19th Jan 2017

Harrogate Legal Secretary: Then and Now

Reflecting on a career in the legal industry, Jennifer Spence from Berwins’ Property Team looks back at her days as an Office Junior. 

Having left school without going into Sixth Form I started work as an Office Junior at a now defunct firm of solicitors in Princes Square, Harrogate – not knowing that as well as starting a career in the legal industry, I’d also lose a stone in to the bargain!

Back then, each day started the same. First thing in the morning was spent opening post (there was a lot of it – no e-mails in those days) and hand delivering letters to the other solicitors in town – come sunshine, rain or hail. In fact, even when the snow was piled up around the town and you had to climb over it to get through!        

When I got back to the office it usually felt like everybody was waiting for me with a list of jobs. This could have been photocopying and colouring of plans by hand – no colour copiers in those days – placing and finding deeds in the storeroom or typing up pages of wills – being careful to avoid any mistakes, there were no computers to easily edit any typing errors and Tipp-Ex was definitely not allowed.

But I wasn’t just expected to do legal work. There were often runs to the bank or to pick up bacon sandwiches for the team and I was even tasked with buying presents for solicitors’ wives, picking up dry cleaning and once carrying a fur coat through the town to be valued – all part of a varied list of responsibilities.

Everybody expected a drink at 11am and 4pm, which I made and then washed up. There was a separate tray for one of the Senior Partners which had a milk jug and a very posh bone china tea cup and saucer. After sending the cup bouncing down the stairs one afternoon, it took me about an hour to pluck up the courage to enter his room with his tea made in a mug and while nothing was said I spent the night convinced I was going to be sacked.

They were busy days but definitely happy ones and I learnt a lot – both about law and how to prioritise my work. Moving on from the firm there was someone else to do those jobs for me and – imagine my excitement – a golf ball electric typewriter!  

Since then, technology has of course moved even further on – in fact some days I can complete client work by just sitting and typing, send e-mails and answering the phone – easy. The bacon sandwich run, however is still a regular occurrence – some things will never change.  

Jennifer Spence is a Secretary in the Berwins Property team and specialising in residential property work.                     

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