Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

Name-calling has been a part of our lives since roughly the second grade. “I’m rubber, and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” How many of you remember employing this clever retort as a kid? It didn’t do much, but at least you could later be smug about the fact that the kid who tried to insult you was actually the stinky-stink-face, not you.

So, you’d figure that when people grow up, go to law school, and get real jobs as attorneys, then the name-calling would stop. But you’d be oh so wrong. With the advent of modern technology, name-calling is ten times easier than it was before. Lawyers can now insult colleagues in the blink of an eye and with the click of a button, making for great email scandals.

But has name-calling become a part of law firm culture? One wrongful-termination suit claims that it has….

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Without paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, clerks, and receptionists, the entire Biglaw model could come to a screeching halt. Speaking as a former legal assistant and full-time law clerk, I know this for a fact.

For some attorneys, if members of the support staff weren’t there to assist, important letters would go unwritten, coffee mugs would go unfilled, pleadings would go unproofread, and envelopes would go unlicked. So attorneys, always treat staff members graciously and respectfully — you never know when you’ll need them to get you out of a bind.

All that being said, we were a little bit shocked when we learned about what is allegedly happening at one of the world’s largest law firms, Baker & McKenzie. Apparently some members of the support staff aren’t getting the kind of support they need….

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Back in November 2010, we reported on the lawsuit of Nelson v. Jones Day. Plaintiff Jaki Nelson, an African-American woman who worked as a legal secretary in the Los Angeles office of Jones Day, sued the firm, alleging race-based discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and infliction of emotional distress. In her lawsuit, Nelson made some rather lurid allegations.

Allegations that, it appears, were lacking in merit. The case has been dismissed.

Let’s learn more — and see what the firm has to say about the dismissal….

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I feel like I’ve stepped into a time machine that has taken me all the way back to 2009.

According to an internal memo obtained by Above the Law, the international law firm of Hogan Lovells is offering a voluntary separation program to U.S. staff. The memo, posted in full below, talks about needing to bring the firm’s support staff into alignment with overall firm needs.

The program is voluntary, but as we learned during the height of the recession, “voluntary” programs don’t always stay optional….

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* Who are the top plaintiffs firms in securities class-action litigation, ranked by 2010 total settlement value? [RiskMetrics / SCAS via WSJ Law Blog]

* Protip: if you go to a meeting at Deutsche Bank’s New York offices, avoid the men’s room. [Dealbreaker]

* This lawyer has an assistant with an unusual name. [Abuse of Discretion]

* We were impressed by the University of Chicago Law School’s new loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) — and we’re not alone. [The Belly of the Beast]

* Dov Charney’s latest accuser, Kimbra Lo, has an interesting past. Yes, there are pics. [Fashionista]

* You know the whole “anti-bullying” trend has gone too far when plaintiffs’ firms are setting up practice areas for it. [Constitutional Daily]

* Career alternatives for attorneys: meet Akila McConnell, traveler and writer. [Thrillable Hours / Legal Nomads]

* Is the “mommy track” a form of gender bias? [Lawyerist]

* Are prosecutors working on commission in one Colorado district? [ABA Journal]

In parts one and two of the Career Center “Tip of the Day” series, focused on how junior associates can become more indispensable to their law firms, we covered the importance of taking ownership of your work and becoming an expert in your field. Today, we’ll discuss effective management strategies you can use to not only help you manage your work but the people with whom you work.

These tips are provided by the experienced recruiters at Lateral Link, who, in addition to providing sound career advice, can advance your career by consulting with you on the hundreds of law firm and in-house positions they have in their network.

Now, on to tip #3….

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year… for a legal secretary / administrative assistant. Law firm partners are getting their end-of-year distributions, associates are getting their bonuses, and some of this bounty will be shared with their secretaries, in the form of Christmas — er, holiday — gifts.

What should you get your secretary as a holiday present? It’s a familiar question that comes up every year. Here’s an open thread where you can discuss and compare notes with your peers. We’ve also included a reader poll at the end of the post.

Let’s start the conversation with some preliminary observations….

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I don’t remember the moment I first learned how to wipe my ass without hurting myself. I don’t think I received a special present or accolade for that momentous life event. But perhaps my parents did take notice in this way:

MOM: Our little boy just successfully wiped himself without incident!
DAD: Good. Maybe you were right when you prevented me from taking him out back and shooting him.

The point is that successfully using toilet paper is a basic skill in civilized society. If you have an accident while administering toilet paper to yourself, it’s the kind of thing you really want to keep to yourself.

Unless, of course, you think you can get money out of the mishap. America baby, the only place where hurting yourself while performing basic hygienic practices can lead to a tort payday.

A Michigan woman broke her hand while trying to get toilet paper out of a dispenser in a restaurant bathroom. And now the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that her case can be presented to a jury….

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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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