Transforming the secretarial function
The traditional secretarial support structure no longer meets the needs of many companies. Several reasons have been attributed to a radical change in support needs: the expectations of clients and lawyers have changed, with administrative assistance, information management and client liaison, and the need for traditional services typing, filing and phone messaging has been reduced thanks to technology; a 24/7 global work environment exceeds a secretary’s traditional 9 to 5 working hours; and the secretarial position itself no longer attracts or retains talent from the job pool. The main reason secretaries give for terminating employment is simply a lack of defiance.
Expenses are also a problem. A New York law firm of three hundred has a support payroll of up to $ 8.1 million, or closer to $ 9 million if real estate, equipment, and other support are included. With the current attorney to clerk ratio of 3 to 1, this is $ 30,000 per attorney, per year.
At a large New York City law firm, a senior manager noted that modifying the existing support structure did not solve these important problems. At best, it marginally improved productivity and, at worst, it lowered employee morale. The decision was made to conduct an interview study in order to determine how secretarial and other administrative services were used and what new strategy could be designed. Secretaries, partners and associates unilaterally expressed these deep concerns:
Different support needs. Partners, advisors, and senior associates needed workers with administrative skills, capable of managing the flow of information, communicating with clients, assisting with marketing presentations, and completing invoicing and research. Junior attorneys needed assistance with document production and administrative help.
Inconsistent support to associates. With secretaries supporting attorneys of vastly diverse seniority, junior associates in particular received poor service or no service.
Lack of skill development. A purposeful career path was lacking, one that would allow secretaries to take on a more challenging and valuable role.
Concept of “single point of service”. Having a single point of contact to address all support needs was an apparent gap in overall operational efficiency.
Customer-centric support. The service hours that were offered needed to be closer to the global hours that were demanded.
In response to all these contributions, a new strategy was developed; its implementation was carried out.
The strategy created four different secretarial positions. Each has different roles, assignment structures, and salary scales, providing a career path for future hires: secretarial coordinator, administrative secretary, service center secretary, and floater.
The Administrative Secretary operates in a team that supports, within a specific practice area, a specific group of partners, attorneys and senior attorneys. Teams are comprised of two to three members, each supporting two or three attorneys, up to 12 attorneys in total for any team. Through constant participation in a practice area, secretaries become an integral part of its operation. As a team, they can offer all the core competencies lawyers need and hopefully an ‘expert in everything’. The secretaries started the training initiative implemented for this position: continuous and extensive training in administrative skills related to customer service, technical applications and high-level support. The company understood that it should direct the desired training towards the maintenance of its most valuable administrative resource.
The salary range for administrative secretaries is at the higher end of the secretarial range. Due to the enhanced skill set developed by this group of workers, the traditional market-based ceiling can even be raised moderately.
The secretarial coordinator and service center secretary positions are located in the secretarial service centers. These are full-service support areas for junior to mid-level associates and paralegals; Each practice floor has a center that, including the Coordinator, has up to four people. A secretary is assigned five to eight attorneys / paralegals to help a facility provide coverage for up to 32 fee-paying individuals. In addition to handling all the phone, document production and support services for junior fee recipients, there you can handle document overflow for associates and senior partners. Ultimately, secretaries benefit from close supervision in a clustered and highly influential environment.
The floor coordinator is the single point contact person when an attorney needs service. Coordinators oversee a facility’s workflow, manage staffing, attendance, and vacation scheduling for the floor, and help prioritize messaging, faxing, and copying projects; in addition, they handle a part of the workload.
The centers hire at entry-level salaries. There is an established ceiling with further increases possible only as you move beyond the centers. Floaters, as an interim position, also have the opportunity to advance: Floaters provide on-demand support for Administrative Secretariat centers and teams.
These four positions are an integral part of a carefully crafted strategy to remedy a real-world situation. Implementation in the real world was a painstaking process: detailed job descriptions and performance guides were developed for all staff, secretarial teams received extensive skills training, and a pilot program demonstrated what the expectations should be for centers of service. Various stakeholders in the process were considered as a communication plan developed, which was then presented to senior management, partners, practice groups, and secretaries. The overall objective of all this effort and planning was to materially improve service levels.
It was a success. Associates now receive consistent, high-quality service offered at all hours of the day. The most talented and experienced secretaries are focused and challenged when working for partners and other senior attorneys. As service improved, cost savings were achieved: The attorney to secretary ratio improved to 5 to 1, which, excluding savings in real estate, equipment, and other support services, has translated into savings of more than $ 3.2 million per year.