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Legal Secretaries - An Endangered Species

18 Feb 2020

Eadaoin Looney

There's a real shortage of legal secretaries in Ireland but there's no shortage of opportunities for them.

When the job title “legal secretary” comes up, people’s minds inevitably go to the inimitable Donna from the television series “Suits”.  More knowledgeable than the lawyers, more on the ball than any football star, more up on office gossip than the water cooler and more stylish than anyone on Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed List, Donna was the queen of legal secretaries. But is the reality just as glamorous?

Well, it can be! But it’s also hard work. Ireland has seen a real shortage of legal secretaries in the past 12-18 months, so the reality is that if you’re any good at your job, then you’ll have your pick of employers. Any partner in a law firm will freely admit that legal secretaries are the glue that hold their firms together and are an integral part of the daily running of the firm.

But what do legal secretaries do? 

In short, the answer is everything, but the longer answer has a few more specifics which fall under five main categories.

  • General administration duties: filing, photocopying, booking meetings, scheduling diaries, answering phone calls, typing letters
  • Court Administration: Preparation of court documents and briefs, liaising with counsel as required, drafting subpoenas and summonses
  • File Management: Opening and setting up of files
  • Invoice Management: Tracking billable hours and sending out client invoices
  • Researching: assisting with research and investigations

All these responsibilities need particular skills and while common sense, a solid work ethic and the ability to multi-task are all essential, the following requirements are all pretty standard for a legal secretarial role:

  • Excellent typing skills (at least 60WPM)
  • Dictaphone typing skills
  • Great organisational and time management skills
  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Strong IT and systems skills – spreadsheets, case management systems, presentations
  • Good communication skills – able to speak fluently and coherently in a professional setting

Gaining a qualification:

There are plenty of ways to become a legal secretary. Pitman Training do specific legal secretarial courses at diploma and certificate level. They also offer night courses and courses that specialise areas of law e.g. litigation, conveyancing, probate.  You could do a legal executive course with ILEX (Institute of Legal Executives). Cork’s College of Commerce offers legal administration courses both full-time and at night so you can work while getting your qualification.

Law firms are notorious for offering their employees an extensive range of generous benefits and once a legal secretary has experience, base salaries are excellent, career progression opportunities too are superb. With the shortage of good legal secretaries right now, there is no better time to look for a new job.

If you’re looking for a new role or you’ve just gained a qualification as a legal secretary, I’d be delighted to have a confidential conversation with you and give you some advice. I have a range of exciting legal secretarial roles in both Munster and Connacht which all offer excellent remuneration packages and clear career paths.

Éadaoin Looney is a Consultant with Brightwater’s Business Support division in our Cork office and specialises in legal secretarial roles. She can be contacted on (021) 422000 or by email