Disruption Part I: Harnessing Technology to Future-Proof your Legal Career

05 June 2018 Laura Barratt

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I recently had the good fortune to attend an event with Australia’s pre-eminent demographer and futurist, Bernard Salt. I have long been a fan of Bernard’s, and was very interested to hear his speech on the topic “Extinction of the Secretary and opportunities for Executive Assistants”.

I was unsure if I was insulted, amused, or both, but when the night arrived I trotted off with an open mind and Bernard’s most recent book for his autograph (told you I am a fan).

As he walked through his presentation the statistics were alarming; in the five years to 2011* the number one job in decline in Australia was that of the Secretary, with a nett loss of 28,700 secretarial roles during that time. The evidence was clear - I was officially an endangered species!

Although disturbing, the statistics accurately reflect the reality of Secretarial roles in today’s workplace. With advances in technology and the rise of the self-sufficient fee earner, the role of support staff has transformed dramatically over the last ten years. In the next ten years we are in for an even more accelerated period of change, with the gradual retirement of the (less self sufficient) baby boomers, combined with advances in artificial intelligence and a trend towards outsourcing.

OK Bernard, thanks for pointing all that out, but a girls gotta eat – so where to from here??

Bernard believes the three criteria essential to success in the new knowledge economy are adaptability, technical skills and emotional intelligence.


“…success and happiness in your career in the future depends upon adaptability and willingness to work outside the traditional role”
When I commenced my legal career in the early 2000’s most of my days (and nights!) were spent typing dictation – the advent of voice transcription software has been a game changer in this area. The savvy Legal Secretary should embrace the perceived threat of technology to systemise and streamline their workflow, creating time and space to transform their role, “future proofing” it, if you will.

We need to accept that our role may no longer include substantial transcription typing, and instead of seeing it as the demise of our role, ask what can replace it? How can we support our fee earners to provide the best advice and client service possible? To be in the market winning new work? After all, that’s what pays the rent!

Technical Skills & Knowledge
“The “Secretary” is disappearing and management are becoming more self-sufficient … EAs and PAs should focus on soft skills based around office management, troubleshooting, corporate liaison, event management”

Legal Secretaries have a distinct advantage over other support staff – broad administrative skills with the added bonus of in demand technical skills such as complex legal document drafting and formatting and knowledge of legal terminology and process.

Legal Secretaries need to exhibit adaptability, accept that the role is no longer the same as it was and be open to opportunities outside traditional duties to fill that space. It is an exciting time for those willing to take the leap, to build on your exceptional skills and embrace the opportunity to master new skills, if you are willing to step outside your comfort zone.

Emotional Intelligence
“Australia is shifting towards knowledge work, the caring industries, personal services and individual creativity … jobs of the future will combine technical skills with emotional intelligence”
Think about all the people you interact with on a daily basis, fee earners, clients, other PAs – when you stop and consider it’s an impressive list. When it comes to personal relationships (and leveraging off them) no piece of software, machine or even fee earner is able to recreate a Legal Secretaries impressive network of relationships with other Secretaries and service providers.

Apple’s artificial intelligence offering Siri can, for example, tell you the top rated restaurant in Sydney. What Siri cannot do is get your fee earner a table for their clients at the booked out restaurant.

Siri can search flights and hotels, but can she ensure your fee earner is seated in their preferred seat or preferred hotel room?

A virtual assistant in the Philippines can no doubt manage a diary via email, but what happens when there needs to be a negotiation on rescheduling, how can they deal with the subtle hierarchy that exists between fee earners and client, when they do not have a personal relationship with the other Secretaries or PAs?

Disruption has led to a consolidation of support staff across the board and in all disciplines. In my next article I will discuss how you can best utilise your new found time to upskill whilst providing a valuable service to your firm in the four main disciplines as a freelancer I am most contacted about: Business development, social media, practice management and events - future proofing your career with your current firm and beyond!

Article by Laura Osmetti, Founder and Director of ampm Executive Business Support
ampm Executive Business Support specialise in providing strategic freelance administrative, marketing & events support to company Chairmen and Directors, C-Suite Executives & Practice Principals.

*Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics Census Data (2011) as provided to KPMG.