Delegating: Using Your Assistant Well

how to use your assistantReader E wonders what you can and should ask your assistant or secretary to do — and what is off limits. Great question!

I have been fortunate and I find myself a busy exec at a consulting firm at a young age. I am working 60-80 hours a week and just learning how to leverage my assistant. She is helping me with my expenses and time entry, but I suspect she and I could both get more out of the relationship. I’ve grown up in a world where I can do almost everything myself (like book travel) but I’m struggling to manage my work/life balance. I could use help with just about anything but as I dive into the world of asking for help, I don’t want to find myself at the other end of the spectrum where I’m asking too much or being inappropriate. Advice that outlines do and do not categories or mentions creative ideas might be most helpful.

Congrats to be a busy exec, and a special congrats on getting what sounds like a competent and helpful assistant — they can be hard to come by, so treat him or her like gold! (And apologies in advance for every time I say “her” meaning the assistant — in addition to being Reader E’s situation, it’s easier to type than “him or her” every time!)  (Pictured:  Screencap from Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.  We’re right on top of it, Rose!) Oh, and PSA: Don’t forget that tomorrow is Administrative Assistant’s Day. Check out our poll on what to get your assistant.)

For my $.02, you can delegate the following sorts of things to your assistant, depending on your job:

1) Expenses / time sheets / other simple data entry. This is what most people will use their secretaries and assistants for, and in some companies — particularly where an assistant is shared between four or five people — that may be all that he or she is asked to do.

2) Grunt work like photocopying, mailing, faxing, scanning, even typing things that can’t be OCR’d (or proofreading things that have been OCR’d).

3) Liaison activities. This is where your assistant will start to be more useful to you: have him or her act as a liaison with colleagues, clients, and opposing parties, to schedule conference calls, meetings, and more. Give her access to your calendar (there are ways you can set up a “shared” calendar in Outlook, if memory serves, that lets you only show her *some* of your activities — same with Google Calendar) so she doesn’t have to run in to check with you every time.

4) Filtering. You can absolutely ask your assistant to screen calls and even emails.  In fact, with a lot of senior people it’s difficult to get an email to your target without having it filtered by the assistant first.  (I once worked with a Big Wig who, in addition to needing filtering, just wasn’t comfortable with email yet — his assistant got all of his emails and would print out the important ones, and he would then scribble a response on the printout and hand it back to his assistant to be typed.)  Depending on what your work entails, you can even have him or her skim different publications and flag any stories that might be of interest to you.  For example, when I was 22 and a very junior editorial assistant at a magazine, I read 30 magazines on a weekly basis for the EIC and flagged different stories that I thought might be of interest to her, either for a story idea for our publication or from a “you should know what our competitor is doing” perspective– similarly, I now have my virtual assistant read a lot of the RSS feeds that end up in the Weekly Roundup.

5) Dictation/transcription. I truly believe that there is a lost art to dictation, and I never quite mastered it, try as I might. As a lawyer, I primarily found it helpful when I had been reviewing cases, treatises, and other documents like deposition transcripts and more where I would find big chunks of text that I wanted to use in the draft of whatever I was writing but didn’t want to type them — so I would dictate them. I tried it both with my assistant at the time and the speech-recognition transcription program Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and there is a learning/teaching curve to both. Personally, I found Dragon more helpful because I could see what I had said aloud almost immediately which made proofreading easier, whereas with my assistant it may have been a few days before I saw the transcribed notes. I’ll also note that transcription jobs can vary in difficulty: if you’re writing a one-page letter using simple, regular words it’s going to be a lot easier than if you’re taking notes on an arcane area of law with a lot of terms of art, or if, say, your consulting work involves medical or pharmaceutical terms or acronyms.

6) Research for work-related things. For example, let’s say you need to create a number of posters for a presentation — your assistant can call Kinkos and see what the deadline is, what format the image files need to be in, what the cost variations are, and so forth. Similarly, if you’re having a work-related lunch you can have your assistant call different restaurants to see who has a table available at a certain time or date; same for work-related travel arrangements.

7) Things your assistant thinks she can do that will assist your professional life. If you’re dealing with an assistant who handles everything you give him or her very well, take her out to lunch to thank her, and talk about how you can better use the relationship.  For example:  “You’ve done an amazing job with everything I’ve given you, and I can tell that you’re capable of more.  What else have you done in the past?  What else might you think that I could give you to do?”  Your assistant might also use this opportunity to tell you what jobs she hates doing, or what she wants out of the relationship (maybe she’s studying to do what you do in the future; maybe she wants more flexibility with her schedule, like longer lunches or earlier nights) — listen to her, and if you can, accommodate her on at least one or two items.

Things NOT to ask your assistant to do:
1) Personal tasks. At least in most situations that I’ve been in or witnessed, the secretary/assistant’s job is not one of personal assistant. You should not task her with things that have no relation to the job at hand: booking vacation flights for you, picking up a box of tampons, or even getting you coffee on a regular basis. (Although, if a client came to your office, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask your assistant to get the client a cup of coffee.) If you have that rare assistant who is happy to get you a cup of coffee on a regular basis, or is willing to pick up personal items for you at the drugstore — again, treat him or her like gold: I view all of that stuff as “above and beyond.”

2) Anything that crosses into YOUR job. For example, it’s one thing to have your assistant print out pages from 5-10 different websites or scan/photocopy pages that will help you do an analysis for your job — it’s another thing to ask your assistant to do a rough draft of that analysis herself.

Readers, what else do you use your assistants or secretaries for? What do you consider off limits in terms of secretarial tasks?

Comments

  1. When I was working as an assistant, my boss would often ask for my take on someone who met with him. He understood that applicants or petitioners would act one way when dealing with him, but a completely different way when dealing with me.

    Doing personal errands has already been mentioned as a no-no, but I particularly HATED buying his lunch and driving his car.

  2. This is super helpful information, and it’s always nice to have a reminder. I also have to say that one of the best pieces of advice about assitants I’ve ever gotten was when I was summering. My supervising attorney gave me a large assignment with specific instructions to utilize her assistant in doing some of the organization/copying/collating of the information I found. She said (correctly) that one of the most difficult things, especially for someone who is used to doing everything by themselves, is effectively utilizing someone whose job it is to assist you.

  3. This should be a lively discussion! I have been on both sides of this issue and two situations came to mind immediately that were handled badly:

    1 – As an assistant, I put together an annual meeting for a very small, fledgling economic development group. The director wanted the event to be more meaningful, to become a real event. He turned most of it over to me. I planned the place, the menu, the agenda, the supporting handouts, the invitation list and then followed up to make sure the right people were attending to make it the event he envisioned. I arranged for some media coverage. I had just finished an internship at the state senate so I was able to make personal contact with many people who agreed to come even though they had never attended before. Then…….the night of the event…..I helped greet and register people. As the dinner was starting up, my boss came up to me and said, “You can go ahead and leave now. I think I can manage it from here. If you want to, you and your husband (spouses had been invited) can go eat in the restaurant and charge it to my account.” NOT COOL! My legislative contacts asked me later, “What happened to you? Where did you go?” In fact, with one of them, it became a long-standing giggle because it reflected so badly on my director’s people skills.

    2 – At the same organization, about a year later my director called me in for an impromptu “formal evaluation” one morning as I arrived. His main point was that I wasn’t trying hard enough to get along with the senior assistant in the grouped offices ( she was the assistant to the highest ranking organization in the physical space we were in). There were deep reasons why there were conflicts with this person and she kept all of us assistants in constant upheaval, though under the radar of the directors. I resigned immediately. There just has to be some level of trust in your assistant’s character or it’s futile to keep trying.

  4. soulfusion :

    For lawyers (and possibly others) I would add that you should always keep in the back of your mind whether the client should be paying your rate for whatever task is at hand. Some things like making copies and putting together binders are obvious. Others may not be so obvious and really depend on your seniority. The more senior I have become, the more effort I make to delegate to my assistant and legal assistants and junior associates. This can be very difficult because it is usually true that I can do it faster, better more efficiently myself (at least the first time) but the client shouldn’t have to pay my rates just because I’m not willing to delegate.

    Also, I have never had the desire to dictate anything because the worst job I had in college was transcribing dictation at an insurance adjuster’s office. Despite knowing my name the dictator (!) always addressed me as “steno.” My cubicle was an ergonomic torture chamber and failure to learn my name and not bothering to greet me while dropping a new tape over my cube wall made me horribly miserable. So be respectful to your assistant and he/she will most likely work harder for you in the long run.

    • Totally agree on the billing rate thing.

    • I would have agreed on the billing thing, but have gotten a (shocking, demoralizing) reputation as “haughty” and “thinks too much of herself” for expressing, meekly, once, that the clients might not want to be paying $250 per hour for what had then been four hours of assembling binders.

      • What they called “haughty” I call character. You go, Veronica.

      • I think there is a difference between recognizing what is an effective use of your assistant (your billing rate vs. theirs for compiling binders), versus telling someone that’s why you’re asking them to do that task.

        A more senior attorney at my firm told me that I should be doing research because “he costs a lot more than I do per hour, and the client doesn’t want to pay for him to do that work.” Well, duh. But that’s one of those things that I thought was incredibly rude to say.

        • downtownist :

          @CW, out of curiosity, why did you think it was incredibly rude?

        • I think there’s a nice way to say that too – senior attorneys at my firm regularly express that to me and other associates, and its talked about openly in meetings about the most effective way to handle client needs. If it’s treated as a fact with no implication that one person is “worth” more than another as an abstract matter, I think it’s fine and is a good way for junior associates to get used to thinking anyway.

        • I can see how that could be seen as rude, sure. I wasn’t talking to the assistant though, it was in response to the senior attorney telling me to keep doing it. I think I said something like “I am a little worried the client will complain that I’m spending so much time on this given the billing rate.” She took it as somehow meaning that I thought I was too good to assemble binders, so now I’ve adopted a strict “not my problem” policy with regards to those types of issues. But my workplace is….different…so your mileage may vary.

          • Oh, I misunderstood. I think raising the billing rate issue with a senior attorney is totally appropriate.

            I work with one person who does not trust paralegals or assistants, so I feel your pain.

        • @ Em – exactly. It’s obvious that a more junior associate is more cost effective than a partner or more senior associate, and tasks should be assigned accordingly. That’s just proper case management. It’s when the statement is linked to value/worth that it becomes rude.

          @ downtownist – In the particular incident I was referring to, it would have been fine if he had said, “Would you please do research on X?” and left it at that. I would never have assumed that he should be the one doing that work, because I’m the junior associate on the team. It’s when he continued on with, “because I cost a lot more than you do” that it became rude (at least in my mind). That turned the request from something normal (and totally appropriate for someone at my level) into a de-valuing of both me and the task that I was about to do.

          • downtownist :

            That’s really interesting. I guess I wouldn’t have felt that way because, at my firm, there’s no judgment attached to being told that you’re doing something because you’re cheaper. I’m guessing this guy didn’t mean anything negative by his comment (unless he’s generally a jacka$$). Maybe he’s expressing some frustration directed at the firm, not you– in other words, he’s being priced out of work. That can be a pretty scary situation to face.

          • @ downtownist, same here – I’ve had partners tell me they were assigning me to do really substantive legal work (attend hearings and settlement conferences, take the first run of drafting briefs) and I’ve seen communications with clients where they’ve stated the thing explicitly. Though I think it could be said in a way that makes it dismissive and nasty, which might be your case, I don’t think it necessarily has to be!

          • soulfusion :

            I’ve made similar comments to more junior associates – that they are doing X task because their rate is lower – because I think it is important to start thinking of what your time is to clients early on in your career. It doesn’t mean one particular person is worth less by any means and shouldn’t be perceived that way.

            Also, I think downtownist is right – there is sometimes a point when more senior associates are being bypassed for work because someone more junior can do it for less. When the market turned down I definitely saw and felt this for a while where partners held onto things they might normally give senior associates and only farmed out work to very junior associates.

  5. Threadjack: I’m a 2L, and this summer, I will interning at a nonprofit – working at this nonprofit is my dream job, and I’m very excited. I’m also in recovery from an eating disorder, and I see my therapist once a week. I’m doing very well, but it’s important to me to keep seeing my therapist so I can stay on track.

    I’m wondering how to ask my summer job if I can come in late / leave early one day a week to see my therapist. Should I say that I have a recurring doctor’s appointment? Is it better not to say anything, and just stop seeing her for the summer? This is possible, but not ideal.

    Unfortunately, due to my insurance, seeing my therapist on the weekends or in the evenings is not possible. She is only available 9-5. She is willing to do a phone session in the evening if necessary, but I would much rather see her in person – at least a few times during the summer.

    • Good luck with your internship and your recovery– any kind of recovery is hard to do, but it looks like you’ve done the work, so to speak, to get to a better place. Be proud of that.

      I think some of the previous advice on a similar issue was to just leave it as “I have a standing appointment at 8:30 am on Thursday mornings. It cannot be rescheduled, but I will make up that lost time during the week.” Something to that effect conveys that it’s really none of their business (…and it isn’t), but that you understand it will impact their business day and you are minimizing the impact.

      • +1 to this. I had a standing therapy session right after work and always called it a standing appointment. No one ever asked questions, and I think when you say it with the right tone, people know not to ask.

        On a different note, good for you for making this a priority–as someone who is (thankfully) on the recovered side of an eating disorder, my biggest regret is not starting the process sooner. As Kellyn said, you should be so proud all the work you have done to get to this place. Hugs, and best of luck at your internship–sounds like a fantastic opportunity!

    • Anonymous :

      I would state that you have a recurring dr’s apt, but reassure everyone that you are in good health and hopefully put a stop to questions. Your health comes first and you shouldn’t risk it. I would volunteer to either come in early or stay late on the days that you have the appointment to show your dedication and work hard to demonstrate that the situation/appointment doesn’t interfere with your ability to do your job. Good luck!

    • Accountress :

      Do not not not drop seeing your therapist. I’m sure that the other corporettes will be able to tell how to best phrase the fact that you have a standing appointment that cannot be missed, but I’m sure work will be able to accomodate you. Maybe certain days of the week are less busy for your non-profit and you can schedule your appointments then?

      PS, because it can never be said enough: you’re very brave and strong for taking action about your eating disorder. It cannot be easy, and you should be proud that you’re working towards recovery.

    • To add to the others, I would say schedule it (or try to) at lunch time and make it your lunch, if possible (which means missing lunches out sometimes, but oh well), or try to make it early or late, so you don’t leave in the middle of the day.

      • Second this. I’d try to be as unobtrusive as possible. It’s possible that telling people just a little bit (weekly Dr. appointment) will have them all wondering what the deal is, which you do not want. Nor do you need to tell them your business.

      • Unfortunately it’s about a 45 minutes drive from the office to the appointment – so it would be a very extended lunch, and would still require letting the office know.

        I will definitely have the first or last appointment of the day, but it will still require an adjustment to my work schedule.

        Thank you everyone for the suggestions!

        • Definitely keep your appointment with your therapist and try to work around a way to get in all of your hours. Good luck!

        • It depends on the kind of work you are doing, but I would imagine that first appointment of the day would be less disruptive. You may come in late once a week, but as long as there are no big meetings scheduled in the morning most people might not notice, if arrival times are not strict, plus you could stay late to “make up” the time. I would think it would be more noticeable to leave early once a week, you are more likely to be in the middle of something with other people.

          Note that this assumes you have a choice as to first or last appointment of the day. If it’s last, maybe you can come in a bit early on those days.

    • I would say “standing appointment,” not “standing doctor’s appointment.” I think throwing in the “doctor” in there will prompt questions asking if you’re ok and create more curiousity than you want. There’s absolutely no shame in going to a therapist regularly (as I’ve said before) but if you are discreet, your co-workers will take their cues from you and be discreet as well.

      Also, this info should be on a “need to know” basis only. If the HR person can be responsible for clearing it with your other supervisors, then you only need to talk to the HR person.

      Also, hugs to you! Keep up the good work. It’s not easy what you’re doing, and it’s great that you are making your health a priority. You are absolutely doing the right thing.

      • I agree! I would try to just say that you have a personal commitment or something along those lines and avoid mentioning doctor. That will just prompt questions and speculation.

        • What sort of “personal commitment” that’s non-medical in nature (for oneself or possibly one’s dependents) would be appropriate to leave work for on a weekly basis? I totally understand wanting to stay vague on the details, but it seems worse to have people wondering if you’re going to PTA meetings, leg waxings, or pottery class that (unless I’m missing some obvious non-medical acceptable personal commitments). Unspecified “medical appointments” (documented with HR) would definitely be the way to go in my office.

          • I always assumed that once you say “personal reasons” unless the other person is completely rude and invasive, they will just leave it at that and not ask questions. It’s none of their business and it will be obvious that you do not want to discuss it. No one will know and if you say “medical” I think everyone will be wondering what it could be. They will do that either way, but at least if you say “personal reasons” they will not know the type of problem. Just my take. If someone is nervous that it will look bad and others will think you are just getting a leg wax or taking pottery classes, which honestly is ridiculous, then I would tell only the highest person possible who you trust and even then not the personal details. I guess I’m very private.

          • I think that most HR people or supervisors will get it if OP says it’s a “personal” or “standing” appointment. That’s their job. Maybe I’ve been lucky and have had good HR folks at the firms where I’ve worked, but for me that has always been enough.

            It’s also obvious to me that OP takes the internship very seriously, so I doubt she would give the impression that she would be out of the office for frivolous reasons. She seems like the kind of gal who would know to schedule her leg waxing on her own time. :)

            Of course, if OP needs to disclose more info to get the ADA protection she’s entitled to, then she should do so.

          • I think that the danger with just saying “personal reasons” is that, out of politeness, they may not press you on the issue, but they may also think of you as less committed/flaky/etc. If they know it’s a medical issue, on the other hand, they are more likely to think of you as someone dealing with a tough issue while balancing your career–and if you do your work well, it reflects even more positively.

          • There are people in my office with several standing “personal commitment” appointments that are non-medical in nature. One attorney volunteers at his son’s school every week for two hours in the morning. He comes in around 10:00 once a week; no big deal. Another takes care of an elderly parent (that’s every morning); no big deal. Another has couple’s therapy once a week in the evening and never misses. It’s not common knowledge, but that would also not be a big deal in this office, either.

      • Anonymous :

        I’d definitely say doctors appointment. Standing appointment could be misconstrued as something frivolous.

      • I disagree with everyone who says you should not say it is a doctor’s appointment. I think you should make it clear that it is an appointment for a chronic medical issue (no need to get into details unless HR inquires). Assuming the ADA applies, your workplace has to make reasonable accommodations for any disability you might have. An eating disorder probably qualifies as a disability. Letting your boss know the appointment is for a medical issue puts them on notice. If they try to tell you that you cannot go to the appointments they could be violating the ADA. Any reasonably well-informed manager should know this.

    • I had to manage something similar when I was clerking. I told my co-clerks so that they could cover for me, but just otherwise left once a week for a “long lunch.” (It was a 10-15 minute walk for me, so more manageable.) Consider whether you can enlist the help of a fellow intern or the receptionist by sharing that it’s a doctor’s appointment.

    • Anonymous :

      I’d let them know it’s a doctor’s appointment. You are at an internship, basically interviewing for a job. Without telling them why they may think you have other priorities.

      Also, with the therapist being 45minutes by car I would try to do the phone session a few times and see her about2 times a month if possible? An internship is only for a limited time frame (10 weeks usually) so to make the best impression in that short period of time is vital.

    • I think it’s fine to keep seeing your therapist, and let the office know you have a weekly medical appointment on Wednesdays, you will be in late, but that you will work late as necessary.

      Alternatively, since you’ve suggested you’re at a stage where you’d consider dropping therapy altogether for the summer (though would much prefer to keep going), maybe looking for a new therapist closer to your office for the summer might be an option. If you feel this could seriously risk derailing you, don’t do it, but if you feel like you mostly want someone to check in with and be accountable to, this might be worthwhile. I say this as someone who struggled with anorexia in college. There was a time when less therapy was fine, and a time when none at all was necessary. Only you will know you’ll reach those milestones.

    • Mountain Girl :

      I think I agree with the others that I would tell HR it was for medical treatment and leave it at that.

      I also think that you need to do everything possible to make sure that you don’t have appts scheduled for Monday morning or Friday afternoon. You don’t want to create the impression that you are lengthening your weekend – especially during an internship. And, obviously, take any scheduled meetings, etc into consideration when setting the time.

      • Seattle Lawyer Mom :

        I don’t think it matters much if you say “standing appointment” or “standing medical appointment” — it’s all in how you say it. If you say it clearly, unequivocally, and with no further information provided, people will get that it’s a for real, non-frivolous thing and accept it and leave it alone. I had a co-clerk once who for many months left each Tuesday evening promptly (we worked at night in chambers) with no comment other than she had an appt., and just in how she said it I knew better than to ask any questions and never even wondered if it was something frivolous. Learned many months later when I knew her better that it was AA.

    • Honestly, if someone told me they had a standing weekly appointment, I would assume it was either medical or family related. I would never assume it was for something frivilous unless that person gave me a reason to assume that. I wouldn’t mention that it is a medical appointment unless I was either asked or got push-back on arriving late. Then, I would only say that it was a doctors appointment, and only to HR or my direct supervisor.

      I would try to get an appointment in the morning – it’s much easier for me to come in late and work late than to try to get away early – something always comes up as I’m walking out of the office, and I hate leaving a team working on something, even when I have a legitimate reason that I have to leave.

      Do find out if there are any standing meetings in the office, and try to schedule your weekly appointment around those.

      And congrats on making your recovery a priority.

  6. Sub-issue: how should junior people deal with senior assistants who have been with the firm/organization much, much longer and use that seniority as a bludgeon? My assistant, who can be lovely when she wants to be, has also been known to respond to requests to, for instance, book work travel by snapping “Why can’t you do it?” and similar. Anyone have any great strategies for dealing with it? (Mine has been to try and be firm while remaining scrupulously polite but it only has mixed effectiveness in terms of getting the work actually done.)

    • karenpadi :

      I’d respond with dead silence and raised eyebrows. After three seconds, I’d do some investigation by asking things like: “do you need additional information about my trip?” “do you need extra time to schedule this trip?” “is there someone else I should delegate this project to?”

      The assistant is testing you so put on your big girl panties. I (personally) imagine that I am a man and respond how I would expect a man to.

      • How about if you want to shift the relationship?
        I think I have already made the mistake of doing many of her tasks by myself. How do you back out and have her do her job?
        That said, she is a VERY nice person but lazy.

        • karenpadi :

          Keep delegating to her. If she’s not doing her job, talk to her supervisor. Keep emails with your instructions. I had a secretary like that and I ended up in a partner’s office for a formal investigation based on the secretary’s complaint. When I told my side of the story, and given my reputation among the attorneys as being easy to work with, the secretary was basically told to shape up. Even a senior assistant has to do their job.

          Treat your assistants like GOLD. I promptly forgot about the formal complaint once she started doing her job and we got along fine.

      • Dead silence and raised eyebrows can be powerfully effective, great suggestion. I would follow up the silence with some kind of statement about “I see. Well, maybe you could let me know what else you’re working on, and I can help you reprioritize things so you have enough time to get this done, because it is very important.”

        However, I think the critical issue here is not the attitude being tossed around but the fact she’s not getting the work done. One is an interpersonal issue, the other is a work product delivery issue. Have you thought about talking to someone in your HR department? Do you have an opportunity to bring this up during her reviews?

    • I am in the same situation. My assistant will keep repeating “can you imagine I am 20 years older than you are” and would reminisce (sp.?) about the old days when she used to be the general manager’s assistant.
      OK maybe she has been downgraded or something, but I still got in trouble sooo many times for booking the wrong hotel/plane etc. whereas it is her job.

      • karenpadi :

        Again, stay firm. Don’t use “sooo”. Place the blame squarely on her shoulders if she messed up. Keep emails. If the partner blames you, suggest that you might need a different assistant or ask if you can use the partner’s assistant for those tasks.

        Report the incident to the assistant’s supervisor (include the saved emails). Be strict.

        • Anonymous :

          Do not do this. dont ever blame your secretary — it makes you look bad. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility. You can and should delegate to your sec./assistant, but you still have to take responsibility. Part of taking responsibility though is addressing your assistant if there are issues with not getting stuff done/done right/done timely etc — raise it with her, raise it with her supervisor, raise it with whomever you need to get the problem fixed. but dont tell someone else something was wrong b/c your assistant screwed it up.

          • karenpadi :

            I agree that blaming a secretary is bad form. I was under the impression that this is a repeating situation. By putting the blame squarely on the secretary’s shoulders, I meant making her accountable. If something was screwed up, make her fix it. That means double-checking plans before a trip, calling the assistant during the trip to fix it (yes, I’ve called an assistant at 4:30pm on a Friday from Germany (1:30 AM CET) because she screwed up my flight home), and having her explain to accounting why my flight dates don’t match my hotel dates.

            Often, “bad” assistants have a reputation among the attorneys in firms. Sometimes, the only way to fix the situation is to acknowledge this to a supervising attorney when there is no looming deadline. I’ve had partners instruct their secretaries to work with me on certain projects because they knew my secretary by reputation.

      • I would just ignore her when she says that kind of stuff. Pretend she didn’t say it at all, don’t respond, redirect the conversation to something work-related

    • We have secretarial managers who manage all of the secretaries in each floor and redistribute overflow work when one assistant is too busy. When I have gotten that sort of attitude, I offer to contact the manager (or suggest my assistant contact the manager) to see if there is another assistant available to do the task in the meantime. Without fail, my assistant ends up doing whatever task it is herself.

    • Do you know why she only reacts like that sometimes? She may be genuinely overworked on the days when she reacts badly, or something like that. I’ve had assistants who regularly get snippy about being assigned work, but not ones who only do so occasionally.

      • Yeah, I’m not sure – I think some days she is genuinely overworked (and I always ask if she has time for things and every time she’s told me she too busy with something for one of the partners she works for, I’ve found other ways to do it or had it put off until she was free), but I also think there’s something else going on there too.

  7. Good suggestions. One other thing, if you share an assistant with other people, especially people who have higher status, you have to figure out a way for the assistant to sort out priorities.

    I personally was not successful at this. No matter how much advance notice I would give an assistant, no matter how much I explained an advance how important a deadline was, if someone more senior called she did his (usually was a man) work first.

    In addition, unfortunately, some women assistants are still very hostile to the idea of women professionals. If I got reasonably upset something about something like delayed work because of the problem I discussed above, I was pulling “a hissy fit.” One assistant openly defied me.

    Although you would think it would be in everyone’s interest to have a smoothly operating workplace, some men don’t care; in fact I think they like that women have additional hurdles.

    • I’m really facinated by this idea of female assistants who are hostile to female professionals (BTW, I hate the term “professionals”- as if the secretary is not “professional” or something, but I don’t have a better word.)

      I’ve never experienced it myself (although my experiences are limited- I’ve summer clerked and worked as a law clerk, but in both of those cases the assistants/secretaries were sweet as pie to me, and my current firm doesn’t have assistants), but I’ve heard of it enough times that I certainly believe it’s a real phenomenon. I’d love to hear people discuss it more, and maybe see a post on it, although I’m not sure exactly what it should say. As someone who is generally extra-polite, I can imagine that it must be extremely difficult to deal with.

      • found a peanut :

        Ugh, this is me. One of the assistants here has been here a few years longer than I have and is slightly older than me, and this makes her think she can pass judgment about what I do (i.e., she will say to the other associates, Wow, Peanut took a really long lunch today), roll her eyes at me, and arbitrarily give me attitude because something or other I did annoyed her (like, I took a long lunch). If someone has a nice way of telling her that I am the attorney and she is the assistant and we are not the same and you cannot treat me like that, I am alllllll ears.

        • Ha ha, try yelling at her. It worked wonders on the 80-yr olds b*&^% in my office. Enough was enough!

        • OMG that is so rude! Being a paralegal/secretary/assistant, I would never talk to my superior like that no matter how much older/younger the person is. that behavior is not acceptable in any office. The only thing i can think of is to tell her so.

      • I think it’s a generational thing. Most of the women assistants I know that are my age or younger see it as a 9-5 job that pays the bills. They might be mothers who want the good benefits package, or college grads who are trying out the legal field, or students in night school or whatever, but it’s really only the older women who view their jobs/attorneys (male) as their territory and other women as intruders.

        • Maybe you got a point here. I have noticed younger assistants are friendly and very helpful… matter of fact when I get stuck, I seek help from other assistants

      • I worked in an office like this. It was a small office, and she was the office manager, having started years before as a secretary. She was in her 30s, divorced with a teenage son, and had worked hard to get the place into tip top shape.

        Unfortunately, I show up as a legal intern, 25, single and carefree, and get a lot of attention from the older male boss. (None of the attention I got was inappropriate – he had gone to my law school, and would take me under his wing, take me to lunch, etc. General mentor stuff.) But his relationship with this office manager was really flirtatious and there was a lot of sexual tension. She saw me as a huge threat. One night after work, the entire office went out to the bar, and after a beer or two, she said some incredibly mean stuff to me, in front of everyone.

        After some tears, the lesson I learned was – sometimes there are office dynamics going on that you step into. The issues are bigger than you. Kind of, wrong place, wrong time.

        Do what you can to make the best of the situation, but sometimes you just have to muddle through.

        • found a peanut :

          what kind of mean things did she say???? were there any repercussions for saying them????

          • She told me no man would ever want to kiss me.

            The boss told her to leave the bar. I left, too, headed the opposite direction.

            Other than that, I don’t know about any other repercussions. It was close to the end of my internship and I didn’t go back. I think the boss would have had me back, but I didn’t want to create extra tension when it could have been avoided.

            As I’ve told interns later, “Sometimes you just step into a pile of someone else’s crap.”

            (Another funny story: Years later, I had an especially rough Christmas vacation with family. My first day back at work, I took one of my interns to lunch. She told me about this cute guy she made out with on New Years Eve. Turns out she was describing my boyfriend. She had no idea that we were together, and he was a dog and didn’t tell her he was seeing someone. Sometimes you just step into a pile of someone else’s crap…)

          • found a peanut :

            wow! The fact that she said that almost proves that she was only giving you grief out of jealousy. What an awful and unnecessary thing to say to someone.

          • Yeah. I freaked out at the time, but it didn’t take me long to realize that our friction the entire time had been about jealousy.

      • I wasn’t trying to insult assistants or secretaries, although lawyers, like doctors, like architects, etc. are “professionals.”

        Over the years, I’ve had people who were barely high-school educated, as well as people with B.A.s from good schools.

        It was very frustrating when I would make a big effort to be polite and considerate and it made no difference.

    • This has happened to me more than once with female assistants and it frustrates me to no end. Actually, I guess there is an end. I no longer choose to have an assistant at all.

    • I am musing and making broad, sweeping generalizations by saying this but here’s my theory. I think that among the older female assistants, there may be more thwarted career aspirations. It was harder to have a “professional” career as a woman several decades ago and the well-worn path was to become a secretary. Now it’s easier (putting class/money issues aside) for a woman who wants to be a lawyer to become a lawyer. She doesn’t have to settle for being the highly capable office manager. Which is great and if that change hadn’t happened, many of us wouldn’t be where we are. But I think some of the more seasoned assistants may resent that.

      This is a related point from what I hear from my father-in-law, who is a lawyer. He says that three decades ago, he had great secretaries who really understood his cases, could draft pleadings, write substantive letters, etc. Now he complains about how his secretary sits and plays solitaire all day and couldn’t care less about getting to do substantive work. I think part of this could be because the women who were his excellent secretaries years ago are now able to become lawyers or pick another profession, and they (we) aren’t in the pool of assistants anymore.

      But I know there are great, motivated assistants out there who this does not apply to.

      • I think you’re exactly right, JC.

        For some women, life gets in the way of dreams. And it’s unfortunate, but those of us lucky enough to not have those obstacles sometimes are the objects of resentment for that.

        You just can’t take it personally.

      • My 67 year old father’s first assistant was a Radcliffe graduate. She was older then, and really, she was at the top of her field and as much a mentor as a secretary.

        Me (his 30 year old lawyer daughter) keeps trying to explain that the Radcliffe (now Harvard) graduates have other options….

      • “He says that three decades ago, he had great secretaries who really understood his cases, could draft pleadings, write substantive letters, etc. Now he complains about how his secretary sits and plays solitaire all day and couldn’t care less about getting to do substantive work.”

        This is an excellent point. My grandmother worked from the late 1950s on, she had to. She was an “executive assistant” for 35 years before she retired. What she really did was run the entire office, but back when she started working – with an associate’s degree from a secretarial college, as that’s all her father would pay for before he told her to get married so he wouldn’t have to support her anymore – there was no upward career trajectory for a woman who started out as an assistant. Once an assistant, always an assistant. I think people today who are “career assistants” have very different goals and priorities – at least, that’s been my experience.

      • Yes and no. My mother was a professional bookkeeper and secretary her whole working life and would have had some internal problems answering to a woman, but she would have kept it respectful.

        On the other hand, my most recent and last ever (I promise!) assistant was a 20-something who became an admin because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a career. However, when I asked her to do anything clerical, like type something, copy something or do an expense report, she rolled her eyes at me. She actually spent her performance appraisal review time with me reminding me that she was a college graduate and not a “secretary” – and we had to go over the “admistrative assistant” job description again.

        I was really happy when she quit – her own decision. And that was when I decided I really didn’t need an admin any more. :)

        • Yeah, my experience has been more like yours – the younger secretaries that I’ve worked with have often seemed to see their own jobs as less worthwhile, while the older secretaries I’ve worked with have tended to treat them more professionally.

      • This theory sounds fairly valid to me. My anecdotal experience: everyone in my family is super bright and starting with my parents’ generation, everyone has gone to tippy top schools and gone on to have fairly high powered careers. My grandmother was a legal assistant and a top law firm. I am CERTAIN that if she were born 25+ years later, she would have made partner.

      • Some of the women from whom I’ve encountered this attitude were younger. It’s partly a question of class and education. I grew up lower middle class, but my family had middle/upper middle class values. I went to good schools. Other women of my age and acquaintance have had similar experiences.

        If someone is professional, helps me get my work done, and asks for help, I will always do what I can. A great paralegal I knew got a job with a federal court judge because I helped her prepare for the interview and gave her a great recommendation.

        I kept encouraging her to do something like eventually apply to law school or business school, but working in a pretty responsible position for a court was what she wanted to do and I think she’s still there.

  8. emi s:

    I worked at two large law firms after my first and second years of law school and at large law firms for a few years after graduating.

    I would NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES tell a company that you need a recurring doctor’s appointment. Do most of the sessions by phone. Maybe once or twice during the summer leave advance word that you’ll be coming in late because of some personal business.

    I do not care that this may be a “nice” nonprofit. I don’t care if they may seem accommodating at the time. You do not hand entities things that can be held against you.

    • I disagree; the practice of law is stressful in and of itself and there’s a reason lawyers have the highest rate of mental illness and addiction of any profession. If you’re just starting out and know your vulnerabilities, it’s vital that you find a job where you can work within them and not jeopardize your health for the sake of your job. If it’s an organization that won’t allow her to fit that in, it’s better to know upfront before accepting a permanent job with them.

      • I think that’s extremely naive advice. And of course I’m not saying that the person asking the question should abandon her therapy. But assuming that a company’s interests are in line with one’s own is a big, big mistake. In addition, don’t overestimate the number of warm-and-fuzzy places out there.

        I have a good friend who has worked for years for a nonprofit organization, although not as a lawyer. As the economy has worsened, the management has become as unpleasant as many a for-profit company.

        One should try to find a good fit without being unrealistic and without unnecessarily exposing one’s vulnerabilities. Saying one has a standing medical appointment, unless it’s, say, physical therapy for back problems caused by lifting a box at the firm (something like that actually happened to someone I know) is not a good idea.

        • I agree that you should not assume your company has your best interests at heart. But you should assume that your company has to reasonably accommodate your disability or be in violation of federal law. Your state and city probably also have human rights codes that require employers to accommodate people with disabilities. Letting them know your appointment is medical puts them on notice that there is an ADA/human rights issue. If you encounter difficulty, go to an employment attorney or the local agency that enforces the human rights code.

          • Unfortunately, in the real world there’s a big difference between the existence of a law and the ability easily to enforce it. Trust me, it’s not that simple and it can be better to avoid the issue, especially if you are a person who lacks power.

            You don’t want to start off with a company thinking about you “as having a disability” to “accommodate” unless it’s something you can’t avoid making public, e.g., you’re in a wheelchair.

            I understand that this is not what people might want to hear. But I think it’s the most sensible advice.

            When everyone from the CEO down to the lowliest mail room staffer is talking as casually about taking time off for mental hygiene appointments as say, leaving early for a ballgame, is the time when you don’t have to worry about discretion.

            And of course continue therapy, in-person or by phone, just don’t be overly trusting.

    • Totally disagree. Do not sacrifice your health and well being because someone things this *might* be held against you one day. We all have personal lives and personal issues; conduct yourself in a manner in which they don’t negatively interfere with your professional life. Addressing a reoccurring appointment at the start of your employment and ensuring the time is made up else where is a perfect example of being a responsible professional.

      • things = thinks. arg.

      • If you have not done so already reach out to your local bar association. They will likely offer you confidential advice and possibly some help getting the services you need in a manner more convenient to you and your employer. Good luck!

        • Lets expand that consult your law society, local young lawyers association, local young female lawyers association, possibly even your law school career services office…

          Depends on your part of the world and the resources available there but I am sure (or at least I hope) there is some kind of service where you live for law students in your particular situation. Having to skip out of work during the workday is hopefully not your only answer.

          In all honestly and as depressing as it sounds, there are worse reasons for taking out a line of credit or a student loan that to pay for therapy. Take out the loan and seek your help on the weekends if at all possible, not because of any stigma/shame but because you are missing out on a valuable learning opportunity and your organization is losing out on work hours from you.

          Regarding the loan many law schools have an emergency fund or emergency loan process and possibly you could look into that to pay for therapy.

          Again, good luck, I have a sister in a very similar position to yours so please don’t feel like I’m being hard on you.

    • I am an attorney at a large law firm, and until recently was seeing a therapist weekly. I’m also a recovered anorexic (recovered for seven years). And, when I was a summer associate, I had a fellow summer who was in treatment for cancer. That summer associate discreetly told our summer associate coordinator and the partner in charge of summers that she would have certain standing appointments for medical treatment. They passed the word, once again discreetly, to those who needed to know. She was hired full time and continues to be a very successful attorney at that firm; unfortunately, she still requires frequent medical treatment.

      Eating disorders are no less serious. In fact, they are the mental illness most likely to result in death. The OP should discreetly advise someone in a supervisory capacity that she has a standing medical appointment. That’s all she needs to tell them, and it is entirely appropriate to do so.

      • Anonymous :

        See though, they told someone it was a “doctor’s appointment.” It needs to be mentioned what it is. If I hired some young 20 something for an internship and they just told me they cant come in once a week every week for a standing appoinment with no explantion I’d just think “does this person think this is a part time job that they can make the hours whenever they want?”

        if they said it was a medical reason/doctors appointment I’d never question it.

        • agreed.

          I was randomly physicially assaulted about a month before starting my job at a competitive consulting firm and sustained a moderate concussion, broken wrist, and PTSD. On my first day of work, I privately told my direct managing partner (managing partners = HR for us) and explained that, while my condition had minimal impact on my work, I had orthopedic, neurological, and psychological follow-up visits in the pipeline, as well as legal stuff, as I pressed charges against my attackers.

          His only requests (and, IMO, the 3 most important things about being “sick” at work — I still was doing neuro/psych/rehab follow up for 1.5 years after) were (1) get early AM appointments whenever possible (2) be flexible — sometimes work will required rescheduling (note: rescheduling, not cancellations) and (3) block my calendar out ASAP when I know I have an appointment, and label it “Dr. X appointment”.

          No one needs to know the nature of your medical needs, other than (1) I have a chronic, medical condition that (2) requires a Dr’s appointment on a weekly (monthly? yearly?) basis and (3) I will accomodate the scheduling of these appointments to my work schedule, and will work late/early on the days I have appointments.

        • I agree with this. I mean, for one thing, they ought to know that they’re treading close to some dangerous legal lines if they press her for information about the nature of the appointment. But it’s important that they know that this is something serious, not just, you know, yoga class or something like that.

    • Shame on anyone suggesting that she should compromise her therapist sessions. She simply needs to say that she has a recurring doctor’s appointment that cannot be changed. End of subject. No one’s business.

      You go, girl. Stay strong.

      • Yes, this. The eating disorder can kill her if she doesn’t stay in treatment. She can always get another job. Nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than health. Not even family. If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else. I have seen fellow professionals in my community drop dead, commit suicide, have heart attacks, let cancers become advanced, develop pill addictions etc. because they were “too busy” t0 get the help they needed, or feared repercussions for seeking treatment. No one is EVER “too busy” to get vital help for a critical health issue. If emi s.’s job doesn’t understand her need to have this appointment weekly, she needs to find a different job.

      • It’s not that simple. Law firms and companies generally have enough idea of the law not to blatantly flout it. That doesn’t mean they respect the law in every instance.

        • True enough. And there are companies and managers that are just plain ignorant of employment laws or just plain refuse to comply with them. But I still think the best way to go is to disclose that your appointment is medical and leave it at that. If they hassle you, be armed with a thorough knowledge of your rights.

    • I would not want to work at a place who would hold something so important against me anyway! Life is too short.

      • Well, you may end up not wanting to work at a lot of places because a lot of places would in fact hold something like that against you.

        Would they say so? Almost certainly not. They have legal counsel.

        Would it in fact be held against you? Possibly.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I totally disagree with you, Reader. I hope you never are faced with a situation that requires therapy or other standing medical appointments, and I hope you can learn to be more understanding and supportive of those that do. I had standing physical therapy appointments for months that required me to come late, leave early, or take a long lunch. It was no one’s business what I was doing, though thankfully it didn’t become an issue.

      OP, go to therapy. If your job won’t accommodate your best efforts to minimize missing work, you don’t want to work there anyway, no matter how bad the economy is. Your health, mental and physical, is always most important.

      • I don’t think your self-righteous tone is helpful or appropriate. I’ve probably been a lawyer for a much longer time than you and am giving the advice I would give anyone I cared about. I am being very supportive. I am being candid.

        It is not, repeat, not a good idea to tell anyone that you have to be absent for mental hygiene appointments. Schedule them for the evening, the weekends, or do them by phone — use your cell phone.

        There is a world of difference between what companies and law firms say and what they actually do in practice. Try reading the insider blogs that intensively cover law firms. I no longer do because they’re too depressing.

        In fact, I have had to be absent from the office for physical therapy. Physical therapy is in a different category. I also worked at places where people worked around the clock most of the time so being away for a couple of hours wasn’t that big a deal.

        I also saw a shrink (who, btw, said my then-current supervisor was “abusive.”). The problem was that this was back in the days when therapists did not want to do phone appointments and I could not take the time in the middle of the day (her only available time) to go see her. I could not be missing for two hours. The stress of being away undermined any benefit I was getting from the appointments.

        Fortunately, now therapists and their ilk are more understanding of the time demands on associates and other busy people. I’m sure their difficulties with insurance companies and the lousy economy have helped.

        • This is why I think you should say (if you decide to) that it is a MEDICAL appointment. Do not say it is a mental health appointment. Despite the protections in place by law, some companies choose to ignore them. I wish you could find a good therapist who is available evenings or weekends to avoid this dilemma.

          Okay, enough posts on this topic for me. Back to work!

      • I don’t think Reader is saying she is not understanding and sympathetic. All she is saying is that your employer may be as understanding and accommodating as the law requires, but it can still hurt you. I’m still in school, but I know the office politics plays a large role on layoffs and promotions. If the employer thinks you could be a liability for whatever reason, they will do the minimum to help you. If anything, I would say it is health related, but not mental health. It is completely inappropriate, but I still think mental health problems have a stigma and employers will be more sympathetic to physical health issues.

        Bottom line: you are NEVER your employer’s top priority! Their job and their bank accounts are usually top priority. If you experience something else, then you are lucky, but still don’t let your guard down completely.

        • Thank you very much. Excellent summary. I am completely sympathetic. I’ve only tried to stress that there ARE risks no matter what a company or law firm or law school says. If a company decides to get rid of someone they’re always going to find a way to make it about the work, regardless of the reality — they’re not stupid.

          I also would not set too much store by what one is told as a summer person. At that point, a firm is trying to make a good impression, if not on the student herself, on the student’s classmates. The reality once one is full-time, in debt-paying mode and has nowhere else to go can be quite different. It’s the old Devil-But-That-Was-Our-Summer-Associate-Program joke.

    • I completely disagree. She may not even need to make any sort of blanket statement to everyone and draw attention to it. In my case, I have been needing to leave for out of town medical appointments on a fairly frequent basis over the last few months. I’ve found that simply saying “Just wanted to let you know I have an appointment out of the office tomorrow morning and I’ll be in at __” to whomever might need to find me the next day is usually enough. I’ve rarely said more and I’ve never felt like I’ve had to offer details. I have offered to reschedule it if something really might conflict, but nobody has taken me up on it. If you seem genuinely concerned that you are available when people need you and that you want to get your work done, and you are 100% on and reliable otherwise, I really doubt this will be held against you. It’s when you are out for medical appointments and you are also a total flake when you’re in the office that people will start holding it against you.

      That being said, it may just lower your stress level if you can alternate every other week by phone, or something like that. As a summer you are hypersensitive to when others are looking for you, need things from you, etc, and it may make being out of the office seem worse to you than it is.

      • When I was a law firm associate, it was not uncommon for me to get voice mails at 3 a.m. All-nighters were common. It would have been very difficult to have concealed a weekly visit to a shrink. People, especially other associates, were nosy as hell, and not all of them were trustworthy. If you wanted to preserve some modicum of privacy, you ran the risk of being called “elusive.”

        Should there be a stigma associated with seeing a shrink?
        Of course not.

        Should a law associate tell people she needs to come in late once a week because of her therapy appointment?
        Uh, no.

        As someone else said, she should figure out a way to see the therapist in the evening, on the weekend or do it by phone. I think one could get away with a couple of appointments in person over a summer, but not every week. Too many questions.

    • I also disagree with the above.

      Approach your supervisors at the very beginning and sort this out, don’t just take random time off later in the internship.

      Either call it medical, or a ‘standing appointment’ whichever you are most comfortable saying, be firm but polite about it, but do not feel like you are apologizing for having the appointment. Make it clear that it is a weekly appointment, but if at all possible offer that you can rearrange it if absolutely necessary for a given week in the event of a conflict.

      It can be helpful to say it like:
      “I want to let you know ahead of time that I have a standing weekly appointment that I will have to be out of the office for. Unfortunately, it is impossible to schedule outside of office hours, but I it can be somewhat flexible, and I can make up the work whenever you need me to. What day and time would be most convenient for me to be out?”
      You are not apologizing for having the appointment, but you are putting the ball in their court, and making it clear that you respect the organization and the job. I think if you phrase it like this any supervisor/HR person will understand that it is personal and none of their business, but not something frivolous.

      They will probably respond with, ‘oh no, whenever you need to, that’s fine. Just let me know, and we’ll make up the time when we can.’

      • I realized I also wanted to explain a bit: I have now learned (in my 30s) that a lot of the time when I first joined the work force I would feel bad or guilty about asking for certain things for myself, and either overly apologize, or not ask at all. That was totally not necessary. Everyone else is asking for those things, too. It doesn’t make you a bad person, or a lazy worker to approach your boss and schedule your time in the office. And actually, there are probably a lot of people asking for a lot more than you! ;o) The very fact that you are thinking about this shows that you are a conscientious and caring worker, and the people that matter will realize that very quickly.

        So, don’t feel bad, don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ too many times, don’t feel self-conscious about it. Everyone needs stuff: time off, eating lunch, a smoke break… in fact there are probably many other people in the office who have therapy appointments, too! ;o) so, don’t worry or agonize, just politely and nicely ask how to schedule your appointments. The people you are asking will probably not even think twice about it.

  9. Admin Professionals Day :

    I’m a first year at a NYC large law firm – tomorrow is Administrative Professionals Day. I was just wondering what people did for the occasion? I spoke to a senior associate who I share my assistant with, we were thinking flowers and a gift card but I was just wondering what other people do and how much is expected? Is there an equal contribution among different levels of associates?

  10. Jurastudentin :

    Thank you to everyone who gave me advice yesterday on building my wardrobe! Right now, I will focus on buying more tops and pieces to the suits I already own. I bought a skirt from BR this morning to go with the blazer I already own, so now I have two black suits. I would like to purchase one more classic suit before I start working. Since my khaki suit won’t last me long into the fall, for what other color should I be looking? TIA!

    • I don’t recall what color suits you said you have but besides black, depending on your skin tone and the colors of the tops you own, I’d say charcoal, brown, mushroom, navy, gray, etc. You can wear any of these suit colors with a multitude of colors and tones of colors.

    • Pinstripe?

    • Former 3L :

      I would say a charcoal, a medium gray, or a pinstripe in one of those colors should be your next purchase. Navy is lovely but can require a whole new set of coordinating accessories. Same goes with brown or mushroom. With very few exceptions, the accessories you rely on with your black suits can also be used without modification with charcoal/gray.

    • Get a gray suit. I have to hold myself back from wearing my gray suit more than once a week. I always want to grab it because it goes with everything. Just make sure you spend the extra $ to get a good fabric because cheap gray suits can look, well, cheap.

    • Charcoal

  11. karenpadi :

    Assistants (and paralegals) are essential for communicating certain things to clients. I use them to communicate with busy partners too.

    The partner, the assigned paralegals, and assigned support staff have a weekly meeting with the client where they go over upcoming deadlines. I use my support staff to flag an item or to request that something be discussed. For certain things, the staff even schedules 10 minutes for me to join the meeting and present on something.

  12. Sub question –

    What do you do when you are an associate and a senior atty assigns you a task that should be done by a paralegal or AA. If you do it, your time will likely get written off. I usually say, I will be happy to have my AA do xyz and review it before giving it to you. I was, however, once told “if I ask you to do it, it is because I want you to do it.” I could say “how would you like me to word my billing entry for this?” But then they might just say “don’t bill for it.” Thoughts?

    • I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with stating that you’ll delegate it; if the partner has a reason to want you to do it at that point, they’re going in with their eyes open.

    • soulfusion :

      This is situational and a use your best judgment issue. For example, when I delegate tasks to a junior associate I fully expect him/her to utilize firm resources to accomplish the task (utilizing assistants and paralegals for appropriate tasks and even the library research staff as well) and sometimes (especially for new attorneys) I will specify that they should rely on those resources. However, they are ultimately responsible for ensuring the task is completed correctly, just as I am responsible for ensuring their work is completed timely and accurately. The only times I’ve been upset about a junior delegating admin tasks is when they delegate and walk away assuming the assistant will report back to me directly – I don’t have any reassurance that the work has been checked. If I wanted to be the one to oversee it, I would not have delegated it to the junior. Again, cost to the client should be considered. And if the senior person expects an immediate turnaround such that pushing it down to someone else bogs everything down, use your judgment, maybe you should do it yourself. Unfortunately there just aren’t hard and fast rules for this and it seems for that particular senior attorney you should carry out the task yourself.

    • downtownist :

      A couple of thoughts. I’m with Soulfusion to some degree. When I delegate to a more junior associate, I expect him/her to utilize appropriate resources. In other words, to a certain extent, I don’t care how the sausage gets made if good judgment is used (for example, having a your secretary insert tabs between documents in a binder instead of you billing $300/hour to do it) and if you quality check the work before giving it to me.

      I wouldn’t ask if it’s okay to delegate (I have yet to have a male junior associate ask me whether it’s okay to delegate) because it makes you seem unsure of your judgment. I operate under the “ask for forgiveness, not permission” mindset. I also wouldn’t say, “Sure, but I’m going to have my secretary do it.” Irrelevant to whether it actually gets done, and in some people’s eyes, it will make you look snotty, even if the impression is unwarranted.

      On the other hand, one of the things that bothers me most is when young attorneys are not willing to roll up their sleeves and get shiz done… I know, I didn’t spend some serious $$ and all that time in law school to make copies for someone, either. OTOH, sometimes you have to play paralegal or secretary because, for whatever reason, your other resources aren’t available to you at that moment, and something HAS to get done. When I was younger, if I were at the firm on a Saturday with a partner prepping for a deposition, our support staff wasn’t there, and he asked me to make copies of a few exhibits so he can fly out for a Monday a.m. depo, I’d do it without complaint. If it’s a Tuesday afternoon, on the other hand, I’d say, “Sure,” and walk the docs down the hall for my secretary to copy. I assume you’re not talking about this kind of situation, but don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up.

      • soulfusion :

        Totally agreed downtownist, your examples fall into my “use your judgment” category. Why, just this morning I stepped out of a client meeting to make my own copies because the copies were for a call that was just starting and it was going to take longer to track someone down and explain what I needed than just do it. And I’m not an associate.

    • Anonymous :

      I just delegate. always.

  13. Liz (Europe) :

    One of the first things my boss told me when I started out as a lawyer, “you’re there for the content, the secretaries for how it looks.” Pretty good summary, I think.
    Also, once you get used to just voice-recording everything instead of typing, and having the secretary type it out, it really is a timesaver. Takes a bit of practice to keep the overview in your head as you record it, though. On the bonus side, less RSI.

    • Less RSI for you… more for them.

    • It really depends on the situation. Someone I know who now is a partner making well over a million dollars a year learned the firm’s word processing software from head to toe his first month. He was able to finish his briefs much faster by himself than when he relied only on his secretary (whom he shared) and the word processing and proofreading departments. Of course he would leave tasks like generating the Table of Contents and Table of Authorities to other people.

  14. I don’t ask my assistant to do anything. She even sits on a different floor and I’ve met her only once. Since I’m a pretty low-level attorney, doing all my own admin work saves a lot of time. I think the firm realized that when they assigned me this secretary since she has 4 (maybe 5?) other associates, including one who travels a lot.

    • karenpadi :

      Why not take her out to lunch? Then you can ask her about her workload and what kinds of things she is expected to do for you.

      • I don’t really need her for anything since I was a legal secretary before I went to law school. I’m pretty sure that’s why HR paired us up, actually, because I could be a little more self-sufficient. And I certainly would never impede on her lunch break to talk shop!

        • If you’re buying her lunch, you’d be amazed how little your admin might not be bothered by discussing her work on break. In fact, you might be one of the only people who has bothered to ask about her workload – and that means a lot.

  15. When I was in law school I worked for a solo practitioner who would occasionally ask me to get him lunch from the Starbucks down the street (always an egg-salad sandwich and a cup of milk with vanilla flavoring . . . yuck). Anyway, when we would ask me , which only happened three or four times over the year I was there, he was always very apologetic about asking me to do it, and he would always give me a $20 and tell me to get something for myself too, so I never minded that much. Especially because he did seem embarrassed to ask and really grateful for the errand.

  16. Anonymous :

    Threadjack:

    I am a 2L considering an LLM in Taxation. I’ve taken a few tax classes and the faculty at my school are great. I also see myself as happier in an advisory role than a litigation role.

    I’m wondering for those with experience in tax law:

    (1) How necessary was an LLM to prove to your clients/employers that you were competent?
    (2) How did you know you wanted to be a tax lawyer?
    (3) If you went into tax law without an LLM, what hurdles (if any) did you face?
    (4) Any other suggestions on factors I should consider?

    Thanks ladies!

    • I did 5 classes toward an LLM but chose not to complete the program, in part because some of the classes are not relevant to my practice. I have not found the lack of an LLM to be an impediment to my career in any way.

      I did not “know” I wanted to be a tax lawyer until I went into tax. Can you try doing tax work at your 2L summer job? Also, keep in mind that if you go to a law firm, they might be willing to pay for evening LLM classes for you and that will save you a lot of money.

      If you can get into a top LLM program like NYU, I think it can make up for a not-as-prestigious law school. Otherwise, I would not shell out the money or time to do the program unless you don’t have any other job options. It’s a lot of money and the payoff is uncertain in this economy.

    • There was a bit of discussion about the value of Tax LLMs in the weekend thread below (its towards the beginning of the thread)

      http://corporette.com/2011/04/15/weekend-open-thread-81/

    • I have an LL.M. in Tax and am now a law professor. If you are able to get a job after law school consider working first before getting the LL.M. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, practice is much different than law school and you may find that your interest changes. You may become interested in an area that has nothing to do with tax. Second, if you work first then the cost of your LL.M. is a usually deductible business expense. Also, some firms will offer financial support if you agree to come back once you finish the program. You also need to think about whether you want to do one of the top programs or whether a part time program is a better idea. Alabama (and I believe NYU) both have executive LL.M. programs that take 2 years and are entirely online–meaning you can still work while you earn the degree.

      As for how do you know you want to be a tax lawyer….hard to say. I was practicing in estate planning, LOVED it, and realized that in order to take my practice to the next level I needed to know something about tax. Hope this helps.

    • Estate Planner :

      I agree with E that you should get some practical experience to see if you like tax, and specifically, what area of tax you enjoy. Are you going to be working in tax law this summer? It would be great if you could get some experience before you graduate. You should also try and schedule some informational interviews with attorneys practicing tax law in specialty you think you might enjoy.

      As for me, I graduated law school having only taken one tax class and practiced business litigation for a few years. I did not enjoy litigation and wanted to switch to a more transactional practice area. I consulted with a career counselor to figure out that estate planning was something I would be interested in doing. Without experience or tax coursework, I was not having any luck finding a job. After I got an LL.M. from NYU, doors opened for me. Several of my classmates also found that they had much better opportunities having earned the LL.M.

  17. Kat – What virtual assistant program do you use? Are you happy with them? Thanks in advance.

    • On a related note, Kat, can you tell us a bit about what it’s like to blog as a career. I’m not planning any career moves to that field, but I’m just fascinated! Please shoot me down/ignore me if it’s rude, but how do you run the business, how do you make money, etc? Just super interested in how Corporette works.

      Nosy nerd over here.

      • Seconded! I’m planning to quit my job and travel for six months, and will be setting up a blog in the near future. It won’t be a major source of income for me, and I’m obviously not trying to encroach on Kat’s niche here, but I’d love to hear more about how Corporette works, and any tips for getting traffic/income/success as a fledgling blog.

        I think it’s totally awesome that you have made this blog into your career, and it’s very inspirational!

        • Thanks, guys!

          I use ReplaceMyself.com — my VA is a nice young man who lives in the Philippines. I don’t use him enough, but he’s smart and his English skills are good, and for what I pay him (which is peanuts) I’m willing to keep him on until I have more time to delegate to him.

          And thanks for the interest, guys! I keep thinking I ought to start a blog about blogging because I’ve learned so much during my 3 years (nearly) doing Corporette. If I eventually start it I’ll post something about it here, otherwise I’ll see if I can whittle it down to a few bon mots suitable for a post. Basically the site is 60% monetized based on affiliate links — click on any of the L-# things at the bottom of posts for more info on that. The advertisers and partnerships are coming, but slowly — and to be honest I prefer the autonomy/editorial power that affiliate links give me.

  18. My department has three assistants shared by about 30 people. Typically, I will request photocopying/scanning/mailing and basic research. For instance, if I just need someone to run a search and print off the results, I will turn to one of our admins for that.

    I have developed excellent relationships with each of our admins by showing interest in their lives and activities. You don’t need to be overly chatty or their best friend, but it doesn’t take much to compliment a photo in their space, know about their kids/grandkids/family, ask about their weekend plans on a Friday night and then follow up on Monday morning, etc. If you don’t remember, then set yourself a reminder or schedule a 15 minute meeting dedicated to improving your relationship with your admin.

  19. As an assistant, I will also add that developing a good relationship with your assistant and asking her is usually a good idea. You can get an idea if you have someone who is really looking to be a 150% kind of assistant, or a just barely getting by assistant. There are both, there is all sorts of middle ground between, and the faster you both figure that one out, the better off everyone will be.

    I have seriously done it all. At one temp job (which did not last long) I was asked to forward his porn – and I wish I was kidding – to another address and delete it from an email that his wife sometimes saw. Same guy also had me send flowers to both his wife and girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. And yeah, that did not last long.

    I actually get frustrated in my current situation, because I see a lot of unnecessary stress over things I could help out with, but they “don’t need that kind of assistant” so I have sit here feeling underused while they gripe to each other about having too much to do.

    • We have the same problem at my office. We have a lot of rush tasks that could be expedited with the help of assistants, but for some reason we have to use attorneys for those tasks. In some cases, the assistants cannot even access certain systems they’d need to help us, and in other cases someone higher up has decided that attorneys must do X and Y tasks that clearly do not require an attorney.

    • Kelly O – Sounds like you work in my office. The lawyers here are overworked (state agency), but our assistants have supervisors that have to sign off on any extra project/assignment we give them. And they’re bored half the time. Some of our assistants and paralegals are really bright and awesome, and I wish I could use them for extra projects out of the ordinary, but the head paralegal would rather have them bored and only doing repetitive stuff than challenged. Very frustrating.

    • I don’t know if this would work in your office, but maybe try speaking up about wanting to do more if there is someone who you think could actually give you better work. I had an assistant leave my firm a few years ago and her stated reason was that she wanted to do more substantive work and had apparently had a quasi-paralegal job several years back that she preferred to the secretarial tasks she was doing at this job. I was floored because I’d had no idea and I would have asked her to do more. I have a fair amount of latitude in terms of what I can hand out to whom but I honestly didn’t think she was interested. I don’t think anyone else she worked for knew either. It was a shame.

  20. downtownist :

    Things my secretary does for me…
    * Copying, mail-related stuff (such as putting things on letterhead; printing envelopes; certified mail; FedEx), keeps all my/our case files organized (including updating docket sheets, organizing client docs, witness files), makes me notebooks (trial notebooks, key docs).

    * Makes my edits to documents. I like to print out hard copies and make changes by hand. She doesn’t really like making my changes because it’s so tedious, but then I don’t like parts of my job, either.

    * Will coordinate with the service we use to subpoena medical records… contacts them to let them know which medical provider we need to subpoena, keeps track of what documents (if any) we got back and when, and will badger the service as appropriate to keep them on task. Does the same when we need to serve a subpoena on a non-party witness.

    * Will do first drafts of simple stuff (“Please find enclosed” letters; “Please give us dates for X’s deposition” letters; simple deposition notices).

    * Coordinates court reporter / videographer for depositions. Will coordinate travel arrangements for parties or witnesses to/from depositions or depo prep if necessary.

    * Coordinates my travel arrangements – flights, hotel, rental car, directions, etc.

    * Takes care of submitting all my CLE information to the second state in which I am licensed. This is something I really value. She basically keeps track of all the CLEs I go to during the year in the state in which I reside/practice. Then, without me asking, she’ll fill out the form required by my second state, and she’ll leave it in my in-box prior to the date it’s due to the state. It. Is. Awesome.

    * Screens calls.

    * Does my mail. By this, I mean that she opens all case-related correspondence, makes copies for the appropriate people on the distribution list, and leaves the original in my in-box (which usually then goes right to my out-box for her to put in the correspondence file). Junk mail she usually sorts into its own bundle, and personal mail / packages she doesn’t open. She also signs for all my packages (I ship everything to my office… picking up a package at my apartment building is a nightmare).

    * She will get lunch for the partners she supports if they ask. I’ve never asked her because I feel weird about it. She offers, but I always turn her down.

    * She browbeats other staff (politely) if I need something done that requires their help.

    I’m sure she does more, but that’s what comes to mind off the top of my head. I think the thing I do that most helps our relationship is to ask about her personal life. The first week I was here, I remember overhearing some secretaries complaining about how completely AWFUL this one partner was. You would have thought this guy–who in reality was perfectly nice– was a miserable excuse of a human being. What were they actually complaining about? He didn’t ask them anything about their personal lives. So I made an effort to start asking my secretary little things about her personal life, even though it initially made me uncomfortable (I am somewhat introverted). Several years later, we’ve developed a pretty good relationship, even in spite of some rough spots at the start.

    • Anonymous :

      She sounds excellent. As I’ve recently become a legal assistant, I’m making note of what you are saying here so that I can anticipate more things my boss might like me to do.

      I also make the edits my boss writes on hard copies of documents. I don’t mind doing it, but I can’t always read her handwriting. I’m sure I’ll get better at it over time, but as a suggestion it may be helpful to her if you make sure your handwriting is legible.

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