Learn About Being a Litigation Secretary
Litigation secretaries are employed in law firms of all sizes. Some secretaries provide purely administrative support. However, secretaries in many firms perform a hybrid role, functioning as both secretary and litigation paralegal.
Below are several of the most common functions of a litigation secretary throughout the litigation lifecycle.
Secretarial roles vary depending on the firm, the type of litigation practice, and the size of the staff.
In plaintiff firms, the first step of a case is screening the case for merit. Does the potential client have a cause of action? Do any conflicts exist? The secretary may help prepare case screening forms and schedule initial meetings between the attorney and potential client. In some cases, the secretary will complete an initial screening by asking the potential client questions by phone. If the client is signed, the secretary will set up a new case file, and forward the retention contract and other documents to the client.
In many cases, the parties conduct an investigation before a lawsuit is filed. This investigation may involve locating and interviewing witnesses, examining the accident site and collecting documentary and other evidence. The litigation secretary may assist in the process by scheduling meetings and telephone conferences on behalf of the attorney, creating witness lists, organizing evidence, and other documents and creating a reliable filing system for both paper and electronic documents.
If a lawsuit is filed, the secretary will prepare the pleadings in a word processing program. The pleadings may include a summons, complaint, affidavits, requests for admissions, and motions. The litigation secretary will often create pleading binders which organize and index all of the pleadings for a particular case.
The secretary may file these documents with the court, either in person or electronically, although this task is often performed by a paralegal or court messenger.
Discovery is the longest phase of the litigation process. During discovery, the litigation secretary may perform all or some of the following tasks:
- Preparing discovery documents in a word processing system, including interrogatories and requests for production
- Typing, sending, and tracking subpoenas
- Scheduling depositions with multiple parties, including the attorney, clients, opposing counsel and court reporters
- Scheduling independent medical examinations and other appointments required by the Rules of Civil Procedure
- Creating discovery binders; indexing and filing discovery documents
- Organizing and filing case documents
- Scheduling site examinations
- Locating and communicating with experts; organizing and filing expert reports
Once a trial date is set, the secretary helps the legal team prepare for trial. The secretary’s role can include:
- Typing and formatting pre-trial documents including motions, briefs, subpoenas, and witness lists
- Gathering and organizing exhibits
- Creating, organizing and/or indexing trial binders
- Helping to organize mock trials
- Tracking deadlines and sending reminders to the legal team
- Cite-checking and proofreading briefs and legal documents
- Ensuring that documents are properly formatted in compliance with court rules
- Coordinating witnesses
The litigation secretary performs an important support role during trial. His or her duties may include:
- Preparing, typing and formatting trial documents
- Coordinating the preparation of charts, graphs, and other courtroom visuals
- Scheduling couriers, court reporters, and expert witnesses
- Organizing, filing and managing documents, exhibits, and trial binders
- Coordinating travel arrangements for attorneys, witnesses, clients, and others
Other Administrative Tasks
For those working on the defense side, the litigation secretary will enter the attorneys’ and paralegals’ time spent on each case into the firm’s time and billing system.
He or she will also send periodic invoices to the client and follow up on late payments. Other general tasks performed by the litigation secretary include:
- Producing information by transcribing, formatting, inputting, retrieving, copying, and transmitting text, data, and graphics
- Tracking case deadlines
- Corresponding with clients, witnesses, and opposing counsel
- Answering the phone
- Creating spreadsheets to track costs, exhibits, and other information
- Transcribing dictation
- Maintaining docket systems
- Routing correspondence, reports, and legal documents
- Organizing client conferences and attorney meetings
- Preparing expense reports
- Maintaining the attorney’s calendar by planning and scheduling conferences, teleconferences, depositions, and travel
- Ordering supplies
Litigation Secretary Education
Many litigation secretaries complete a certificate or associate degree program at a trade school or community college. However, secretaries with four-year college degrees have the most advancement opportunities within a law firm. Litigation training often occurs on the job. Experienced litigation secretaries often move into other roles in the firm, including paralegal and office management positions.
Litigation Secretary Skills and Knowledge
Litigation secretaries must possess a variety of interpersonal, technology and office skills as well as legal and procedural knowledge. Required skills and knowledge include:
- Proficiency with word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and time and billing software; familiarity with Microsoft Office suite
- Proficiency with transcription equipment
- Excellent written and verbal skills
- Knowledge of local, state and federal court litigation documentation and filing procedures
- Proficiency with document databases such as Ringtail, Summation, and Concordance
- E-filing experience
- Knowledge of office procedures and legal terminology
- Strong typing skills
- Solid organization skills and multi-tasking skills
- Ability to interact professionally with all levels of personnel