Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

'Who needs cash? We have these nifty red hats!'

Over the weekend, I had dinner with a friend of mine who used to work as a paralegal at a small law firm. She told me about how one year, for the holidays, all the lawyers chipped in to get her a gift certificate to a spa, so she could get herself a massage.

I said it sounded like a nice gesture. This was not the reaction my friend was going for in telling the story; she viewed the gift as an insult. Her view: Christmastime is the time to show me the money.

I can understand that perspective for secretaries or administrative assistants. As we’ve discussed before, if you’re an attorney you should give your secretary a holiday gift that’s either cash or a cash equivalent (like an AmEx or Visa gift card). As a legal secretary once told us, “if you decide on giving gift certificates [to specific stores], I sincerely hope your next bonus will be paid in the same currency.”

But paralegals, at least at large firms — my friend who got the massage certificate worked at a small firm — are a trickier proposition. Over the course of a year in Biglaw, a lawyer might work with many different paralegals, on a wide range of matters. Are you expected to give gifts to all of them?

So what should a lawyer do with respect to holiday gifts for paralegals? And, of course, what’s the “going rate” for holiday gifts for secretaries in 2011?

Let’s conduct some reader polls, and open up the comments for discussion….

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Being a woman is a tough job, especially when you’re working in a Biglaw atmosphere. Among the long list of things that Biglaw women have to worry about — making partner v. making dinner, picking up documents v. picking up the kids, cleaning up the house v. cleaning up a brief — being cordial to coworkers sometimes tends to fall by the wayside.

So ladies, have you been wondering why your legal secretary avoids eye contact with you at all costs? Or in the alternative, have you been wondering why your legal secretary is giving you a look of death? Here, let me give you a clue: it’s because your legal secretary secretly hates you.

A new study has revealed, however, that maybe it’s not such a secret after all….

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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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