Sunday, March 2, 2008

Valuing your Support Staff

(I drafted the following as an email to the Women of WSTLA (WOW) listserve.)

I had an experience on Friday that compelled me to draft this email. I attended the Goldmark Awards Luncheon honoring John and Mike McKay. I arrived at my assigned table before my tablemates, all whom I did not know save a fellow law student. Eventually a partner from the firm sponsoring the table arrived. He and I introduced ourselves. Then, the rest of the people from his firm arrived so he introduced us. He introduced the male attorneys first, then the one female attorney – all by name. Then he said, “And here’s the people who keep us ticking” and swept his arm to indicate the three remaining tablemates, who were his support staff, but didn’t bother to introduce them by name.

Before attending law school, I was a personal injury paralegal for over 13 years. Therefore, I can say this with some authority. Please don’t ever do this to your staff. As much as that partner said, “Here’s the people who keep us ticking,” he clearly had no idea who these women were for him. When I was a paralegal (this applies to all my positions, not one particular firm):

  • I made sure that your clients felt special and attended to when you were in depositions or trial and couldn’t return their calls. I remembered their birthdays, sent cards congratulating them for the triumphs in their lives, and consoled them when they were upset about their case or were just flat-out in pain. I explained the litigation process to them when their case was taking forever to resolve and they didn’t understand why.
  • I woke up in the middle of the night to leave myself voicemails to make sure we double checked a deadline or statute date (even though these were calendared meticulously).
  • I made sure you remembered your spouse’s birthday or your anniversary because a happy spouse makes a happy attorney and a happy attorney makes a happy office.
  • I stayed late and came in on weekends whenever you asked me to get a project done and didn’t charge you overtime. (I figured it all evened out in the wash for when you’d let me go to my daughter’s school functions, which I appreciated.) I never said, "No" - not even once.
  • I answered your computer questions without making you feel like an idiot.
  • I added the family car doctrine or respondeat superior paragraphs to draft complaints when you forgot. I drafted initial pleadings and letters without being asked to save you time. You didn’t have to tell me what to do with every single piece of paper that I pushed. I was competent and skilled.
  • I made sure your trust account balanced perfectly and that your bills were paid.
  • I brought problems to your attention before they turned into a crisis that could have gotten you disbarred.
  • I let you use me as an excuse to other counsel when you forgot to do something or were late.
  • I brought in enough business myself over the years to pay my own salary, bonuses and health insurance, plus make you a profit.
  • I helped you competently and professionally manage a large litigation practice, at a fraction of what you earned.

The very least an attorney can do is introduce staff by name.

J.D. expected Dec. 2008

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