How to Deal With Legal Support Staff: A Refresher Course

Welcome to another beautiful morning here at Lawyers & Liquor, where I, the Boozy Barrister, talk about whatever has popped into my tiny little head in the last 74 hours since the last time we spoke. You know, on Monday I disclosed that, for the past several months, my office has been without support staff. As such, the inmates are running the asylum in our offices as attorneys do every task great and small that requires any amount of effort, not just those that require the lawyer’s expertise. In short, I’ve been reminded that the true prophets of our time, the 1980’s glam metal band Cinderella, truly knew what they were talking about when they said “You don’t know what you got (till it’s gone).”

Look at that shit! I worked in a glam metal reference. Not fucking bad if I do say so myself.

Anyhow, once the piece went up it hit me that there are some litigation fetuses out there getting ready to leave the comforting and calm bosom of law school to enter into the world of legal practice. There may even be some placenta-encrusted baby lawyers just now struggling into their first type of legal employment. And, as we all know, those fucking jackasses in their Joseph A. Banks suits may have absolutely no clue how to handle the very same legal support staff that I am now lacking and, as a result, may be increasing their chances of either (a) unemployment in a short order or (b) finding themselves sobbing under their desk as Cinderella plays on Spotify repeatedly, gorging themselves on an entire fucking ice cream cake because they can’t figure out how to conference in a three-way call with a client and another party.

But never fear, my little fuck-a-dos, because Boozy is here to help – or at least harangue – you with five simple tips you need to remember about your legal support staff.

1. The Oldest Paralegal is Definitely Smarter Than You.

First, I want to point out that this isn’t exclusive to paralegals. It applies to legal secretaries and legal assistants as well, essentially anyone who has been there as long as the oldest partner in your office. While they may not have that wonderful J.D. and bar license that you tortured yourself for, they certainly act like they do. They glare at you disdainfully and sometimes even ignore the fact you exist, they’ll edit your documents in ways you never thought possible, they’ll speak to you as if they, not the partner, are your boss. In short, they will consider you much the same way as other lawyers will the moment you step foot in the office: As human shit in a semi-nice suit. They will always act as if they know more than you, will flat-out refuse your directions to do things, and when they think you’re wrong will sneak behind your back to the managing partner to inform on you – accordingly bringing the fires of hell down on you.

Welcome to the practice of law, you dried jizzstain of the legal profession.

Thing is, as infuriating as this may be to your sensitive sensibilities and pride, they are goddamn right to do so. These people are generally veterans of the legal office wars, the grizzled first sergeants of the law office there to get shit done and try to make sure you, a freshly minted officer of the office, don’t get anyone sued. They have been around the fucking block, folks, and they are not there to hold your hand so much as they are to make sure you can function. Yes, you’re the goddamn lawyer, but they know what they’re doing and you may have just stopped making boom boom in your big boy (or girl) shorts moments before walking through the door. The elder members of the legal support staff, while they may lack the professional licensure, know the procedure, the practice, and the methods things are done in the office, and part of their job is to make sure you do this shit correctly.

So, you know, maybe pay some attention to them.

2. The Partner’s Secretary/Paralegal/Assistant Is Your New God.

This is sometimes a rehash of point 1, in that the eldest support staff member and the one assigned to the managing partner/partner over you is often the same person. Still, it’s worthwhile to remember that the relationship between an attorney and long-time members of their support staff is damn near sacrosanct in how they consider each other. The attorney and their paralegal/secretary/assistant could have literally been together for decades by the time you come into the office with that one bit of toilet paper stuck to the bottom your shoe and the really nice briefcase your mommy bought you as a graduation gift. They know the peculiarities of each other, and more importantly, the partner will trust the living hell out of their support staff member because this person has been with them forever.

Which, of course, means that you’ll need to go out of your baby lawyer way not to piss off the senior partner’s support staff member, and trust me, you’ll absolutely figure out which one is in the position of friend and confidant to the partner pretty quickly. Because this person is someone the partner will trust implicitly and naturally, and the partner will certainly listen if their secretary of over 20 years starts complaining about the “new young lawyer that’s messing everything up.” Have no doubt, if you get on the wrong side of a support staff member who has an almost familial relationship with the partner, you are fucking yourself royally.

Fun sidenote: In smaller offices, you may actually find that this person is literally the boss’s spouse.

Definitely do not get on their bad side if this is the case. There is absolutely no way you are winning if the boss is literally sleeping with the support staff at the end of the day.

3. Remember, Though, You Are The Lawyer.

Still and all, you have to remember one thing: you are the goddamn attorney.

At some point in time with the support staff, you will butt heads to the extent that there is no progress being made. The support staff will simply refuse to listen to you because, hey, what the fuck does a baby lawyer know about this shit anyhow. In those situations, of course, you should go back, double check your work, ask for their reasoning, make sure you’re right and they’re wrong in the situation. You should then lay this all out to the support staff person, and, if they refuse to take the suggest course, remind that that you are the goddamn lawyer and you are directing them to do this. But, uh, just a heads up: you may be taking a risk.

See, support staff that feels confident in their position may go to your boss over the direction. Rest assured, many times their presentation of the matter will not match what has been said in the past to you directly. They may even spite-fuck your directions, sitting on them until the last minute to do things their way, or slow down the work on whatever you’ve told them to do. In that situation, you’ll want everything documented, normally in the form of multiple emails…and if you’re feeling really frisky and can’t make progress, cc the partner in on the emails.

End of the day, the rule is if it’s your signature at the bottom of the document then you’re the person responsible for it, no matter what the support staff wants to do. So sometimes you’ll just have to put on your big boy pants and suck it the fuck up, buttercup. You’re the goddamn lawyer, you call the fucking play in those situations unless another lawyer says otherwise.

4. Support Staff, Like An Athletic Cup, Is Useless If Ignored.

This one is a little more common, but really goddamn important. Let’s take a minute and talk here.

You are the goddamn lawyer, which means you’re probably the most expensive person in your office on the case a lot of the time. Many, many times, though, a lawyer will find themselves overburdened with about 19 different things to do at once, and they’ll find themselves in that situation, especially as a young lawyer, because they’ll significantly underutilize their support staff. Instead of giving a paralegal directions to “draft up some interrogatories” or “research this issue,” the inexperienced and young lawyer would rather spending hours in their office combing through a hundred cases that are very loosely related or shepardizing their work themselves rather than trusting the legal support professionals provided to them with it. I admit freely, I do the same damn thing more out of an absurd fear of something being overlooked. But we gotta admit, folks, that shit isn’t cost-effective or a productive use of your attorney time.

Certainly you should review and check things provided to you by your support staff because, as the supervising attorney, the buck does stop on your cluttered and coffee-stained desk. At the same goddamn time, that doesn’t mean you have to or should be doing every letter and every piece of simple research or filling out of a form yourself. That shit simply isn’t good practice, and it will literally add hours onto your day while leaving your paralegal watching Netflix and eating some of those peanut butter filled pretzel bites they never let you have.

They’re called support staff for a reason, assholes. Use them.

5. New Support Staff Needs To Learn YOU.

Finally, you gotta realize that if the support staff is nice enough to you but still isn’t quite getting what you’re laying down, they need time to learn you as well. The pairing of an attorney with a paralegal, secretary, or legal assistant is a bit like trying on shoes. A lot of them work and fit, but they don’t go with the outfit or they pinch a little too much around the toes. At the end of the day, the goal is to locate the shoes that fit you the best in the right size and that meet your particular needs. However, new shoes often have to be broken in a bit no matter how well they fit. It’s a process of shaping and time, and regular wear.

Support staff is, many times, like that. The longer you work with them, the more they’ll be become aware of your “style” and you’ll become aware of their practices. Like any working relationship, especially one as strange as the junior attorney relationship to support staff, it just takes some time and wear to break everyone in.

See you Friday

That’s all for today, folks. I got shit today, so I’m out of here until Friday! Remember, you’re a worthless piece of legal garbage, and the paralegals run your life!

-BB

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