JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

Asserting the rights of junior lawyers, who have much more power than they realise.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Breaking the glass ceiling with a packet of Tim Tams?

A wise friend once told me that the real secret to success in a law firm had nothing to do with skill, dedication or number of billable units.

It all hinged on your ability to suck up to the secretaries. Unfortunately, I never quite got the knack for that.

Sometimes, when a secretary decided that she does not like you, she can make your life hell. Another friend of mine, who made the unfortunate mistake of being rude to his secretary in his first week*, was entirely frozen out of his practice group. She forgot to email him invitations to 8am work group meetings, 'misplaced' important phone messages from his supervising partner, and worst of all, told him that he was responsible for his own filing.

My friend now works at another firm and regularly brings in Tim Tams, flowers and chocolates. For other helpful suggestions on how you should treat your secretary like a partner check out this article.

I've always had a problem with delegating work to "the help", as some partners call them. I don't want them to feel like the work that I give them is beneath me. That I think I'm better than them.

It's also hard delegating work to women that are old enough to be my mother. Women that have been working here a lot longer than this young upstart who thinks she now owns the place.

Women seem to have a tough time telling other women what to do. I cringe every time I hear myself apologising at the start of each request. "If it's not too much trouble, do you mind sending this fax?" Or "Partner X asked me to ask you to help me with this, if that is ok."

Sometimes I almost envy the freedom of my male colleagues, who simply shout out "Sally, get me my lunch. Now." "Rachel, where is that address label I asked for five minutes ago?"

In firms, it is taken as read that secretaries (primarily women) serve lawyers (who were once always men). Why do women, who "occupy" the roles of men, still have to be treated as though they pose a threat to the natural order of things?

The Tea Lady is all for equality and respect. And it's definitely not beneath her to do some good old-fashioned sucking up where necessary. But surely the sucking should go both ways?

* My friend's mistake was to invite a handful of other lawyers from his new practice group out for coffee. It never occurred to him to extend the invitation to the secretaries.

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