Putting a positive spin on negative situations

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BJ in Pompano Beach, Florida

50 months ago

I found this forum today while reactively (i.e. attorney boss driving me crazy again) googling for "how to handle a difficult boss" and "legal secretary burnout solutions". As a little background, I've been a legal assistant, coming from an administrative/non-profit arena, for about 10 years. Right now, I work for two attorneys and am the only non-attorney in the office, and as such wear more hats than I can count (and increasingly more than more than I am feeling able to handle). I personally have a difficult time saying "no", and that particular quality/curse is exploited by at least one of my bosses. But my point here is not to complain about my situation, I know it could be much worse (as in not having a job like many of you); I was looking for some advice on positively handling some of the more negative aspects of this profession (i.e. working for attorneys! (OK, they aren't ALL bad, but ALOT of them really are...). Thanks for any feedback.

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BJ in Pompano Beach, Florida

50 months ago

Displaced Legal Professional in Denver, Colorado said: Leave the industry.

I suspect your "yesses" deal with working late or overtime unexpectedly. You are entitled to a life, believe it or not. You could try asking the one who takes advantage of you if his work can wait until the next morning. If that attorney regularly assigns the same work, anticipate that he will continue and try to do as much of it as you can during quiet time.

Finally, if you've made plans for after work, tell the attorneys you've made plans, you cannot stay late that night and leave on time. Offer to come in early the next morning - but only if you must.

The extra time is only part of the problem. Leaving the industry at this stage in my life isn't really the best choice - I don't have the education to change careers and still be able to support my family (although I am working on remedying the education issue). For me it feels more like a lack of respect - constant interruptions; yelling for me to "come here" from across the office; procrastinating on her work so I HAVE to stay late to get my work done (i.e. the brief is due tomorrow and I just finished my research and am now ready (at 4:30 pm) to start working on it), etc. I recognize my own fault in this situation - I let it get this way by not putting my foot down much earlier - but I don't really know how to change the tide, if you know what I mean. It seems like if you say yes once, you are expected to say yes everytime, and while I have finally managed to nip most of the overtime in the bud(note I am NOT paid overtime), sometimes I don't know what else to say because there isn't anyone else to do the work. And yes, I've asked for help, only to be told that no one else does it as well as I do (which really means "I don't want to pay someone else when I have you to do it all..."). I don't know, as I type all of this, I guess you are right, I just need to find a way out!

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Mezosub in Irvine, California

50 months ago

BJ, I was in a similar situation when I was the administrator of a small boutique firm. In addition to supporting five attorneys, I was also charged with IT, HR-Training, Procurement/Purchasing, Office Services, Records, and Accounting. Definitely too many tasks for one person to handle on their own.

I too was denied overtime compensation until our contract bookkeeper called the managing partner on it and explained just how much liability he would expose himself to if he didn't change me from salaried exempt to hourly non-exempt status.

Like you, when I asked for help, I was told that the firm couldn't "afford" to hire, train, and retain someone to assist us; even a student intern who could answer phones and make copies for just over minimum wage.

I finally woke up and realized that they were just trying to take advantage of me, so I quit in a huff and found a position three months later as a LS in a big statewide firm with a fraction of the responsibilities and a substantial (20%) increase in compensation.

Also, I notice that your supervising attorney is female and a "Last-Minute Lucy" as I affectionately term them. Procrastinating on her work is a power-trip, designed to creep into your off-hours time until you have none left, just like her. Misery loves company, and this is a textbook case of projection and displacement. She's frustrated because her job takes all her free time, and she's taking it out on you by trying to make you work when she's ready, rather than according to your work schedule.

You could offer to do overtime for her at a premium hourly rate, in exchange for not reporting her to the labor commissioner for misclassifying you as salaried exempt, when you're supposed to be hourly non-exempt. If she doesn't go for it, you can file a claim and retroactively recover your unpaid overtime (plus waiting time penalties in some jurisdictions), which you can use as a severance package to fund your education.

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BJ in Pompano Beach, Florida

50 months ago

Mezosub in Irvine, California said:
Also, I notice that your supervising attorney is female and a "Last-Minute Lucy" as I affectionately term them. Procrastinating on her work is a power-trip, designed to creep into your off-hours time until you have none left, just like her. Misery loves company, and this is a textbook case of projection and displacement. She's frustrated because her job takes all her free time, and she's taking it out on you by trying to make you work when she's ready, rather than according to your work schedule.

Wow - you hit the nail on the head. She even offhandedly says things to me during the morning phone "meeting" (she doesn't come to office most days until well after 12:00 pm) like "I was there until 10:00 pm last night." Like I'm supposed to feel bad for her, I guess. There is just too much work for one "part-time" person to do (I work "part-time" for the other attorney in my office - they are separate entities.) Thank goodness my other boss isn't quite so difficult-he is very self-sufficient (i.e. can work a computer) and while he has his annoying (from a secretary's viewpoint) habits, he has never tried to put the responsibility of HIS law practice on my shoulders. The other issue here is that I am dealing with some personal serious health problems which Boss Lady doesn't want to hear anything about, and which kind of keep me tied down as far as insurance goes for now. It is rather amusing, actually - when I try to say something like "I'm not feeling well today" or "I can't do that because of my health problem," she actually walks away and otherwise pretends she didn't hear me!! My last lawyer boss used to block me out when I had a personal situation to deal with too - is this tactic learned in law school?? How to Alienate The "Help" 101!

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Mezosub in Santa Monica, California

50 months ago

Walking away from an argument you can't win is, in fact, one of the strategies that lawyers are taught about argumentation.

When a staff person says, "I can't do what you've asked because of an extenuating health situation," attorneys can often reject or disbelieve the statement by simply refusing to acknowledge it or to respond in any way. An effective counter-measure is to wait until the attorney has left your workspace, then write a confirming email restating your position. Written messages are much more difficult to ignore or dismiss than verbal communications, which is why I have a fairly strict email policy. I always ask attorneys to send me assignments in writing, and then I will meet with them to clarify if there is anything I don't understand (such meetings are extremely rare).

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