Interview with Lucie Bélanger, legal assistant, a lawyer’s right arm, for Sophie Laframboise Avocate inc.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am a legal assistant. It’s a job that’s broader in scope than legal secretary; you could say that I’m the lawyer’s right arm. My current firm, Sophie Laframboise Avocate inc, comprises two lawyers specializing in family mediation, matrimonial, civil and corporate law.
Specifically, I greet clients, take their calls, open, close and follow up files. I also take care of general accounting: managing invoices, trust and general accounts, depositing cheques at the bank, etc.
There is also the whole legal aspect. I book rooms at the courthouse, call the bailiffs for them to come get the procedures to produce in court, retranscribe the procedures by computer and enter the data in legal software.
Finally, I am in charge of explaining procedures to clients, informing them about the progress of their file and advising them before they meet with the lawyers. The clients don’t know all the legal ins and outs, so we have to help them see clearer.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
I’ve always liked both office work and contact with clients. I’m naturally outgoing, and I need to be with people, but I’m also comfortable with computers in the office and secretarial work. Conversely, I wouldn’t like to limit myself to handling the switchboard and writing letters. So I chose to specialize in a field that I had been interested in for a long time, the law.
I did an attestation of vocational specialization in secretarial studies – legal; it was three months of intensive work with teachers who were highly experienced with lawyers and notaries.
I’m very happy to have chosen this specialization, because a legal secretary is more independent than a general secretary. The duties are more varied in nature and you have to be a real self-starter.
HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK AS A HAIRDRESSER BEFORE GETTING INTO THE PARALEGAL FIELD?
I always wanted to do two things in life: be a secretary and a hairdresser. They’re two completely different fields, but there is a high level of client interaction in both.
Before doing my paralegal attestation, I worked three years as a hairdresser. This experience allowed me to overcome my shyness, which was an excellent thing! In fact, I still do hairdressing for men on Sundays. But working six days a week is tiring both mentally and physically, so I’m thinking of devoting myself to just legal secretarial work some time soon.
WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU NEED TO HAVE FOR PARALEGAL WORK?
You have to have an eye for detail, because you can’t afford to make any mistakes; otherwise there may be serious consequences in court. For example, if a name is misspelled, the motion may be rejected. You also have to constantly make sure that all parts of the file are there and take note of all the comments and instructions. You have to be super organized in this field!
Of course, you have to have good common sense and ask yourself the right questions. Patience and listening skills also come in handy, for both clients and the lawyers with whom we work. They rely on us, and we can’t let them down.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR JOB?
I used to work for a notary. One day, I got a call from a law firm that wanted to hire me. The timing was right, because I was at that time working three days a week and mainly handling reception duties. So I met with one of the lawyers, the interview went very well and I’ve been with the firm five months.
DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU DO?
Yes, it’s very interesting and rewarding. This job is a great life experience. For example, I realized that divorce procedures can be extremely complicated.
In 10 years, when I have enough experience, I’d like to be a legal secretary for a judge, perhaps at the courthouse or for the government—time will tell!