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The Evolution of Legal Offices

November 5, 2014

Evolution of Legal office

Legal history stretches far back in time, and the concept of “law” has existed almost as long as humans themselves. The earliest people to be described as lawyers were the orators of Ancient Athens, who essentially invented the concept of democracy. During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, lawyers began operating firms which issued patents to secure rights to the many inventions being developed at the time. It was also around this time that Harvard University developed a standardized law education program. From the Industrial Revolution up until contemporary times, the infrastructure of legal businesses has continually evolved in fascinating ways – and so has the role of the legal office administrator.

The Law Firm

While legal offices were quite common during the Industrial Revolution, the world didn’t see the mega law firms of today until the early 20th century. In the stable period around the 1940s and 50s (just after World War Two), big business evolved as a way to handle increased manufacturing. Early legal office administration training would develop shortly afterwards, to help fill the secretarial needs of these huge firms. Today, some of the biggest law firms are found in places like Chicago, New York and London, each employing thousands of lawyers.

Law Office IT

As law firms grow, the technology they use must evolve as well. In the 1960s, it was standard to see lawyers and secretaries alike typing on a device like the IBM Selectric typewriter. It wasn’t until 1980, when IBM came out with the Displaywriter System, that a truly efficient document management device was finally available to legal professionals. Five years after the IBM Displaywriter, Microsoft launched Windows, followed by the Microsoft Office series—a package of computer tools which revolutionized data entry and storage. This new technology would affect not only legal office administration, but also medical office assistant training and other administrative career college programs.

Legal Office Assistants

As with dental assistant training, schooling for a legal administration position did not exist until the 19th century, when increasing technology expanded business. “Office assistant” became a recognized career during WW2, when women took over the office roles of men who had gone overseas. Instead of giving these jobs back after the war, women continued to thrive in administrative roles, and were seen as essential to growing businesses. Today, legal administrative assistants have the following duties:

  • Schedule meetings
  • Maintain client files
  • Type and format documents
  • Create PowerPoint presentations
  • Conduct research
  • Maintain calendars
  • Bill clients

Compared to the 1950s, when the duties were minimal and no training was needed, todays law office administrative staff are required to have knowledge of a variety of computer programs, such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint, and must be trained in specific practices like family law, corporate law and civil litigation.

What do you consider the most important responsibility of a legal office assistant today?



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