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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Fast track for legal secretaries

By David Chilton
Special to The Sun

Torys, the big downtown law firm, obviously can't get enough of the legal secretaries who graduate from Humber College every year.
Humber College

Soma Das, who graduated from the one-year program this spring, says Torys hired her and three of her classmates right out of school, bringing the total of Humber grads working there to about 40. Other law firms that work closely with the Humber program are Blake, Cassels & Graydon, McCarthy Tetrault and Lang Michener.

Carolyn Smith, program co-ordinator at Humber, says the Law Firm Profile course -- as it's officially known -- takes 40 students a year starting every September. Admission to the program requires an English test and an informational and assessment session. Students also need to have two years of business experience or post-secondary education at the diploma or degree level.

The student breakdown is about 60% with an academic background, and 40% from business Smith says. The age range of students is all over the map -- from early 20s to the 40s. Smith says 90% of her students are women.

Smith says the program at Humber was created in response to people wanting to start a new career in the legal field. "These individuals were looking for a shorter program or one that would give them credit through skills they had acquired through previous student experience," she says.

"And then we had another group who were contacting us from the university stream, students who had earned a degree or part of a degree and who were looking to acquire practical skills to help them get that first job."

Soma Das, who has a degree in political science from York University, falls into the second category. She says she was interested in working in the legal field, and the program at Humber allowed her to enter it quickly. Paid placement was also one of the attractions for Das.

What legal secretaries do isn't precisely defined. Smith says they have a range of administrative details to take care of. They draft and prepare legal documents, establish client records and liaise with clients, among other tasks. "There is very definitely a blurring of job titles," she says. What she tells her students is concentrate on the job not on the title.

Das says the skills she acquired at Humber are different from those she learned at York. The college -- not unexpectedly -- provides lots of hands-on teaching, she says. As for the characteristics of a good legal secretary, Das says wanting to help people is key, as is an affinity for administrative work and attention to detail.

In March and April before graduation, Smith says students have to complete seven weeks of on-the-job training. Students also have to do a week's placement at the start of their course.

Many of the students get hired back after their seven-week field placement, Das says. She says it's a great experience to see what lawyers and others in the legal profession do.

Range of duties

Typical courses taught in the Humber program include Simulated Legal Procedures, Legal Software Applications, Legal and Business Issues and Personal Presentation Skills.
  • The Law Profile program at Humber takes 40 students a year.
  • Other colleges in the GTA, including Seneca and Centennial, offer programs that lead to careers as legal secretaries.
  • Unlike many programs with field placements, the students in Humber's program are paid.
  • Almost all of the students in the Humber program are women.
  • Admission requirements vary, so would-be students should check college websites.

  • Smith says the pay for a legal secretary varies. In a 2003 survey the starting range was $27,000 to $43,000, with the median at $31,000. The median may be up to $35,000 now, Smith says.

    Das's salary, she says with a laugh, is "decent" and compares with what other new grads are making elsewhere.

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