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Legal Secretary to Legal Cashier -Transferring a Skillset

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Legal secretarial jobs are no longer as ubiquitous and in demand as they used to be 20 years ago. With technology helping lawyers transcribe their own notes and secretaries now blending into fee earners, there’s a vast number of legal secretaries that are losing out on legal jobs as there’s a much lower demand, but where there’s a law firm, there’s a finance need. Legal secretaries looking at a change of career through no fault of their own, are missing out on opportunities in legal accounts departments that could snap their skillset up. 

Can a Legal Secretary become a Legal Cashier

Yes! As a matter of fact, if you’re a qualified legal secretary, or if you’ve worked as a legal secretary for a number of years, you’ll be a total asset within a law firm’s accounts department. 

I’ve met so many legal secretaries throughout the years, as have my team here at the ILFM, and each person holding that role will tell you of a different story of how they became one. 

The classic 1980s model of girls leaving school and being told being a secretary will stand them in good stead often leads to finishing a secretarial course, but wanting to specialise in an industry that can engage their passions a bit more.  Often these legal secretaries go onto internal promotions within their legal practices as can often run an office or know the law better than their actual bosses! Experience and knowledge go a long way. 

Some legal secretaries are graduates who are desperate to get a foot in the door of a legal firm and show their tenacity and patience in getting to where they want in a firm. 

However a legal secretary came about getting into that current role, there’s no getting away with the fact that the role of a legal secretary has changed dramatically throughout the last decade. 

Impact of 2008 Recession on Legal Sector

The recession of 2008 was truly horrific, and ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the global financial crisis it brought about. Everything from that time changed the legal landscape and had everlasting consequences.  With aggressive digital solutions to hand and Google being the number one source of information for lawyers (remember the old days when a legal secretary would be sifting and updating the paper library folders of Butterworths and Practical Law?!). It’s all digital.  

 

 

Image is from LexisNexis’ 2021 Bellwether Report 

Lawyers had to quickly learn to fend for themselves as many legal secretaries were either made redundant, hours were cut or early retirement came into play. Firms that had younger solicitor blood realised that this breed were totally in control of their own files and didn’t need to wait for their secretary to catch up on workload; they typed their own letters and emails.  

Affordable technology, and use of voice transcription software have too changed the roles of legal secretaries.  

Many became fee earners in and post the recession, with savvy legal providers thinking out of the box as to how to keep employees but with a new model and utilising different strengths within departments.  Some legal secretaries floated into different departments and easily pickled up legal jargon from say family law to employment law; some took on the role of more admin and PA; some carrying small caseloads; some looking after briefs and bundles; and some helping with the (always busy) accounts side. 

The role of a legal secretary

What’s the role of a legal secretary nowadays? Definitely a professional in their own right. Maybe a pathway to promotion, but always requiring tact, confidentiality, understand compliance, keep up to date on money laundering and SRA Regs, along with the following (as quoted in the Pitman Training manual): 

  • Preparing, typing, and filing legal documents, such as wills, contracts, and subpoenas 

  • Managing correspondence and responding to clients’ enquiries in person, via email, or by telephone 

  • Organising diaries, scheduling appointments, and arranging meetings 

  • Audio typing from digital dictation, transcribing interviews, and conducting legal research 

  • Gathering information required for cases, such as accident reports or medical records 

  • Scanning and photocopying. 

Speak to any legal secretary though and their job will be SO much more than this. Each practice and area of law suits different skillsets, which we’ll touch on in a minute (i.e., the finance side!). 

The role of a legal cashier

Some might think that cashier and secretary have polar opposites of what their brain functions best with! Left and right – numbers and letters etc, however the roles of a legal cashier and legal secretary can so easily be dovetailed. It might be easier for a legal secretary to detour over to legal cashiering purely because of the knowledge of law, where as if you’re ok with figures and love the (always more laid back for some reason!) vibe of working in the law firm’s accounts department, then I’d always say try it! 

Of course, the ILFM’s membership is packed with legal cashiers, bookkeepers and practice managers, but we’d love more legal secretaries as we see the merit of our membership being an umbrella to so many different routes within law and the exceptional resources, training and qualifications we offer. 

Let’s go back to the “role of a legal cashier” though here: 

 A legal cashier’s general duties tend to cover some of following points: 

  • Ensuring work is handed out to the team promptly; 

  • Understanding and ensuring compliance with the SRA Accounts Rules and VAT regulations in relation to your day-today work; 

  • Assisting the accounts dept or finance team members (if a small firm, you might be alone in which case you need good communication with your COFA and definitely need to become a member of the ILFM so you’re not so isolated); 

  • Know banking inside and out; 

  • Understand cash flow. 

On first glance it might seem totally different to that of a legal secretary, but actually the devil is in the detail. 

Both roles really need that understanding of SRA’s Accounts Rules, what legal compliance means to them individually and to the whole firm, AML (anti money-laundering) understanding; whilst keeping the rest of their department backed up. 

Legal secretaries will often, depending on the business model, be the one at the end of the month having the pressure of invoicing the clients and checking that all the time recorded is up-to-date and making sure disbursements are added to the bill in the correct section, knowing when and when not to apply VAT and probably chatting with your legal cashier counterpart when the monies come in as you’ll probably have been the one to say whether its client money or money that belongs to the business. That’s actually a massive job that many lawyers don’t bat an eyelid as you’re doing it for them.  

Could you change role in law?

Once you’re in the working world of law it’s hard to get out of it because it’s really interesting, pays better than many other secretarial or financial jobs at that level, but also has so many opportunities to move around in. Whether it’s to work your way up through CILEx or come through us at ILFM to qualify, then there really is something for everyone. 

If you’re thinking that legal secretarial life isn’t sustainable but you love working in law and finance, perhaps actually becoming the practice manager, then I’d say have a look at what we offer. The ILFM is a none profitable organisation that offers membership at a really affordable rate per year (£12 per month!) and the knowledge that we impart is invaluable as you grow.  

Why not have a chat with us, or join our membership, jump on a training session or two, then perhaps get some qualifications that will lead to you into a higher position?  

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