What does the future hold for the role of legal secretaries in the modern law firm?

Over the past few weeks I have been reading, with some concern, the level of redundancies being made of legal secretaries at law firms around the world. It’s almost as if COVID has proven this role to be surplus to requirement. And with the recent growth in voice transcription services and other technology related advancements, along with a growing desire (read: “at long last they trust us”) to work from home within the profession, this trend – in team restructuring – should probably not be too surprising.

Yet I’m very concerned with the direction this is taking.

Why?

Well, in part, on the issue of legal secretaries being asked to take redundancies, a spokesperson for UK-based for Dechert recently told The Law Society Gazette that:

‘To better support our clients and lawyers we are restructuring our secretarial support function in London to a hub model which will include more specialised skills.’

While I support this firm’s attempts to retain as much of its ‘secretarial support’ (read full article to see that) as possible – and while this firm’s comments on the issue of secretarial redundancies are by no means unique to it, I also think everyone commenting on this may be missing a fundamental point in the role legal secretaries play in law firms.

For those of you who may not know it, I have been a bit of a journey-man during my 25 years in the profession. During that time I have worked in-house at 8 different law firms across Australasia. These firms have varied in size and reach from large international law firms to local national firms. I have also consulted, at varying points, to dozens of others. And in all these firms, the legal secretaries have shared common traits – many of which have transcended what might be considered a ‘traditional’ (if there ever was such a thing) secretarial role.

In my experience , these have included being:

  • practice group/service line/team manager
  • receptionist
  • book-keeper
  • time entry keeper
  • finance officer
  • accounts payable clerk
  • accounts receivable clerk
  • debt recovery agent
  • marketing consultant
  • business development advisor
  • human resources office
  • people and culture officer (leave dates anyone?)
  • events officer
  • hospitality (coffee and lunch) manager
  • laundry collection point
  • massuer
  • mental health therapist

There are so many other roles I could add to that list – not least of which is ‘mentor’ to the junior lawyers of today who will be their bosses of tomorrow – but I think you get my point.

Legal secretaries are front-line. They are font-line so far as clients are concerned – because that’s essentially who the client talks to 90% of the time. They are front-line for anyone working in the business of a law firm because, frankly, you will never get access to a partner without going through their secretary.

More importantly, the role of legal secretary is the engine room of a law firm. They have retained knowledge of the firm and its relationship with clients that transcend lateral partner movements and succession plans.

Redefine the role description, absolutely. Make it redundant- NEVER!

As always, the above represent my own thoughts only and would love to hear yours.

rws_01

Photo credit to Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

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