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Legal Secretaries an Untapped BD Resource
May. 13, 2021

As part of Covid-19-led re-organisation, many law firms, including Linklaters and Clifford Chance are reducing or evaluating the PA, legal secretarial and support function in their organisations and how they can make the most of this valuable resource. Primarily, this rethink of secretarial and support functions is necessitated by changed business requirements in the post-pandemic world.

Secretarial staff – administrators, PA and legal secretaries – will continue to provide significant value in the culturally transformed, this new world. The way law firms sell their services and expertise is changing. As opposed to BD driving business growth through traditional marketing activities (with timely input from fee earners), there’s now a need for multi-disciplinary teams in a dispersed and remote working environment. Legal secretaries, who have long been the gatekeepers to access to partners and practice heads, understand how these executives work and can help steer and prioritise BD activities. More importantly, many have the skills – client engagement and management nous, inter-personal communication aptitude and are often technology savvy – alongside the ability to ‘make things happen’. With the right guidance, direction and opportunity to upskill, they can play an integral role in BD.

Upskilling legal secretaries to become data experts

For instance, legal secretaries could be upskilled to become client data managers in the firm’s CRM system. Despite the importance of relationship intelligence to the business, fee earners and partners have long resisted making CRM a priority activity, often viewing it as database management. So historically, their PAs are the ones who have been responsible for updating client records in the CRM system. Providing CRM training from a BD standpoint would be a logical move. Developing sophisticated CRM reports that surface relationship intelligence, interconnections of client contacts, new regulations on the horizon, etc., to identify new business opportunities (in tune with the practice group’s objectives) would be useful for the practice leads, but also for the BD and marketing departments.

Similarly, a legal secretary in the firm’s litigation practice group could be responsible for managing data pertaining to third-party experts, adjudicators, barristers and other intermediaries who support this area of law. In the event of an employment litigation case, the secretary would be able to interrogate the system to highlight potential barristers who would be most suited – based on criteria such as relationship with the firm, personality of key parties involved, vertical sector expertise, types of cases previously used for, number of cases won and lost, reasons for those wins and losses, and so on.

Working collaboratively with BD

Today, many firms are productising their expertise to clients, offering packaged services such as GDPR training, Brexit toolkit, modern slavery guidance and so on. Including legal secretaries as part of the sales and BD operation can help ensure that all relevant client contacts from the practice group have been submitted to the target list, they can interrogate clients’ wider ecosystem to identify who else might be worth contacting based on previous interactions and such. Furthermore, their organisational skills in a virtual world would be useful in arranging client training, distributing timely information, and event (virtual or physical) management. Post BD campaigns, there are many activities such as client follow up, reporting, expense management, and the list goes.

Legal secretaries, due the nature of the work they do, understand how the firm works from an operational standpoint. Rather than letting them go, a more astute approach would be to bring them into the BD and marketing fold – they have the foundational skills for these functions. They are an untapped resource that BD and marketing teams can draw great value from to further their firms’ business goals and objectives. This isn’t a ‘finger in the air’ idea – some forward-looking firms are already adopting this approach and benefitting.

Fiona Jackson

Fiona Jackson has spent over 15 years implementing and working with InterAction in professional services firms, including legal and accountancy. In these in-house roles, supported by InterAction, she managed marketing communications, devised and implemented business development strategies as well as trained and mentored fee earners. She worked closely with internal clients to understand their business processes end-to end and guided them in utilising the 'intelligence' gathered via InterAction to help them be successful at customer relationship management.

Fiona was previously a Client Advisor for five years at LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions; and was often described as "an extension to our business" by her clients. She has now returned to the company to drive an InterAction ‘repositioning’ project for a large London law firm. Fiona is also working with other firms to help them align CRM to wider business development strategies. She specialises in strategic and tactical CRM best practice, and as an expert in devising user adoption strategies, her experience in rolling out and repositioning InterAction as a business tool is proving invaluable to clients.

Fiona is mother to two teenagers, who keep her firmly on her toes. Living in Hertfordshire, she loves walking, is often found obsessing over the latest box set and enjoys all that country pubs have to offer. She also has a spectacular Gin collection of her own. Recently, Fiona has discovered a love for cooking – the varying degrees of success hasn’t stopped her from continuing to giving it a go!

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