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Host

How did you get your start doing legal secretary work, and what career moves did you make to get to your current position?

Do you need a particular educational background?

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Dyann in Orlando, Florida

88 months ago

I started out at entry level in a firm where I mainly did subpoenas for production of documents, things like that. When I decided I liked legal work, I went to school in a legal assistant program. I learned mainly from experience, more than I learned at school, since I had learned a lot on the job. I consider myself a career legal secretary.

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Michelle - Georgia in Atlanta, Georgia

87 months ago

Being a legal secretary has been rewarding to me financially. At times, I've experienced lots of stress, but I've never hated my job like so many of my other friends in more "professional" fields.

I began working as a receptionist at a law firm in 1981,while attending college for a two-year paralegal field. The legal secretary quit, and my boss asked me if I would consider replacing her. I recall my first few months on the job as being much more difficult training than my college classes -- and much more practical as it was "real world" training. My paralegal degree taught me how to write briefs and do legal research, but it still didn't teach me one-tenth as much as the on-the-job "bootcamp" taught me. This is true for everyone in law, even lawyers. Like medicine, the legal field is so diverse, that it's impossible for educational systems to provide adequate training.

Experience is much more necessary for legal secretaries than degrees are. Even more important than a degree are being poised, organized, perfectionistic (attention to detail), and verbal (adept with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and speech). Degrees won't necessarily give you those gifts. Degrees might get you in the door, but they won't necessarily let you keep the job.

Get an entry-level position that will give you lots of experience. I recommend you work in a plaintiff's lawyer's office for a year or two. They work you like a dog and don't pay well, but lots of secretaries get invaluable experience in general practice offices. Once you get that experience under your belt (a year or two), move on to a higher-paying position at a large firm. The larger the firm = the better the money, benfits and work conditions. Also, consider moving to a metropolitan area. You'll earn much more money compared to smaller towns.

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Deborah James in Alameda, California

86 months ago

Host said: How did you get your start doing legal secretary work, and what career moves did you make to get to your current position?

Do you need a particular educational background?

______________________________________________________________

Here's an article from Lawstaff.com with very interesting pointers and tips

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Deborah James in Alameda, California

86 months ago

Deborah James in Alameda, California said: ______________________________________________________________
Sorry, sorgot to post the link - a definite no-no for anyone, let alone beginners. LOL!!

Here's an article from Lawstaff.com with very interesting pointers and tips

www.lawfirmstaff.com/articles/index.php?id=50021&cat=75

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dh in Roseville, California

83 months ago

Host said: How did you get your start doing legal secretary work, and what career moves did you make to get to your current position?

Do you need a particular educational background?

Hi - Make sure you do your research before becoming a legal secretary. Talk to some who have done it. I did it in Southern California for several years, and I absolutely HATED it. I was miserable, and I rarely had any coworkers who liked their jobs. The attorneys expect to much considering the fact it's a dead end job with no room for advancement. I submitted a survey last year to Vault.com. I am cutting and pasting it here. It's kinda long:

Job Responsibilities
Former Legal Secretary (transactional): timesheet (15 min), fielding client calls (1 hour), filing (1 hour), word processing (3 hours) photocopying, faxing (1 hour), other miscellaneous duties. End of month editing prebills and finalizing bills to mail to the client could take a half a day for 2-3 days.

Hiring/education requirements and career path
A series of bad decisions and poor planning is how I ended up as a legal secretary. I once had my court reporter's license and started working as a word processor in a law firm. Then I was "promoted" to legal secretary, and that's how I got started. You don't need a degree. I think most secretaries get where they are through experience and maybe some compu ter classes. There are also seminars offered through various secretarial associations.

Uppers
There wasn't anything I liked about the profession itself. However, I always liked my fellow secretaries. I never met one secretary who really enjoyed this line of work, and we were all in the same boat. We were always supportive of each other. Each one of us had our own story of how it came to be that we ended up in this profession. Another positive thing I can say is that, while I'll never understand why this profession has a reputation for good pay, I did make enough money to keep my daughter and I f

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dh in Roseville, California

83 months ago

Survey continued:

Downers
Probably the attorneys. I think it's human nature to procrastinate. Almost every attorney I know drops projects on his secretary's desk every day at 4:45 and tells her it needs to be completed "before you go." They often make promises to their clients that they expect the secretaries to keep, i.e., "I'll have it to you first thing Monday morning," and it's Friday afternoon. Without consulting with his secretary, he's already planning her weekend. If you protest, you're guaranteed to get snapped at, at the very least. Overtime is too much to expect from a secretary because this is a profession with no room for advancement and no options. Putting in extra time and hard work won't get us anywhere. Many attorneys are high maintenance. Some don't have computer skills and need to be treated like an invalid. Some are old school and expect to be catered to. A legal secretary is a grunt or go-fer, a puppet on strings. The temperament of a civil litigator is much more foul than that of a transaction attorney. Regardless, most of them are condescending and ungrateful; yet they expect you to make a career out of this despite the lack of opportunity for advancement. I had been a good employee with great reviews for a little over two years when I announced that I was going back to school full time and would no longer be available in the mornings. They told me they would find my replacement and hired her about a month later.

Lifestyle
Your "stated" work hours are usually a 35- hour 37.5-hour work week. Of course, if your attorney continually drops stuff on your desk at the last minute and wants it done before you leave, that number will rise. I'm aware of only attorneys traveling (not secretaries) - usually to a depo or seminar. Each firm at which I worked had a Xmas party and a yearly summer picnic. Dress code is becoming more relaxed. For me, the last few years was business casual with jeans and tennies on Fridays.

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dh in Roseville, California

83 months ago

Survey Continued

Compensation
In Orange County, CA, I left June, '06 at 55K/year. I had two named partners, two associates, and a lot of admin stuff: printing prebills, finalizing and sending to clients; some A/R and banking. I my yearly raises here were $2,500, and my bonuses were close to that amount. I felt I was very underpaid when I left the profession. Last year, in Sept, '05, I received a job offer for $59K as a word processor/floater at a time when I was making $52.5K to handle two partners and two associates alo ng with finalizing bills and some A/R. I turned it down because I was interviewing outside the industry at that time, and I was hoping I had only a month or two left in the profession. I left nine months later at $55k. We estimated that my replacement was hired for at least $65K. She had several years' experience over me; yet I was qualified for jobs paying at least $60K (according to a popular staffing agency), and those jobs probably didn't require the extra admin stuff I was doing. Market rate salaries increase at a certain rate, and yearly raises divied out by law firms usually barely match the cost of living index. That's why company loyalty doesn't pay. Firms bring in new secretaries at the "going" rate. The only way a legal secretary can stay up with market salary is to make a lateral move every few years. Raises don't usually keep up with inflation, but the market rate salaries do. So the new secretaries are most likely being paid more than the loyal secretaries who have st ayed with their employer several years.

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dh in Roseville, California

83 months ago

Survey cont'd

Advice to Jobseekers
Honestly, my advice would be to consider another line of work. For those seriously considering it, this is advice I received from a former coworker with 20 years' experience: You need to know how to interview wisely because this is an undesirable profession regardless of for whom you work, so falling into a job with a bad atty will only exacerbate the situation. I was told the 3 most important questions: 1) Is overtime required? 2) Does he often procrastinate on projects (this is an overtime issue)? 3) Is there a lot of personal stuff involved? A yes answer to any one of these questions, the job is bad news. All no's, then continue with other questions about hours, benefits, etc. Ask why the previous secretary left and try to get an idea of the atty's temperament. Listen for key phrases the administrator might use in describing the attorney. For example, phrases like "heavily reliant," "not computer literate," or god forbid, "high strung," Run!! I once got "needs a little hand-holding." Forget it. Other advice I received was asking about the phone system. If you can ascertain that the attorney expects you to answer his phone, keep looking-it's too easy to find a job for an attorney who answers it himself, and it could also be a sign that he's high maintenance. I had a friend ask for a tour of the office, and it was granted. She saw how the attys and secretaries interacted and made the decision right there that it wasn't for her. Job outlook for the future? I don't know, but a former coworker pointed out to me recently that you see very few secretaries under 35. She told me it's because the younger generation is getting smart and staying away from these types of jobs. I don't know whether that's correct, but I left at 39. My last 2 months in the industry, I temped at 3 firms (one big firm) and during that time, I met one secretary who was younger than I was. My last permanent job, I was the youngest of 3.

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Deborah James in Alameda, California

83 months ago

Your comments are well taken. Only from an insider, would you get this type of real perspective. I've had similar experiences in my 26 + years. I've also run into some really dizzy secretaries and paralegals.

I go to work to get work done - not to discuss my personal life or hear about anybody else's. I like my current job, but the procrastination is there. I don't know if there is a lack of planning, not knowing how to prioritize, or what the problem is.

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dh in Omaha, Nebraska

83 months ago

I was wondering what kind of response I would get. I was hoping I wouldn't offend anyone. I've liked almost every secretary with whom I've worked but have no respect for all but a very few attys with whom I've had contact.

I'm now a full time student preparing for a career change. I just couldn't stand it any more. But while I was in, the fastest thing to get me to quit was to expect me to do overtime. I refused to suffer because of someone else's lack of wise time management.

26+ years??? I don't know whether I should commend you or feel sorry for you. I'm 40 and did it for 6 years. By the time I left, I was so burned out and sick to death of it that I was thoroughly exhausted and felt like I should be retiring. I felt like I'd been working for 30 years and just wanted to rest. I didn't want to work any more, period. I couldn't imagine myself being happy at any job, and that was scary. I've been back in school full time for a year now (started my 3rd semester 3 weeks ago), and it's only been the last few months that I can see myself enjoying a job again someday. I'm happy and know that I have a great career ahead, even if I will be 42 when I graduate!! Better late than never.

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Deborah James in San Francisco, California

83 months ago

I started out working for older attorneys, who had time management down to a science. I also spent 6 years working through an agency for a lady I met while volunteering for Aid.

It was some of the firms I ran into beginning in the late 90's. Real dimwits. For 6 1/2 years I operated a part time LDA business from a two office suite in downtown Oakland.

I really like where I am working now, but the field really seems to have changed. I had fun when I worked as a temp and it allowed me to take classes, volunteer at my son's school, etc.

The agencies now seem to have a boatload of crappy jobs, not to mention their lack of organization. Look at some of the forums about agencies when you have a chance.

I really like this job and hope to retire from here. I have grown really picky about where I will work these days.

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Lynn MacKey in Saint Louis, Missouri

82 months ago

I have been a Legal Secretary for the last 21 years. I am 58 and here is my experience in a nutshell. When I began working as alegal secretary I was living in the San Fernando Valley area of So. Calif. I took a few word processing classes and a legal secretarial class at a local community college. I worked for a wonderful company in-house law department for 14 years and I loved it!!! I worked for fabulous attorneys, but I never made more than $42,000 a year and the 4 years I worked for other corporations and my salary went down every year. I now work in St. Louis for a large law firm and it's the pits! I make about $45K, but I'm bored to death at the slow pace here. I'm looking for another career...I still have 10 more years to work, but I think I'm stuck. My advise is don't settle for being a secretary be a Paralegal or an Attorney!!

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legalove in Antioch, California

82 months ago

To possibly help add some balance to the whole "legal secretary is good or legal secretary is bad" thing, I believe the following as I am learning it more and more everyday... and that is what one does for a living regardless of title or position given, it is up to each individual's mind set to make it what they want it to be in their own thought process. Anyone can believe they should be or are entitled to be making more money or getting more kudos for their help or participation or this or that as the list can be endless. Now what does that thinking pattern do to our highs and lows of life? Such a pattern is only negative producing and breeds thoughts aimed downwards taking us with it.

I have been a legal secretary for 16 plus years and my highest salary was $69,000 with full benefits being paid completely by the firm. I, on my own accord, left that position after a few years with no looking back or actual thought given to what might happen in doing so and am now hoping...and I say "hoping" in a big way....to at least make $45,000 with probably one or two benefits being offered at most. Do I regret leaving my prior position and monetary rewards? Sometimes. But I stand a chance to work with a very small firm that has a very big heart. Being able to share in that kind of atmosphere is what making a living is truly about. For I would provide support to such an office for free if I did not want to have a mortgage or some of the basic comforts of family and home. Some may call me stupid, crazy or whatever and not even care one way or the other as I am nobody to them. So be it... as its all good for I think so I am.

Litigation is legal....=)

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legalove in Antioch, California

82 months ago

dh in Omaha, Nebraska said: I was wondering what kind of response I would get. I was hoping I wouldn't offend anyone. I've liked almost every secretary with whom I've worked but have no respect for all but a very few attys with whom I've had contact.

I'm now a full time student preparing for a career change. I just couldn't stand it any more. But while I was in, the fastest thing to get me to quit was to expect me to do overtime. I refused to suffer because of someone else's lack of wise time management.

26+ years??? I don't know whether I should commend you or feel sorry for you. I'm 40 and did it for 6 years. By the time I left, I was so burned out and sick to death of it that I was thoroughly exhausted and felt like I should be retiring. I felt like I'd been working for 30 years and just wanted to rest. I didn't want to work any more, period. I couldn't imagine myself being happy at any job, and that was scary. I've been back in school full time for a year now (started my 3rd semester 3 weeks ago), and it's only been the last few months that I can see myself enjoying a job again someday. I'm happy and know that I have a great career ahead, even if I will be 42 when I graduate!! Better late than never.

You rock !!

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debjame in San Anselmo, California

82 months ago

I just visited a website called "Above the Law," shared by someone on a legal secretary list serv that I participate.

After reading some of the posts, I understand why it's becoming next to impossible to interest people in this field. What a bunch of morons on that board.

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dh in Northern CA, California

82 months ago

[QUOTE "Lynn MacKey in Saint Louis, Missouri"]I have been a Legal Secretary for the last 21 years. I am 58 and here is my experience in a nutshell. I'm looking for another career...I still have 10 more years to work, but I think I'm stuck. My advise is don't settle for being a secretary be a Paralegal or an Attorney!

Hi Lynn - I started out as a word processor in LA, and as long as I was in the legal industry, I wasn't interested in doing anything other than that. As soon as my firms found I had legal procedure knowledge (I used to have my court reporter's license), they would put me on a desk and assign me to an atty, which I hated. So I would quit and accept another word processing job elsewhere, and the same thing would happen. It happened at 3 firms. I was at my third firm when I made my move to get out of the industry altogether. I started as a WP and left as a secretary handling 2 named partners, 2 associates, plus billing, banking and some A/R!!! Yet I received the same raise each year that I would have as a WP.

In Orange County, in '05, WP jobs with my experience (5 years) were getting hired at about $58K and secretaries with the same experience about $60k, only $2k difference so I would rather take the $58K job and have a lot less contact with attys. I also hated that they hire you for a lower paying position, "promote" you to a position with more responsibility, but they don't reflect that in your raise regardless of the great review they gave you.

You have to get a position that you really like regardless of the money, if you can afford it. I like Legalove's post above where she took a very serious paycut in order to be happy. That is so important. You said something about another career. Do you have any ideas? What are you considering. I know what it's like to be unhappy 8 hours a day every day. I hope you find something you really enjoy. Sometimes I look forward to going to my p/t job. I forgot what that was like. Good Lu

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dh in Northern CA, California

82 months ago

legalove in Antioch, California said: To possibly help add some balance to the whole "legal secretary is good or legal secretary is bad" thing, I believe the following as I am learning it more and more everyday... So be it... as its all good for I think so I am. Litigation is legal....=)

Hi Legalove. I admire anyone who has the freedom and guts like you did to take a job you enjoy regardless of the pay cut. That's a big risk. I was afraid to return to school full time - I will be 42 when I graduate and was afraid, "Who would want to hire me??" But I did it anyways because I'm a single mom and the best pay I can get outside the legal industry without an education is about $17/hr. But if I didn't have a teenaged daughter, that $17/hr job would be very tempting, if I knew it would be something I liked. Plus I know with a degree that I have options and exciting opportunities.

I don't think getting the degree will make a lot of difference as far as retirement goes. As a legal secetary, I couldn't put as much as I wanted to in my 401k; I was almost debt free but I would never own a home. Sure my income potential will be much greater, but my school loan debt will be roughly $55K (I have to take out some living expenses in addition to tuition); so I will start paying that off at about 43 when I should be maxing out 401k instead. But I get to live out the rest of my years doing a job I enjoy, and that is priceless. More power to you. You are a good example for a lot of women in this industry. Unfortunately, a lot of us accrue debt according to our incomes and don't have that freedom, and I have a lot of former coworkers who are afraid of change. Take care.

dh

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dh in Northern CA, California

82 months ago

debjame in San Anselmo, California said: I just visited a website called "Above the Law," shared by someone on a legal secretary list serv that I participate.

After reading some of the posts, I understand why it's becoming next to impossible to interest people in this field. What a bunch of morons on that board.

LOL!! I looked at it, too.

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Deborah James in Alameda, California

82 months ago

The one good thing about that site is this book:

www.amazon.com/Diary-Mad-Legal-Secretary/dp/1419648780

I just ordered mine, I can't wait to read it. I've been promising/threatening to write that book for years.

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legalove in Antioch, California

82 months ago

I'm going to be ordering my copy as well. I say we join together and write the sequel.....=)

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debjame in San Anselmo, California

82 months ago

Do order it as soon as possible. It's hilarious. I start laughing so hard I cry whenever I am reading it.

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Neha in Salt Lake City, Utah

81 months ago

What type of questions asked in legal secretary interview.

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KKK000HHH in Alabama

81 months ago

Yes, my job need a particular educational background...

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GG in Birmingham, Alabama

81 months ago

One thing I must add is my caveat to the advice "be a paralegal or attorney". As a former recruiting coordinator, I wouldn't advise being an atty unless you are in a position to be in the top 10% of your class. Most law firms will only look seriously at that rank, and of course, what law school you went to.

I know of attys who went to law school and found some jobs as lawyers, but it was feast and famine and they eventually applied for paralegal jobs.

In addition, a number of women don't seem to stay with law firms because of the long hourse demanded that don't fit in well with family life.

Finally, being a paralegal is a good job for some. However, you will sometimes need to continue to update your education if you are in a speciality, often spending your own time (unpaid) to keep yourself current in your field. The legal secretary next to you doesn't need to do this, and is being paid the same, if not more than you, who are being required to fill a billable hour quota.

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Lindsay Mackey in Saint Louis, Missouri

81 months ago

Good advise from GG in Alabama. I work at a large law firm and HR tells us that they have trouble finding qualified Legal Secretaries to fill positions.

However, I speak from experience...Legal Secretaries are rarely respected by Attorneys (you get screamed at when "they" make an error, called horrible names and more...). In my 21 years of experience...the main reason a Legal Secretary leaves a job is because they were treated horribly by the Attorney(s) that they worked for. HR always backs the Attorneys and you get no help at all. So...you just go find someone else to work for until they blow up. I worked 15 years for one firm until it was dissolved. And ever since then...it's be rough. I find the behavior and the ego of an Attorney is getting worse and worse. I also find that the new attorneys do a lot of secretarial work...they do most of their own typing and calendaring (and bill for it)...there just isn't much need for a Legal Secretary anymore. That's another reason why I suggested a Paralegal career.
Thanks for your input!

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Deborah James in San Anselmo, California

81 months ago

The legal secretary next to you doesn't need to do this, and is being paid the same, if not more than you, who are being required to fill a billable hour quota.

_____________________________________________________

There are plenty of legal secretaries who take continuing education classes and legal secretary associations that provide CLE workshops.

There are plenty of paralegals who don't know what they are doing and have attitudes that are worse than attorneys.

Legal Secretaries are leaving the field because of this. It really depends on who you are employed by. In 26 years, I've seen some pretty awful people come into the field. There's a huge Pro Se movement because lots of people don't like dealing with attorneys.

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GG in Birmingham, Alabama

81 months ago

I have worked in two law firms, one corporate and one sole pract in two states and I have met only one or two paralegals who didn't know what they were doing (hey, I may have been one of them). Those people don't last long.

There may be "plenty" of legal secretaries attenting CLE workshops in your area, but not in my city. Yes, there are courses held but it's usually only the top two or three firms who send their secretaries, often the ones who are active in the local legal sec assn. The others don't seem to be interested.

What's it like for the other's here?

PS You will never get an argument from me about atty's behavior. The stories we all could tell!

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

However, I speak from experience...Legal Secretaries are rarely respected by Attorneys (you get screamed at when "they" make an error, called horrible names and more...). In my 21 years of experience...the main reason a Legal Secretary leaves a job is because they were treated horribly by the Attorney(s) that they worked for. HR always backs the Attorneys and you get no help at all. So...you just go find someone else to work for until they blow up. I worked 15 years for one firm until it was dissolved. And ever since then...it's be rough. I find the behavior and the ego of an Attorney is getting worse and worse. I also find that the new attorneys do a lot of secretarial work...they do most of their own typing and calendaring (and bill for it)...there just isn't much need for a Legal Secretary anymore. That's another reason why I suggested a Paralegal career. Thanks for your input!

I agree with Lindsay's comments 100%. That's why I moved back to my hometown - so that I could go back to school full time and finish my degree in order to make a career change. I will graduate in 2 years at 42. My entire life savings is almosted depleted, and I'll be $50-$60K in debt. So much for retiring comfortably at a decent age. But I will spend the rest of my years in a job I enjoy. As a legal secretary, I'm wasn't any better off as far as retirement goes. If I stayed in this field, I wouldn'tt have the debt but my income potential was limited. I return to school, accrue massive debt, and have potential for a nice income. I don't think my retirement ability is affected. I do believe, however, that I will live a lot longer because if you show up for work every day and spend 8 hours a day doing something you hate to the point that you're constantly angry and your heart beats at an elevated level from the time you walk in and doesn't slow down until you're walking out to your car, that can't be good, and I just didn't think I had a very long life span going that route.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

Neha in Salt Lake City, Utah said: What type of questions asked in legal secretary interview.

It depends on the firm. I've been asked about all my previous jobs and why I left. They focused on why I was looking to leave the current job. I've been asked about my career plans for the future. If you don't want to spend your life doing this, don't let them know that. I used to say something like "working for a firm where I can plant roots and grow, learn new skills, etc." yadayada, some bullsh**t line like that. They always ask about the software applications I know how to use and any other related skills I have. I've also been asked about how I would handle certain situations, but I can't remember specifics. Once I was asked, "Is there anything you won't do?" Being naive (this was my 1st interview at my 1st ever legal job), I replied, "No." Had I known then what I know now, I would have instead replied, "I don't work thru lunch," or "I take lunch every day." I also don't work overtime, but I don't tell them that. I instead ask if overtime is required, and if they reply that it is, I ask whether they would consider an applicant who doesn't have availability for overtime. Same thing worded differently so it doesn't sound as bad. I also didn't do personal stuff for the atty, but I didn't tell them that either. I asked if personal stuff is required, and if it is, keep looking. I wasn't willing to shop online for an iPod for an atty's daughter's bday or fill out financial paperwork for his child's private school. I wouldn't take on any responsibilities of his wife. I don't know how much experience you have, but it is at least as important for you to interview them about the position as it is for them to interview you for the job. My opinion is that this field is bad news and there are NO good legal secretary jobs out there. Not asking the employer about the firm, especially about the atty for whom you will work, could put you in an awful job.

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Deborah James in Alameda, California

81 months ago

I agree with DH. It is very important for you to carefully screen the firm with which you are interviewing. I've gotten myself into some really bad situations by not doing so.

You want to research the firm/company you are applying to as much as possible so that you can have some questions.

You also want to know about the firm culture.
What the duties are.
Who do you report to.
How is calendaring handled (i.e., who is responsible).
How are upcoming deadlines handled (i.e., will you have sufficient prior time to get the work out in a timely manner, or is it going to be dumped on you last minute)

I have seen so many places where calendaring is either improperly done or the attorneys ignore the calendar and then have people rushing around at the last minute to meet a filing deadline. That's always a really bad scene and one likely to get you (as the secretary) blamed for any mishaps.

Finally, ask how people handle pressure. You don't want to get into a situation where people are screaming like lunatics (believe me it happens).
Ask about training opportunities (does the firm have them or reimburse if you take CLE on your own)

Here's a guide from Yahoo with sample interview type questions:

tinyurl.com/25rj2f

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Lindsay Mackey in Saint Louis, Missouri

81 months ago

Just thought I would let you know. I interviewed at several firms that DID NOT allow you to meet the attorneys prior to accepting employment...that's bad news, but several firms are doing that now. Also what you didn't know is that you worked in a "pool" environment...not one-on-one with attorneys, but they did not reveal that in the interview. I had worked in a pool environment in 1972...I had no idea it was still that way some firms work. I would suggest staying away from firms that don't allow you to meet the attorneys you would be working for...

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debjame in San Anselmo, California

81 months ago

I agree with you Lindsay. I took a job a few years ago at a firm as an "Overflow Secretary." I actually liked moving around, getting to know everyone, and helping the other secretaries.

They then put me on a desk with two attorneys who were real cases.

Lots of firms are now moving back into a "pool" environment. That's because certain attorneys get "labeled" by the support staff and then they can't get a secretary who'll take their desk.

I could have had the job I have now 6 years ago, but instead opted to stay at a "temp to perm" job at an insurance defense firm because of the salary and benefits. It was like that song: "well, no one told me about her...."

Turned out that all of the secretaries there had threatened to quit if assigned to her. Later, the firm got rid of the attorney. She went to a large firm which was running ads for secretaries on an average of once a month. It was for the nightmare attorney.

She left there and is now in a firm that has a "pool."

There are reasons that people do things.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

Deborah James in Alameda, California said: I agree with DH. It is very important for you to carefully screen the firm with which you are interviewing. I've gotten myself into some really bad situations by not doing so.

Deb J. gave some good examples of what to ask. I've only interviewed for Word Processing positions (then they assign me attys later) so I wouldn't have thought to ask about calendaring. Secretaries often move around, i.e., change jobs within a confined area. Once I started work at my 3rd (and last) firm in OC, I had coworkers who used to work with a former coworker from my previous firm, etc. In other words, it's a network, and if you know a lot of secretaries, it's very likely that you can ask around and get info on the firm or the atty whose position you just interviewed for. Your contacts might not know the firm, but they have contacts who do.

Regarding meeting the atty at the interview, that IS important. My best friend in LA got to meet the atty at an interview recently, a primadonna woman who gave her a laundry list of "I need you to do this, I need you to remind me of that, I want this done this way," etc. When this atty was done with her long diatribe, my friend responded, "Can you just please tell them I'm not interested?" A lot of experienced secretaries in LA/OC won't work for female attys.

I've also had firms give me a tour of the office after the interview is done. I watch the interaction between the attys and secretaries. You can get a feel for the atmosphere and culture. If the secretaries are stressed or working on a last-minute rush, probably bad news. I have a friend who actually called the receptionist a day after her interview and asked her about the firm and whether she would recommend the job, and, to her surprise, the receptionist told her, "You don't want this job. These guys are a holes here." There are all types of creative ways to find out what you're getting into before you commit.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

debjame in San Anselmo, California said: I agree with you Lindsay. I took a job a few years ago at a firm as an "Overflow Secretary." I actually liked moving around, getting to know everyone, and helping the other secretaries.

They then put me on a desk with two attorneys who were real cases.

Lots of firms are now moving back into a "pool" environment. That's because certain attorneys get "labeled" by the support staff and then they can't get a secretary who'll take their desk.

I could have had the job I have now 6 years ago, but instead opted to stay at a "temp to perm" job at an insurance defense firm because of the salary and benefits. It was like that song: "well, no one told me about her...."

Turned out that all of the secretaries there had threatened to quit if assigned to her. Later, the firm got rid of the attorney. She went to a large firm which was running ads for secretaries on an average of once a month. It was for the nightmare attorney.

She left there and is now in a firm that has a "pool."

There are reasons that people do things.

And could someone please explain to me how the "pool" works?? I have a pretty good idea from reading this stuff, but I'm curious. I've never heard of law firms doing that. I started laughing when I read these comments about it - I mean about an atty who can only get a secretary from a pool! Pretty bad.

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Lindsay Mackey in Saint Louis, Missouri

81 months ago

From my experience a "pool" works this way...there is a general area where all of the secretaries sit. Usually a very small area with only a computer a small work space. There is usually a supervisor or office manager that distributes the work. The attorneys generally only communiate with the office mgr/supervisor. The dictation tapes, handwritten work, etc., copying, scanning is given to the office mgr/supervisor and they will hand out the work according to experience, expertise and/or seniority at the firm or...the best work (with less complications) will be given to the secretaries that the off mgr/supervisor likes best. The "new" person generally gets all the crap work...until you prove yourself. Many times in a pool you will type the first version of a document and any changes in the same doucment may be given to another secretary whoever is available for work as it's received. You may type only a paragraph of a letter but the remainder of the letter will be typed by someone else, etc. Many times the supervisor has no experience at being a secretary or word processor...they just hand out the work and make sure it's completed. I personally don't like this type of set-up in an office. It's just not my cup of tea. It seems to work in an office that has a lot of misfit attorneys or those who aren't good at communicating with people. There are some firms in Beverly Hills, CA where attorneys NEVER speak to secretaries...it's beneath them and/or it's just now allowed. I hope that helps.

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debjame in San Anselmo, California

81 months ago

That's my recollection of "pools" as well. There are now some firms that only have wordprocessors and paralegals. The paralegals do many of the tasks formerly performed by secretaries (i.e., calendaring, scheduling depositions, putting together exhibits, trial notebooks) all of which is non-billable.

I don't know what's going to happen to this field. There are tons of people wanting to get out and very people wanting to get in.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

Hi Lindsay - Thank you for the description. It's funny -I thought I heard everything, but I've never heard of this pool thing in Beverly Hills. I have former friends/coworkers who worked there. I worked downtown LA a little while. I have to be honest, I hated being a legal secretary regardless, but if I had to choose between being assigned to an atty or working in a pool, based on your description, I would choose the pool. The reason I always did word processing (and I'd quit for another WP job when they decided to assign me attys) was because I HATED interaction of any type with attys. WP pays a little less, but I'd rather take less pay if I don't have to deal with an atty.

Regarding Deb's comment about tons of people wanting out, I spoke with the recruiter I used to deal with alot in OC last week. She told me she gets a lot of calls from secretaries asking her about being placed in other industries. I think she specializes in legal placement only. Law is the only area of expertise that these secretaries have, and they are stuck unless they take a huge paycut. They feel very trapped. She also told me there is a shortage of secretaries because a lot more are getting out than going in. AppleOne told me last year when I first moved to Northern CA that they get a lot of legal secretaries trying to find a job outside of law without taking a huge paycut. These secretaries either settle for jobs making considerably less or give up and stay in their miserable jobs. My college counselor's sister is a paralegal in Southern CA, and she's miserable. My math professor's sister is a legal secretary in Sacramento, and she's miserable, too. They understand my reason for returning to school at my age. I could go on forever with stories like these.

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debjame in San Anselmo, California

81 months ago

It's sad, but true. However there are still a few decent firms around. The only thing is that you have to wait for soemone to retire or die (really) before there is an opening.

I was offered a couple of corporate jobs, but decided on this one. That's the other thing, lots of people are trying to get on with corporate counsel. The attorneys are nowhere as neurotic as some of the private ones are. I guess that's because the legal department is just one aspect of a huge conglomerate.

I know when I did temp work, I always preferred the corporate assignemts.

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dh in Northern CA, California

81 months ago

debjame in San Anselmo, California said: It's sad, but true. However there are still a few decent firms around. The only thing is that you have to wait for soemone to retire or die (really) before there is an opening.

I was offered a couple of corporate jobs, but decided on this one. That's the other thing, lots of people are trying to get on with corporate counsel. The attorneys are nowhere as neurotic as some of the private ones are. I guess that's because the legal department is just one aspect of a huge conglomerate.

I know when I did temp work, I always preferred the corporate assignemts.

Yeah. I'm having my first corporate experience now, and these guys are very nice. I wouldn't have the attitude I have now had I always been in this environment. I temped for the first time last summer after my firm got rid of me when I refused to change my mind about returning to school full time (LOL!!) I temped at civil lit firms but enjoyed it. I guess I just felt a lot of freedom. I got a kick out of looking an atty right in the face and telling her, "Oh. I don't do overtime." As a temp, I do a good job to keep my bridges intact. But I was bold and had fun with it!!

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Deborah James in Alameda, California

81 months ago

I know arond here, whenever there's an opening in a corporate legal department, they are swamped with applications.

I've seen some real nutcases. I like where I'm at now and wish I'd taken the job when it was offered to me 6 years ago.

There is a difference between "inhouse" and corporate. I declined the job then to stay with an inhouse firm. Found out too late, the attorney was a real nutcase.

Oh well, spilled milk now.

Math is a good major. I used to work in a research lab. I've always really enjoyed math and science. Firms doing IP where there are attorneys who have science or engineering backgrounds are usually pretty good places, as are firms with attorneys who have medical backgrounds.

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mandy in Naumburg, Germany

80 months ago

wow, you guys have really given me a knot in my stomach. i am a legal secretary in germany for about 7 yrs. now and i am loving my job! it has always been my dream to work for a lawyer in the states so i am starting to apply for a job. it isnt easy to find an opening for a legal secretary who speaks german as an additional language - i think thats the only way i can start a career over there. but reading what kind of problems everybody has with their attorneys - wow. that makes me think twice about what im trying to do. im wondering if the work is any different from what i am used to. and i really thought the pay would be better ... but maybe not. can anyone tell me how things are handled when it comes to being a single mom? my daughter is about to turn 1 yr. thx

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Lindsey in Saint Louis, Missouri

80 months ago

I've worked for 21 years as a Legal Secretary, if I had to do it over again...I would "complete" my degree and move on to other jobs. I have worked for some nice attorneys and some horrible ones. I've worked in Corp. Law (in-house Legal Dept.) and that was great...most of the time! I was there for 14 years (the company went under). I found Corp. attys to be nicer but for a reason...too many of them have NO litigation experience (that's why they're in-house) and they heavily RELY on a secretary that has law firm litigation experience because the Corp. lawyers are just dumb about litigation and aren't agressive enough to survive in a law firm. I once worked for a corp. lawyer that fainted when one of the executives asked him to represent him in court. This corp. lawyer was too timid to appear before a Judge!! So...if you interview for an in-house law dept. check to see if the attys have litigation experience...if they have none, it's not a good sign. They will reply heavily on YOU if you have litigation experience. They will take your work and tell everyone "they" did it. Working for a lawyer really depends upon if you are a good working match, so if you decide to interview...go on as many interviews that you can to get a good feel of the company or firm. I hope I've been a bit helpful.

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Lindsey in Saint Louis, Missouri

80 months ago

I won't make anymore comments on being a Legal Secretary...it sounds like you don't believe me and that is certainly your choice. It's best to just learn on your own anyway. I'll keep my experiences to myself and benefit greatly from them and I'll ju$t enjoy it...
Thanks for the opportunity to vent a little.

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debjame in San Anselmo, California

80 months ago

I've had all the experiences that everyone has talked about. I've also had some very decent job experiences. I really like where I am now and wish I'd accepted the job when it was offered to me 6 years ago.

In this field, it really depends on where you end up. There are some notoriously bad firms around.

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dh in Northern CA, California

80 months ago

mandy in Naumburg, Germany said: wow, you guys have really given me a knot in my stomach...

Hi Mandy - I strongly advise you to do some serious research on the legal secretary profession in the states before coming over here. It is more often than not a hostile and abusive environment, especially if you work for a large civil litigation firm. I don't know what your area of expertise is, but my experience has been that transaction attorneys are much less likely to have the foul temperament that civil litigators have. I have several friends who made the transition from litigation to transaction, and every single one of them says they'll never go back to lit. Even as a secretary in a transaction firm, I've found that most secretaries still don't like what they do; they just don't have that utter misery that they experienced as lit secretaries. Keep in mind this is my opinion based on my own experience. There's a book I learned about on this forum -"Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace." I haven't read it yet (I ordered and am actually picking it up today), but it has 27 reviews on Amazon, all 5 stars. Another writer on this forum said there are a lot of tactics employed in this country that are not allowed in Europe. If that is true, then you may be in for a rude awakening if you come over here to work for an atty. PLEASE, PLEASE if you are determined to do that, then make sure you have a back up plan. Do you have any experience outside the legal industry??

I've been in the military, flipped burgers, ran my own snack bar, worked in the insurance industry, managed a retail clothing store, and worked as a collections agent (not in that order. Being a legal secretary was the worst!I found the legal secretary profession to be a very thankless and unrewarding profession. I felt it was a substandard way to have to spend 8 hours a day everyday, a crappy way to make a buck, and it provides only a mediocre lifestyle at best.

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debjame in Alameda, California

80 months ago

This seems to be an ongoing topic. Litigation is more of a hassle than it's worth, I'm coming to believe. Attorneys who wait until the absolute last minute, then get neurotic.

I think I really need to think about another line of work. 26 years of this has really gotten on my nerves.

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debjame in Alameda, California

80 months ago

How about not telling you they are expecting a client, then charging up to you with the client sitting in the conference room wondering where the file is. You calmly show the attorney that the file is in the file drawer.

Would sending an email or voicemail saying that the client is coming into the office on such and such a date and time, could you bring me the file before she/he arrives - have been a lot more organized?

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Marie in Antioch, California

80 months ago

I'm actually starting to believe everything I hear other secretaries say as well which I never really believed would happen. I had the worst day ever today in my 18+ years doing this career and still am shocked at what I was subjected to by an attorney that I believed was a "nice" guy. He confirmed with his ugly behavior that without a shadow of doubt his higher education was a complete waste of money and time invested in a human being.

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debjame in Alameda, California

80 months ago

I had a pretty bad day as well. There's a blog that I sometiems read which once stated that the field attracts neurotic personalities and whacks them out even further.

I definitely believe that.

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