You've finished university, you've achieved top marks in all your subjects, so now for the job hunt! Due to fierce competition, you haven't quite managed to secure a graduate role, and those unpaid PLT positions are hard to find, so why not start as a legal secretary? You've got a law degree, so surely you're more than qualified for a secretarial role, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, most law firms will not consider law graduates for secretarial roles. Most recruiters will reject you without an explanation, so this post sets out why graduates aren't suitable for secretarial roles and provides practical advice for getting your first job with a legal firm:
Why won't law firms consider law graduates?
First, firms spend a considerable amount of time and money training new starters on firm computer systems/processes. Therefore, they look for candidates that are going to stay in the role for the long term (minimum two years). They fear that most law graduates are ideally looking for solicitor roles and will leave as soon as an opportunity presents itself, which is understandable. A common response to that is that graduates are committed to the firm and are happy to stay in a secretarial role until there is an opportunity to progress internally. Even if this is the case:
- The recruitment team fears that it may be bombarded by repeated requests for a promotion and;
- Even if a promotion is secured, the recruitment team will need to refill the secretarial role from scratch, incurring more time and money, when they could have just waited for the right secretarial candidate in the first place.
The legal secretarial skill set is also very different from a lawyer's skill set. Legal secretaries are responsible for dictaphone typing, so they will need to have a minimum typing speed of 60 words per minute. In addition, they must be experts in formatting large legal documents (sometimes 200+ pages). As a lawyer myself, I can say that computer skills are not always a lawyer's strongest point, and, even if you are a tech whiz, after years of studying, is this really how you want to spend your time in the office?
So what should you do?
1. Apply directly to firms for paralegal opportunities: paralegals are not required to have the same clerical skill set as secretaries, and you will have many more opportunities to get involved in matters, rather than just completing administrative tasks. Firms usually recruit these roles directly so:
- Find out the relevant contact at the firm
- Send your (tailored!) resume and a cover letter
- Follow up on your application with a phone call
2. Consider quasi-legal roles such as in-house contract administrators, insurance claims handlers and employment relations advisors. In my experience, candidates successfully move into graduate roles or junior solicitor positions having had experience in a related profession. 3. Extra-curricular activities: if all else fails, don't give up on your existing commitments (e.g. volunteer legal clinics or mooting competitions). Firms really do take these activities into consideration when selecting junior lawyers!