How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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You don't pay your secretary enough to treat her like crap (or your firm doesn't). In addition, good legal secretaries are so hard to find these days she TOTALLY has you bent over. You, conversely, are very well paid and quite easy to replace.


others' failures are never excuse for your own, that's why.



If girls four months out of college whose only work experience is as a cashier, looking for 9-5 jobs paying north of 40k are hard to find I would be very surprised.


Good point



You may have changed Kate's point. She didn't argue that your secretary was underqualified and overpaid. She pointed out that whatever amount you were paying is a real bargain for a GOOD secretary. Four months out of college, ex-stripper, minimum wage, blah, blah, blah.

If she assists you competently at your BIGLAW firm, I'd bet that she is vastly harder to replace than some recent LS grad with LR credentials who's willing to work 90 hours a week. You guys are the ones to be found left and right and repopulating vigorously with the blossom of each new spring in May.

Check the turnover rates of new BIGLAW associates versus those of highly appreciated BIGLAW secretaries (of course, with the latter you will have trouble finding good data). Hell, ask Evan :-).



It's easy to get frustrated when deadlines roll. However, regardless of whether it's her job and she's well paid for it or not, we're all people. Regardless where we are in the 'chain of command' or the 'food chain' we're all people.

Treating people nicely and with respect is not 'in addition' to the job, it should be a basic foundation that everything else is built on.

BigLaw sometimes forgets that, but that's probably why they have such high turnover and burnout rates.


As a Legal Secretary, I understand where your secretary is coming from. Not only does she has to do all the grunt work, but she will get a lot of the blame if anything goes wrong. And what is wrong with a little common courtesy?


I am flabbergasted by these responses really. Please noted the first part of the post. Nobody says please to me. No one even asks me to do anything, I am commanded to do things. I don't stop and ask people to say please, neither do my associate colleagues. If I did, I am sure the result would not be pleasant. But she gets to do it and she gets all kind of support for it? Bizarre.

In the end, I just say please anyway. Its the overall theory that bothers me somehow.


"Hell, ask Evan," anonon2 said.

That's probably not a good idea. You think I want to wade into this one?

But I guess I will anyway. I usually say please to secretaries. As a few commenters pointed out, it's just common courtesy. But if a secretary began to require me to say please, I wouldn't be happy about that. Most likely, I'd start looking for a new one. That one little thing would be a sign of other problems with the relationship. Maybe a new secretary would be hard to find, maybe a new secretary wouldn't, but whatever, it would be necessary to do.

The difference between Stan and me, though, is that I don't think Stan is at liberty to hire and fire secretaries. That makes his situation a little different.

What did I do when I was an associate at a large firm? Probably whatever it took to get the job done, keeping in mind that it was better to have an ally than a foe. So I smiled, said please, asked my secretary about her day, asked her about her frustrations, got to know her as a person, tried to get her personally committed to the outcome, tried to get her to be part of the team, etc. It was all part of a larger management philosophy I'll have to put off for another time.


At my last firm, I got considerable grief from a partner who got a complaint from a secretary because I shut my office door a little too firmly in response to some secretaries talking and laughing loudly in the hall when I was on a deadline. And also for an incident where, in the middle of a trial where I needed to be physically present, I was unhappy with a staffer who couldn't find a paycheck that a bureaucratic mishap failed to direct-deposit that needed to be in the bank so my automatic mortgage withdrawal wouldn't bounce. So "please" was fairly mandatory up and down the line, which does demonstrate that BigLaw isn't completely cookie-cutter.


Sooner or later, she is going to ask you for something, such as where you left that brief a fellow associate needed. And then you can innocently say "Did you mean to say 'please'?"

(And yes, I always ask my secretary 'please do X,' but still.)


In late 1985, during my first annual as a partner, our senior partner (alav haShalom) told me that I ought to be saying please and thank you any time I assigned a task to any staff member, at any level. We were paying them to do what I instructed, of course, but the social niceties, he explained, went a long way toward buidling morale and reducing turnover.

Your position and your secretary's are not comparable. Several people have pointed out that you are more easily replaced, but leave that aside. You are spending time at the bottom of the food chain as a step in building your career. Before that, you put in three years of long hours and high tuition. All this gives you an incentive to swallow whatever the firm dishes out. Her only incentive is her salary. (And no matter how much she is paid, I suspect you are paid more.) This is your career. It is her job. People will put up with more in a career, and should.

You are more used to working without a show of appreciation. You got used to that in law school and it was reinforced in practice.

Consider too that you may be her boss (or one of them), but you are not her employer. The partner who gives you orders is paying your salary out of his pocket. He is also paying your secretary. If you needed help from another associate on a project, wouldn't you say please to them?


Again, people seem to be misperceiving the post.

Typically, I say please. I almost always say please and thank you. The question is whether she should require me to say please on the occassions when I do not. That seems to be a different issue to me. Obviously, I am in the minority.

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