My Secretary is MIA

Matthew Richardson Columns, Lawyer 47 Comments

I tried to dictate this rant to my secretary, but she already left for the day.

Most days fly by as I respond to hundreds of emails and a non-stop barrage of phone calls from pissed-off clients, which means I barely have time to take a piss. Other days, I surf the web, looking for girls I went to high school with who are now working in porn (I’ve found three in my four years as a BigLaw employee).

But if there is one consistent thing I can count on, it’s that my secretary will NOT be there when I need her.

One evening last week, I finally finished marking up a credit agreement that had to be delivered to the client the next morning.

I instant messaged Nancy, my practice assistant (ludicrous PC term for secretary).

“Nancy, I’m going to drop off a markup to you in a few minutes.”

I got an immediate response.

“Nancy is signed off.”

I opened my door to find Nancy packing it in for the day.  It was 5:22 p.m.!

But this happens all the time because the secretarial workday runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Secretaries punch in and out like factory workers (does anyone know if they’re part of the Teamster union or something?).  Unfortunately, that schedule doesn’t quite mesh with the workday of an average mid-level associate, which begins around 10:00 a.m. and ends late at night when internal organs start to fail.

Letting the secretaries leave at 5:30 p.m. is like allowing the busboys at a busy restaurant to leave right after the appetizers. Late afternoon/early evening drafting and turning of documents is the main course of associate life. Secretaries are a vital cog in the law firm machine, and they sit near us so that we can literally drop things on them the second we are ready to, which is usually around five or six post meridian!

With Nancy gone, I thought about calling document services, but it takes more time to check their work than to markup the document. And besides, have you ever tried to fill out one of those pink document submission questionnaires? They have more questions than the Bar exam.

So that left yours truly.

I don’t mean to sound cocky, but that kind of grunt work is beneath me. I’m not a first year. Asking me to input my own changes is like asking Vince from Entourage to go back to auditioning for Mentos commercials.

I know I should have asked her to stay late, but my sweatshop of a firm doesn’t always afford me enough time in the day to plan for evening support. And besides, isn’t the ability to anticipate a vital quality in a secretary?

So I hunkered down and did my own work. Then I sent out the redline to everyone on the distribution list. Then I resent the email with an apology for not attaching the proper redline. After that, I sent my secretary an email. It read: “GOING FORWARD, YOU LEAVE WHEN I SAY YOU LEAVE.”

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  • Al Dickman

    Over the years, we have all had to become more proficient as word processors, paralegals and mailroom attendants.  The way to live through this is to remember that secretaries can be an asset, but you can’t always depend on them being there for you.  I have a buddy who works for a large company, and their secretaries get to WORK FROM HOME a few days each week!!!!!  Now how the hell do you get your secretary to send out a FEDEX or update a document if the woman is WORKING from home????  What in the blazes can those women be doing working from home (other than surfing the web and responding to e-mails?)
    When we get pissed off at where our own dingelberry secretaries are, just think of my poor buddy and his secretary (whereever she is).  It then won’t be as bad. 
    The only other thing we have to keep in mind are the other benefits our own secretaries can provide to us (psychic or otherwise).  In the meantime, we ought to keep up on our typing and redlining skills, so that we can teach them to our secretaries!

  • Anonymous

    Ya, some secretaries only good for 1 thing–and it is only vaguely related to dick-tation.

  • BL1Y

    Going to disagree with @6:26.  About 90% of the secretaries at my firm are at least middle aged, and none of the younger ones are attractive.  There was one hot one last summer, but I think she was just a temp.  Paralegals are definitely more attractive (and skilled).  That aside, I think this raises an interesting question: If you use the $100 per year at the office guideline for secretarial gifts, do you discount that amount based on how often they leave early?  Should a secretary who leaves 10 minutes early every day lose $2.08?

  • MidnightSunshine

    Use of term “PC” in 2008 = Pimply AutoAdmit/Fed Soc tool.

  • BL1Y

    Yeah, PC? WTF? “Whipped” starts with a “W” not a “C”.  Learn to spell, jackass.

  • Bitter Paralegal

    I want to know what firm this is where at 5:30 a paralegal gets to walk out even if there is work that NEEDS to be done. I’m a paralegal at a smaller firm. I’m normally the one here at 8:30 and don’t leave untill 6:00 or 6:30 while the attorney is off drinking at some happy hour. I think I’m seriously under paid and under appreciated. I have coffee waiting on my attorney’s desk in the morning, I drive him ( in my own car) up to the court house when he doesn’t feel like walking a block, I even steam his shirt and coat when he is suddenly needed in court. Not to mention 80% of the time I have to remind him of rules and review all of his documents before they are filed.The only time I can ever pull away from my work is when my boss wants to show me off to his 40 year old frat brother attorney friends because I’m 18 and model part time. I think I need a new job…

  • BL1Y

    Bitter Para: Here’s the only true way to tell if you’re underpaid: Someone else is willing to pay you more.

  • Bitterer

    No sympathy.  You suck and fail at life.

  • Anonymous

    Please. Get over yourself. Your assistant isn’t making a 6 figure salary and doesn’t get paid enough to sit around waiting for you to say when she can leave. If you anticipate needing her to stay late, ask politely as much in advance as possible. It’s not rocket science. If you forgot to ask her, it’s your own damn fault.

  • Fellow Secretary

    Between the online shopping, solitare and gossiping, your secretary probably has very little time to do your work.  I would suggest hiring more help.

  • Canned Ham

    My secretary is amazing. She has “consented” to wearing an electrified invisible fence dog collar around her neck.  I have the only key. That, along with the portopotty in her cubical make her one of the best secretaries in our kingdom.

  • BL1Y

    @10:32: I agree that unless you give your secretary a timely heads-up, their day ends at the close of the firm’s official business hours (usually 5:30 in NYC).  It’s bad form to ask her to stay late right as the day ends.  We’re paid big bucks to have flexible schedules, they’re not.  But, she should not be one foot out the door at 5:20.  You can put away client files on the firm’s dime.  You put on your coat on your own time.

  • Shelly

    I think you definitely need a new secretary….

  • Cath

    What a whiner.

  • Bruce

    Unbelievable. Reason #5293 that everybody thinks BigFirm lawyers are all DBs.

  • Atty

    I don’t mean to sound cocky, but this Matthew Richardson is clearly a bitch.  Pop your secretary’s tittie out of your mouth and learn self-sufficiency.

  • BL1Y

    Bruce clearly doesn’t have a secretary, and probably doesn’t have a job.  Secretaries are paid from the money associates bring in.  What’s wrong with expecting them to be at their desk, doing their job during business hours.  I forgot that the new rule was that you can be a slacker so long as someone at work makes a lot more money than you.  Could you imagine if associates left early when there was still work to be done? Partners would be justifiably upset, and no one would tell them “suck it up! you make multiples of what the associates earn, so just learn to do the work yourself.”

  • Anonymous

    Just wanted to say that not all us document support (document services to you, apparently) aren’t all that bad.
    As in, one of the departments in the firm was sent an e-mail saying everything *they* do has to be proofed by *us*.
    I’m sorry your department sucks, though. There’s a lot of that going around.

  • BL1Y

    @7:27: Actually, we do have to proof everything that comes from document services (we call it the Word Processing Department here).  We are responsible for your work.  If there are any problems, it falls on us, and we’re not allowed to say your department messed up.  So, no matter how good you are at your job, we still have to double check everything you do, just like how partners double check the work of junior associates, regardless of their talent.

  • Support Staff Cynic

    Paralegals and secretaries have set work schedules.  They have to be in the office from 9-5:30 every day, no matter what is going on.  They also cannot generate their own work – a paralegal/secretary’s workload depends entirely on what an attorney gives them.  As stated in the original rant and in the comments, associates often don’t need the help of a paralegal/secretary until late in the day…which often gives them 5 or 6 hours with nothing to do.  This is a terribly inefficient business practice that all firms seem to engage in, and it leaves attorneys with 3 choices:  1) Spend the morning fielding calls, take an hour lunch (maybe two hours if there’s a gym trip involved), start work on the brief at 2:30-4 and complain when their support staff hasn’t voluntarily extended their workday to 11 hours on the off chance that the attorney might need help at 8pm.  2) Contact the managing partners and influence them through use of logic and promises of cost-cutting to change the support staff schedule to gel better with the typical attorney schedule.  3) Manage their time and resources successfully.  Most attorneys have never learned how to handle #3, and are too intimidated or have too little standing to try #2, which leaves blaming the staff for not wanting to stick around an extra 3 hours waiting for an attorney to give them work when it looks to them as if the attorney did little more than bullshit for the first half of the day.

  • canadouche

    grow up.
    you get paid lots.  your secretary does not.
    grow a pair, get over yourself and do the damn work yourself loser.

  • Anonymous

    Oh no you may have to type your own brief or get out a letter on your own.  Yikes!!  Not that!  Quit your bitching and whining.  Your “sweatshop of a firm” no doubt compensates you well for having to undergo such menial tasks.

  • NBB (Nobody’s Business)

    I am a secretary.  We are hourly employees.  While I am gratified and honored that you value my skills and find my help invaluable, I think you are overstepping your current status at the firm by inferring that you as an “associate” can dictate my working hours.  If I work overtime, it will have to be billable and you will have to make that decision.  Not sure you can make that call…………let’s face it, you are just on a rant–don’t take it out on us.

  • BL1Y

    Canadouce: I’m going to say the same thing the next time a partner assigns work to me.  “You get paid a lot, do it yourself.” It’s my philosophy that no one except the higher paid person at any company should ever do any work.

  • BigLawPrlgl

    It’s pretty simple: if he really did go to give her the work at 5:22pm, then she should have been there to do it. He might get paid a lot, but that’s her job. Period.
    On the otherhand -from experience as a paralegal- you need to understand your work environment. It’s not a retail store, it’s a law firm which means unorthodox hours. You can’t expect to consistently work 9-5 everyday. If you need to be that rigid about your hours, be a secretary somewhere else. I’m a paralegal at a BigLaw firm and if there’s work to be done, you better be there to do it. It’s the American work ethic- learn it and love it.

  • canadouche

    BL1Y – you don’t understand a damn thing.
    Here is how it works:
    You, as associate, are just highly (and probably over) paid employee.  You get paid some stupid salary every year because your firm charges you out at a number way more than your actual value.  Why do they charge you out at so much and pay you so much?  so that they can tell their clients that they have you and your first-year buddies available whenever client needs it.  Called client service.  To repeat, your compensation for being part of this arrangement is that you get paid $150k per year to do work that a trained monkey could do (is blacklining really that hard) AND to do it whenever the partner god-damn wants it done.
    Your assistant does not get paid what you get paid.  She is there to help you meet those client expectations, but it all comes down to you.  Buck stops with you.
    Partner charges out at many times what you do; the reason there are 10 of you and 1 of him is because he pays you the agreed-upon stupidly excessive amount so that you will do the work for him.
    Remember: he owns the place, you just work there.

  • BL1Y

    Canadouche: I’m paid $160k to be available 24/7.  My secretary is paid [some unknown lower amount] to be available Monday through Friday, 9:30am to 5:30pm.  Just because I get paid a lot more doesn’t give my secretary an excuse to leave early.  Her obligations have no relationship to my hours or salary.  She’s been hired to work until 5:30, so, if it’s 5:20 and she has work to do, she shouldn’t have one foot out the door already.

  • @7:27

    7:27: Hilarious!  Next time you want to boast about about how good you are at document resources, maybe your comment shouldn’t be typo-ridden to the point it is virtually un-readable.

  • canadouche

    BLY1:  The issue is not the secretary leaving 8 minutes early; the issue is the original ranters’ view that: “Letting the secretaries leave at 5:30 p.m. is like allowing the busboys at a busy restaurant to leave right after the appetizers” and “YOU LEAVE WHEN I SAY YOU LEAVE”.  That is the attitude of a young associate who is going to demonstrate very quickly to the partnership that he/she is much too important to be working at the firm and who will thus be shown the door.  At my firm, the managing partner sits new associates down on day 1 and says “Staff are here to help, but if you f–k up, that is on you.  You earn the big bucks ACT LIKE IT.” Its good advice to a BLY1 and the d–k that made the original rant……

  • Former NYC Associate

    It’s really very simple, you bill by the hour 24/7, as do most big firm paralegals, while secretaries are straight overhead.  They get paid for 9:30 to 5:30 and everything else is chargeable OT to the firm or the client.  Clients hate paying for secretarial OT BY THE WAY!!!!!  So, either remember to ask early in the afternoon for approval for her to stay or learn to use document services like every competent associate in town already has!

  • In defence of secretaries

    Is the secretary receiving the same pay or bonuses as you? If not, why would you expect her to work the same hours as you.

  • BitterPara

    There is no union..but have to say, I’m siding with your secretary on this one.  You’re the attorney, and if you know you’re going to need her to stay later, telling her 8 minutes before ‘you’ know she’s leaves for the day is just lame on your part.  So what if you had to input your own edits, suck it up!  The bigger concern with that should be the cost to the client which in turn could lead to yelling from the billing partner, not that you find the task menial and “beneath” you—which by the way is more than just mildly offensive to anyone who supports you.

  • YrNextBestAsst

    So, is it just normal practice that my attorney ALWAYS saves my work to 15 minutes prior to my clockout time…while i sit around for 2 hrs in the morning before he even arrives?

  • MrPerson

    Is this serious ? Why not hire a male secretary. Many would be appreciative of the opportunity to easy, high paying work.

  • Craig

    “One evening last week, I finally finished marking up a credit agreement that had to be delivered to the client the next morning.” – – The problem is that you obviously wait until the last minute to do work, and then work in a state of panic until it gets done. You obviously could have gotten it done earlier if you really wanted to, but you knew you would also be able to do it the day before. This strategy may work for you, as it works for me, but don’t expect every, or even any, of the other employees of the firm to work on that hectic schedule. It is easier to work hurriedly and at late hours when it is of your own doing, but forcing someone else to work like that is not fair, and will cause resentment.

  • Anon Woman, aka “Wendy”

    Your secretary stays until 5:30p.m.? Really?  Can I hire her?

  • Nadia

    From what I just read…I’m guessing that you work @ Davis Polk

  • Notyourassistant

    I work as a secretary in a biglaw NYC firm.  I usually ask my partner if there is anything else he needs before I leave.  The associates and income partners who are also on my desk know they should ask me to stay if they need work done outside my normal hours.  I don’t resent staying and I expect most secretaries don’t unless they have children or childcare issues which they can’t get around.  If his secretary is getting ready to leave at 5:22, then I would assume she has a tight schedule for her train/bus.  Why couldn’t he speak to her like a normal person and ask her to stay?  That’s what most secretaries can’t stand, associates who don’t have the most basic social skills.

  • Anon

    You’re a douche bag. Leave big law and get a life.

  • The Lazy Clock Watcher

    I am one of those clock watchers who dash out the door three minutes before my “shift” ends.  I am also trained as a paralegal.  I am not allowed to engage in any work that could be billed by a paralegal (I didn’t know clients enjoyed paying $170+ for the equivalent of a secretary with a billable rate); I do not have a B.A. or the hallowed Paralegal Certificate <Angels from on high sing AHHHH>.  So, what do I do all day?  I train paranoid “trained” paralegals who think I’m trying to steal their jobs (who know deep down I have nearly 30 years’ experience and they have a “certificate”) how to file in ECF or use PACER utilities; locate federal and state laws, local rules, how to format citation signals; create a table of authorities and actually, come to think of it, the definition of an “authority” [or shockingly, “litigation bag”], so I can be told later the paralegals, who don’t know what they’re doing, can bill for the time so I am no longer needed.  Then I get to clean up the messes made by paralegals with zero thanks or even an acknowledgement.  Even suggesting I should be assigned a billable rate so I can be a valuable member of the team is met with confused stares.  So… we lazy clock watchers—who have been begging you overburdened attorneys, doing “grunt” work you do not hesitate to bill unsuspecting clients at $300-$1,000 per hour, for additional responsibilities or at least some insight into the substance of your work, so we don’t have to rely on time entries you entered a half-hour before the closing deadline, which are so puffed up to impress the client so the client will not demand you write off the clerical “grunt” work, it is unrecognizable as your actual work product—we recieved a memo from management:  SECRETARIAL OVERTIME IS FORBIDDEN.  The next time you don’t feel like doing petty “grunt” work, ask the paralegals to do it.  They can bill [$170+ per hour].  Or better yet, perhaps respect your secretary enough to treat her as a valuable professional and not simply as a timesheet-closer-slash-label-maker.  You can buy a Dymo for labels.  Now, Venting Attorney, you tell me:  Why should any of us stay?  To help you?  You want a quick crop, keep planting weeds in your garden.  I hear they grow twice as quickly as produce and require no work or commitment from you.  Beat that vent.

  • The Lazy Clock Watcher

    I’m so pissed, I’m writing a supplemental rant.  When you “decide”, Mr. Matthew Ranting Attorney, at 5:22 p.m. you have some imperative project for Nancy—such as transcribing your profit-generating rants so you can post them on a BitterLawyer dot com in hopes of finding people who don’t know you who feel sorry for you, which clearly is not happening here for the most part—remember, if you break U.S. Department of Labor law (and by the way, if you’re at a BigLaw firm, you are a labor firm—imagine, an attorney didn’t know this), your secretary and you both can be fired on the spot, becaue your rant was more important than the law.  I leave at 5:30 p.m.  Whether you value the secretaries’ time is something to be examined by a psychologist, a career counselor, or perhaps your supervising partner, the one with all the clients who pay your salary (and might I add, the firm’s overhead, including secretarial overtime).  Your work still will be incomplete at 5:30 p.m., because I am sure as soon as you advise Nancy at 5:22 that you have a rant, you’ll take a pee break or go grab coffee before giving her the work, breathing a sigh of relief that she now “knows” of your new important deadline:  a rant about her.  Nancy is intelligent enough to know that even if she works her schedule every day to the second, you think so little of her you write these rants.  Do you know what we lazy clock-watchers do while awaiting for your work?  We surf the ‘net for insights into what attorneys think of us generally because we want you to respect us.  That’s all.  Nancy must walk out the minute that clock hits 5:30:01 to avoid at the very least a verbal counseling by HR (if not death glares from you).  See, if she clocked in at 8:50 a.m., by law she must—wow—clock out at 5:20 or face a lecture about an unintentional 10 minutes of overtime.  Do you still want Nancy to break DOL law to “help” you with your very important rant?  Why don’t you take your whiny, self-righteous, useless ass to your partner and tell him or her all about your no-talent clock-watcher, who arrives early, sits in the cube across from your office driven nearly to tears waiting for your special work all effing day long, gets nothing, is forced to clock out early, knowing (1) she has to show up every day in order to pay her rent, (2) how much contempt you harbor against her when she’s done nothing wrong, and (3) she will be assaulted the next day by your deathray vision and your personally handcarved stone tablet stating the only commandment that seemed important to you until you learned YOU could be fired too:  “THOU SHALT NOT LEAVE UNTIL EXCUSED”.  G’head, tell your supervising partner that your poorly conceived rant was more important than the Department of Labor fines HE will have to pay because of you.  Tell him your poorly conceived rant is indicative of your other work product.  Wait for his response.  Salaries do matter, as does the “exempt” status the U.S. Department of Labor has conferred upon legal secretaries.  YOU are the reason most people, including secretaries, paralegals, copy center operators and partners alike generally think associates are dicks.

  • morelikeathirdyear

    Your partner should have given that credit agreement to this “clock watcher.” Gee, let’s see…I’ve been doing those for 18+ years as an assistant.  Usually takes me about 20 minutes or so to carve out, depending on the deal’s term sheet.  See, not all of us need “who-the-hell-I-think-I-am” associates to mark stuff up.  We do have brains, sometimes better functioning ones than associates.  And hate to tell you this, but most first year associates are so eager to prove themselves that they put more senior associates to shame in the work-ethic department.
    And don’t blame your secretary for the hours she works.  Those are the “standard” law firm hours for a secretary.
    I have a young son at home, I’m a widow, I work and break my ass doing it, my commute is hell…yet when I have at least 15 minutes advance notice I will make arrangements to stay late (hell, I have bills to pay also).  Pre-child, there were times I didn’t go home for 2 or 3 days in order to close a deal – and my husband was a force to be reckoned with.  Nowadays, I’ll admit those marathons can’t and don’t happen, but I’ll still make the effort to stay if the effort is made to give me ample notice.
    Oh, one more thing – your attitude really sucks, even for a more senior associate.

  • Precioustime

    Where’s your secretary?  Where the hell were you in the morning when she got there?  Why do you wait 8 minutes before she leaves to give her a lengthy project?  Maybe if you stopped surfing for your porny friend, you would have gotten your work done in a more timely manner.  I bet you’re one of those jerks who circles mistakes with red pen, or brings her in to snap at her about a typo.
    I hope that if you say “you go when I say you go,” she goes to HR and reports your sorry butt.

  • Mr. Matthew Snotface

    Going Forward type your own notes, memos etc. 

    Biglaw jobs are disappearing fast, so you might find yourself doing the job of as assistant, paralegal, associate, because the Partner on the deal is not going.  Get wise, you moron, days of padding hours over. 

  • JGN

    I cannot believe the length of this topic!

    Those who supervise, take an online supervision etiquitte course.  Some of you are clueless.

    Those secretarial types, bless you, you are unappreciated for the most part and keep the hem in much of what we do.  We walk, but you make us look good.  All of us should remember it’s a team effort.  Communicate early, often and completely and we won’t have a conflict. 

    My secretary keeps me straight, I work her hard, pay her well and when I don’t need her, I cut her loose for hookey days.  When I’ve got an all nighter, she locks the door and makes coffee.

  • LucyGucy

    Fock you. I am a litigation legal secretary and a damn good one. I have taken more abuse from you muther fockers than I could list. The one time I needed legal help, my attorney handed me the yellow pages after spending I can’t count how many nights of staying late for him, at times very late, as in midnight. You treat me like I am the village idiot and like I don’t have a brain. Well, guess what? You have 3 focking more years of school than I do and my undergrad was biochemistry NOT psychology a$shole. I speak 3 languages, none of which is Spanish, have read most of the canon and can quote Shakespeare. I have travelled half the globe, have a subscription to the ballet and have been on private golf courses all over the world. My GPA was 4.0 in college. Know why I work for you? Because I was starving and homeless in college because I have no parents and stopped going to school to work b/c being starving and homeless sucks. My hours are 8:30 am to 5:00 pm and no, that does not mean 5:10. The only good news about you is you’ll die early from stress.

    • Krista

      Thanks Lucy. The best thing I’ve read since Shakespeare! I also work in litigation support. 99% of the time the person playing a lawyer is a lying, self-absorbed dip shit plus or minus a Napoleon complex. My husband’s a surgeon, so they know right away I’m not impressed. I think the law attracts a lot of dysfunctional people who didn’t know what else to do to make them appear successful on the outside. Although I communicate with 41 attorneys at my firm on a fairly regular basis, there are only three I genuinely like.