[Ed Note: Pls Hndle Thx is a new weekly advice column in which ATL tackles your toughest law firm problems and provides you with debatable advice. Got a question? Send it here, and we'll pick the best ones for future posts].
My secretary is an idiot. She means well but can’t do basic things like collate, input edits correctly or cover for me when I leave the office early. She’s in her late 40s and a single mom, and while she tries hard, she really sucks. The secretary supervisor has been pestering me to review her because that’s how they determine pay levels, but I know if I’m honest in my review she’ll get penalized and potentially be fired. What should I do?
Dear Secretary Purgatory,
Take heart: the good news is that your secretary doesn’t have to be a law firm charity case. The bad news is that you have to implement the following three step system before you give your damning review:
1. Um, try talking to her. If you’d like your secretary to edit more carefully, simply snatch the offending documents from her hands and snarl, “Next time can you try not making 10,000 mistakes so that I don’t have to do everything myself? Great, thanks.” Or, just casually mention that she is doing a horrendous job and needs to shape up or else.
2. Set traps in order to determine whether any improvement in your secretary’s work is real or a false positive. For instance, you might ask her if she sent that fax that you specifically asked her to send. If she replies in the affirmative, triumphantly reveal that there IS no such fax and that she’s a filthy liar. Proceed immediately to Step 4. If she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, grudgingly admit that you were testing her but that you’re nevertheless onto her dirty tricks.
3. Regale her with stories about assistants who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, like Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire. Renee risked it all for her boss, you should mention ominously as you sit on the edge of her desk. Does she want to be a Renee? Don’t wait for her answer – walk toward your office and when you reach the doorway, pause, turn back and say, “I don’t know… I just don’t know.”
4. If you’ve implemented Steps 1-3 and your secretary still shows no signs of progress, give her an honest review. Frankly, if you suck at your job, the partnership won’t hesitate to give YOU a bad review (unless you work at Davis Polk, in which case you won’t be told anything until you’re fired). The hallowed pyramid structure of law firms can only be maintained if shit rolls down hill. Just as senior associates must throw you under the bus when you screw up, so too must you throw your underlings under the bus so that we may preserve this cycle of abuse for our children and our children’s children.
See Elie’s response after the jump.
Here’s Elie’s take on the situation:
“Cover for me when I leave the office early?” Since when did it become a secretarial job to come up with a clever limerick to cover for associates who don’t have the stones to tell a partner when they are leaving? Perhaps I’m getting this wrong but aren’t you the person who is supposed to be inputting edits? What do you think you’re getting paid for? Client consultation? It sounds like you want your secretary to do all of the things nobody told you was part of your job description.
You should quit whining, buy this poor woman a gift on Administrative Professionals Day, and accept the fact that associates don’t have hiring and firing prerogatives anyway. Look, you can use the extra time you have to spend editing and collating as a way to ethically pump up your billables in a soft market. Everybody wins!
Er, Elie – maybe secretaries at your alma mater firm couldn’t be bothered to log off eHarmony and input edits, but at my ex-firm the secretaries were expected to make revisions and proffer excuses when people had to leave at 5pm for
spinning classes doctor appointments. Legal secretaries exist to make lawyers’ jobs easier, and if Secretary Purgatory is wasting time collating printouts, that leaves him with no time to make personal calls or troll Craiglist’s Missed Connections. That is unacceptable. The crappy secretary must go.
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