This lovely post title stems from several searches to my blog recently (shout out to Rockville, MD)! Do you want to know the hard answer here?
Okay, maybe she really does suck. Or maybe you suck. But passive aggressive behavior won’t get you anywhere. I have been a legal secretary and before that an admin assistant for over 10 years. I’ve seen attorneys stomp their feet, roll their eyes, do their own work, foist their work on others and hide in their offices — all to avoid a crappy assistant. Why?!? Let me tell you, it doesn’t help office morale to know the girl down the row makes as much as you (or more) and gets away with doing absolutely nothing because her partners are too afraid to talk to her or to management.
Let’s assume she sucks. Is it fixable? Perhaps you could write down the ways in which you think she sucks and address it on a point-by-point basis. Assuming you are her direct report, but she has a supervisor as well (i.e., attorney boss but secretarial supervisor), you should meet with her together with her supervisor if you can’t stomach meeting with her alone first.
Problem – Work not completed fast enough
Solution – Does she have too big of a workload? Are their other people competing for her time who are getting prioritized first? Could you come up with a system where you give her an urgency number to help her prioritize (but this must be realistic – if you always tell her it’s urgent, she’ll probably stop believing you).
Problem – Skills lacking on a particular computer program, typing speed, etc.
Solution – Duh. Training! Send her out for a class in a specific program or perhaps for general training. Many companies offer general overview classes in everything from Word to office procedures. For legal secretaries, send them to NALS. They have both a beginner and an advanced certification. I have received both certifications and, believe me, the courses/exams really teach you a lot. If you can’t afford training right away, direct her to the wonderful blog, Lawyer’s Right Hand. Kelly has some fantastic, practical tips for all sorts of programs a secretary uses every day along with procedural tips for handling the workload.
Problem – Bad attitude
Solution – Maybe this person is just a crab. Maybe they have something going on in their personal life. Bottom line is that it is affecting your work (and probably her coworkers and the office in general). You need to sit her down and be straight with her. Offer help (employee assistance plan?) but be clear that the attitude won’t be tolerated. Especially for a legal secretary, the impression she gives your clients can hurt you (or, in the case of a good legal secretary, the clients will be pushing past you to say hi to your friendly, lovely, wonderful assistant!)
Hope this helps, Rockville, and anyone else cowering under their desk in fear of confronting a sucky assistant. You may find out that a good part of the problem is misunderstanding and lack of communication. That said, perhaps you should change assistants. It’s important to have a good fit and feel like you’re a team.
For how to treat a good assistant, please see this post.