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21 Apr

Our Staff Makes Us Look Good – Don’t Negate Their Efforts By Neglecting Them

By Kevin J. Palmersheim

April 21, 2014

Wednesday, April 23rd is Administrative Professionals Day. One day is not adequate to recognize the contributions of support staff. If I polled my office, I suspect first choice for a proper acknowledgment would be an all-expense-paid trip to a tropical resort. Second choice would be to send me on the trip so they could have some peace and quiet in the office. Yet, this Wednesday certainly acts as a helpful, one-day reminder to recognize team members.

Administrative professionals often work behind the scenes to make lawyers and law firms look good, including communicating with our clients, preparing documents, coordinating the filing and transmission of important information, and otherwise keeping us organized — or at least making up for the fact that we are not. I admit I notice their contributions even more when I am forced to fend for myself.

I’ll share an example I wrote about a dozen years ago when fax machines were still used daily and work email was in its infancy. I was working with an attorney to settle a dispute by a late-night deadline, and we thought we were done and sent everyone in our respective offices home. I will identify my colleague as the Attorney of the Second Part to protect his identity, although you will soon discern there is no way he will ever read this unless his assistant prints it out for him.

Attorney 2 realized he mailed his envelope without a one-page attachment, and called me to fax it to him. “I can do that,” I told him, thinking that anyone with a modicum of ability and patience could run a fax machine. I am not hinting that my first impression was wrong in any way, but let me just say I am pleased that “Fax Logic” was not on the law school admissions exam.

I failed miserably. I tried six times to send the fax. The evil machine would dial, whir and beep, and after what seemed like an eternity my lone piece of paper would remain in the send tray. The only response from the machine was a printout reading, “Error: Transmission Not Sent.” It was clear this was meant to mock me, because even I could observe that my document never moved.

Because of the looming deadline, I decided to put pride aside and call Attorney 2 with the honest truth. “My fax machine must be broken,” I informed him in the most confident voice I could muster. “How about if I just e-mail the attachment to you?”
For a moment I thought I was saved from having to tell my client that her deal fell through because I was inept, before Attorney Two dashed my hopes.

“Ahhh, you can’t e-mail it to me. You see, uhh… Well, it’s just… My secretary is gone for the day. I can get my e-mail, don’t get me wrong. But I’m afraid I don’t know how to print the attachments. She always takes care of that.”

Granted, the tasks that caused two attorneys to grind to a screeching halt do not even register on the list of our assistants’ most important or challenging duties. My experience merely shows how universally we rely on staff to make sure everything runs smoothly and that we should never take them for granted.

I certainly could not take my legal assistant for granted 12+ years ago after having to phone her at home for instructions on how to work the fax machine. To make matters worse, she had guests. So instead of her friends being entertained by “Must-See TV,” it was “must see attorney learn how to run the fax machine.” I heard one of her guests comment, “how long did he go to school?” After a couple of minutes of careful phone instruction, the whirring noises of the fax gave way to the page being pulled through the machine. Crisis averted.

Although I am busy, like many of you, I try very hard to remind those who work with me how much I value their contributions. I hope this post will be a reminder to all of you to recognize your support staff, especially, but not exclusively, on April 23rd. It does not matter what tasks they do, or whether their titles are secretary, receptionist, office manager, clerk, administrative assistant, or legal assistant. Our offices simply do not run well without their help, and they deserve our appreciation. In fact, I considered admonishing attorneys who did not acknowledge their staff this month by tweeting my disdain for their neglect. As soon as I can figure out how to tweet without the help of my assistants, I may try to do just that.

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Kevin J. Palmersheim

About the author

Kevin Palmersheim is a founding shareholder of the firm as well as its managing attorney. In addition to the knowledge and experience that Kevin brings to legal issues as a highly-experienced business attorney, he is also adept at being creative and flexible in representing clients' interests both in court and in negotiations.

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