MEN AT WORK

Most UK law firms have no male legal secretaries and the few men who are hired generally work for female partners. According to a legal recruitment executive at a major employment agency, only 2 per cent of the applications for legal secretaries come from men.

"We only get one or two applications a year from men and both were placed with female partners. For a long time in England it was an old boys' school network. When you come across a male secretary it raises eyebrows. Some male partners wouldn't accept it."

Trevor Forman works at national firm Alsop Wilkinson and has been a legal secretary for over 12 years. "I've only met two others in 12 years," he says.

Forman enjoyed three years with his previous (female) boss, Fenella Pringle, a partner at London firm Gregory, Rowcliffe & Milners, who thought having a male secretary was "quite good".

Forman arrived at the firm as a temp and she offered him a full-time job. "He was a very nice guy," says Pringle, "First class technically and socially. He got on very well with me."

Was he treated as 'one of the girls'? "There is a certain novelty value to being a male secretary," explains Forman. "After a while they just see you as another person. It is the older fee earners who find it the most unusual."

Working as a man in a predominantly female environment does not phase Forman, who says his current employees have a progressive policy, but in the past he has experienced discrimination. "There is a lot of prejudice that is disguised."

He once applied to a firm for a job for which he was fully qualified, to be told: "They think there might be a personality clash."

Jill Chesworth from the Equal Opportunities Commission lists other common excuses given to men who are not given jobs as secretaries: "Women are more nimble fingered," or "It's a female working area."

One reason more men may not have entered the legal secretary market is that they do not have the appropriate keyboard skills. Others interested in law may pursue more traditional careers such as legal executives.

Amanda Webster at legal recruitment agency Prime Legal has never had a male applicant for legal secretary. "I wouldn't have thought they would be discriminated against as long as they can do the job."

Anita Tovell, personnel director at City firm Simmons & Simmons, says: "We would be happy to employ male secretaries, we just don't get applications from men." She adds: "We did have several male temps who were excellent."