Over the years, work in law firms, as in many other sectors, has evolved.
Technology advances mean the need for typists has been replaced by document management expertise requirements for formatting existing documents. Technology has also increased the lawyer/assistant ratio, there are fewer Personal Assistants. In the main assistants still have designated lawyers/partners but, the accent today is based more and more on team work. Billing has become more digitalised and filing systems have changed, with both manual and electronic methods now being used. Long gone are telexes and faxes and today the French bar has its own electronic system, e-barreau/RPVA.
Small Firm -vs- Large Firm: At SmartSteps our legal clients are international and specialize in business law. There are many different support roles and job content often varies according to the size of the firm, it’s a generalization but one could suggest small firms offer roles that are more multi-skilled, staffing often does not include people to perform each and every task so you can be left to your own devices. Larger firms offer more clearly defined roles, they have the staffing and the tools to enable you to work quickly and efficiently. Larger firms have the support: HR, reception, accounts, facilities, finance, … Receptionists prepare meeting rooms, book taxis, order lunch, the reprography service can help with bibles and other large document production projects, and when your hard or software starts letting you down you can call the IT helpline! Many larger firms offer regular training programmes, smaller firms may offer training but more so “on the job”. Perspectives also change according to the size of the firm. Larger firms often have offices around the globe, which can lead to mobility opportunities. Many of our candidates have moved to offices in Luxembourg or London, some have gone on to have legal training contracts, some have simply moved onto other careers more suited to their qualifications and some have taken up opportunities to demonstrate their skills in different domains within one firm.
There are many different practices in law: Corporate / Mergers & Acquisitions / Private Equity, Restructuring and Insolvency, Labour / Employment Law, Tax, Arbitration, Banking, Competition Antitrust, Intellectual property, Technology, Media and Telecom, International capital markets, Property / Real Estate, Litigation, Projects, Public Law, Financial regulation…to name but a few. Legal clients come from across the board and lawyers handle anything from giant pharmaceutical mergers to negotiating the buying and selling of aircraft.
Legal Assistants: for many positions, the work could be described as classical and skills can be transferred to other sectors of activity. Other positions can be more technical and apply to law only, in-house or within a law firm:
The classical aspects include diary management, travel arrangements (France and international), meeting and event organisation, training new joiners, formatting documents using in-house styles and templates, reviewing, correcting and marking-up short and long documents, translation work, telephone and conference call management, e-mail management, preparing and in some cases assisting with the drafting of correspondence, opening new client matters, billing, filing, scanning, ordering legal documentation from Infogreffe, creating bibles.. and the list of possible tasks goes on.
It is possible to be called upon to assist in the preparation of pitches in collaboration with marketing specialists, updating lawyers CVs and clients contact details, working on PowerPoint client presentations and assisting with submissions to specialised legal press (Legal500, Chambers, …).
The more technical tasks of a legal assistant requires knowledge of some or all of the following tasks: management of the litigation calendar, preparation of pleadings, drafting conclusions, assignations, using E-barreau and E-Carpa. For these jobs a person with prior legal experience and perhaps a diploma from the Ecole nationale de droit et procédure du personnel des avocats (“ENADEP”) is preferred.
Paralegals: These jobs are rarer and can vary vastly in the qualifications and experience required. They are generally open to those with legal qualifications, not necessarily a qualified jurist, but to candidates with some form of legal training (ENADEP). The different types of paralegal roles are: company law, intellectual property, arbitration, international capital markets and then other more “general” paralegal roles which can include maintaining company know-how.
Evening Staff: Most people that work in the evenings work “typically” from 6pm – midnight, although you would be expected to have a flexible attitude to hours. Whatever your hours when work needs to be done, it may mean working the whole night. These are generally part-time roles and attract those who have extra professional or day time activities that don’t necessarily afford them a sufficient salary to survive. In my time, I have placed an art restorer, clothes designer and returning mature students in these roles. These are very independent positions, there is skeleton staff in the evening so candidates need to be very reactive, feel comfortable taking initiatives and have a problem solving nature.
Billers: Specialised billers exist in a number of large law firms. They generally work in liaison with the accounts department. Billers are normally qualified to BAC+2 and have a good level of English. Many bills are in English and they are generally not simple notes, justificatives are included and narrative to be written. Billing is an important role involving: regular contact with Partners and accounts personnel, expenses, drafting bills for approbation, sending bills and managing the payment process. Billing software includes Elite but many firms have their own in-house billing programmes.
Documentalists also known as Know-How Specialists or Professional Support Lawyers (“PSL”): We used to recruit these profiles regularly but over the last few years we have had little demand. They are specialized research roles, legal librarians often dispatched to assist specific legal teams/depts. Some PSL do a mix of paralegal work and research work.
Marketing/Communications professionals: Many marketing/comms professionals often possess both legal and marketing qualifications. Legal Marketing or Business Development professionals are very much in demand. Some Mktg/Comms are highly specialised working directly within departments, others work within the marketing team managing all the departments. Many of our marketing/comms placements report or work in tandem with other offices, often London where many international law firms have their headquarters. Recruitment qualifications for these roles can vary enormously. I have met assistants that have transferred to the marketing department and trained on the job, although it is fair to say that the majority of our marketing placements are highly qualified people. These roles are very demanding, and include pitch management, creation of marketing materials, digital presence, communications, event and CRM management, …
Office Managers (generally for the smaller offices), HR, IT, Accounts, Facilities Services, Reception… like any other company, all of the aforementioned roles exist.
In-house legal roles: Many medium to large companies do have internal legal teams and they recruit jurists, paralegals and assistants.
Who is suitable for a law firm? Most law firms that we work with are open to people without previous law firm experience, after all even the lawyers weren’t born in a law firm!
Software: Certain skills, however, are a must and one of them is top MS Office skills. Different departments have different needs but some handle very large documents. Lawyers from different departments may be working simultaneously on parts of the same document. The document may be saved in many different versions too. Other than MS Office, law firms have specialist software, a list of some of the common software is below:
|Software||What it does!|
|Elite 3E |
For entering timesheets (associated with billing)
|EPIC and Interaction||Client contact databases|
|FileSite also known as Worksite, Compare||Manages documents|
|Concur||Software for expenses|
|Compare||For comparing documents|
Whether you have worked in a law firm or not, most offer an induction/training period during which they familiarize you with their software.
English: Fluent English/French is non-negotiable for the majority of our roles within the international legal sector in France. Many legal documents are in English and the language is technical. Jobs are often open to English mother tongue candidates. Good written English is required too, you may have to draft short letters in English and/or proof-read documents. Many of our clients also have their software in English version.
Personal Qualities: Of all the personal qualities required for law firms the top three are organizational skills, rigor and flexibility. The service offered is one of quality, the written word means everything in a law firm context. Legal roles appeal to lovers of language and grammar warriors.
Meticulosity and rigor should be something close to your heart. People with a publishing, journalistic, literature, linguistic background generally do well in legal environments.
Being organised is capital, you should prioritise your tasks, act rapidly, and anticipate tasks to come (have a priority list, take notes, organise your calendar, emails to be dealt with, have important telephone numbers to hand, and your favourite sites saved on your computer, …)
Your flexible nature will help you to adapt to changing situations, you will work with different lawyers, each with their own characters and working styles.
Advantages: Apart from good salaries and the legally binding obligatory advantages (health insurance, reimbursement of half of your travel, 25 days holiday, RTT if you work more than 35 hours) most law firms are based in the triangle d’or, Paris and offer very attractive packages. The advantages are multiple and depend upon the firm, common examples are: performance related bonuses, canteens, luncheon vouchers, gym membership, 1% logement, life insurance, Christmas and holiday vouchers, and some even offer an extra day of holiday for your birthday!
If you see yourself in law, please get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org