The other day, I asked my secretary to get me a file. She told me to ask a paralegal who was “familiar with the deal.” I got the file myself, but asked the paralegal to pick me up some Chinese food while he was out. “Not in my job description,” he said. “Ask your secretary.” Now, I’m asking them both: Who the hell do they think they are and what do they think they do here at the firm?
A major flaw in BigLaw is the failure to properly delineate job responsibilities. I know for sure that the partner is at the top, I’m in the lower middle, and that first-year associates are scraping the bottom of the barrel. But what happens below that, in the bowels of BigLaw, is beyond me. As far as I can tell, anyone working at a law firm who isn’t a lawyer is simply the help. Unfortunately, the help are obsessed with establishing some kind of artificial pecking order designed for the sole purpose of insulating them from menial tasks that they believe should be performed by anyone who doesn’t share their job title.
I may bitch about my secretary being MIA (and that does piss me off), but when she’s here, I have an even bigger problem with her. In fact, it’s the single biggest problem I have with all of my underlings. They THINK they have very narrow job descriptions that don’t include things I actually need them to do.
I’ve never seen a handbook laying out what jobs I can dump on paralegals and which I’m supposed to assign to secretaries. Neither group brings a unique skill set to the table. From where associates sit, paralegals are just secretaries with slightly more ambition. But I’ve actually heard some paralegals snicker when I asked them to do work that they think is “beneath them.” Is there some sort of hierarchy I’m unaware of?
Here’s how I understand BigLaw’s depth chart:
3. IT Guy
4. Cleaning Crew
6. Paralegals and Secretaries
According to the depth chart, only partners should be able to give associates shit. And never, ever, ever should an associate take lip from anyone below the No. 2 slot, especially the para-taries (yes, they are the same).
It’s on the depth chart!
So how do you explain this conversation?
Me: I need these incumbency certificates drafted.
Secretary: Isn’t Kevin [a paralegal] trained to do that?
Trained? We all know its monkey scribe work. I went to a top law school to be the most overpaid of the monkey scribes. Deal with it. You sound like a barista at Starbucks complaining when someone asks you to serve oatmeal. “I’m a barista, I don’t do food service.”
It’s exchanges like this that drive associates f-ing bonkers.
First of all, you don’t question a direct order. If I say we’re going to Jersey to bury a dead hooker in the Pine Barrens, my para-tary better be ready with a shovel and change for the tolls.
Second, this is what she is really trying to say: I am a secretary. There are certain things that secretaries do and don’t do. This falls into the “don’t do” category.
Here’s what I’m saying when I ask you to run out to the deli and buy me lottery tickets: I’m a lawyer. There are certain people I can boss around. You’re one of them.
But hey, if establishing clear definitions for paralegals and secretaries is that important to you all, we can have a decathlon to determine the pecking order.
Paralegals and secretaries can compete in the following categories:
1. Dressing Like a Professional
4. Handling of a Closing
5. Social Interaction
6. Dry Cleaning Pickup Speed
7. Deciphering My Date’s Voice from Other Whores With My Work Number
8. General Reaction to My Abusive Ways
Okay, wait. I can’t think of ten, so it will have to be a heptathlon. Or, maybe paralegals and secretaries can hash out their respective job descriptions with a death match—kind of like bum fights, only more corporate. The winner gets to be my bitch, and the loser gets to be the winner’s bitch. Pecking order established.
In the end, I don’t care. I really don’t. I assign work to para-taries based on your proximity to me. If you are close, I am going to tell you to do something. It’s that simple. Neither of you is better than the other, just like no associate is better than a partner. You can hate me if you like (I’m sure I deserve it), but just stop trying to play that game of hot potato with my assignments. Otherwise, I will personally send out an anonymous firm-wide memo tomorrow asking that secretaries and paralegals titles be replaced with a catchall title: The help.
If you want to avoid that humiliating fate, my dear para-taries, figure out who does what and stick to it. Or, just accept the fact that you’re both equally low on the totem poll, and are therefore fungible enough to do each other’s work. Either way, I never want to hear a paralegal tell me that something is “secretary’s work” or vice versa.