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Glossary

Professional Recruitment Services

A law firm is like any other organisation and its main objective, being a service industry, is prompt, efficient and quality legal work on behalf of its clients, plus profit making. To this end, all legal office staff are an integral part of a law firm.

A law firm consists of various employees, including support and professional staff.

Support staff include trainees, administration assistants, administration secretaries, secretaries, word processing operators, para-legal and law clerks, legal executives, receptionists, telephonists, titles office clerks, deed clerks accounts clerks, accounts computer operators and bookkeepers, library assistants, librarians, office managers, administration managers and financial controllers.

Professional Staff include solicitors, associates, senior associates, partners and consultants, all of whom have Practising Certificates and are qualified under the Law Institute's rules and regulations. Articled clerks are unqualified solicitors who have to work for one year with a legal firm undertaking their "articles", or attend the Leo Cussen Institute. At completion, they are admitted to the Bar.

Support Staff Job Descriptions

Legal Trainees

Legal trainees undertake varying duties including photocopying, mail (incoming and outgoing), faxing and deliveries, including Court filing, Titles Office filing, Stamp Duties Office etc - generally under the title of "Office Services". A legal trainee could also undertake back-up reception, telephonist duties, back-up typing and any other general clerical duties.

Law firms invest money and time in their legal trainees so as they learn and understand all aspects of the firm. Therefore, it is the obligation of all legal trainees not only to do their duties efficiently but to learn the documentation so that they are able to be promoted.

Administration Assistants and Administration Secretaries

Administration assistants handle the documentation in a clerical way. These employees do not usually type the documentation but simply handle it once it has been typed by the word processing operators.

Their duties include proof-reading the documentation, photocopying and mailing out, handling any queries and/or corrections in relation to the documentation. Plus they handle the responsibility of handling telephone enquiries and, depending on the type of legal work, arranging appointments, organising meetings, Court dates, settlements and the like.

Secretaries

Secretarial staff have a number of job descriptions.

A secretary can handle dicta typing either on a typewriter or word processor, shorthand, plus are able to handle the administration side of the documentation, and client liaison.

Some secretaries follow instructions from their superior whilst others have to take on responsibility including diary entries, reminders, answering general correspondence etc.

Secretaries also handle general filing, opening/closing of files, end-of-month accounts, telephone calls and client liaison.

Trainee Secretaries

The first position within a legal office after graduation from being a legal trainee would be as a trainee secretary. This means the trainee secretary assists a senior secretary within a department.

Word Processing Operators

Dedicated word processor operators handle the dicta and long-hand typing either for a firm or department, which can include general correspondence, documentation and accounts. Word processing operators do not generally handle any administration tasks, ie. photocopying, enveloping and mailing.

Word processing operators also handle the operation of their word processing equipment, including deletions of work, typing and maintenance of precedents etc.

If the firm has a large network of computers, there is probably a word processing supervisor who handles the computer tasks as well as schedules the priorities of the incoming work.

Information Technology

Positions are being created to deal with advanced technology and can consist of:

  • Help desk operators: specialists in word processing and software applications involving computer systems and the like.
  • Precedent managers: who handle updating legal precedents on the system and create, update and manage word processing and software functions.

Para-Legal and Law Clerks

Para-legals and law clerks handle the work on the file. They are under supervision of a solicitor, who would be consulted if there was a problem or an unusual situation and would maintain the progress of the matter.

Law clerks can dictate to the word processing pool or have a secretary, or handle their own secretarial duties.

The next step for promotion for a law clerk is to apply to the Institute of Legal Executives for admission to this professional body. After undertaking the Associate Diploma of Business (Legal Practice) at RMIT and working for a solicitor at the same time, a law clerk is permitted to apply for provisional membership.

An Associate Member must be over 21 years old, have passed five subjects of the Diploma course and at least three years’ experience as a law clerk.

A Fellow Member must be over 25 years old, have at least eight years’ experience and have passed the Associate Diploma course.

Receptionists and Telephonists

A receptionist's main function is to greet clients of the firm. This means receptionists are the first people the firm's clients meet; therefore, they must at all times be courteous and polite. The reception area itself must portray the image of the firm and has to be neat and tidy.

A receptionist's duties can vary from purely greeting clients to including typing and clerical functions.

A telephonist's main function is to answer all incoming calls to the firm. This means he or she is the first person the firm's clients speak to when telephoning and therefore must at all times be courteous, polite and efficient.

Some firms combine the reception and telephone duties.

Titles Office Clerk

A titles office clerk handles all Titles Office work in relation to conveyancing. This includes the filing and lodging of documentation at the Land Titles Office, the searching of title details and checking on mortgages, encumbrances and/or dealings. Titles office clerks also handle stamp duty situations on land conveyancing, placing or removal of caveats etc.

Quite often, titles office clerks are involved in settlements. This entails work covering the conveyancing area and would involve deliveries to the banks, and attending and exchanging documents at settlements as directed.

Deeds Clerk

The deeds clerk is in charge of all the original documentation to be held on behalf of a client by the firm. These are sensitive and important documents (eg. wills, caveats, land titles) and must be kept carefully and methodically.

A deeds clerk may have a computer system or it can be done manually. Usually the deed clerk has the added responsibility of archiving files that have been completed and retrieving files if queries arise later.

Accounts Clerks and Accounts Computer Operators

An accounts clerk handles the administration in relation to accounts and handles the checking of accounts payable and receivable for both trust and office accounts.

Trust accounts are accounts which are opened on "trust" for payment of disbursements on a file for a client. Clients are required to pay money before a firm will work on their file. Each law firm has a form which has to be filled out every time money is paid in or taken out of a trust account.

Most law firms have their accounts on a computer system. It is the accounts computer operator's responsibility to input on to the computer information regarding working files, such as opening and closing files and billing charges to the client (this includes solicitors' time sheets plus disbursements like photocopying, faxing, barristers' costs and payment by clients).

Bookkeepers handle the general accounts of the firm and this person would be either an experienced legal bookkeeper or a qualified accountant. Bookkeepers handle the profit and loss statements, balance sheets, payment of wages, payroll, taxation payments, trust and office accounts balancing and all general accounting services.

Library Assistants and Librarians

Law firms have statutes and information which enable the professional staff to consult when undertaking a legal matter on behalf of a client. These statutes are updated regularly and it is the library assistant's job to file these in the correct places and to keep all documentation up to date.

Office Managers, Administration Managers and Financial Controllers

The office manager and/or administration manager are in charge of the general day-to-day running of the practice and the support staff.

The financial controllers are in charge of the general day-to-day running of the practice in financial terms, handling budget forecasts, expenditure for equipment, staff salaries and generally all financial aspects of the firm.

Human Resources

Human resources handle the hiring, firing and continuing education and allocation of support and professional staff for the firm. This area can differ from firm to firm but generally deals with the staff requirements.

Professional Staff

Lawyers

To become a lawyer it is necessary to obtain a law degree. In Melbourne, from The University of Melbourne, Monash University, LaTrobe University or Deakin University. A Year 12 pass is a pre-requisite of selection for admission to study law.

After obtaining a Bachelor of Law degree (LL.B.), it is a pre-requisite to undertake practical experience (Article Clerk) or undertake a legal education course at Leo Cussen Institute. After completion of either the course or articles, an application is made to be admitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria as a Barrister and Solicitor.

Solicitors

To be employed as a solicitor, it is necessary to have a current Practising Certificate, issued by the Law Institute of Victoria.

Solicitors are first contact for ordinary people seeking legal advice and assistance.

Solicitors usually specialise in an area of law, and as they progress through their careers, the number of years practising will earn them seniority.

Generally, the professional staff of a legal office are responsible for the obtaining and keeping of clients, handling the work required by clients, appearing in court on behalf of clients etc.

The partners of a law firm either own shares in the firm and are paid on the profit of the firm, or are non-equity partners who do not own shares and do not share in the profits but are paid a salary.

The partners also make all decisions of importance for the firm, including hiring and firing of staff, budgets, relocation of the firm, profile of the firm, types of law handled by the firm and generally work the same way as a board of directors or an owner of a business. Of course, the larger the legal firm, the more the general day-to-day operation of the business is delegated.

Barristers

Lawyers are both solicitors and barristers. Some choose to act as both but most choose to be either one or the other. Solicitors deal with the public and handle a variety of matters, whereas barristers deal with solicitors.

The public is not permitted to deal directly with barristers except in the case where a barrister is available at a court on the day of a hearing.

To become a barrister it is necessary to become a member of the "Bar" in addition to being admitted to practice. To do this lawyers must undertake a nine-month reading period under the instruction of a "Master". A Master must have at least 10 years’ experience as a barrister. Once a member of the Bar, a barrister is not allowed to work as a solicitor unless he or she resigns from the Bar.

After 10 years’ service as a barrister, the next rank of service to aspire to is as a "Queen's Counsel". Appointments to Queen's Counsel are made by the Governor of Victoria.

Just Legal’s Professionals Division handles both permanent placement and locum positions.

Please contact us at any time for a discussion - all discussions are confidential and are at your discretion.

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