For a young attorney, working with a legal secretary may be one of the most challenging parts of your job.
The days of ordering your secretary to get you coffee or wait at your beck and call are mostly long gone (unless you're a senior partner). While you may believe that you are higher up in the pecking order given your JD, your secretary who has 30 years with the firm and has seen plenty of green associates come and go may peg you as being a little further down (i.e., at the very bottom of) the food chain.
As a result, young attorneys may be faced with a challenging situation in which they have to direct and lead secretaries and other legal support staff who may be much older and more experienced than they are.
Here are three tips for working with your legal secretary in a way that she or he won't resent you:
- Don't be a pushover. Remember that despite seniority and age, your secretary's job is to support and assist your practice. As a result, you will have to tell your secretary to perform seemingly menial tasks like making edits to your documents, photocopying, and finding your contacts. A problem for many young attorneys is that they will try to be too nice or become "friends" with their secretary. This is a mistake, as you are inherently not on equal terms. If you develop this type of relationship, you may find that your assignments are left on the backburner, as the secretary attends to the work of "tougher" partners and associates first. But remember, there's a thin line between being firm and ruling with an iron fist.
- Nip issues in the bud. If you're not satisfied with the proofreading, grammar, research, or any other work your secretary has done, bring it up immediately. Don't ignore mistakes or other issues with the hope that they will disappear. They won't. If you ignore reoccurring issues, those "minor" mistakes may eventually cause a major blowup. More importantly, you want to ensure that your client receives the highest quality work, so you will want to set that standard with your secretary early on as well.
- Stay away from politics. Many secretarial pools are highly politicized, with groups hating other groups or having some other strange dynamic. Stay away from this world at all costs. You don't want to gossip about other secretaries or really anyone in the office. There is no good that can come from this. If you must gossip or chit-chat, stick to talking about celebrities and stuff you see on television.
Editor's Note, March 5, 2015: This post was first published in December 2012. It has since been updated.
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