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Elizabeth Street
6 June, 2008  
Mrs Crankypants

Poor defenceless Lizzy Street has the secretary from hell and there’s nothing she can do about it. Years ago Mrs Crankypants worked out the formula for a cushy life in a law firm … and she’s sticking to it

imageWhen I was a disoriented law student I naively believed that when I reached the exalted status of solicitor I would, in order of importance, to entitled to:

  • An office (not necessarily large, or even with a window);
  • A secretary;
  • A business card;
  • Respect.

    Pathetic isn’t it?

    I am a couple of years in and I’ve got an office (with a window) and a business card.

    The respect is nowhere to be found.

    I also have a secretary, and she’s worse than no respect.

    This is something I think should have been made clear in my salary offer:

    “By the way, your secretary is Mrs Crankypants so you will have to do all your own admin. We feel sorry for you so here’s an extra $5,000 a year for all those extra non-billable hours you’ll spend in the office.”


    I have the crankiest, least helpful secretary in the whole firm.

    Mrs Crankypants has discovered the holy grail for all secretaries. She worked it out very early on that to be completely untouchable she only has to be saccharine and smarmy to one particular partner.

    She keeps him sweet and the rest of the time she can be completely hideous to everyone else.

    Mrs Crankypants fulfils no secretarial function because she thinks she’s a PA.

    She does not word process, and if I check her work she will complain about me to the other solicitors in the group, including my partner (despite the partner telling me to check all her work because if there is a problem – it’s my fault!)

    She does not photocopy if she does not feel like it. She just might do some filing, but only if it is spilling into the hallway. Any work she does do is half-baked and sloppy and basically has to be redone.

    Buying her chocolates guarantees you about 10 minutes of semi-pleasantness, give or take five minutes.

    My work is never urgent regardless of the pressure I’m under. Talking to her friends on the phone is significantly more important than actually attending to my meagre needs.

    The slightest thing will get her back up, whereupon I’m slyly bad mouthed to the partner and my colleagues.

    She is the past-mistress of undermining and destabilisation. I think she might also be trying to kill me.

    Just today, I requested she printout a couple of dictated letters and have them signed for sending. She said she was simply “too busy”.

    Aware that I possess absolutely no leverage in the place I did it myself – fuming. Heading to the printer, I passed Mrs Crankypants’ desk to find her languidly on the phone, to what must be her sole friend in the world, reading the fat content from a box of VitaWheats. The burden of the discussion was whether she should switch to RyVitas.

    I’m burying my hatred deep in order to warm me on a miserable day. I’m still to work out how to get her. It may take years.

    As the clock ticks over 9 pm, I start filing the skyscraper of correspondence in my tray and attempt to make peace with the reality that regardless of how many years I spent at university and how many degrees I have, she still earns more me, while I do both our jobs.


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: June 6, 2008, 8:29 pm

She earns more than you! I'm a 4th yr law student who is trying to figure out how much lawyers in top tier firms really get paid, the figures given by salary reports seem to differ (larger) from those in the tax returns that one of my mates does. my estimation 1st year (articles) $63,000 (this i know, for WA nyway) 2nd yr $75,000 3rd yr $87,000 4th yr $100,000 so for nyone who know's, unlike myself, - is this somewhat accurate?
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: June 9, 2008, 9:28 pm

Whatever you do, don't try and win her over with niceness and chocolate. I tried to do that with my hideous secretary as a first year lawyer, only to have all the other secretaries tell me at firm drinks years later that they were all watching me pityingly throughout the whole sad affair. Embarassing. She's being a bully and you should stand up to her - if she gets offended she can complain to HR and then at least you have the whole thing in 'court', so to speak, and can voice your grievances. Try putting it in language the partnership will understand: all that time filing, printing etc could be spent on billable work.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: June 10, 2008, 6:23 pm

Australia 1st year: sweet f*ck all 2nd year: sweet f*ck all 3rd year: is anybody still there? Rest of World 1st year: more than you need 2nd year: far too generous 3rd year: what philanthropic organisations could I possibly join?
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: June 11, 2008, 2:40 am

I once worked at a place where it was me and a 50-somethingish secretary. When a partner would show up wondering where all the work she was doing was it used to look like the three-way shoot out scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - and she was always Lee van Cleef.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: July 6, 2008, 1:14 am

This is the first (and most frustrating lesson I learnt) after graduating. They have the power, and dark dark souls, like gypsies. Don't leave any hair in the office, they can put the hex on you.......
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: July 16, 2008, 5:55 pm

For a few wonderful years I was spoilt by the best secretary in the world. Then I moved firms. There was some teething issues but eventually I got a great new secretary. One week into life with new secretary, I had the following conversation in my performance review: Not so baby lawer: 'New secretary is fabulous. Just in time as well, the relief secretary was a complete nightmare, couldn't do anything right. Life will be more organised and I will be sweetness and light at all times due to new secretary" Partner: "Well Ive got some bad news for you. We are restructuring the admin support and your new secretary will be the relief secretary" Not so baby lawyer takes a moment to consider options and appropriate, professional response. While doing so, she envisages a lifetime of getting yelled at for typos, being abused by clients for missing deadlines and wondering where files have gone only to discover that open, large litigation files have been archived. Not so baby lawyer's very grown up response: Tears. Result: new secretary. The response may not have been professional, I may still be embarassed about it, but I will never regret it!