Like An Old Bra, I Have No Support.

Welcome back to another week of wonderful wastrels in the practice of law! I’m your host, the Boozy Barrister, and this here is the grand return of Lawyers & Liquor to the World Wide Web. I’d like to take a moment today and speak about the thing that’s been on the forefront of my mind over the past few months as I’ve drowned in a sea of manila folders and legal pads, and that’s the importance of support staff on your law practice. More importantly, what happens when you go the better part of a year without any support staff, and how this is a neverending nightmare of administrative tasks that suck away every moment of an attorney’s day.

Kind of appropriate that we’re having this little talk about the same time as Administrative Professionals Day, eh? Speaking of which, that would be on April 24th, this upcoming Wednesday, so make sure to get your secretary, receptionist, or that cranky elderly paralegal that looks at you like you’re a lower life form to be scraped off their fashionable flats something nice. May I suggest you forego the flowers and card and just buy them a nice wine, then give them permission to drink it at their desk? Otherwise…well…

You might end up like me.

So about a year ago stuff went to hell in my office when our most senior paralegal took a long walk right out the front door after being headhunted by a competing firm. In some ways, that’s flattering as hell because it means we trained our paralegals so damn well that other folks wanted them. On the other hand, the moment I became aware of who headhunted the most goddamn valuable member of the office support staff, I immediately began refusing reasonable requests for extensions and the like because, you know, fuck them. That was fine, though, because even though we’re a small office over here in Boozy-land, there were additional support staff members – namely my paralegal – that could help pick up the slack until we hired in a replacement.

…notice the usage of the past tense?

While still in the midst of recovering from our devastating blow of the loss of Senior Paralegal, my lovely little junior paralegal ended up getting hired away from under us as well, this time for a government position, and while our firm can do a lot of shit the one thing we absolutely can’t do is compete with government benefits, hours, and pay when you get down to it. This left us in the unfortunate position of being an office of lawyers who had absolutely no support staff, I mean, not even a person to answer the goddamn phone.

I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped to think about how much of the administrative work of a law office sucks up the time for the actual practice of law until it was dumped directly on my head. We’re a busy office, and a pretty damn active one, taking multiple case types from all over the place and, as I’ve said before on several occasions, my main area of practice is litigation work that requires a calendar full of several matters at once to bring that money in. So I, like many attorneys, leaned heavily on my paralegals and support staff to actually get the shit done that needed to get done but wasn’t so damn high level that it meant an attorney had to deal with it. Think answering phones and sending out little love notes to clients reminding them of court dates or paperwork needed. The shit that a paralegal diaries because that’s like 90% of their job – making sure the attorney can actually handle the shit that really needs the attorney’s attention and not letting little Billy Bailjumper know he has to inhale after farting or he’ll suffocate. Legally speaking, of course.

Which is something to think about, really. Few young attorneys out there, and I’m looking at you people who are getting ready to graduate and take the bar exam, ever actually sit down and think about the importance of the support staff that surrounds you in the day-to-day practice of law. Whether it be merely a lowly secretary that answers the phones and does your copywork, or a paralegal who drafts up discovery and places it on the corner of your desk for review, these folks are the beating heart of the practice of law in that they keep the wheels turning and the fires burning. For example, our paralegals would build the bankruptcy cases for attorney review and coordinate all the documents that needed to be received for them, in a cost-efficient manner and in a way that allowed attorneys to focus on other things during the day than the rote entry of numbers. Not anymore motherfuckers! Those menial tasks are now mine, all mine, to spend two hours on entering creditors from old bills and copying files for delivery to the Trustee, and that…well…that hurts. Because those two hours are two hours I can’t bill out elsewhere.

It’s the same for every attorney. Without our support staff we’re stuck in a wasteful loop of tasks that don’t technically need an attorney’s keen gaze and purview but now are required to have them because the attorney is the only person available. Besides being irritating as hell, it’s also just bad business. For every moment I spend copying, that’s a moment I can’t spend on a case. For every random phone call I take during the day, it’s a phone call to opposing counsel in a matter that I can’t make. Having a lawyer, the highly-paid-professionals of the law office, engage in these tasks simply isn’t cost-effective or sensible in that it severely limits not only the attorney’s ability to bill, but also to bill for work that is traditionally in the purview of a lawyer.

Not to mention the fact that what I can define as a “manageable caseload” is lower without support staff. Anyone who’s ever seen my desk is aware that I jokingly refer to it as the “leaning tower of malpractice.” Now, to be clear, it’s not. I know where everything is on it, and I diary things in like three different places, but my desk is always piled high with a collection of my current cases on the corner…and middle…and behind the computer monitor…you know, really, just all over the goddamn place. In the past, this was kept in check by the fact that files would actually move off of my desk over time and things in those files would get done at the hands of qualified, intelligent people who may not be attorneys but sure as shit could operate well under the supervision of one. Now, though? Well, since I’m personally responsible for typing every letter and mailing out every notice, the amount of time I have available to dedicate to any one case is significantly reduced, and therefore my ability to take on new cases is reduced in a like amount.

Yes, due to the lack of support staff the office is suffering, I’m literally turning cases away simply because I don’t have the bolstering staff to adequately address those cases. I’m leaving money on the table.

And, I hear you say, “Why don’t you just hire someone, Boozy?” Well, kids, let me tell you a little story about budgets. It goes like this: Never let the people who approve your budget assume you’re doing just fine. I swear to God, we’re a few seconds away from me setting shit on fire just to see if it’ll spur them into action on the hiring of staff.

….I should really go solo.

…but I still wouldn’t be able to afford staff, would I?

That’s all for today, folks. Till Wednesday, which again is ADMINISTRATIVE PROFESSIONALS DAY DEAR GOD BUY THEM SOMETHING DON’T END UP LIKE ME , I’m the Boozy Barrister, and I’ll see you then.

-BB

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