Carol and I attended a wedding this weekend that included a sit down dinner. The priest who conducted the wedding said the blessing. A good part of his prayer was devoted to thanking those folks who prepared and served our meal, from the farmers to the kitchen workers to the servers. “Someone has to pick those green beans you are about to eat.”
As he spoke, I began to think about the people that make a lawyer’s job so much easier (forgive me Lord, but my mind wanders when I’m hungry). Secretaries, paralegals, runners, the clerks and other staffers – where would we be without them? I started a conversation on the subject with those around me at the table. A retired small-business owner spoke respectfully of his long time receptionist. “She was my Director of First Impressions.”
I dictated my first letter almost 32 years ago. My secretary Elizabeth was very experienced and had also taught high school English for 14 years. I, by contrast, struggled mightily with my dictation machine and was addicted to legalese (the more the better, right?). She would tactfully pare down my three page monstrosities to three tight paragraphs on one page. And I got all the credit for a job well done from whichever partner I was working for at that moment. And that has never changed.
It’s something that a lawyer gets used to. Legal staffers do all the heavy lifting in a law office – managing our calendars, typing, filing, even balancing checkbooks and making sure that birthdays, anniversaries and court dates are not forgotten. They make us feel so much important than we really are. It’s something most lawyers start taking for granted. I know I have.
When a lawyer wants to get a haircut, she gets her haircut at 10 a.m. on a Thursday. She’s not doing it on Saturday, why inconvenience one’s weekend? When a lawyer wants to leave early for a PTA meeting, he says goodbye and walks out the door. When a staffer needs to make a personal appointment, she has to balance taking vacation time against doing it after work or on the weekend.
I remember complaining to Carol one time because one of our assistants had the audacity to take off all day for a school field trip, leaving me high and dry. I don’t remember exactly how that darkened my day – but I am sure that I had to dig through a filing cabinet to find the deposition copy I was looking for, pickup my own lunch or suffer some other horror.
She lit into me for a good minute or so about how spoiled I was, how hard our staff worked and how little recognition they got beyond their annual free lunch on Secretaries Day. I am sure that I justified my feelings on the basis that neurotic whining merits some enabling consolation. That’s the type of thinking that a lot of us fall into.
When I view it honestly, however, I see men and women walking across the Grand Canyon on a high wire two to three days a week to make sure that their boss’s fat is kept out of the fire. Working in a law office is stressful, no matter what type of practice it is – particularly when the lawyer decides at four that this brief really needs to filed by five, even though he has not yet begun dictating.
And those who work at the courthouses … it gets tougher every year. It’s the perfect storm at the County Courthouse – the stress of a law office, combined with no pay raises and annual staffing cuts. When you think of the staffing levels now compared to what they were seven years ago, even accounting for a paperless system, it is amazing that things run as smoothly as they do.
To Jojo and her staff at the County Courthouse and the Youth Center, to Joe and his staff in Probate Court, to Chuck and his staff at the Federal Courthouse, and to Lisa and her staff at City Court, our hats are off to you for the great work that you do and how you all ease the lives of both the lawyers and judges who work in your courts.
To Julie, Tonya, Barbara and Matt, thank you all for the hard work you do at our firm. And the same thank you goes to all of the secretaries, paralegals, runners and office administrators throughout the Mobile Bar for the wo
rk you do to keep your lawyers and firms afloat. All of you deserve much more credit than you get. We could not do it without you, we just think we could … Oh, and last, but certainly not least, thank you Barbara and Tammy – you have certainly made my life easier this year.