Getting a foot in the door

Jessica Penrice, Recruitment Consultant04 December 2017

New entrants applying for support roles in the legal sector, like those making their first foray into many other career paths, can find themselves in a catch-22 situation. 

Prospective employers want experience and that’s no different in law firms when it comes to support positions.  Recruiters are more likely to look for applicants with a strong secretarial background or experience in working in a distinct practice area.  
But, how do you get the requisite experience when you are just starting out?  How can you get that all important foot in the door and onto the first rung of your legal support career ladder?

Get familiar
Firstly, familiarise yourself with what these roles involve and the skill-set that prospective employers will be looking for.  Legal secretaries and paralegals are vital members of a successful law firm, and employers will want the ideal fit for their teams.  It is important you market yourself in the best way by ticking as many boxes as possible on their wish-list, even if you do not have the breadth of experience in legal support under your belt. 
We share some of the most sought-after skills and give advice on how you can demonstrate them without having prior legal-specific experience. 

PC literacy
You will usually be required to have a typing speed of between 50-70 words per minute, and experience of producing documents via dictation/audio.  If you have this experience from a non-legal background, it is still a valuable commodity and ought to be on your CV.
Experience of all Microsoft packages, especially Word and the use of track changes and document formatting, is essential.  As a legal secretary, you will frequently be tasked with formatting, re-formatting, and track changing a host of legal documentation, so it is a good selling point if you can show you are ready and able to hit the ground running in this respect.
Competency in the use of PowerPoint and Excel would also be beneficial, as solicitors will often require assistance with the compiling of reports, productions, and presentations.

In terms of general transferrable skills, being well-organised is an essential quality, as legal secretaries will invariably have responsibility for managing solicitor diaries, scheduling client and business development meetings, and coordinating court appearances, for instance.  A good legal secretary will also have excellent attention to detail.

Show a love for law
While of course any form of legal qualification may well set your application apart, and a working knowledge of a specific area of law will stand you in great stead, if you haven’t this level of experience, then a genuine interest in law would be beneficial.  Like any other industry, do your homework on the firm and find out more about them, so you come across as not only knowledgeable but also interested in them and what they are doing.

Get the skills you need
If you don’t have these skills or the experience and knowledge and would feel more confident applying for a role with them in your arsenal, you can take steps to acquire the necessary skill-set.
One way to do so is by undertaking a professional course, such as a Legal Secretary Diploma or Paralegal qualification, which would provide you with the training needed for the role requirements above.

Admin roles in firms
Another way to enter the profession, and a good starting point if you don’t have the right experience, is to look for administrative roles within legal firms, with a view to progressing into a more specialised legal support role over time.  It is not uncommon for firms to employ individuals in roles such as front-of-house reception staff, filing, document production, or team assistants, and then to offer them progression opportunities by way of on-the-job training in a more specialised legal support role.

Get professional advice
To get the help and guidance you need, register with a reputable recruitment firm with consultants who specialise in recruiting in the legal sector. 
As legal consultants, we have contacts and good relationships with law firms, and will be best placed to match you to suitable positions.  We can also help refine your CV to highlight the relevant skills you do have, for the roles you are applying for.

If you’re thinking of joining the legal sector within a legal support role, contact Jessica Penrice at Interlink Recruitment for comprehensive career advice or a chat about your circumstances, on 0161 214 6117 or drop her an email 

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