Skip to content

Anne-Claire and Femke are legal secretaries: "No two days are alike"

Legal secretaries at AKD are given lots of responsibility, but also lots of freedom, say Anne-Claire IJsselstijn and Femke Scherpenzeel. A conversation about practice groups, court documents and personal development. "It's nice to know that lawyers have faith in my ability".

Anne-Claire IJsselstijn has been a legal secretary (PGA) with AKD in Rotterdam since early 2019. She's a member of the Transport & Trade practice group. Femke Scherpenzeel used to work as a legal secretary in the Employment & Benefits practice group in AKD's Amsterdam office. Right now, she's a trainee in the same practice group for four days a week. The reason being that in 2025 she hopes to obtain her degree in law from the applied sciences university she attends.

What does your day on the job look like?

Anne-Claire: "There's no such thing as a typical day on the job, for no two days are alike. I'm part of a practice group where many of the lawyers are frequent litigators. The make-up of my day depends on the cases that are going to be tried over the days and weeks ahead. It's not uncommon to have to submit hefty loads of court documents to the District Court or the Court of Appeal. That's what I tend to spend most of my time on. I check the documents to see if everything is correct, how the print job turned out, have all i's been dotted and t's been crossed. And at the same time I learn what the case is about, which is nice, too."

Femke: "Hah, I do that, too! Having an active part in a case from start to finish is kind of fascinating. And it makes me feel even more involved in my job. Not to mention that it ties in very well with my studies. It really makes for very interesting reading."

Anne-Claire: "Another thing taking up a lot of our time is the mail. Not exactly rocket science, but it's important to do it quickly and to do it well. All the mail that we receive is stored digitally. That ensures that the entire practice group is able to retrieve every letter, every document in a matter. Fortunately, a lot of the mail comes to us in digital form already."

Femke: "Apart from that, we open new matters, draft letters, archive closed matters, and manage the calendars of the various lawyers, civil-law notaries and tax advisers. We schedule internal and external meetings and keep tab on the court docket: when do we need to submit which documents?"

Anne-Claire: "When I started out as a legal secretary, five years ago, we were still typing text from voice recordings dictated by lawyers. That's now in the past, as most lawyers draft their own texts. Or I make a first draft, which they then review and modify. I do occasionally get a call from a lawyer who's on the road and needs something committed to paper, so I type out the text dictated by them. Anyhow, I definitely do not sit at my desk and type, type, type all day."

Femke: "Most lawyers are at home with digital tools, but some still prefer to read from paper, especially longer documents. For them, you spend a bit more time at the printing device. You learn pretty quickly which lawyer has which needs."

Anne-Claire: "In our practice group, we also organise regular seminars on recent legal developments. In my role, I'm responsible for planning these seminars, from the invitations all the way to receiving the guests on the day. We work together with other departments in the office, such as IT and Communications. And in collaboration with Recruitment, we organise an annual event for students. Spending a whole day with students is great fun."

You work in a pool of legal secretaries. How do you decide who does what?

Femke: "The Employment practice group has about seven lawyers, that's quite easy to manage for us. As a legal secretary, you tend to work for a couple of lawyers at the same time. Whenever they need my assistance, they'll mail or call me, or they stop by my desk."

Anne-Claire: "Our practice group is a lot larger, with about 23 lawyers and four legal secretaries. We share a common mailbox, where all requests for assistance arrive. The four of us determine by mutual agreement who picks up which request. Who has the time, what is urgent, who's worked on this matter before? We colour-code requests to indicate their status. Personally, I like processing things as quickly as possible. That's why this central mailbox is such a great tool, as it allows us to distribute the tasks evenly. It also makes it easier for us to assume each other's duties whenever that is called for, because we all know what the others are working on."

How would you describe the mood in your practice group?

Femke: "Very different than I thought it would be when I first applied here, haha! I was extremely nervous for my first interview, because I presumed it would be a rather stiff upper-lip affair at such a big firm. Only a few minutes into the interview I already had to revise my opinion. Everyone was very sociable, the atmosphere was informal and relaxed. Same goes for dress code: you need not dress up to the nines here. I'm the youngest in the group, but I get along great with my colleagues."

Anne-Claire: "That goes for me too; I'm also one of the younger ones. But that is totally irrelevant. We all get on well with one another, whether you're a PGA or a lawyer. Every year, we organise a day out for all legal secretaries and it's not uncommon for the entire practice group to spend a day out together. And we have the annual AKDay, when all AKD colleagues get together at one venue. That makes for a fabulous party every time."

"I presumed it would be a rather stiff upper-lip affair at such a big firm. Only a few minutes into the interview I already had to revise my opinion."

Femke Scherpenzeel - Legal secretary

What's the work-life balance like?

Anne-Claire: "For me, exactly as it should be. I have two young children, so it's important that my work leaves me plenty of time to spend with my family. For my part, I find it difficult sometimes to let go of work. So it's not a problem for me to log into work on my day off if I know it will be to help someone. I'll get my time off in lieu anyway. When my kids are sick, for example, I can come in later or work from home, that's no issue. We are given lots of responsibility, but also lots of freedom. It's nice to know that lawyers have faith in my ability to juggle them. Because of that, I very much enjoy my job."

Femke: "That goes for me too. I tend to work until five or six o'clock, and then I leave the office behind me. However, if I need to stay on longer, because we're waiting for a document to arrive from another country, for example, I don't mind doing a bit of overtime. I'm known to get into work a little late sometimes, so it balances out. There's plenty of time left to play tennis, get in my kick-boxing training and meet up with friends."

What's your vision of the future at AKD?

Anne-Claire: "In the long run, I'd like to take a step up to a managerial position. I'd be quite interested in being involved in the development of people and the management of the practice group. What also makes me curious is the evolution of the role of the secretary. That role is bound to undergo changes, but I'm firmly convinced that lawyers, civil-law notaries and tax advisers cannot do their jobs without some sort of support. If only because their time is too valuable for that not to be the case. Which is just how I like it, for I plan to stay with AKD for quite a few years yet!"

Femke: "I'm looking forward to resume my duties as a legal secretary after my traineeship, as that work suits me so well. Given that training, though, I would like to combine it with some actual legal work. Once I finish school, I plan to take a transition course that enables me to take a master's degree in law at a university. Whether and when that will be is for me to decide. For the time being I quite enjoy office life at AKD!"