Justina Olayinka1


When we talk about legal,2 we refer to the constitution, rules and regulations guiding the behaviour of people in a society. Law firms handle the jurisdiction sections of the Government, defending cases and fighting for the rights of people. The cases handled by lawyers/counsel are numerous and they involve drafting, typing, printing, collating, filing, scanning, binding, editing, and formatting, etc.

Looking at the voluminous nature of the work undertaken by counsel in law firms, the need for legal secretaries is crucial in order to assist counsel in achieving important obligations to clients, courts and to the firm at large.

Who is a Legal Secretary?

A Legal Secretary is a particular category of worker within the legal profession. In the practice of law in Nigeria, a Legal Secretary is a person who works in the legal profession, typically assisting lawyers in the provision of legal services. Legal Secretaries help in preparing and filing/docketing legal documents, such as typing and filing of contracts, pleadings, appeals, affidavits, judgments, rulings and motions, deeds of assignment, attending and taking minutes at meetings and assisting lawyers in collecting legal and factual documents within and outside of the firm. In addition, legal secretaries communicate with opposing counsel and other parties, clients, judicial administrative staff and vendors.

Legal secretaries are somewhat like mini-managers of the counsel they work for, yet they are subject to the lawyer's control, supervision, and direction. Also, legal secretaries are given wide responsibilities and control to handle all administrative aspects of the legal practice.

However, in addition to the legal expertise required, legal secretaries earn more on average than any other type of secretary. The speed with which legal secretaries can turnaround deliverables is directly proportional to their level of proficiency with word processing and other relevant competencies. Again, when Legal secretaries apply themselves and demonstrate great commitment to their job function, the better their ability to anticipate Counsel's secretarial needs and the greater the likelihood of achieving rapid career advancement.

The Role of a Legal Secretary3

The role of a Legal secretary can be likened to that of the Permanent Secretaries in Government establishments who serve as a link between the past and the present administration. They provide information/report/writings about the office to the newly elected or appointed government officials in their respective departments or ministries.4 Similarly, and in anticipating issues in the office, the legal secretary manages current issues and problems, keeping the newly employed member of the law firm informed about the state of cases and matters handled by the current and past Counsels. Legal secretaries generate productive ideas to support the Practice Administrators to reduce the workload in the department where necessary.

Legal secretaries provide approved document templates to counsel which serve as guidance in the preparation of Motions, Affidavits, Agreements, Deeds and other legal related documents to the newly employed lawyers and interns.5

  1. Legal Secretarial work is highly specialised and tailored to the legal profession compared to other non-legal secretarial jobs. Legal secretaries are expected to be tactful in their dealings with people, and in maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of highly sensitive documents that they process.
  2. The following skills-set are key to succeed as a Legal secretary:
    • interpersonal savviness;
    • matured disposition;
    • good judgement;
    • innovation and creative thinking;
    • good administrative and organizational skill;
    • IT knowledge;
    • good use of email and teleconferencing tools;
    • good oral and written communication skill;
    • file and records management skill;
    • presentation skill;
    • good client relations skill;

If one cannot efficiently organize and prioritise his or her own assignments, such an individual may not be able to accomplish higher assignments. A legal secretary must strive to assume administrative tasks and matters that tend to steal Counsel's time and interfere with the lawyer's ability to concentrate on legal work and generate new clients for the law firm.

Functions of Legal Secretaries

  • Commonly, legal secretaries complete skeleton blank documents/templates or instruments or forms. As legal secretaries gain experience, the lawyers give them more latitude to deviate from these forms, thereby drafting more original documents, under counsel's supervision.
  • Every day, legal secretaries ensure that correspondence and other legal documents are finalised, signed, and mailed. Correspondence commonly prepared autonomously by legal secretaries include transmission letters of documents to clients, opposing counsel, and the court. Often, they transmit questionnaires, interrogatories and deposition instructions as standard form letters.
  • Legal secretaries draft correspondences, indices, charts, and tables of contents as a general practice, and more often than any other type of document.
  • Legal secretaries prepare certificates of mailing for process serving and packages for dispatch via relevant courier offices. They make sure that all necessary enclosures to correspondence are included, such as copies of certain documents or payments.
  • While managing electronic and hard copy files, legal secretaries may also be required to manage projects such as copying and labeling of exhibits for trial or to attach to pleadings. Legal secretaries order office supplies, and make sure office equipment is maintained and functional.
  • Legal secretaries assist with the capturing and recording of counsel's time sheet/billable hours and submit to Accounts for billing purposes.
  • Legal secretaries may even perform a multitude of functions outside of those typically associated with their employment, including those of a legal assistant, legal administrator, etc. Counsel relies on their legal secretaries to assist with any projects that need to be done, even if the projects involve those outside of normal responsibilities.6

However, many legal secretaries gain experience in other legal careers and are given an opportunity to move up, if they like. Usually, the scope of legal secretarial responsibilities depends upon the size of the office. Generally, the smaller the office, the wider range of job responsibilities that legal secretaries are likely to assume. Higher-level secretaries tend to perform fewer clerical tasks than lower-level secretaries. Additional responsibilities include conducting research, preparing statistical reports, training employees, and supervising other clerical staff.

General Duties of Legal Secretaries

Legal secretaries are responsible for a variety of administrative and clerical duties necessary to maintain a law office. 

  1. They must make sure that the quality of their work is complete and of high calibre at all times.
  2. They provide valuable information whenever they answer and screen telephone calls. They answer or direct other internal inquiries.
  3. They review all incoming mail and disseminate the mail accordingly.
  4. They make travel and meeting arrangements, and disseminate this information.
  5. They ensure that the attorneys know where they are supposed to be and when.
  6. They have all documents prepared that the Counsel need to take to meetings or to court.
  7. They word process information provided by attorneys or clients from handwritten or electronic drafts or dictation.

Qualifications Enhanced by Legal Secretaries.

Most Legal secretaries are trained in the Universities and Polytechnics as Office Technology Managers rather than as Secretaries. The study of Secretarial Administration is no longer in vogue but has been predesignated as Office Technology and Management (OTM). This is because more tasks and specialized responsibility have been added to their training modules.

The more you work as a legal secretary in a law firm, the more experience you acquire. As you gain experience as a legal secretary, you can also earn certification from professional institutions such as the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of Nigerian (ICSAN). ICSAN is the only professional body backed by law in Nigeria to conduct examinations leading to the qualification of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

The Certified Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Reporters of Nigeria, (CICSR) is responsible for regulating Office Technology and Management studies and professional practice in Nigeria. The Institute trains secretaries to perform more efficiently and effectively in their respective offices.

The International Career Institute (ICI)7 located in the United Kingdom, offers courses on Paralegal and Legal Secretarial services. The program is designed for those who seek to enter the profession and for experienced paralegals and legal secretaries who wish to improve their skills and upgrade their credentials.

Some Nigerian Universities also offer courses on paralegal services for non-lawyers working in law firms. These institutions help to broaden the knowledge and skillset of legal secretaries and also give them the opportunity of becoming an Administrator, Manager, Practice Administrator, or Paralegal Manager in their respective career within the law Firms and in the corporate world at large.


1 Mrs. Justina Olayinka, Legal Secretary, Secretarial Unit, S. P. A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos State, Nigeria.

2 The word 'Legal' refers to anything conforming to the law. Black's Law Dictionary (4th Ed., 1968).

3 Jordan Rothman, "Professional Paralegals Deserve More Respect", available at: Professional Paralegals Deserve More Respect - Above the LawAbove the Law, https://abovethelaw.com/2020/10/legal-secretaries-deserve-more-respect/ accessed on 21st October 2020.

"Legal secretaries have been impacted by technological changes within the legal industry, and this website has recounted numerous times how legal secretaries and other administrative staff are laid off in high numbers whenever a law firm faces financial issues. However, legal secretaries deserve more respect within the legal profession because they are often a vital part of any law firm". Similar to paralegals, the main reason why legal secretaries are so important to law firms is because they can help attorneys generate more revenue. Indeed, from my own experiences, reducing the number of legal secretaries at a firm can sometimes be "penny wise and dollar foolish." As many attorneys understand from firsthand experience, legal secretaries can often free up time so that lawyers can bill additional hours on legal work. If a legal secretary can empower a lawyer to bill an extra hour of work, this may pay for more than a day of a secretary's salary, and legal secretaries can ensure that a firm is as efficient and productive as possible".

4 The Functions of the Permanent Secretary –The Office of Permanent Secretary by Mr. O. Bunmi Alade Permanent Secretary, Ondo State, MEP&B available at: https://www.mepbondostate.org/department/planning/, accessed 24th March 2022.

5 "Furthermore, secretaries can add to the culture and institutional knowledge of a firm in important ways. According to It is disheartening to see that the roles of legal secretaries are vanishing at many law firms across the country. He recently received an email from the first legal secretary who helped him out when he was a "baby lawyer" at a "street law" firm years ago. This legal secretary taught him more about the actual practice of law than his law professors, since the secretary knew how to file documents, where court appearances took place, and other particularities of practicing law in our jurisdiction. In addition, the legal secretary knew exactly which exhibits he should bring to depositions, when to actually appear in court for appearances, and taught him the firm's administrative procedures. Moreover, that legal secretary had been at the firm for decades, and she had endless stories of the partners as young lawyers and kept tabs on where alums of the firm had gone with their careers. This secretary was an institution, and the firm was much better off with his presence". See, Jordan Rothman, supra, available at: https://abovethelaw.com/2020/10/legal-secretaries-deserve-more-respect/ accessed on 21st March 2022.

6 See, Jordan Rothman, op. cit., n. 3.

7 The ICI (International Career Institute) paralegal course has been designed in conjunction with government and industry representatives and helps people learn the skills they need to succeed within the field of law quickly and conveniently mostly online. See https://www.educations.com/study-abroad/international-career-institute/, accessed 21st March 2022.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.