Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

If someone told you they had a $14,500,000 inheritance from their father stuck in a bank account in Burkina Faso, you would likely laugh in their face and offer them some Viagra and a penis enlarger in exchange for a slice of the fortune.

But what if they told you this while you were sitting in a conference room of a corporate law firm, and the person was flanked by Baker Hostetler attorneys who vouched for the legitimacy of the African fortune?

Under those circumstances, a group of Ohioans invested over one million dollars to help Willia Burton recover her supposed windfall from a foreign bank account. But it’s been five years, and it’s become evident that — sur-freaking-prise! — it’s actually a scam.

Now the nine gullible investors are suing Burton and her Baker Hostetler lawyers, William Culbertson and Paul Feinberg, for fraud, civil conspiracy, and negligent misrepresentation.

Unfortunately, there’s no claim to be made for the public humiliation they shall now suffer for falling for a “Nigerian bank account scam”…

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Nancy Topolski must have been happy initially to survive the layoffs in the Portland office of Davis Wright Tremaine. But with fewer secretaries to go around, her workload increased. To the point of causing stress-induced panic attacks.

If you’re not making a lawyer’s salary, that’s just not acceptable. After one of her panic attacks, she went to HR and asked for a lighter workload. From the National Law Journal:

Topolski informed her supervisor several times in late September and October that her increased workload was causing her stress, affecting her ability to sleep and causing her to make mistakes. On Oct. 21, Topolski suffered a panic attack while at work and told a human resources representative that she needed a lighter workload, which the representative indicated would happen, according to the complaint. However, no changes were made and Topolski suffered a second panic attack at work on Nov. 3, the suit says.

At that point they did accommodate her — by firing her. Now she’s suing the firm for $1 million….

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The pace of law firm layoffs has apparently slowed to a crawl. We’ll go weeks between job losses at large law firms (that we know of). But, here and there, some people are still getting pushed out as firms retool for the new economy.

Sadly, legal secretaries at Dewey & LeBoeuf became the latest casualties of a layoff cycle that seems very close to its end. The firm-wide memo went out earlier today:

Beginning last week and concluding today the firm implemented a reduction in force impacting approximately 30 administrative staff positions in its Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., offices.

Nobody wants to be the last person KIA in a war, and nobody wants to be laid off at the tail end of a recession. Why did Dewey make the move this late (hopefully) in the recession?

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Thumbnail image for MoFo small Morrison Foerster.jpgThere have been quite a few lawsuits filed by former law firm employees of late. Covington & Burling is fighting off Yolanda Young. Fried Frank is tussling with Julie Kamps. And law firm secretaries across the land are uniting in pursuit of their overtime.
Law firms cutting back and performing layoffs tend to leave people grumpy and litigious. A former Morrison & Foerster secretary joined the angry ranks recently with a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Aileen Martinez worked in MoFo’s San Francisco office for 28 years. She was laid off in January 2009.
According to The Recorder, Martinez said she had to take three months of disability leave in 2008, because she was afraid of litigation associate Mimi Yang.
What did Yang allegedly do to strike fear in the heart of Martinez?

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Morrison Foerster MoFo Above the Law AboveTheLaw blog.jpgOccasionally we report about firms offering voluntary early retirement / buyout packages to their staff. For the most part, the programs haven’t been popular. It seems like staffers would just as soon take their chances at layoff roulette instead of voluntarily falling on their swords and slinking away into the night.
So a tipster’s report this morning really caught our eye:

50 employees at MOFO (don’t know the offices) just took an early retirement package.

Fifty? That doesn’t sound like an early retirement offer, it sounds like a Great Escape.
And it’s a true story. We have a statement from Morrison & Foerster after the jump.

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do not mistreat assistants.jpgWe’ve told you before, and we’ll tell you again: be nice to your secretary. They do important work for you. And during their down time — when they’re not playing solitaire — they may be thinking about ways they can screw you over should you cross them.
An attorney in North Carolina apparently does not read our site and did not get this crucial PSA. Justice H. Campbell is a solo practitioner in Charlotte who helps out those who suffer from slips and falls, who commit the occasional DUI, or who need to file for worker’s compensation. According to our tipster, he’s been through several legal assistants in his career.
His last legal assistant went out with a bang. Or at least with a very loud click of the mouse.
She set up an out-of-office response to let correspondents know that she was no longer with the firm. When a court official emailed her to confirm a mediation date for Mr. Campbell, he got a blunt automatic response…

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Stepford Secretary Bingham McCutchen.jpgBe nice to your secretary. It’s the right thing to do.
What, basic human decency doesn’t appeal to you? Alright, how about: be nice to your secretary — or else she might totally screw you over by revealing your secrets.
It’s advice product liability lawyer David Gross might have wanted to take. The ABA Journal reports:

An unhappy secretary has brought ethics troubles for a prominent product liability lawyer in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board has recommended that litigator David Gross be disbarred for failing to share a $50,000 check with his law firm partners, the New Jersey Law Journal reports. Gross’ secretary, Claudette McCarthy, revealed the check to Gross’ partners at Budd Larner four years after he received it in 1998.

You know what, that secretary has CHARACTER.

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Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to [email protected].

pls hndle copy 2.jpgFairest Marin,

I moved offices in the middle of this year, and as a consequence I lost my lovely and very helpful administrative assistant to a Partner who was staying where she was. Since August, I have had a new, and also quite helpful, administrative assistant. I am very demanding of my assistant’s time. I am not an inconsiderate jerk, but I am very busy and thus need to delegate small tasks like copies, scheduling rooms, making binders and creating indices quite often. Both have been quite helpful in the past year.

Should I be splitting my customary holiday gift between the two of them? Right now I am thinking 60% for my original assistant and 40% for my new assistant. What are your thoughts? And how much should I pay out? $200? $150?

– King Solomon Emeritus

Dear King Solomon Emeritus,

The holidays are a time for family, friends and quiet self-reflection. And if you’re a secretary, they’re also a time for judging and bragging. Within hours of receiving your gift, the entire secretarial staff is aware that you purchased a $96 Omaha Steaks gift card for your admin, and has swiftly judged you for the 20% decrease in desirability and price from last year’s $120 Dead Sea mud wrap gift certificate.

This system obviously rules out splitting your $200 gift 60/40 between your old and new secretaries, respectively, unless you feel like booking your own conference rooms in the future. And even if you didn’t have your 2 secretaries/1 wallet problem, cash only is never a good idea anyway because the thing with money is that people can sometimes figure out how much you spent.

On Wednesday’s open thread, several commenters stated that they were giving their secretaries some cash amount and a “small gift.” Your d*ck in a box won’t cut it, but after the jump there is a list of presents that will.

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Secretary.jpgIt’s that time of the year again, says one ATL reader:

now would be a good time for the old “how much are you giving your secretaries for the holidays?” story

It’s customary for associates at large law firms to give a cash gift to their administrative assistants, often along with a card or small gift. Not everyone opts for cold, hard cash — some do AmEx or Visa gift cards.

This year has been a tough one. Some associates have had their salaries frozen and have gotten “baby bonuses” in comparison with years past. Are you planning to let the economic pain trickle down?

Some discussion and advice from last year, after the jump.

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alston bird logo.JPGSometimes you have to love Biglaw. Back in March, we reported that Alston & Bird was quietly forcing out secretaries and administrative staff. Our sources report that this approach to staff cuts has been ongoing at the firm. A&B is either letting people know they have a limited amount of time to find a new job or encouraging them to take early retirement.
But that doesn’t mean the firm can’t have a party to celebrate those who have been shoved out of the door. A tipster reports:

Apparently demanding that the staff take early retirement is not enough for the “worker-friendly” Alston & Bird. To rub salt in these early (involuntary) retirees, A&B is throwing them a party! Because nothing says “Fortune 500 Best Place to Work” like a party… for people you effectively fired.

Nice. Check out the party invite after the jump.

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