For all my griping about my secretary Nancy’s gross incompetence, if there is one positive word I would use to describe her, it is old-school. For fans of Mad Men, she was my Joan Holloway. Well, an ugly, fat, mole-y version, but you get the idea. She knew how things worked.
So when she was replaced around a month ago by a relative newbie—and an Asian to boot—I knew it did not bode well for me.
At my firm, we share secretaries, and apparently my co-tenants did not appreciate Nancy’s inability to proofread properly. Hell, the woman could barely read. Any lawyer foolish enough to send out something solely proofed by Nancy was asked for trouble. But, what she lacked in the skill department, she made up for in understanding the old school rules as I see them.
Most attorneys would probably define coverage as the secretary’s responsibility to answer phones, send out emails, proofing, typing up letters, etc.
My definition is different. Coverage means a secretary’s ability to cover my ass when I am loafing on the job! At that, Nancy was top notch.
My new secretary, Sue Ann, seemed perfectly nice and can actually proofread. The problem was, she didn’t understand the code just yet. I’m like the old dirty beat cop that has to break in the rookie, ala Denzel in Training Day. She is still under the impression we run a clean ship around here. So I decided it was my job to quickly dissuade her of that notion.
Last week, I had a major conflict. Like when you’re wife and mistress both want to go out on Valentine’s Day! (FYI- the rule is you’re supposed to take the mistress out on February 13th, so she doesn’t feel like an afterthought . . . ironic.) I had a conference call and the first Knicks playoff game in ages at the exact same time. I’m almost as big a Knicks fan as I am of escorts. I love self-destructive behavior so this makes total sense. The call was one of the first on a new deal, so I figured they could survive without me. Anyway, I told Sue Ann that if anyone needed me, I was in a meeting. In reality, I was downstairs in the conference room watching the game with a couple of mailroom guys. Every 30 minutes or so, I called her to check in and see if anyone was looking for me.
Sue Ann told me. “Ashley came looking for you, so I told her you were in a meeting. She asked me where so I called reception to find out what room you were calling me from.”
Jesus, who told you to go all forensic investigator on me, lady.
I quickly hung up the phone on her and try to make a getaway, but the jig was up. Ashley, a female partner I detest working for, was standing in the doorway with her arms folded like an angry mother who just caught her child masturbating.
“Hey Ashley, didn’t know you were a Knicks fan. I just stopped by real quick to check on the score.”
She was not amused. I quickly grabbed my legal pad and file folder (I keep them with me as a pathetic attempt to make it seem like I’m doing work down there)
and meekly followed her back upstairs for a minor chiding.
I called Sue Ann into my office for a quick powwow. I tried to explain to her that Nancy and I had a certain way of doing things. I didn’t want to divulge all of my deviant behaviors right off the bat, so I just sort of insinuated that I didn’t always do things by the book and that Nancy was more than cool with covering for me. She gave me an icy stare.
“Well, it didn’t seem like most people appreciated Nancy’s way or she’d still be here.”
Wow, blatant insubordination to a commanding officer!
Direct confrontation was not going to work. I knew I had to take another tack. I thanked her for diligence and walked out of the office to clear my head. I have always prided myself on my ability to get people on my side, whether through charm, blackmail…or bribery! That was the ticket. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about secretaries is they feel underpaid and underappreciated and when you show your appreciation, especially in monetary form, it usually will pay major dividends. In fact, I credit Nancy going out of her way to cover my ass on numerous occasions to the fact that my holiday bonus was larger than the partner she worked for. (She told me this point blank.) So I popped into Starbucks and grabbed one of those gift cards. I wrote a little note on it that said “To a long and prosperous relationship together.”
The next morning, I was nursing a raging hangover and I knew I had no chance of making it to the office for our 10:30 call. It was the kind of dizzying hangover that even emailing Sue Ann and asking her to cover for me was too much. Especially, since she basically told me to f-myself when I asked her to break some rules for me. By the time I crawled into the office it was 11:45 and I had received a couple of emails from Ashley. Uh oh. I assumed the emails would not be pleasant.
The first email at 10:49: “Matthew, I don’t know why you aren’t responding to my emails but we need to have a serious talk about your work ethic.”
I opened the second email expecting it to say something like “You’re fired, dickwad.”
Instead it just said “Hope you’re feeling better. Ignore my last email. Call me when you are back in the office.”
Hmm, I emailed Sue Ann and asked her to come into my office.
“So, I guess I should thank you. For telling Ashley about my doctor’s appointment?”
“No need to thank me, it’s part of my job.”
Okay, that’s more like, guess that gift card really buttered her up. She turned around before she walked out to clarify her position.
“Just don’t ask me to do anything that will get me in trouble!”
Maybe she can be convinced of the merits of doing things old-school after all. Too bad the Knicks are already out of the playoffs.