candidate's ability to communicate effectively in the workplace.
- Adaptability skills: with so many different tasks needing to be completed on a daily basis, the adaptability soft skill test gives candidates the opportunity to demonstrate that they are able to work effectively even with competing priorities and still deliver great service to clients and to the senior legal team too.
- Interpersonal skills: legal secretaries deal with different people every day, from the lawyers they support to the clients as well as court officials, office suppliers, and other departments in the team. The interpersonal skills test is designed to highlight the candidate's 'people skills'.
- Time management: a difficult skill to assess without a test, time management is perhaps one of the most important facets of a great legal secretary. The time management skill test will assess each candidate based on work-related scenarios so the recruitment team can understand how well they can work under pressure.
- Teamwork: legal secretaries are an undeniably important part of the legal team, taking responsibility for administrative and diary management tasks away from the senior team members so the lawyers can concentrate on providing the right level of service for their clients. The teamwork test assesses how well each candidate works as part of a team and demonstrates their willingness to 'get stuck in' and do what needs to be done.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a legal secretary?
Technical skills tend to be slightly easier to assess than soft skills, and in many cases, a candidate might have received training or achieved some form of certification in their technical knowledge. However, alongside aptitude, specific technical skills could be tested for if there is a particular need for software knowledge.
Some of the technical or aptitude tests that a recruiter could use to assess a potential legal secretary include:
- Verbal reasoning: this test assesses candidates on their ability to quickly read, understand and analyse information in text form. Using business language, the verbal reasoning assessment highlights the applicant on their knowledge of vocabulary and ability to extract meaningful information from passages of text.
- Logical reasoning: being able to think logically is an important aptitude for a number of roles, and the results of the logical reasoning test are usually a good indicator of success in a role that needs clarity and confidence in solving a problem.
- Error checking: legal secretaries are expected to prepare the legal paperwork and complete legal forms, so an eye for detail is important to ensure that there are no mistakes. The error checking assessment demonstrates that a candidate is able to spot mistakes in seemingly identical pieces of information.
- Microsoft Word: among the Office suite programs that are most likely to be used in a legal environment, Microsoft Word is probably the most useful technical skill that a candidate can have. Testing for aptitude and skill in using Microsoft Word will demonstrate that a candidate is confident in creating and editing documents.
Our recommended test battery for a legal secretary
With so many useful tests to choose from, it can seem difficult to narrow them down and distil a perfect battery of assessments to use when hiring a legal secretary. Our recommended test battery for hiring a legal secretary includes the following tests:
- Verbal Reasoning: in the verbal reasoning assessment, candidates are presented with passages of text in business language, which they must quickly read and understand. They will need to analyse the information to find the right answer to the following question, which is multiple choice.
- Communication: the communication soft skill test sets questions that are based on work-related scenarios, with multiple-choice options of different courses of action to take. The candidate must choose the most effective course of action to solve the problem that is described in the scenario, demonstrating their level of communication skills.
- Error Checking: in the error checking test, the candidate is presented with two sets of information that are seemingly identical, and must highlight the errors or differences. The information might be numerical data like a list of telephone numbers, or it might be written information like addresses or account details.
- Time Management: time management skills are tested in this soft skill assessment by providing the candidate with some background information about a realistic workplace scenario, and asking them to decide what the best course of action would be to solve the problem and meet the stated deadlines. It is a forced-choice test, with several different possible answers to choose from.
At Picked we have a specific test available for use in the recruitment process when hiring a legal secretary, and there is plenty more information available about what makes a good legal secretary there.