Open Thread: How Great is Your Assistant?

Files, originally uploaded to Flickr by Velo Steve. 2018 Update: Administrative Professionals’ Day is April 24, 2019. You can check out our most recent thread on what we’re getting for our assistants on Administrative Professionals’ Day here


As today is Administrative Assistant’s Day, I thought we’d have an open thread about what the best thing your secretary/assistant has ever done for you. We’ve talked about what you can delegate to assistants beforewhat DO you guys delegate? What do you look for in a great assistant?

For my own $.02, the best assistant I ever had was only mine for a short period — she was attached to a partner down the hall who had a niche practice, and when the partner moved offices, so did my secretary. But in addition to being pleasant and nice, she was really smart — I felt like I could give her anything and she would do a great job with it. I wish I could remember something specific she did that went above and beyond, but really she was just generally excellent!

(Pictured: Files, originally uploaded to Flickr by Velo Steve.)


  1. Oh the timing of this…

    This morning my assistant (paralegal, secretary – she wears both hats) called me a spoiled brat. Oh yes. I think she has major issues with working for someone significantly younger (20 eyars).

    What I wouldn’t give for a really good assistant.

    • Whoa, that’s crazy. Yours sounds like a biotech. Mine is just incompetent and lazy, and I got him some mini-cupcakes and a cheap card (and finagled his other associates to go in on them), since it’s enough that I give him cash around the holidays when he really does nothing for me. He’s a nice guy, but useless as a secretary.

      • It’s a combination of all of that… She’s competent. When she wants to be. Sometimes I think she’s overly organized to the point of being disorganized, has trouble prioritizing and balancing various duties. She takes reviewing medical records to an extreme – I’ve never seen so much highlighter, post-its and tabs! And usually it’s not relevant. I tell her to skim over that but her listening skills are not the best. Today was the tipping point though… She’s demanding and wants to dictate the terms of everything when it can’t/doesn’t work that way. Ugh, I’m still aggitated!

        • I do NOT even have an asistant. I have to SHARE an assistant with the MANAGEING partner. She does NOT do anything for me, just the manageing partner. She is also very jelous of me b/c I am young and cute and she is NOT cute or young.

          I THERFORE DECLARE that I will NOT celabrate Assistant’s Day with her. FOOEY!

          • Alrighty, Ellen, I’m calling shenanigans on you. I don’t think you are even a woman.

    • Is there a secretary supervisor / HR person you can speak to? Because this is unacceptable.

      • I wasn’t sure who was best to go to so I emailed my partner/boss (she was working at home for the morning) to let her know what happened. We’re also the firm’s smallest office (partner, jr partner, me, paralegal, part time filing person) so I figured she was most relevant. The office manager has also been informed. Both are suppose to be speaking to her.

        I get I’m not going to be best friends with everyone I work with but I don’t deserve to be disrespected or insulted like that either. That comment had nothing to do with me professionally or my work. It was personal.

        • Seattleite :

          This isn’t directed at you specifically, although it’s your post that brought it up. I think it behooves us to learn the art of the smackdown. While egregious and repeated offenses certainly warrant getting others involved, I feel that running to bosses/HR somehow lessens our power. It comes across to me as if I still need to be rescued from the scary assistant.

          Unfortunately, I’ve had to smackdown our receptionist a couple of times. My boss heard rumors through the grapevine and let me know he appreciated that I could handle it myself w/o involving him. OTOH, he’s also clearly stated that if anyone at partner level gives me grief, he wants to hear about it.

          Obviously, know your boss, know your office.

          • This wasn’t a first scenario but that doesn’t mean it’s any less petty. That’s the most frustrating part – it’s so petty. But if I constantly bend over backwards for her and let her dictate things, then it’s not setting a very good precedent for the relationship going forth. This is the first time (in all my jobs) where I’ve had to run to a boss and/or HR and it sucks!

          • Seattleite :

            Oh, I absolutely agree she’s petty, and I didn’t mean to imply that I think you handled it incorrectly. And by all means, never accommodate a bully, because then she’ll just invade Poland.

            I just think that in general, we’d be well served by an occasional throwdown. “When it’s your name and your bar number on that motion, then you can vote. Until then, I’m the attorney and we’ll do it this way.” And then stare until she rolls over and shows her throat.

            Again, OP, I’m not challenging your handling, because you were there and I was not. My comments are philosphical in nature, using your example, but not pointed to you.

          • I agree, Seattlite. I’m an atty working in HR and we tell managers/supervisors all the time that they have to be the ones who speak to their reports when they are misbehaving, etc. Hearing it from HR, while yes scary, undermines your authority SO much as the person’s manager. Managers have to manage, so tell her what you expect from her in concrete terms, how she went astray from that, and what the consequences are. Be factual and dry, do not characterize behavior. Document this. Call HR when the person does something similar again, and you’ll have your record right there. Makes the person look worse for not correcting their behavior (and following your instructions as their boss–insubordinate), and bolsters your authority.

            I know that most of us are saying “but I don’t have time to do this, I have my actual job responsibilites to attend to, this is what HR is for.” Unpopular opinion here, but part of your responibilities include managing subordinates. It’s a total PITA, but that’s the trade off: you are given assistance in the form of a subordibate–a paralegal, assistant, junior–and likely you are higher up in the payscale as a result, so you are responsible for laying the proverbial (and professional) smack down when they don’t meet expectations. When they are counseled once or twice and still manage to eff it up, by all means, make it HR’s problem. They’ll be happy to take over and impressed with a thorough manager.

            Sorry for the semi-rant tome on the topic. To the OP with the awful assistant, my sincerest internet hugs. Now go show her who da boss ;)

          • Also, that was not directed just at you, Lindsay! The “you” in there was the general “you,” as in “all a y’all.”.

          • No worries guys, I’m not taking any of it personal!!

            I just know I can’t be the only young (late 20s) attorney out there dealing with support staff who are 40+ years old and have an issue with the age difference (as I think is the case with her).

            Thanks for all the advice and input!

          • Also not directing this at Lindsay, but I get so tired of the attorneys in my office who refuse to criticize their secretaries/paralegals for anything. Instead, they ask the HR person to talk to them, if they are coming in late, if they don’t get their work back timely, every little thing. C’mon, guys, can you not just tell your secretary that you expect dictation back within 2 days, or whatever? Stop coming in 15 minutes late? Then, if the behavior does not correct, then involve HR. Okay, rant over, maybe that’s just a problem in my office.

          • I should also note that HR loves (*loves*) to hear when employees go out of their way for a boss/client/co-worker, or above and beyond in their capacity. Do tell HR these things–send an email or letter and specifically ask for the note to go to the employee’s P file.

            See, we’re not *all* doom and gloom!

        • wow- so timely- you should see the discussion from a few weeks ago entitled “how to campaign for the job you already have”! Slightly more extreme, it sounds like, than your situation, but still…

          • I just looked it up… Oh man.

            The guy who works part-time in the file room said almost everyone has had an issue with the paralegal before – even people who work in other offices. So I feel better knowing it’s not just me but at the same time, I don’t like how the partner and office manager make me feel as though I did something wrong.

        • Agree with Seattleite 100%. Lindsey, I am/was in your situation, late 20s and working with a managing team much older. I’m not totally out of the woods yet with my situation but I found what really helped was this: I worked on becoming very competent at all my work. I networked (yes, even though I had the job!) with all the VPs and Sr. Management and got them to get to know me and my work product personally so they were armed and ready when they heard the nasty rumors my para was spreading about me, or at least could think about things in a balanced fashion. Eventually when things reached a certain point I gave the smackdown talk, a bit unexpectedly but like Seattleite says, my boss and HR had both been unable to curb the behavior. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do and it didnt feel good, but it really seems to have improved our relationship. For now. I was totally professional, stuck to the facts 100%, was prepared with counter examples to those that she brought up, and generally tried to be logical (because when you have the smackdown talk, you have to expect a lot of heated emotion from the other person- don’t be swayed.)

          I hope it works out!

          • My boss seems to like my work but obviously doesn’t want to take sides. I think going forth, anything I have a possible issue with her, I need to make sure it’s brought up when others are in the office. Not like yesterday when it was just the 2 of us. Because she definitely acts VERY different when the partner/jr. partner are out. I don’t think this is the end of it with her though (unfortunately)…

        • did you not talk to her first directly to address it before contacting management? if not, you appear as immature and petty as she does to others, sorry to say.

          • I talked to her first. This has been an ongoing issue the past couple weeks. At first I figured she was in a bad mood. Turns out she’s either always in a bad mood or this is just how she is. And that doesn’t work when you have to work with others.

            So yes, I did talk to her. And when she raised her voice and took things to another level, I went to someone else.

          • good to know. that’s can’t have been fun- i hate doing it although i know we have to. have had similar pisssy assistant- good luck working it out. i try to be extra nice to her even though i don’t feel like it and it seems to help somewhat.

    • Just curious, if you don’t mind my asking, what was the context of the insult? Was it like “Please do X,Y,and Z” and she responded “Do it yourself, you spoiled brat!” ?

      • Long story short, my boss (partner) recommended setting up weekly meetings to go over my cases and what’s coming up. We couldn’t compromise on a day/time – I said Friday pm or Monday am and paralegal kept demanding anything but. Monday 12pm, no earlier because I have “administrative duties”. No Friday, I have a “hybrid of responsibilities”, even though she previously said Fridays would be fine. It escalated this morning… I told her I couldn’t do Monday mornings because I have Court/depositions scheduled more than half of the upcoming Mondsay (true). She sits 10 feet outside my office, if that, and emails. So I walked out and said I couldn’t do Monday and asked if there was another time. She just can’t suggest anything, she demands. It’s her way or the highway. So I’m standing in the middle of the road, trying to meet her halfway except I’m standing there alone. Every time. I hate “giving in” because then I’m setting a bad precedent for our relationship. She kept raising her voice, demanding… It wasn’t going well so I decided it was best just to walk away, calm down and deal with it later. I shut my door and heard her say loudly out loud, “spoiled brat.” I went back out and said don’t you ever talk to me that way again (might not have been ideal but whatever). So yeah, that’s what happened… So petty but just wtf. We’re too old for this bs.

        • wow… just… wow.

        • How terrible, Lindsay! Respectfully, I have to say I don’t understand why there’s a gray area here — she is being not only unprofessional, but just personally disrespectful. It’s shocking to me that she’s getting away with this. Perhaps what you should do is – after first clearing it with HR or your boss – send an email to her laying out her inappropriate behavior, and copy HR. Definitely include that she called you a “spoiled brat.” She is displaying a sense of entitlement with you that is shocking and incredibly out of line.
          Anyway, in writing her an email AND copying HR I think you both preserve your own sense of authority while letting her know that you’re not afraid of escalating this.

          • Oh wait, and after laying out her disrespectful behavior, explain that it’s unacceptable. :)

          • I told my boss/partner what went on and the office manager spoke to both of us (separately via telephone). What frustrates me at this point is that I still feel like I’m being looked at like I did something wrong. I know for a fact that she’s had conflicts with numerous other employees before so this shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. My boss emailed me after and said that we need to learn to work together (she was nice about it)… Problem is, I’m constantly in standing in the middle of the road waiting for her to meet me halfway. And she has yet to do so. I respect her and what she does but she also needs to realize her job is to “support” me, not the other way around.

          • Ugh, that sucks. Well, I’d still talk to your boss, but do it in a way that underscores your maturity and reasonableness, relative to this bizarre woman. I’d suggest emailing her something like, “Just wanted to check in. I appreciated your advice on the working relationship between me and Lynn. I’ve worked to take steps forward, but am concerned. In the midst of a scheduling conflict recently, she called me a “spoiled brat.” I’ve never dealt with anything like this in a professional context before, and I’m rather unsure of how to proceed with this colleague in a professional capacity.
            I understand you certainly have much higher priorities to which to attend, and I will continue to make the effort to improve this relationship, but I felt this was serious enough to share this with you. “

          • Or you could end it with, “I imagine you have much higher priorities to which to attend, but I feel this kind of language is incredibly inappropriate, not to mention insulting, and I wanted your blessing before advising HR of it.”

        • How long has she been working there? Sometimes people have an idea that their seniority is pretty high simply because they have worked at a place for years. They get quite p!ssy when someone new but legitimately higher than them in the hierarchy questions what they do. Does she withhold/hoard information too? How about going through her duties with her and evaluating/reprioritising them? Would make it clear where her workload direction was coming from i.e. from you.

          • Not entirely sure. At least 5 years, I think? Problem is, she’s had conflicts with a LOT of people, I’m not the first. Most of the support staff in our main office don’t like her. Our paralegal supervisor, prior office manager – they had issues with her.

            You nailed it though – she gets pissy because I’m new and younger, regardless of being “higher” in the hierarchy. It’s such bs.

            A lot of her duties are set out (paralegal and secretary tasks are pretty much outlined for them) so I can’t change that. And I think the boss likes her work but then again the boss is a partner and supervises more than handles her own caseload.

            I think I’m just going to have to get use to her personality. And cross my fingers that when she makes threats to leave because she hates this place, that she’ll actually follow through one of these days.

  2. karenpadi :

    I had a great patent secretary. I was in a nightmare practice group and she saved my sanity. She was wonderful and is still a good friend.

    Her above and beyond:
    Covering for me when I was out of the office for therapy appointments and for when I was interviewing with other firms without divulging my real reasons (she knew them). She delayed payment of my bar dues for me because I fully expected to be long gone before they were due (and the firm required you be an employee as of the due date).

  3. MaggieLizer :

    My secretary is fabulous. She’s very diligent and prompt, which is wonderful of course, but my favorite thing about her is how fired up she gets about my cases. When opposing counsel is being a doosh she’ll mumble curses under her breath along with me. When something great happens in my case, she celebrates with me. She’s also really knowledgeable about most of my pracitce areas and what the firm has done in those practice areas over the past few decades, so she can point me in the direction of cases similar to my own. I’ve definitely become a better lawyer because of her.

  4. My medical assistant is awesome! She is really enthusiastic and detail oriented. She is really good at solving problems. She’s relatively new at the job but always figures out who to call. She has good common sense and knows when to call me about an issue and when to just leave it in my in box. She’s very sympathetic to patients and has a great manner, but doesn’t let anyone walk all over her.

    I also have to give a shout out to my office manager. She is totally on top of everything as well and always calls me when my schedule changes, etc. I love my staff!!

  5. DC Darling :

    OK I can’t decide if I’m being a brat or am justified. My coworker heard me talking (gushing actually) about my new gym and how much fun the classes are and she now wants to join me/the gym.

    I mean I’m happy she wants to work out and get in shape and flattered that she wants to do it with me but……we spend ALL DAY all week together, I want to work out alone and not have to worry about looking professional (cause work wardrobe–> working out is day and night) or being friendly and talkative. Working out for me is my special recharge while looking like a mess time. I know this is my fault for not keeping my mouth shut but I keep making excuses and am feeling guilty.

    • Hmm. Maybe wait and hope she doesn’t bring it up again?

    • big dipper :

      I frequently run into this problem- I love exercising (running, classes, gym, etc) but I feel exactly the same way as you. It’s my alone/de-stress/fun time.

      I usually just tell people that when they ask to work out together. I’ll say something, well, exactly like what you explained here. “I like to work out alone because it’s my de-stressing time” or “I keep a pretty erratic work out schedule (sometimes mornings, sometimes nights, sometimes lunch) and it’s hard to coordinate with other people.”

      Then, she can join your gym if she wants, but she won’t be your work out buddy. You’ll be able to wave/say hi when you see her there, and that will be it.

    • I totally get the “me time” concern, but what makes you think she expects you to look “professional”, or even decent, in the gym?

      • DC Darling :

        She wears lululemon, makeup, and coordinated outfits. Despite the fact that she works out maybe a week every other month.

        No one of these things is wrong or meant to discriminate against people that do these things, but you get the picture I’m trying to paint.

    • I would email her and say, “so glad you’re interested in joining my gym! I love my “me” time /alone time there, so I bet you’ll like it too. Here’s a link to [whatever feature] I think you’ll like. Our schedules won’t mesh for working out together, but maybe I’ll run into you there.”

      I think it’s very common to enjoy work-outs as alone time, a time to de-stress. So you can emphasize that you like it that way, while being encouraging/welcoming to her. Of course, if she’s the kind of person who doesn’t get these sorts of social cues easily, you may have to word it a little more strongly, but hopefully this will work.

      • DC Darling :

        Trust me, anything of the “I like my alone time too” variety would seriously offend her. She’s a sweet girl and we are good friends but she takes things very personally which is why I haven’t been more direct.

      • anon nom nom :

        What’s with everyone using email to say uncomfortable things? That’s the worst way to go about these situations in my opinion! You can’t read tact in emails and it could come across as very rude.

    • Seattleite :

      Why can’t you just say, “You know, I’m not really an exercise-with-a-friend type. I get way more out of my workouts if I do it alone. So I’ll wave at you from across the gym, but I can’t have an exercise buddy.”

      No reasonable person would expect you to compromise your workout for her. And if she’s UNreasonable, all the more reason to stick to your boundaries, no?

    • MissJackson :

      I totally see where you’re coming from, but:

      (1) You don’t want to work out alone — you take classes with other people!
      (2) Your coworker is going to have to wear gym clothes and sweat, too. It’s really not as if anyone expects you to look “professional” at the gym.
      (3) If you’re in a class, there really won’t be much time for being talkative. If you’re not in class, pop in your headphones — she’ll probably get the point.

      I’m someone who thinks of working out as “me time” too. I take a class at my gym that a partner at my firm now takes, too (seems like half the firm belongs to this particular club because we get a killer discount). My first reaction was similar to yours. I seriously considered quitting the class. But — you know what? It’s no big deal. In fact, it’s kind of awesome. I look a hot mess by the end of the class, but seriously, so does she.

      Also: you obviously inspire your coworker, and that’s pretty kick @ss.

      Anyway, my point here is that it probably won’t be nearly as bad as you think. You should give it a try.

      • I agree. Tell her it’d be fine if she comes along to classes with you (since it’s not like you’re alone or talking to others in a class anyway). If she wants to be running buddies or something, then it’s appropriate to tell her you prefer to work out alone.

      • DC Darling :

        Yeah I think I’m just to suggest she go to a different time than I do because 1) my class is super packed 2) the other classes are more newbie friendly whereas because mine is packed people get more impatient with stragglers or people that can’t keep up and 3) to keep me sane. TY ladies. I don’t care if she joins or even if I see her there but I get the impression that she wants me to “coach/help” her out and I’m not interested.

        • She probably wants a real work-out buddy, someone you make arrangements to meet at the gym, and then you feel like you have to go, because you made a “date,” even though you really don’t want to go. Sounds like she has had trouble keeping a work-out schedule, sees that you have been successful, and feels that working out with you will force her to go to the gym. So I don’t have an answer, really, other than I expect she will be offended when you tell her you don’t want to be her work-out buddy. Maybe you have another friend who would like to work out with her? Or, based on her past performance, you could try if for a couple of weeks, and just hope she gets tired of it real quick.

        • if someone tried to tell me when i should go to the gym i’d be annoyed- not your call

          • S in Chicago :

            This. I don’t see why you would think it’s OK to tell her where she belongs.

            If she wants you to be her coach or workout buddy or any of that and you don’t feel comfortable, then it’s totally normal to just say so. People will understand. But steering her around acceptable classes is a different thing. (And this strategy isn’t likely to get you to the relationship you’re seeking anyway. You’ll be sounding an awful lot like a coach if you start telling which classes she’ll be most comfortable in. And it would only be natural then for her to keep pursing you for your “guidance.”)

    • Exerciser :

      I think a lot of the times, these things work themselves out and you don’t need to have any kind of weirdness. If she shows up to the class, just wave and get on with your workout. Then talk to your fellow classmates or leave right after, whatever you normally do. If you don’t set the tone where you’re her buddy in the class, she will probably make other friends there. And if she judges you about how you look while you’re working out, then she’s the one with the problem. I’m sure anyone she tried to gossip to about it (if that’s what you’re worried about) would give her a huge eye roll.

      If it makes you feel better — I often seen partners (like, named partners) from my firm in a local park. In the summer I usually run with no shirt on, my short hair sticks straight up, and I am so so so red. They are usually in similar condition. We smile and wave, maybe have a 1-minute conversation if everyone is standing still for a moment, and then carry on. They still work with me, and I don’t get the feeling that anyone has judged anyone for workout attire or other aspects of appearance.

      • I agree. Trying to draw the line and tell her you don’t want to hang out with her at the gym could come across as petty. Like really? You’re so important you’ll just give a close associate the cold shoulder because “me time” is so crucial? It probably won’t be a big deal so why make it a big deal? She probably won’t end up going that often anyway.

        • DC Darling :

          I would absolutely be more distant with a work associate that I saw at my gym because “me time” is crucial to me.

          Regardless I resolved the situation by suggesting she go at an earlier time that is more beginner friendly. Thanks everyone.

    • Eloise Spaghetti :

      Meet her but wear your headphones. She’ll get the hint.

    • I would say “I tend to be in my own zone at the gym, just put my iPod headphones on and go.” Hopefully that will send the message. I get super anxious if someone threatens my alone time.

  6. TJ! Sorry, I’m reposting this because it was at the end of today’s earlier post. I’m graduating next month and considering moving back to the Bay Area. I’m wondering if anyone would care to shed some light on the legal market for little law. Specifically, I’m interested in knowing more about the current conditions for small firms that represent plaintiffs in civil rights cases (employment discrimination, disability discrimination, police misconduct, etc). Thanks!

    • I practiced in this area, but in Southern California, and on the defense side. Run for your life. The hours are terrible, the pay is worse, and the cases depressing. If I haven’t deterred you, small firms that practice in this area generally hire associates from their alma maters. Poke around and see if any alum in the Bay Area are working in your field. Best of luck!

    • SF Bay Associate :

      The bay area legal market a bloody disaster for all but the top students from the top schools. Part of the problem is that Stanford and Boalt are right here, plus we are an attractive market for Ivies and other top schools, so competition is very fierce for all jobs. I have friends from classes of 2008 and 2009 that are One is working at a small firm doing work that includes what you’re interested in as an independent contractor, making $35 an hour with no benefits. Plus the rental market for apartments is insane, thanks to the tech boom. Unless you have connections and/or top grades and a top school, think twice before moving back here “just to see” what you can find.

      • The ghost of Elie Mystal :

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think the continuing travails of 2008/09 grads (i.e., “The Lost Generation”) are really relevant for new and future grads. When places start hiring, they are going to hire 2012 grads, not 2008 grads who haven’t done legal work for four years.

        • karenpadi :

          I disagree. We just hired a 2008/2009 grad who was out of legal employment since graduating. She did a lot of relevant CLE and earned a relevant certification in the meantime.

          • What “relevant certification”? A tech degree? You sound a lot more understanding than most potential employers.

          • That is unusual though. Most (95%) are going to go for the new grad

          • karenpadi :

            She passed the patent bar. We are treating her as we would treat a 2011 grad.

            She really impressed us at the interview and is very diligent. Kat would like her–she wore huggie earrings. :-)

        • Youngster :

          FWIW, the market’s still awful for 2010 and 2011 grads too.

      • Thanks, I’m a non-trad student, older, with substantial savings, and we will be buying. I’m not looking for info on the COL, etc, because I am quite familiar with all of it. But really, just what the market is like for small, plaintiff’s side firms. Is it a large community? Do a few firms dominate? Who does good work in this area? Etc. But not, what are my chances of getting a job there, info. If that makes sense.

        • I can’t really speak to the quality of work one way or the other, but two of the big-name firms doing plaintiffs’-side litigation here are Altshuler Berzon and Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy.

  7. My assistant is great. I had a great assistant for a few months, then a terrible assistant for about 6-7 months (a dark time in my life), and now I have a wonderful assistant again. She’s friendly, professional, does an excellent job, etc. My only quibble is that she’s a little too chatty (she often stops by for 30-40 minute interludes in my office). But, that said, it seems like such a minor thing compared to the awfulness of my former assistant — I’m happy to put up with it!

  8. momentsofabsurdity :

    Because so many of you are lawyers and it seems like we could all use a smile today:

  9. My lazy paralegal has been at lunch for 2+ hours. I’m still bitter that I had to pay for the lunch considering that she does not do any work.

  10. I Heart Her! :

    I love my assistant as well. The assistant I had before her was HORRIBLE. She’d argue with me about how I decided to handle something, would tell me that she didn’t like my writing style and would contstantly change my wording (not just catch errors but change the actual structure) and would refuse to do anything of mine if the managing partner (with whom I shared her and who gave me my projects) gave her the tiniest of projects. We are talking she wouldn’t file my opposition with the court if he gave her a “nice to meet you new client” letter to work on. If I made the smallest mistake, she would run to the managing partner, which lucky for me, didn’t go over well. She got fired, thankfully.

    My current assistant is AMAZING! She is there to roll her eyes with me, or laugh at something stupid I did, or pat me on the back if I/we prevailed on a matter. She has eagle eyes and even if I give her something already signed and ready, she’ll proof it just to be sure. She keeps my schedule on track and (my favorite) will tell me I am “late to my next meeting” when a non-essential meeting is running really late with a particular client who can’t stop talking. She knows which matters and clients are most important and fast tracks those and knows which messages/questions can wait until the time is right. And, if I’m having a really bad day, she’ll grab a coffee, brownie or cookie for me while she’s at lunch and surprise me with it. She’s the best and I do my best to make sure she feels appreciated because god help me if she ever leaves!

    If hugs were appropriate I’d give her a giant one. Instead, I just give her giant gift cards to her favorite stores and spas and lots of her favorite wine.

    • Can you clone her?! What I wouldn’t give to have an assistant like yours…

    • I second the cloning. I swear if we ever hire new assistants I am giving them this blog to read. “These are the things we should be saying behind your back, not THESE!”

    • Aw, this is really nice.

  11. TJ…

    I’m not a big fan of Belle and caphillstyle, but I thought it was worth noting that one of her blog posts today included some advice to “keep you, and your clothes, from smelling like a gin soaked trollop.”

    • I didn’t understand this advice, though. Spray vodka on your clothing to keep you smelling like booze? When I’m drinking, my clothes don’t smell like booze, but my breath does. I have heard that vodka will take the smell of mustiness and sweat out of clothing, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced my clothing smelling like booze after a day/night of drinking.

      • Yeah, it seemed like really strange advice. Vodka works to take out the smell of sweat, mustiness, etc. Why would actors be spraying costumes with vodka to take out the smell of booze?

  12. I’m at tiny law (me+2 partners+secretary) and we all share a secretary. She has been doing it for a super long time, and thinks she knows what she is doing, so she argues with me a LOT on how things should be done. She is usually wrong. When I print out court rules and hand them too her, she says “no one does it that way, it’s fine.” Finally I put my foot down and said, well then, you can do whatever you want but I’m not signing it that way. That has seemed to work for a minute. She is also ALWAYS listening to the news and political commentary and talking back to the radio, and telling me all about her (very opinionated and NOT fact based) political views. It takes everything in me not to engage, and my standard responses have become “oh, well, that’s politics” or “everyone is entitled to their opinion.” She never treats the partners that way, even calling them by their last names.

    At my last firm I had a wonderful secretary. She would cover for me, whatever I gave her would be done on time and correctly, and was just overall on top of it and nice to be around. I miss that.

  13. Okay, another TJ, my apologies…

    Someone asked recently about what ads everyone sees when visiting this site. Until now, I’ve had a variety, usually fashion-related.

    I just noticed a new one that is completely random – trying to avoid using words that will trigger this to reappear – soliciting online interactions with women from a foreign country often associated with mail-order brides.

    Frantically trying to figure out how I could have caused this to appear – especially considering that I’m on my work computer!!!

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      Did you read one of the CNN articles on sex-trafficking maybe? Also, we all joke at work about the ridiculous ads we end up with because of the stuff we research for our cases.

      • I’m sure it was something innocent, although not sure what.

        At my last job I had to do a lot of online research about various medical conditions, which always led to jokes that IT was going to bust me for violating our internet use policy. The most eyebrow-raising was when I had to go Googling for information about men who, shall we say, arrive early?

    • Anonymous NYer :

      I think something as simple as researching like international law, and also something more personal and unrelated to international anything, like checking in on a social media site, could combine the two and give you something like that.

  14. Another Kelly :

    I supervise three paralegals and very much appreciate how they make the jobs of the attorneys easier. Each one has strengths, and it’s part of my job to make sure I am using those strengths. One person, for instance, is painstakingly careful with even the smallest tasks. It’s a mistake for me to give her something that needs to be done in an hour. (That goes to one of the other paralegals, who is fast but a little sloppy.) We are employed by an organization where there is NO reward for hard work, and they still take pride in how much they can accomplish. I feel very grateful.

    It really makes me sad that, when asked “about what the best thing your secretary/assistant has ever done for you,” posters respond with criticisms of staffers. I am not defending the assistants’ poor attitudes or performance, but it still makes me sad.

    • My office is the same way with the perverse incentives. The bad paralegals end up doing less work because it’s easier to do things yourself than to try to get them to do it. The good paralegals end up picking up the slack and nothing ever happens to the bad ones. It makes me appreciate the good ones SO much.

    • It also makes me sad to see so much venting going on. I suspect that many of these corporettes are new law grads who have never worked in an office before full-time, and they unknowingly make things much harder for their staff because they don’t know which battles are worth fighting, how to motivate others, and how to build strong personal connections. I’m glad you appreciate your assistants!

      • I’ve been practicing 10+ years. I work for the government and complaining about shoddy work will not accomplish anything because nobody gets fired in federal agencies. There are good paralegals in my agency but, unfortunately for me, whenever a good paralegal is discovered, they’re immediately pulled up to work the senior folks.

        • This, exactly! I’m not in law, but am also in government, and our division has notoriously inept assistants. Every so often, we get a new assistant who is fabulous (takes care of things efficiently, accurately, promptly, and moreover, doesn’t kvetch about being asked to do basic tasks), but these good ones quickly get promoted/transfered to another more powerful division.

          Gold medal moment recently: The newest assistant (been there about a month, I think) happened to be the one available when I figured out that none of my patient appointments had been entered into the system. She immediately tried to fix it, figured out there was a more systemic problem, and promptly contacted the appropriate people to sort out the computer snafu that was about to make chaos of my workload. And then reported back to me to let me know it was resolved. All accomplished efficiently, with a smile, and so quickly there was barely any impact on my workflow. All of this sounds kind of basic when I read over it, but when my point of reference is a terror of an assistant who is decidedly unfriendly to lecture providers who have the temerity to ask her to fix problems she created.

          • oops, meant to say “decidedly unfriendly to patients and has a tendency to lecture…”

      • I’ve been in the workforce 10 years and have had great secretaries and awful ones. I reserve the right to complain about the awful ones.

  15. There are two paralegals in my office whom I love. They are so on top of things and do everything they are supposed to do without me having to ask. They also have great attitudes and hardly ever complain. I work with other paralegals who are not so fabulous, so I am always grateful when I get to work on assignments with these two.

    They really went above and beyond on a project for me last year, so I wrote a nice long letter to their supervisors raving about their performance. I figured that was probably better than a lunch or a gift of some kind, especially considering that I think they make about the same salary as me (got to love govnt)!

  16. I love my assistant. She’s competent and professional. She covers for me if I need her to. She’s friendly and organized. She rarely snaps even through I know she’s under a lot of pressure (works for two partners and me, including one very persnickity partner). She treats my work as just as important as the partners work.

    The one complaint I have is that she’s chatty. Sometimes I get stuck talking to her for too long. If that’s the only complaint, I’ll take it!

  17. Senior Attorney :

    My very best former assistant and I are no longer together professionally, but we have transitioned into BFF’s. The very best thing she ever did for me was to drive me to the outpatient surgery center, sit in the waiting room for 8 hours (I begged her to leave and come back but she refused), drive me home, and stay with me at my house for the next four days, dispensing sympathy, pain pills, and chicken soup.

    And she was a rockin’ legal assistant, too!

  18. I share three admins with about 40 people. The head admin has been my partner in crime while implementing a new company wide file system. One of the other admins spent a ridiculous amount of time renaming files and file paths to be in compliance with the new system. Finally, the third admin has probably printed out 2500+ invoices for a project I’ve been working on. She’s done it with a smile, without any complaint, and can turn the invoices around in no time flat. I owe them my sanity this year.

  19. mommyinlaw :

    What do I delegate to our assistants? Nothing.

    The last thing I asked an administrative assistant to do was to photocopy a journal article. The copies came back with half of each page cut off. I still can’t decide whether she did it by accident or on purpose. Helpful things our administrative staff have previously done for me:

    – Put the wrong name on plane tickets
    – Submit duplicate reimbursement vouchers, landing me in trouble with accounting
    – Put the wrong numbers in tables on presentation handouts
    – “Test” spreadsheet formulas by looking at them instead of putting in numbers to make sure they actually worked
    – Talk another attorney into scheduling conference calls (which I had assigned the assistant to do) because the assistant was too shy to e-mail people she didn’t know to schedule the calls

    Now I just do everything for myself. It is safer and faster.

  20. Somewhat related TJ – do you ladies get paralegals in your office anything for admin day? I never have – I get something for my assistant, but not the paralegals. I’m worried now because the firm’s admin lunch email said that it was to celebrate the receptionists, assistants and paralegals. I work with three different paralegals on various cases, so would I have to get gifts for all of them? Your opinions, please!

    • Eloise Spaghetti :

      We include all non-attorneys in the day. We cater in lunch and then take an afternoon field trip to get ice cream. Some of the attorneys who work close to a secretary or paralegal (no one is really assigned, it’s all by the type of case) got their paralegals flowers, wine, and starbucks cards. I did not get anyone an individual gift. Here, others were not upset that some got gifts from the attorneys mostly b/c those attorneys are a PIA to help. I am low on the totem pole and make it as easy on my assistants as possible.

  21. My assistant is assigned to three of us lawyers. She is great. Only problem: one of the other three is in some sort of on-going battle with her, and they have both come to me to vent. I want nothing to do with it. I don’t know who is right, and frankly, I don’t care. She does great work for me, is friendly and willing to learn, and we get along very well. Wine-store-goody-bag for her today!

  22. Anonymous :

    The years I spent as an admin were the worst in my life. I have never been treated so poorly. Both companies were fortune 500 and both were crap. Thank god I have a real job now and don’t have to be pushed around by a bunch of people who have meetings just to talk about how great they all are. Also, the mindless stupid work. If you can’t schedule your own meetings then you shouldn’t be having them.

    • I’m sorry you were mistreated, but I strongly disagree with this statement:
      “If you can’t schedule your own meetings then you shouldn’t be having them.”

      That is what the position is. That is the job for which you [one] is paid. I don’t schedule my own meetings. That’s not what my job entails. The entire purpose of the assistant is to do these types of jobs. Now, it may not be for you, or what you want to do, but that’s the job.

  23. Anyone else miffed that they don’t get anything despite earning less than an administrative assistant? I’m an articling student and I earn less than our senior admin assistants

    • To add to that I summered at this firm last year for $10/hour and I didn’t get anything for assistants day either despite doing largely research and admin type work.

    • recent law grad :

      I would have been mortified to receive anything for admin day when I was fresh out of school and making less than all of the assistants in my office because I was not an admin. Even though I wasn’t making much, I expected to be treated like a lawyer, which includes no admin gifts along with the perks.

      • There are no perks. To put this in to perspective there are about 6 summer/articling students in my city. We are paid about the same- My rent costs over half of what I earn. I realize that this depends on where you live but inmy jurisdiction I can do almost nothing without superision by a lawyer. I have respect for our admin assistants and the work they do and I know I am not a lawyer. I have no problem being included in administrative assistants day- I think to say otherwise is a denial of the facts that I am not earning much, that administrative assistants are hard working people of a variety of skills and educational backgrounds and that I am not a lawyer.

  24. It seriously bums me out that so many of these are anti-admin posts. I got some wonderful gifts from my group today (A bundle of flowers, a hand-signed card, a plate of cookies from one of the ramdom people I help out, and a Starbucks $10 gift card from an unnamed giver!), and I would like to believe I do a pretty damn good job earning their appreciation. It can be mindless, stressful, bottom-of-the-totem-pole crap work, but it’s still my job and I try to do my best.

    If your admin is doing a crappy job, speak to their manager or who they report to about it, and if you are that person, then explain to them – politely – what you expect of them, or better yet, write it down. If that doesn’t work, report it to Human Resources and your supervisor.

    I really hope none of my group hates me and thinks so badly of me as so many people do of their admins!

    • Trust me, I wish I wasn’t complaining… And if I had someone like you, I would definitely be appreciative! In my experience, I’ve had many support staff people who were lazy, didn’t pay attention to detail, etc. Unfortunately I can’t report them to anyone because I’m new here. I just hope things improve…

      I wish there were more people like you out there!!

      • Thanks!

        However, I will say, even if you are new, you should alert people if someone isn’t doing their job! Speak to them first, just to let them know what’s going on and ask if perhaps there’s a reason they aren’t completing things (Just a “Hey, this item was missed on the things I needed done – did something come up? If your workload gets too heavy in the future to do these tasks, can you just give me a heads up?”), but you don’t need to “report” them, just explain to a boss or HR person what is going on and ask for advise on how to get the work done that you need done.

        Good luck!

        • I’m trying to pick and choose my battles since I am new… There are some things she (paralegal) does that I think could be improved but feel like I’m not really in a position to say anything yet. And at the same time, the partner thinks she’s competent in what she’s doing. So it’s tough. I’ve tried to be slightly passive agressive to bring up issues – she doesn’t pay attention to detail and will leave “him” all over when it should be “her” or not change plural/singular, so I wrote that on something once to watch for it. That way I didn’t have to confront her directly.

          • I don’t mean to offend, but being passive aggressive is not a good alternative. I would suggest instead detailing exactly what is wrong, matter-of-factly. E-mailing is actually a good way to keep record of things, or having it on paper (make a copy for yourself), just simple things like “When preparing documents, please make sure to use appropriate articles (she instead of he, etc.)” are not accusatory or anything, just requirements that should be observed.
            I also think that all employees of any company, regardless of how new, should look for ways to improve efficiency. She’s affecting your efficiency, and your bosses should understand that – phrasing it in that matter may be helpful.

            I would also make the suggestion to your bosses that perhaps an actual administrative assistant may be a more appropriate option for these kinds of tasks, and ask if there is any possibility of hiring one in the future to ensure that the paralegals aren’t overloaded with administrative tasks (it shows that you want to prioritize good work and want to make sure no one is overworked, but that there is a need for someone more specialized for admin work).

          • BrieCS – It wouldn’t let me comment underneath yours…

            Personally, I think any time it’s written down and not address face-to-face then it’s passive agressive. I just thinking writing it on the document comes across less accusatory. I write it exactly like you said.

            Problem with hiring an admin… Just before I started, we had a secretary who split her time between our office (2 days) and another office. She was let go so my paralegal was essentially given both job duties. It was explained to her beforehand (I don’t know what was done with compensation, not my concern). She only works for 3 attorneys – 1 is a partner and mostly supervises so the amount of work she delegates it likely minimal. We have a law clerk starting next month too so I think that will help things. Right now, I think the paralegal’s issue is organizing and prioritizing. She is determined to break her days down and do paralegal work certain days and secretarial work certain days. Except that’s too rigid to be practical. And it’s not practical because things come up. She’s just SO stubborn and it’s her way or the highway that she refuses to do it any other way.

  25. I would really love to have an assistant I could sing praises of, but sadly, that’s not the case. I am, however, grateful that other lawyers’ assistants have been gracious and helpful enough to help me out when I really needed something done/filed without any screwups. Which might well be the case if I used my own assistant.

    On that note, I will be getting a new assistant soon. Does the hive have any ideas on how to start out on the right footing and communicating expectations to the assistant wrt procedures and such?

    • Be welcoming, and arrange to speak to them one-on-one about their responsibilities. I personally would suggest making sure you clearly list any major deadlines, weekly or daily tasks, and ensure that if they are new to a something at work (computer programs, procedures, etc.) you let them know who to go to in order to obtain training or assistance. Tell them what your highest priorities are, how to reach you if you are out, and what your preferences are (if any) for what phone numbers anyone calling for you should use and any special tasks (water plants, pick up coffee in the mornings, pick up dry cleaning, order specific pens or tablets), whether you prefer phone or e-mail for contact, and give her a brief detail of what cases/projects you are currently working on or have projected for the next two months.

      Let them ask questions if they have any, and if you don’t have an answer, either follow up with them or direct them to someone who can answer. Plan a follow up meeting for a week after, and then in 2 months, but make sure they know they can speak to you if something comes up.

      A good way to ensure that last bit is, after speaking to them formally, either go then or plan to go and have a cup of coffee or something with them, just for a small informal discussion to allow for discussion – they might want to ask about your history in law (or other profession), or your past work at this company and the culture there. It’s so much easier to do this in an informal discussion.

      Good luck with the new assistant!

    • My judge taught me this when I clerked for him – when I start working with a new assistant, I try to make sure the first several assignments are not time-sensitive so we have time to go back and forth with questions and/or corrections. And I do give feedback, without judgment, just matter-of-fact. Assistants are human – they will do things the way they have done things for others, they will make judgment calls that might be incorrect if they don’t know something, and they need time to figure out what is important to you. Give your new assistant a proofreading/typing project, a filing project, and a collating project that you have several days to complete.

      I say please and thank you, and I try to learn one personal thing that is important to my assistant (either snooping around the pictures and knick-knacks on her desk or asking her colleagues). I try to make sure to chat with my assistant about that personal thing once a week. I brag about my assistant to others (especially when my assistant or HR is near).

      Good luck! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that your new assistant works out better than the old ones!

  26. Catherine :

    This post irritated me somewhat. Yes, how surprising that some administrative assistants are “smart.” After working in BigLaw for 3 years during and after my undergrad (they kept me on after a co-op with the intention of giving me full-time upon graduation), I decided not to pursue a JD because of the general misery of the associates around me and the amount of debt accrued from my undergrad. This debt forced me to find work – I didn’t have the luxury of waiting for something great to come along. My first three jobs were working as administrative assistants to various executives in/around the metropolitan area. Many of my friends who have found employment have done so through staffing agencies – which place these highly educated individuals as admins. I now work in a Fortune 100 company supporting a department – many of the other admins I encounter are in a similar situation. They graduated at one of the worst economic times for jobs (2009-ish) and could only find work in a supporting role. Yes, celebrate your administrative assistants (or whatever the PC term is this week) – and keep in mind that s/he _does_ have a couple brain cells roaming around up there.

    • Good on you. Seriously, I completly agree with you and and am glad you said that.

    • As an admin myself, I do agree that some/perhaps most of us tend to be “smart” – quick, thorough, discrete, and (odds are) overeducated.

      That said… I’ve had many, many run-ins with other admins for whom exactly none of this was the case.

      • I should mention that education is not a big factor here. The best admins I’ve worked with have had limited education but OODLES of common sense and business wisom… more than managers, in some cases.

  27. lolatmiserableattnys :

    You know why there’s no “boss appreciation” day? Because every day is boss appreciation day. I am sure there are some terrible assistants and paralegals out there, but it might still be instructive for all bosses, especially those quick to complain, to think about whether you’re actually a good boss. Here, I’ll help you out with a handy list of questions to ask yourself:

    Do you say please and thank you?
    Do you recognize initiative, late nights, diligence?
    Do you try to give clear instructions?
    Do you welcome clarifying questions or do you yell or roll your eyes at them instead?
    Do you enjoy being intimidating to new hires?
    Do you understand the difference between the “right way” and just your personal idiosyncratic preferences?
    Do you remember that they can’t read your mind and do you recognize when you’ve inadvertently (or not) expected them to?Do you give constructive feedback on their performance or work product?
    Do you try to mentor them if they’re much younger and likely to move on to other things in the future?
    Do you remember they are human and not just your personal robot slaves?
    (A good way to figure out that last question: Do you address them by first name and make eye contact?)
    Have you ever tried to get to know them personally–career goals, interests, background?
    Do you notice workload (im)balances among assistants and try to correct them, or do you avoid actually being a manager and further perpetuate the problem by giving all the work to the more competent assistant and letting the less competent/lazier one get away with surfing the internet all day?
    Do you notice if they are very stressed out or overworked?
    Do you remember that these might be people who work very, very hard for YOU, and can you think of three things that you have done for them in the last six months, even a year?

  28. I’m the sole in-house lawyer at a mid-sized nonprofit, and I would quite literally die of a heart attack without my amazing assistant. She is phenomenally organized, hard-working, calm in the midst of all storms, and very politely catches my mistakes (and fixes them). Her annual reviews consist of me saying “I love you. Please don’t leave. How can we keep you happy?” She was a BigLaw paralegal and could work elsewhere if she wanted to, but she’s here for the same reason I am — we enjoy the interesting work and the humane environment, despite the fact that our days are constant fire drills.

  29. My assistant is great. She has been around forever, knows everyone at the firm, and knows how to get things done. She’s also the life of the department, marking everyone’s birthdays and the major holidays with home-baked goods.

    I only wish she weren’t so openly disapproving of associates who come in late. She doesn’t seem to understand that after a few very late nights in the office, people might come in at 10 or 11 sometimes.

  30. I am a 21 year old legal secretary who started off as the receptionist when I was 19. I got promoted a year ago to work for a new (to the firm) lawyer who is 28, turning 29 next month. I absolutely adore her. She is constantly telling me that she loves me, giving me advice, and calling me her little sister. We go out on Friday nights sometime as well. She is very pretty, smart and funny so everyone loves her.

    She insists that we both divulge every single aspects of our lives to each other. I think that’s nice because not many people are that close with their lawyers/secretaries. She tells me everything and is very affectionate with me. She says that if I ever quit she will hunt me down and make me come back to work for her for the rest of my life.

    She does give me a lot of work to do as she is quite a competent, very confident lawyer. Although she does stuff up sometimes, I know I do as well. She constantly tells me: ‘Everyone makes mistakes, babe.’ Most of the time we don’t make many mistakes and we work very well together. We share similar interests and both have senses of humour about life in general.

    She occasionally needs me to work over time (I don’t think I got paid…) but I am happy to because I love her and I know she feels guilty asking me. I prefer to get all of my work done rather than stress about it all night. I have worked one Sunday as well. She took me out to dinner afterwards as a thank you. This was before a major final hearing.

    I cover for her a lot as well. She’s quite spacey sometimes and so laid back that she forgets to do some things haha. She asks me not to tell the partners these stupid, tiny things such as her leaving the office to do something personal. I don’t mind as I am more than happy to cater for her. I’m young too and I don’t really care if she’s doing something she’s not supposed to be doing.

    Anyway, it’s her birthday next month (as stated previously) and I am wondering if I should buy her anything? I had my 21st last year (in December), and she signed a joint card for me and that’s it, but we didn’t know each other as well as we know each other now. I was thinking of just buying her a birthday card and writing something cutesy on it (she loves that stuff) but I don’t know if I should? Or should I just say ‘Happy birthday!” and give her a hug?