What to do when your assistant sucks

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!) :mrgreen:

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.

8 thoughts on “What to do when your assistant sucks

  1. Pingback: Not that this applies to any readers of this blog… « Lawyer’s Right Hand

  2. That is SO much better than my Google claim to fame — “how to get blood out of carpet.” Sigh.

    And it’s great advice, too. I can’t believe how few people know how to interact with their assistants.

  3. I’m an attorney … just left a big firm. Hired and fired 2 newer hires. I decided to tell everyone that in a small office you can’t hide, and the work needs to be done.

    for each one I found the transgression and brought it up generally to the staff at 2 meetings … I am seeing now that use of the net is a huge problem.

    told the staff … NO web surfing on company time. there is a cafe in the bldg with wi fi, and if you want to do that at lunch go ahead. all agreed.

    the next day, each surfed the web — myspace — and each was gone.

    can’t fix that. so get rid of them.

  4. MK: You don’t mention whether the two fired employees had performance issues. I submit that a little personal Web surfing isn’t a problem as long as work is getting done to your satisfaction. If it isn’t, then everything changes, of course. But if it is, who is to say that a quick visit to MySpace is any different from, say a smoker going outside every hour or so for a cigarette, or anyone stopping to use her office phone to make a dental appointment or return a call from her kid’s teacher? And what about the two legally-mandated 15-minute breaks every hourly employee is entitled to each day?

    If you want to recruit and keep good employees, you might want to relax a bit. Self-motivated people don’t like being watched over as if they were recalcitrant children.

    On the other hand, you could just revoke your staff’s Internet access. That would eliminate the problem. While you’re at it, take the phones off their desks, too. You wouldn’t want anyone using firm equipment for their personal communication.

    Oh, and tell all your smokers they have to quit.

  5. WOW, power tripper in the house. I guess if it makes you feel better about yourself then by all means keep on b/c EVERYone surfs the net on the job just to take a mental break for a few minutes. lol, give me a break.

  6. Pingback: Save the Assistants -- Workplace Horror Stories, Job Search Tips, Bad Boss Guide

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