General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter

Solo, Vol. 5, No2.
Winter 1998
© American Bar Association. All rights reserved.

What Do Lawyers Want in a Secretary?

BY TENA JAMISON LEE

Tena Jamison Lee is a writer in Little Rock, Arkansas, who specializes in writing about the law.

The secretary's role is evolving. Some lawyers want secretaries to answer the phone and make appointments; others want someone smart enough to give a little advice.

We asked a handful of lawyers what they want in a secretary. Here's their response:

• Don't expect a secretary to answer the phone at Edna Selan Epstein's office. Epstein does that herself.

A solo practitioner in plaintiff litigation who does a lot of joint ventures, Epstein shares a suite in Chicago with others, but her practice consists of herself and one secretary.

Epstein looks for intelligence, reliability and good judgment in a secretary. She has been increasingly hiring law school students who don't have career expectations for the position, but enjoy the experience they receive, and move on.

Epstein, who has been practicing law for 25 years, has become computer literate and generally looks for someone to do docketing and "tying up the ends" of cases she works on.

• Lee Kolczun, an estate planning lawyer, has also been practicing law for 25 years. He was a solo practitioner before joining with another lawyer two years ago. The number is now up to five attorneys in Kolczun's office. Two secretaries work with the Lorain, Ohio attorney, one for the last 23 years, the other for 19 years.

Kolczun looks for someone who is loyal, can think on his or her own, and can handle some basic legal questions that may come up on the phone or if a client stops in the office.

"I look to a secretary as a team member, not as a slave. I respect her and feel she respects me," said Kolczun who said he often bounces legal questions off of his secretaries.

• "We look at [secretaries] as professional staff members," said Margaret Wong, an immigration lawyer in Cleveland, Ohio. Ten lawyers practice in Wong's office and are joined by a support staff of 30. When the secretaries are busy, the lawyers in her office do their own scheduling and type their own documents.

"All of our secretaries and paralegals have college degrees," noted Wong. Added that she doesn't expect to keep employees for a long period of time. "I want to see them improve and grow and eventually move on."

• Since she is currently interviewing for the position, Barbara L. Morgenstern, a partner in the law firm her father founded 50 years ago, knows exactly what she wants in a secretary: honesty and confidentiality.

Confidentiality is especially important in the small town of Hamilton, Ohio where Morgenstern practices since she has known many of her clients since nursery school. A willingness to learn is also important since the firm is not specialized in any one area of law.

While computer, grammar and dictation skills are very important as well as previous experience in a law office, the right secretary could walk through Morgenstern's door without any of these. According to Morgenstern, maturity and motivation would take a prospective secretary a long way in her office.

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