When we think of law firm jobs, we may find ourselves constrained to just think about lawyer jobs – associates, partners, senior partners, and so on. But what about the rest of the business? Lawyers are smart and capable people, but they can’t do everything that’s needed within the firm, can they?
A law firm is a business just like any other. It therefore has a number of key positions, some of which are still unique to law firms, but others that they share in common with other enterprises. Let’s take a closer look.
1. Legal Secretary
Legal secretaries fulfil the role that most regular secretaries fill, but in a legal context. So, a lot of their job surrounds various clerical duties, as well as external communications, receiving phone calls, answering emails, arranging schedules and so on. One difference is that legal secretaries need to be more au fait with the way the legal profession works, and the types of special paperwork that lawyers deal with.
They may be required, for instance, to make copies of very specific types of legal documents that need special handling procedures, or are stored in obscure locations. They also help facilitate smooth communication between clients and attorneys, which can be hard when emotions are running high, as they do during some legal matters.
The term paralegal has started to be used more in Australia these days, though it’s more of an American term, traditionally. The paralegal fulfils many of the duties of a legal clerk. Their job is to assist with the drafting of legal documents, doing research into certain laws pertaining to current cases, and generally helping associates and other attorneys to prepare for trials and other legal proceedings.
This elevates the paralegal above a legal secretary in terms of required knowledge and skills, but it is true that many paralegals started their careers as clerical assistants and legal secretaries.
It’s easy to forget that a law firm is a business that runs on money. That is, until they send you their bill! Law firms need accountants to help process the typically large sums of money that cross the threshold into company accounts. Lawyers don’t come cheap, and the billing of cases can get quite complex.
Lawyers don’t bill in the same way that a plumber might. With most trades, you get an estimate, agree to the work, it gets done and then you get a final bill. Since legal proceedings are often ongoing, so too are the bills, with clients being charged for every letter, every court appearance, and every action taken by the lawyer. Managing all of that requires skilled and competent accountants.
4. In-House Legal Counsel
Believe it or not, lawyers need lawyers too. You’d think that a law firm would just have its associates and partners represent themselves in any legal proceedings, and in some cases of private action taken against individuals, they might. When action is taken against the law firm, however, they need an in-house lawyer to handle those issues. It’s best for this lawyer to be separate from the regular day-to-day actions of other associates.
5. IT Manager
Law firms rely on sophisticated IT systems and thus need at least one IT manager on site to help build, manage and maintain those systems. Law firms deal in huge amounts of sensitive data. As more and more of that data is digitalised, the quality of in-house IT is becoming increasingly important.
6. Clerical Assistants
Finally, while it’s true that many things are going digital, law firms are one type of business that never seem to quench their thirst for all things paper-based. Huge amounts of paper continue to be generated by law firms, and all of that documentation needs to be sorted, filed and organised. It takes a good amount of clerical assistants to see that done.
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