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A typical mistake made by some new lawyers is to be rude or curt to support staff. Unfortunately, some young associates fresh out of law school feel it is acceptable to be dismissive to the firm’s non-lawyers because, in their eyes, these individuals are less worthy of respect. That’s an arrogant and short-sighed approach. But support staff members are the unsung heroes of large-firm life. Many attorneys owe these employees a debt of gratitude for going above and beyond their job descriptions or for getting an associate out of a jam. There are countless examples of staff working together to make sure the firm’s clients get the best possible services: the secretary who stays late to edit a document that needs to go out early the next morning; the word processor who goes to your office at 3 a.m. to fax something you left on your desk; the legal assistant who remembers to have a notary at the closing when the first-year associate forgets; and the mailroom employee who hand delivers a package on foot to an address across town because of rush-hour traffic. These scenarios might not occur if lawyers do not work to develop relationships of mutual respect with the support staff. And it is important to understand the different roles people play in the management of a firm and who to go to when you need to ask for help. LEGAL ASSISTANTS/PARALEGALS The role of a legal assistant and paralegal varies from firm to firm, so ask a senior associate before assuming what these staff members can and cannot do. For example, in litigation, legal assistants are usually responsible for organizing discovery documents and case files, assisting in retrieving documents, setting up depositions and assisting with trial. In transactional departments, paralegals assist in preparing incorporation documents and resolutions or running a closing transaction. If in doubt, a more senior associate on the matter will know what is appropriate work for the legal assistant. Remember, it is an associate’s responsibility to oversee the legal assistant’s work and make sure it is done correctly and efficiently. Make sure to take the time to explain what needs to be done both clearly and concisely and check on the project as it progresses. Failure to do so often leads to work being done inefficiently and improperly, resulting in a sub par work-product that will be your fault. SECRETARIES Your secretary is most likely assigned to two, three or sometimes four attorneys. If one or more of those are partners, it is a sure bet your work will be at the bottom of the priority list. For many young lawyers, this first experience with a secretary might take some getting used to. Don’t demand the impossible or forget to acknowledge that your secretary is trying to balance a lot of demands on his or her time. Also, most secretaries have worked as legal secretaries for many years and are good sources of information about the firm and about the legal profession. As a new person at the firm, use this to your advantage. Secretaries know the administrative functions of the firm and can probably provide practical advice as to its workings. WORD PROCESSING Word processing (or document services) staff may type your documents and may even deliver documents to your home on weekends. Our word processing department provides typists for late-night and weekend work requiring immediate turnaround. Most of the large documents in the office will be typed and proofread by members of this department. Be honest when dealing with the word processing department. When you are asked about deadlines, be reasonable and realistic. If at 7 p.m. you present a 150-page document and demand that work on it be completed as soon as possible but it is not really needed until the next morning, that news will travel fast and will not be forgotten. Also, take a look at your handwriting. If you write clearly and mark your changes so they are easy to follow, you will get better results. Do not forget the proofreaders. They are good resources for checking grammar, but you should not depend on them exclusively and you should always check their work. There are times when legalese is just not grammatically correct and you are responsible for making sure the document is appropriate for legal purposes. It is best to handle these situations with tact and courtesy as they have a tendency to happen when deadlines are looming and tempers are short. A final note on the duplicating department, which is responsible for copying documents either on-site or organizing services outside the firm. Again, be honest about deadlines and give as much notice as possible when large jobs are coming. CONCLUSION Understanding the ways the different departments at your firm work will make it easier to do your job. But remember, you are ultimately responsible for your work. If something is not done properly and on time, your reputation is at stake. So stay active and involved. And be nice. Treating support staff with respect goes a long way toward getting them to do whatever it takes when it’s crunch time. Say please and thank-you. Of course, in most cases you are simply asking others to do their jobs, but like young associates seeking recognition from partners, support staff members appreciate knowing when they do a good job. Alison King and Daniel Boglioli are associates at Kaye Scholer.

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