What is the one thing lawyers can`t get enough of? No, this isn`t a lawyer joke. The answer is “good legal secretaries” and Legal Resources is attempting to meet that demand by providing training to convert experienced secretaries into entry-level litigation secretaries.
“It is beyond difficult to find good legal secretaries,” said Jane Sanders, co-owner of Legal Resources in Jackson. “I had three law firms calling today saying, `What is going on? We can`t find experienced legal secretaries anywhere, and we are even having trouble getting secretaries without legal experience`.”
Sanders, whose firm provides legal staffing services for contract attorneys, paralegals and legal secretaries, said the market for legal secretaries has become increasingly tight in the past 18 months.
“I knew in order to meet the demand, Legal Resources was going to have to do something different from the more traditional staffing companies,” Sanders said. “That something was to provide some substantive law office training for Legal Resources` recruits who were otherwise experienced secretaries, but had never worked in a law office before.”
The course, taught two evenings a week for six to eight weeks, provides training regarding the court systems, legal vocabulary, anatomy of a lawsuit, procedural rules, forms and document productions, legal writing, and the rules of ethics.
“The course is not intended to be a substitute for institutional learning,” Sanders said. “I call this training `wetting the sponge.` It is quick skills training that allows a candidate to get his or her foot in the door of a law firm as an entry-level legal secretary, and learn more quickly on the job. The training is especially helpful to our candidates who want to temp for a while before seeking a permanent job. They work and learn at the same time.”
The legal secretary profession has changed dramatically in recent years with the role expanding to take on many of the same duties of a paralegal. Salaries have also increased substantially, which makes it a more attract career for secretaries.
“Over the years legal secretaries have been given more responsibility, and in some contexts there is less of a bright line between a legal secretary and a paralegal,” Sanders said. “Computers have really changed things. Attorneys are now doing a lot of their own drafting at the computer, and many forms are computer generated.”
Sanders said at first law firms were slow to accept Legal Resources trainees because the attorneys wanted to be able to hire experienced legal secretaries. But the realities of the marketplace are that experienced legal secretaries are so rare that law firms actually get into bidding battles over good candidates.
“Raising salaries can`t attract experienced legal secretaries when they aren`t out there to begin with,” Sanders said. “We can`t recruit them anymore, so we have to create them.”
Sanders said all kinds of staffing companies have been forced to train in order to maintain their labor pool. Most of the training is for technical skills.
“The emerging trend in training is what I call `quick training` in specific jobs skills,” Sanders said. “That is what Legal Resources is doing.”
– By Becky Gillette
MBJ Staff Writer