Friday, April 15, 2005

Ranting Along

With Bess - I'm on a cable modem and don't notice any real KR load difference with the cute little signature graphics, but if they're a problem let's just get rid of them, they add nothing to the posts.

And in general. Come and listen to a rant about a paralegal named Catherine....

Okay, so this week I had another slap in the face about how I played my career wrong, and I must share this with you young'uns/those considering career changes to this half-assed "career."

I've never been "title conscious" and just called myself a generic paralegal. I know what I do, people who work with me know what I do, (generally) and that's been good enough. The lawyers I work with treat me like one of them. It's the female and non-lawyer staff - office managers, etc. - who make the problems. Now I'm starting to understand the paralegal title snot syndrome.

Found out this week that the last surviving cockroach at the old office who is doing my former job now bears the exhalted title of Regional Claims Manager and Senior Paralegal. This was a woman who didn't know a claim from clam dip when she got there, and her seniority stems from still working there when all the senior people like me either got disgusted and quit or got fired. So when I did this job it was treated like nothing that mattered, I was underpaid and the "transactional" paralegals treated me like the redheaded stepchild. Now, it has not one but TWO titles, m'dear! We won't go into why this is so, but I'm thinking the wearing of very tight skirts and no perceptible undergarments and much hair tossing just MIGHT have played into it, I don't know, but I'm just sayin' there isn't much objective evidence of other reasons.

Not that I have any objection to tight skirts, I own them myself, but I never thought of them as a carear ASSet and didn't wear them to the office. Silly me. And frankly, any woman over 40 who can pull this act off deserves at least a grudging salute, and I offer one to the Poodle. May her tail remain perky.

Anyway, to segue into my current career issue - I am not exactly inarticulate, but today the pithy description of why I hate my current job just flowed out of me. Here is the less pithy, stream of consciousness arrival at the summary:

When a lawyer does his own copying, envelope stuffing, etc., he's a good sport and a hero. When a paralegal does it, she's a secretary. In the year and a half that I have been at this employer, my position has eroded in subtle ways. I hired on with the understanding that I would be doing "secretarial work." I didn't care, hell, Boss does secretarial work and we both still share these duties. We know how we work, but nobody else does.

The difference is that he is still recognized as an attorney, and I have eroded to "assistant." This became clear when someone brought me a file which included tapes of witness statements, and told me magnanimously, "You don't have to transcribe these yourself, you can send them out."

Honestly, I didn't know what to say. I just said, "Hell yeah I'll send them out, I don't do transcription." Then this same person - who I actually do like and don't blame her for her confusion about my status - sat down to discuss a claim with me and was somewhat taken aback that I know enough to read and interpret an entire statute and shared her (she's a lawyer) interpretation of it. Like, honey, I've been doing this paralegal stuff for 15 years but I have 20 years of construction and real estate background, a BA and a professional certification. I didn't just wander in to do the filing.

But I might as well have. And it's hard to say this without it coming out like a slam on secretaries, which it totally is not. A strong, smart secretary/assistant is more valuable than I am, totally, and I know that. A lawyer can do what I do, neither one of us has the skill set to function without a really good secretary without floundering around, which is what we do. We survive because we are a team and we split up the admin work, but neither of us has the organizational skills or detail-focus to do that work. We are constantly hunting for stuff one of us misplaced (I try to impose order in my half-assed way, but he grabs stuff and runs) and are each other's backup for things we forget, and we muddle through. We would be SO much more effective with an anchor on this team who could organize both of us, but we aren't getting one.

The difference is that he has a JD and a penis, so when he does his own copying and envelope-stuffing, it's perceived as "Catherine isn't holding up her end" (never mind I have billable hours to meet too). I'm perceived as not "keeping up" in a job I didn't fucking sign on to do in the first place, and now I find myself in a situation where I am called "Boss's assistant" daily, while the OTHER paralegals in the office are carefully referred to as paralegals.

So it has been another lesson learned - I used to be a good sport. I used to be the type who thought it was ridiculous that paralegals would say, "I won't do that, it's SECRETARIAL!" and when I took this job I took it with the attitude that Boss does "secretarial" work, I'll do "secretarial" work, and we'll muddle through and that's fine. Now I'm getting "graded" on the quality of my filing while getting nagged about billable hours. This is just not working for me, and I'm over it.

So my summary to my real boss is basically the last two sentences above - when I signed on it was with the understanding that we'd muddle through on the secretarial stuff, not that it would become my job. Boss is still stuffing envelopes and making copies and we still split the labor and I still don't answer phones or do transcription, but I've been "secretarialized" all the same, while the hair-tossing ass-shaker who took my job has a title and a secretary. I fucked up. A cautionary tale to paralegals everywhere.

Next time on the life in legal world rant:
The grass is only greener in-house because the bullshit is ten feet deep. We are both over it, and exploring other options.


Geogrrl said...


What you say is unfortunate, but true. I agree that a good secretary is worth his or her weight in gold. And if you're a good secretary, by definition you are NOT stupid. I used to work as a secretary and I was a damned good one.

However, once I left the secretarial pool, I was very careful to never do secretarial work again. It's not that I mind doing it, but it's a very slippery slope.

A female geologist I knew quit her job when they started trying to tack secretarial duties onto her job. You just can't allow it, or what happens is what happened to you.

caroloine said...

Can you present to the 'real' boss that to meet billable hours you will no longer do filing? it's a start. and did I mention you just crack me up with the "may her tail remain perky" ? omifuckinggod. i roared.
but you know, this is so NOT good over all. It is really getting to you. Please consider leaving NOW.
as in, first good and credible and high paying offer wins you? if boss is dragging butt, so be it. He is not the 'secretary', eh?
or go back to law school at night and be done with it and get the goddamned money...heh.
i know, i know, but i'm just saying. live the change, sweet pea. it's just the best.

Anonymous said...

As a retired executive secretary, I find most of your comments about secretaries a bit hard to swallow. You're as demeaning in them about them as you feel you are demeaned by being confused with them. However, I have a suggestion which might help make your position a little clearer. I assume you have a nameplate on your desk. If you don't, get one -- as heavy and as "executive looking" as you can. Make sure it gives your name and your correct title. When you get to the job with an office and door, do the same thing. If you have business cards -- and you should have -- make sure your correct title is on them. When I worked, my particular complaint was that secretaries were not dignified by the use of our last names. Granted, some of this was brought on by the women's behavior. But I tried to raise the consciousness of my supervisors by using my last name when I answered their phones: "Mr. X's office, Ms. Y speaking." I did not refer to myself by my first name. I was a professional secretary and I wanted the respect that position merited. You might consider that aspect of your office life as well. If you are "Catherine," to the office, you're more likely to be confused with a clerical employee. If you are "Mrs. Z," you'll be viewed as a professional.

Catherine said...

I'm guessing you've been out of the workforce for a while, or worked in a very formal environment, because asking to be called "Mrs. Z" would be downright bizarre in my office environment, where the boss's boss wears Hawaiian shirts and is addressed by his first name. Even in the most silk stocking downtown firms everybody is on a first name basis in this city. And I'm sorry if you feel I'm demeaning secretaries, I'm not.

But I didn't get a degree in my field and a professional certification and develop 20 years of skill and experience at what I do to be asked if I do transription or get "graded" on my secretarial skills. I really doubt I'd be experiencing this if I were a man. It's that simple.

Chelle said...

Catherine -

I really enjoy reading your blog. But your recent posts make me SO glad I got out of the law office environment after 17 years as a legal secretary. It's just a caustic environment in my opinion.

I have a degree too (in English), but never wanted to be either a paralegal or an attorney. I am just glad I'm out and started into a whole new field - a sales career I like much better.

Your comments don't demean me as a former legal sec. I did my job and did it well, I just got very burnt out with it. Let's face it, the shit rolls downhill.

I nearly howled with laughter at some of your descriptions of your office because they are so "dead on."

I'm sure you'll find another - hopefully better job. But I think you're onto something here about what to do - demanding more respect at the onset. Anyomous probably right about the "in your face" nameplate. Best of luck, and keep us laughing. I enjoy your posts.

Catherine said...

I hope nothing I said comes off as a slam on legal secretaries or the idea that I "rose above all that," because that is not who I am or how I work. Every secretary I ever worked with is still a girlfriend and drinking buddy. This is about being hired for one job and ending up dancing to the standards of two - I didn't hire on as a secretary and I'm not good at it and I don't want to be "scored" - for the purpose of raises, etc. - on skills I never claimed to have, while having to meet a billable hours standard as a paralegal. I came in to work construction cases as a paralegal with an extensive construction background, who can tear apart a multimillion dollar project and figure out what happened, who was willing to muddle through on secretarial stuff to get by just as Boss does. But I'm getting "audited" on it and I did not in any way sign on for that. Meanwhile, the ass-shaker gets my old job and two titles and a secretary. That was the source of this rant. It's not Me against the Secretaries in any way.

Catherine said...

Oh, and re the nameplate - somewhere in my closet is a nameplate engraved for me as a going away gift two jobs ago, but in an environment where everybody is on a first name basis and has the exact same nameplate, that sort of grandstanding is the wrong way to go about this. This problem is functional, it's the job, it's the company, it's not something I could have played differently unless I'd stayed at the old job and duked it out with the Poodle, ass-shaking and elbowing for attention from the male attorneys, and that was not something I had the stomach to do. If they think she's a claims manager they don't need me.