File Under “Administrative Extinction”

Administrative assistants, legal secretaries, PAs, whatever you call them. They are the silent victims of the times, quietly laid off by the hundreds, along with the Big Firm lay-offs that have plagued these past months. But these recent pink-slipped secretaries are not the result of an economic downturn. In fact, firm administrators worldwide have been lurking in the shadows for years, entirely aware of the enormous expense and futility of the administrative assistant, waiting for just the right excuse to axe them. And then it came.

Mark my words: assistants for lawyers won’t be around for much longer. We lawyers are now simply too self-sufficient, too technologically capable. There is no need for a second human being to manage our calendar, answer our phones or make revisions to our documents.  We have Blackberry calendars, caller ID and first-year associates to do the same (respectively). If you had equal parts smarts and laziness at any point in the last 10 years, you would have become a legal secretary—$70,000+ a year with full benefits, health insurance and paid vacation.  All just for showing up, grabbing the odd phone call, surfing the net and then clocking off promptly at 5:30.

But no more.

Legal secretaries are becoming a thing of the past. Like those impeccable beauties in AMC’s Mad Men, who flaunt their organizational skills and flirty file-handling, all while twirling an innocent strand of pearls next to fiercely red-lacquered lips.

Lest we forget feminism. The smart, office-savvy woman of today no longer aspires to the position of executive assistant. Fuck that. Just as smart as her male counterpart, she’d rather join the ranks of associates and affirmative-action her way to partnership.

Umm….and speaking of those lovely secretaries on Mad Men, I’m not a lesbian or anything, but can I please, please, please have one of them? Please? My secretary is a pot-bellied ex-drag queen with a platinum-colored Caesar cut, blue contacts and a five-carat cubic zirconium ring on each finger. Yes, my secretary is Liberace.

After I had written a highly complicated legal memo a few weeks ago for one of the most senior partners of my firm, a mean-spirited scoundrel of a man nicknamed “The Screamer,” Liberace brought an inter-office envelope to my desk. It contained, what I assumed would be, The Screamer’s comments on my memo draft, which I feared would rip it to shreds and call for my disbarment.

I opened the envelope and poured out its contents. Out fell a piece of plastic gag-store brown poop with a Post-it note simply saying, “Your memo sucked.”

After several long minutes of heart palpitations and chest clinching, I realized what had really happened. Liberace was playing a practical joke.

These secretaries have way too much time on their hands. I am sorry to be saying goodbye to relics of the glory days, but this is the way of the future—PDAs and Microsoft Office are sending our old administrative assistant friends to the grave.

So the next time your secretary leaves you hangin’ at 5:29.59 with a half-finished, typo-riddled document, have no fear—- your revenge is near.

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43 Comments

  1. Bill Dugan

    May 21, 2009 at 2:49 am

    It figures that this broad badmouths the hired help when she is the one with inadequecy issues. Females are very catty.  They don’t appreciate others who make a decent buck to be their assistants, particularly when the author claims to work her own butt off.  Personally, I enjoy the fact that I have a relatively pretty assistant whose main mission is to ensure I do my job better.  She’s very alluring, and I’ve often resisted the temptation to make the relationship more than business–for fear not only that I could be forced to keep her after the sex is over, but also because I want at least 1 pretty woman who I can just have a business relationship with @ work (i.e., no dipping my wick in the company’s inkwell).  I also refer to wrestle with these issues rather than have an ugly bruiser for a secretary.

  2. BL1Y

    May 21, 2009 at 4:22 am

    This is why so many secretaries are shared between 1 partner and 3-4 associates.  No one at a law firm really needs a whole assistant, and I doubt anyone needs more than 10% of one.  With a little reorganization we could probably lose half of our secretaries.  Between the saved space and saved cash, we could put in a couple pool tables and a soft-serve machine.

  3. Realist

    May 21, 2009 at 5:42 am

    Despite the claims of self-sufficiency made in this article, simply being able to manipulate a Blackberry does not make you a tech-savvy lawyer. The reality is that many associates and especially partners are too stupid to tie their own shoes. While some are just lazy enough to need someone to grab a copy off the printer outside of their office, some literally don’t know that the printer is there. More importantly, the majority don’t know how to access the variety of databases used by their firms and need someone to constantly find and feed information to them.

  4. Anonymous

    May 21, 2009 at 5:47 am

    And I need my secretary to get lunch for me.

  5. BL1Y

    May 21, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Realist: This is why we have paralegals, word processing, IT and librarians.  Secretaries are virtually redundant.

  6. Realist

    May 21, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Oh, I guess I was somewhat lumping paras into that whole scheme. At some firms, however, secretaries are the word processing though I guess that’s more a matter of firm structure than secretary functionality. My firm has recently tried to create some kind of odd cohesion and cooperation between secretaries and paras (i.e. firing just enough of each so that both will now be overlapping on some matters). Maybe it’s an issue of whose ass you want in one place and whose should be running around with your paperwork.

  7. BL1Y

    May 21, 2009 at 7:34 am

    We have ~40 secretaries in our NY office, each with about 1 partner and 3-4 associates.  What they should do is pool secretaries together, and have 3 secretaries with 4 partners and 12-16 associates.  You wouldn’t need any of the floating secretaries (basically in-house temps) because the others in the pool can cover.  So, we could lose the few floaters and about a fourth of the regular secretaries easy.  At $70k a pop, the firm would save a ton of money.

  8. Alma Federer

    May 21, 2009 at 9:50 am

    I think this is just an attempt to weed out females from the job market who may not be “young enough” or “pretty enough” for you men.  Everybody knows that women need to work to make ends meet, but it sounds like most of you men would be willing to get rid of most women to save the bottom line.  Well it’s more than that, it’s the economy who is at stake.  If women don’t make money, they can’t spend, and if they can’t spend, the GNP goes down.  It’s a vicious cycle, but you need to keep women employed.

  9. BL1Y

    May 21, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Alma, next time try to make it a little less obvious that you’re trolling.  Thanks.

  10. Realist

    May 21, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Our offices put the secretaries together into teams to act as back-ups for each other. It works alright unless a partner’s secretary is involved. Some are pretty pampered, taking long-ass lunches and showing up consistently late. On the flip-side, they also recently cut secretarial coverage past midnight so any late word processing requests have to go through our NY office. HR is basically confused and experimenting with what might work.

  11. Jessie

    May 21, 2009 at 11:20 am

    This rant makes a good point. They really are a relic of the past.

  12. Lawdude

    May 21, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I need to keep my secretary!!

  13. LittleLadyLawyer

    May 21, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Secretary?  Whats that?  A glorified gopher/lunch getter and copy girl.  Wow, I totally do not need that when I can hire a $10 gopher in college starving to work for a lawyer because they want to go to law school.  And I will get better work from them too!

  14. notyourassistant

    May 22, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Well I do almost all of the administrative work that my partner does not want to do, and I took this on a few years ago because I saw how the secretarial positions were going to play out in the future.  You are right when you said most women do not want to be a secretary or assistant or admin assit, whatever the title.  It’s basically very boring work.  Which is why I do it (have to do it); it would drive my partner crazy to take it over again and he wouldn’t want to farm it out to the other lawyers on his team because that would take away from their billable hours. 
    Secretaries are not redundant, but if you can’t fill up the hours with work or you can’t institute a work share program in your office that works for everyone, well it’s not the secretary’s fault.  Most lawyers like to complain about the quality of the secretarial pool, but do very little to get rid of the dead wood.  Nor do you want to pay for quality.  You think you can pay a college graduate $10 an hour to do this work?  You’ll be paying more in training as the turnover mounts as the economy gets better.  That’s why paralegals only stay a year or two – sometimes their work is far more boring than mine and they get paid a lot less.  Most of the secretaries I have been friends with agree there is a lot of dead wood out there and it makes the rest of us look very bad. 
    You lawyers are just chicken-shit when it comes to working with secretaries.  Over the years I’ve had lawyers call me in to work on weekends – yes, I got overtime – and then act as if it were somehow my fault that I had no work to do because they weren’t prepared.  I had one lawyer request that I come in at 9 am on Saturday and then didn’t show up until noon (hung over) and that happened many times.  I had to wait another two hours before he came out and shoved a box of pencils at me angrily and told me to sharpen them.  I just laughed at his petty behaviour and sharpened them.  So what, I was being paid.  That is the kind of asshole behaviour we secretaries encounter on a daily basis.  This is why more than a few of us do not hold you lawyers in high regard.  As I’ve said before, I would gladly go out and get you your lunch; I would enjoy the break while you sweat the memorandum that gets ripped by the Ripper.

  15. LittleLadyLawyer

    May 22, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I have 2 college people in today.  One has picked up my cleaning, gotten coffee and lunch (I fed them both too).  They have turned out 4 corrected memos (one is very polished I might add) found one interesting case I missed and otherwise been very pleasant to clients on the phone and in person.  I spent about 5 hours each training them.  This is becuase there is a “lawyer handling manual” and office policy and procedure manual that is passed down.  The rest of the training is how to use software or where the various courthouses were, and which clerks to speak with. 

    The one is an English major, and does the better proofreading and corrections.  The other had started in paralegal school before deciding to get a 4 year degree and go to law school.  They rock.  And when they move on, they always recommend their friends for this job.  Its because I come in, task them, feed them and have unlimited coffee.  And yes, its BORING work.  If they get everything done by 5, I will take them to the wine bar at 5:30ish.  I have fired 3 full time secretaries now, and only rely on my college students and the occasional SAHM.  Those that make it through 6 months with me get recomendation letters and a $500 check at graduation.  I have found there is a secretary culture of entitlement and condescending behavior, especially towards younger lawyers and/or female lawyers.  And I treated my secretaries the same way I treat my college kids.  I guess the main difference is who is appreciative and who is not.

  16. NewbieLawyer

    May 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    My problem is that I don’t know what to do with my secretary.  I went from working for the government, where secretaries were lazy and incompetent and totally untouchable (thank you, unions), to a private firm where my secretary is happy to make the frustrating phone calls to the doctor’s office in order to schedule a deposition for the three times a year the doctor is available. 

    I really can do my own typing, filing, copying.  But somehow I can actually get more done (and bill more hours) if I have her do it for me.

  17. Lady lawyer #10

    May 22, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Hire an office consultant to organize your firm.  They become cost efficient.  Partners were not thrilled at first – hate to spend a buck that can’t be charge off.  Job describitions and work assignments gave us all better attitudes and working conditions.  Even the old guy noticied and his gal who is great, doesn’t try to run the show or play mother any more.  Productivity shines and we honestly bill now.

  18. Me

    May 25, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Temporary Assistant

    BIG Investment Bank

    8am: coffee & google the web

    12pm: lunch

    5pm: bye
    I faxed or copied a few things.

    BORING

  19. morelikeathirdyear

    May 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I’m a legal secretary/assistant at a global law firm.  I have been handed assignments by my partners at which third- and fourth-year associates couldn’t make the first cut, even well-seasoned associates.  There is an excellent point made that there is much dead wood in the secretarial field, and an even better point that the secretaries I’ve seen weeded out through attritions and layoffs are not those in the “dead wood class.” That having been said, give your average secretary (those having at least 5-7 years of legal experience) the same task you would hand your most coveted third year.  See how they make the cut.  I watch people surf while they pawn off the assignments they can’t or won’t handle – including the simplest of memos or even just sending a fax.  Ask me, and the fax machine should be obsolete anyway, but I digress.  Then you take the schmuck like me…I will take first cut at any agreement you can throw at me (been doing this since 1981).  Meantime, that pass-the-buck ass is making MORE money than I am because they were hired later than I was.  And they are doing half the work in at least 3 times the amount of time. 
    It’s not all on the secretaries – administration seems to now run the Partners of a firm.  When I started back in ‘81, it was the other way around.  Partners are now quite scared and pathetically puppeted by administrators.  Meantime, it’s the Partners paying the administrators. 
    Welcome to the world of big law firms.

  20. LEGALSECRETARIALSLAVE

    May 27, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    This blog is hilarious.. The nerve.  I have been a legal secretary for over 20 years and i have mentally and verbally abused by these top notch lawyers who think they know it all but then find the lil old secy to blame when things don’t go their way. 

    These lawyers don’t want to pick up their phone or make tons and tons of copies, print jobs, stapling jobs, faxing, appointments.. they want the secy to do it.  We aren’t going anywhere.  Yes it’s a damn boring job, yes, we have to take all the horrible attitudes of this top notch babies!!!!

  21. morelikeathirdyear

    May 27, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    And here it is 5:35 and out the atty comes with a last minute “gotta do this before you leave.” The new daily event.  Let’s face it, folks, last minute screwovers work both ways.

  22. morelikeathirdyear

    May 27, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    SECRETARIALSLAVE…BRAVO!  I don’t mind getting your coffee every now and then – hell, I’ll even ask you if you want some while I’m going.  But the attitudes of some of these attorneys – WOW.  Don’t get me wrong in my earlier posts…I end up dealing with personal tasks for my attorneys all the time.  But it is totally incomprehensible that we still have secretaries (and paralegals, too) that sit and pretend to work, while others break their backs.

  23. Magic Circle Jerk

    May 27, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    the amount of time secretaries waste on here is more proof that you are largely wastes of space who talk too loud on the phone and surf the internet all day

  24. morelikeathirdyear

    May 28, 2009 at 6:27 am

    magicjerk…maybe that’s because we’re the ones who actually get the work done in a timely fashion.  If I were handed work to do, I’d be doing the work.
    Seems to me like too many attorneys here have too much dead time on their hands as well.  If you were doing work, maybe your assistant would actually have something to do for you.
    Like I said earlier, it all works both ways.

  25. Secretarialslave!

    May 28, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Its funny how must clients would rather talk to the secretary/assistant than the damn attorney himself.  Get me coffee, order flowers, fix the header/footer.. “what’s wrong with this document”, why hasn’t this bill been paid, cancel this, reserve this, print this, copy this, expense this, fax this, put my time in, why were you out sick, why do you have to take vacation now, why are you five minutes late, tell them i’m not in, put in contacts, put in calendar, walk to the post office, order this, come on… attorneys don’t want to do their own work!!!  they bill time for what the secy is doing

  26. Slave

    May 28, 2009 at 7:13 am

    MAGIC CIRCLE JERK.. and your comment and name clearly states the truth that you are one more attorney that is a real jerk and baby and probably whines about anything and everything… and blames his poor assistant for his own mistakes!

  27. morelikeathirdyear

    May 28, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Bravo, Slave. 
    Hey MagicCircleJerk (hereinafter known as “JERK”) – I just finished two invoices accounting screwed up (since when am I the accounting department), proofed and corrected the opinion that went to WP last night (remember, the one that came at me at 5:43pm), hand-held an attorney through track changes, made 2 conference room reservations (which will most likely be cancelled two and three minutes before each meeting, respectively), answered about 5 dozen phone calls, dealt with accounting on the above-referenced invoices (my kid could do better), and handled a health-care claim. 
    Apologies if your secretary is a slacker.
    Maybe my level of commitment (and skill, for that matter) is not the norm, but the way I see it, the only difference between secretaries in my boat and attorneys in your boat is that the attorneys get paid more than we do while surfing and bullshitting with eachother.  Associates as well as partners complain about having to work such late hours, yet they blow half the day talking about their latest golf game or ski trip.  Maybe the mindset should be to do the necessities first (work-wise, that is) so that they have time to do what they need and want to do on a personal level.  Hell, it’s no fun waking up to the realization that your kid has seemingly gone from 3 yrs old to 10.
    Where the hell did the time go?  I spent it catering to attorneys like you.

  28. The One You Didn't Hire

    May 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I manage my bosses “affairs”…get it?

    I have a job for life.

    BTW…you’re compare us to yours? Fire the bitch!

  29. Magic Circle Jerk

    May 28, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Seems like I touched a nerve and you are trying to justify your existence to preserve your jobs.  I like it! Nothing motivates like fear.  Sadly for you though, technology is making your jobs increasingly obsolete, no matter how “essential” you feel you may be.

  30. GailHinMerrick

    May 29, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    It’s us better-quality Legal Secretaries who save the butts most of the time of attorneys like this who have nothing better to do but compare us to lesser-skilled secretaries who are hired at less money and can’t even speak English properly, much less spell.  Speaking of which, you know how many lawyers out there that can’t spell or form a sentence correctly???  I rest my case.

  31. Gail

    May 29, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    To:  MoreLikeaThird Year:  I totally agree with you.  It seems that the art of condescension and lack of manners seems to appear with some of these total jerks who put Esq. after their names, no matter how low in their class they might have graduated.

  32. Anonymous

    May 30, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Get real you guys.  Weil Gotshal just axed 79 admin yesterday.  79!  With Lehman and GM as clients, you can’t seriously believe that this was a needed cost-cutting measure.  If Weil isn’t keeping their admin around no one will be.

  33. Al Dud

    May 31, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I truly hope admin will be kept on, although this rant makes a good point.

  34. Anonymous

    June 1, 2009 at 3:01 am

    A secretary is only worth her money if she provides value to the lawyer.  Either she manages his affairs, does all of his typing, or provides some avenue for companionship and/or a physical release after work.  If a secretary can’t / won’t do any of these, she should be jettisoned.

  35. Gail

    June 2, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Anonymous – Us Legal Secretaries are not hired as whores to give anyone any kind of “physical release” after work.  We are professionals, just like you.  But then again, I have heard lawyers referred to as whores who will take any case for the money.

  36. countingdown

    June 3, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I agree totally with morelikeathirdyear.  My boss wanders in around 10, bullshits until it’s time for his 2 hour lunch, comes back and passes gas until around 5 or so, when he wanders out to see what other attorneys are available to bullshit some more and around 5:30 gets down to it!  I, of course, have been here since 8:30 just waiting on his majesty and still have work to do when I get through with my 45 minute commute home at 7:00 or so when I can get out of here.  And he’s one of the nicer attorneys I’ve worked for!

  37. Anonymous

    June 4, 2009 at 1:49 am

    Gosh, these women are so nasty.  You’ve found and hit their hot button.  Job preservation is the name of the game with these women, but they are so nasty!

  38. Bitter Secretary

    July 1, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Just because your secretary sucks, doesn’t mean the rest of the secretaries in the legal industry are slackers and useless.  If an attorney utilized their secretary they way they should, their day would be more productive.

  39. lawyers are idiots

    July 31, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    This is the most ridiculous thing I have read.  Clearly, you are inexperienced when it comes to hiring and the problem lies with you.  BTW – you should probably become a lesbian.  $5 says you are single.  From a legal secretary that basically runs the office.

  40. Lowly Solo

    October 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    I am a solo practitioner and will never have a secretary again. I hired two in eight years and both ended up being completely worthless.

    The last secretary I had could not even scan a stack of documents with a Scansnap (it only has a giant Blue flashing button that is labeled Scan). In her first week on the job, the scanner “jammed” and she did nothing else all day, until I came back, because she could not figure out how to “fix” the jam (it is the only other button on the scanner – the one she did not press to scan). She has enough scan jobs to last her 2 hours and I was gone a little over 2 1/2 hours. I later learned the scanner jammed about 5 minutes after I left and she did even bother to call me to either (1) ask me how to “fix” the scanner; or (2) call me to see if there was something else that needed to be done. She played on Facebook that entire time.

    A few days later, I get a call at 9:02 a.m. (the only day in her employ she was ever close to being there for 9:00 a.m.) to ask me why I blocked facebook, myspace, and youtube. Apparently that was her first assignment other than the stack of papers on her desk or the task manager on her desk letting her know what needed to be done – mostly making sure things were already done by me.

    After she was terminated, I went into a filing cabinet and found stacks of papers that were neither scanned or calendared. I nearly missed a deadline to respond to Request for Admissions which would have killed one of my defenses in a case.

    I am completely self-sufficient and can generate responsive pleadings, discovery requests, etc. in half the time a secretary can. I am working on being completely paperless so I do need someone to punch two holes in paper and file them. I am perfectly capable of opening mail and entering dates from a scheduling order into my calendar which then syncs to my mobile device. I use a virtual receptionist who answers my phone calls and then forwards them to me or takes a message for less than the taxes I would pay for a secretary.

    Yes, most secretaries are completely worthless and, in my experience, were a bigger malpractice concern than me flying solo.

  41. Frenchie

    May 8, 2013 at 4:44 am

    Hello everyone. I have been a legal secretary since the early 90′s. Back when I started Microsoft Office Pack did not exist yet. I used Wordperfect. I worked for the Family law dept and loved my job. I was never bored, always busy. I really really miss those days. Now I work for five attorneys and barely do 5 minutes of work in an 8 hour day. Sometimes I wonder why they even hired me. I have a good salary and the work environment and people are nice but I am bored stiff. I would much prefer to be overloaded than to do nothing all day.

    • Frank

      May 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      I wonder what this broad does to justify her salary to these law firm partners. If she doesn’t type, she must be doing something else productive with those fingers.

  42. reality

    July 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    If we don’t need them, why pay for them? Its kind of sad, but its the free market.

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