Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

Yesterday we started receiving multiple reports of staff layoffs at DLA Piper. The reports related to various U.S. offices of the firm, including (but not limited to) Baltimore and Sacramento. They concerned support staff, including secretaries, but not lawyers. In terms of the scale of the layoffs, no hard numbers were available.

One source expressed surprise at the staff cuts, in light of the firm touting strong results as of late. For example, just last month DLA Piper fared quite well in the M&A league tables. The firm has also been making a decent number of lateral hires, suggesting expansion rather than contraction.

In response to an inquiry from Above the Law, DLA Piper confirmed an unspecified number of staff reductions, and issued a statement….

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Earlier this week, we brought you the story of Nelson v. Jones Day — a discrimination lawsuit filed against Jones Day by Jaki Nelson, an African-American woman who worked at JD for almost 18 years. Some of the allegations in Nelson’s complaint — use of racial slurs by firm partners and administrators, sex scandals, and rampant bullying — were salacious and incendiary. If you haven’t already done so, read more about them in our earlier post.

As litigators well know, however, there are two (or more) sides to every story. And this lawsuit is no exception.

(We’re reminded of Aaron Charney’s lawsuit against Sullivan & Cromwell, alleging anti-gay discrimination. Based on the same reporting, some viewed that lawsuit as Philadelphia: The Sequel, while others saw it as an oversensitive and entitled associate suing a firm with no anti-gay bias — and numerous gay partners and associates.)

After we published our post, sources came forward to defend Jones Day and the lawyers mentioned in the complaint — and to dish dirt on the plaintiff, Jaki Nelson….

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UPDATE (7/25/2011): Please note that this case, making allegations that Jones Day describes as “baseless and inflammatory,” has been dismissed.

Oh boy. Discrimination lawsuits filed by former employees against law firms can get pretty salacious. But we haven’t seen a complaint this juicy since Allgood v. Williams Mullen (aka the “cucumber incident”), or maybe Braude v. Maron Marvel (girl-on-girl sexual harassment in Delaware).

This latest lawsuit is captioned Nelson v. Jones Day. It was actually filed back in September, but it only seems to be coming to light now. It was covered last week by eBossWatch, then picked up today by the ABA Journal.

The allegations — which include claims of Jones Day partners and staff supervisors using racial slurs, junior associates “treat[ing] office staff like servants,” and office affairs and sex scandals — are not to be missed….

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Sorry fellas, this is your past, not your future.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to ruin the season finale of Mad Men for those who still have it sitting in their DVRs.

Instead, I’m here to remind people that Mad Men is a television show set in a time long since past. Much to the disappointment of white males everywhere, those days are gone and never coming back.

Of course, nostalgia (and the cultural memory of a time when white men were in unquestioned positions of dominance) is a powerful thing. It must be sad to know that winning the birth lottery doesn’t pay off quite as much as it used to. But that’s no excuse for trying to force an anachronistic worldview upon your current working environment. Society has moved on; at some point living in the past stops being “traditional” and starts getting “obsolete.”

And maybe even “illegal.” That’s the argument a former secretary at the firm of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn is trying to make. She clams that the firm’s “old-school” policies created a hostile work environment and caused her to suffer a physical injury.

According to the secretary’s lawyer, administrative assistants at Honigman are required to strut to work in high heels…

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It shouldn’t be that hard to find a qualified legal secretary. Actually, in this market, you can probably find a J.D. who will gladly answer phones and make copies for the chance to do anything with “legal’” in the title.

But the firm of Minor & Brown, a small law firm based in Denver, still put its best foot forward when advertising for a legal secretary opening at the firm.

And it’s one weird-ass foot. Nobody is going to mistake Minor & Brown for your grandfather’s law firm. Just take a look at their ad…

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Looking for confidential minded person that is a people person and well manicured. We do some work with the adult entertainment business so it is not for everyone. Looking for the classic super manicured secretary at a younger progressive firm.

– a Craigslist ad for a legal secretary in northern New Jersey

A reader drew our attention to a mildly amusing “help wanted” ad on Craigslist. Says our source: “Now that I’m a lawyer myself, who previously worked for an a**hole boss, I find this ad for a new legal assistant pretty funny. You can tell he thinks his boss is an anal-retentive douche, but doesn’t know how to say that.”

“I also like that he wants the applicant to send a photo and résumé but redact all personal information except the phone number — isn’t the entire résumé personal info? Also note the e-mail address…. Anyway — enjoy.”

So here’s the ad….

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Administrative Professionals Week is upon us — ignore it at your peril. While senior partners might be able to pass the week off with a slap on the bum for a job well done, the associates among you would be wise to throw some cash at those who make your office run.

The official day on which you need to make a financial display of appreciation is Wednesday, but people are supposed to be nice to their secretaries for the entire year week.

Given the recession and general market uncertainty, some lawyers might be tempted to cheap out on administrative professional recognition. But surely even the most hardened associate understands that the recession has been much tougher on administrative personnel than it has been on practicing attorneys. Right?

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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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