Dear Mike

By Mike McBride


I am a second-year associate who will never make partner. It’s not because of anything I do, but because of the secretarial support I have. Being the low person on the totem pole, I have been assigned a secretary that started when I started right out of high school. I thought the two of us could learn together.. [sic] What as [sic] mistake. She doesn’t care. parties all night. When I tell er [sic] something, she ignores me. If I give something back to her for corrections, I have to reread everything, because she “corrects” things that were [sic]. It is a disaster. Several times things slipped by and I got embarrassed in Court. How do I go about telling the partners, [sic] I need help after telling them how good she would be when I first started?
—Can’t Type to Save My Sole [sic]

Dear “Can’t Type to Save My Sole”:
Having effective support staff is essential to the efficient, effective, and profitable practice of law. Your assistant is your critical link. You need to address the performance issues on a graduated scale. First, have a private meeting with your secretary. Lay out your expectations and your concerns. Obviously, if your secretary has a bad attitude and does not come to work refreshed and prepared to work, these are serious issues. Fail
ing the first step, meet with your office manager or administrator, depending on the size of your office, or the managing partner in charge of personnel. Discuss your concerns, provide documentation regarding examples of the errors, attitude, problems, missed deadlines, failure to meet appropriate expectations, docket litigation deadlines, or other issues that led to your embarrassment in court (or yipes—malpractice!), and discuss ways to either discipline, correct, train, suspend, or ultimately terminate your secretary. If she cannot perform in the law office environment, then it may be time to get another secretary. Do not delay. It is important to have a dialog with appropriate persons at your firm so that you may practice law profitably and efficiently.

You wrote about problems facing young lawyers. I am an old one. I hired a nice young lady right out of law school. I thought it would work, but our work ethics (I’m a morning person—she’s not) and our personalities don’t match. She would be a real find for someone else. How do I go about firing her without harming her self-confidence. She has done everything I asked. I probably could help her find another position, but how do I bring it up?
—She Has to Go!

Dear “She Has to Go!”
Making personnel decisions, such as termination, are never easy. It is a meeting and confrontation that must happen, however. Praise her abilities but explain the differences between her abilities and style and your work habits and work style. If possible and appropriate, provide a small severance payment as a part of her termination. Offer to help her to find another position, and follow up with your local bar association legal placement office or your network of contacts. Be sure to accurately assess and portray her skills, however, so that hopefully they will be a good fit at the next employer.

Got a question for Mike?
E-mail D. Michael McBride III at
D. Michael McBride III is a Council member of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. He also Chairs the Outreach Committee. McBride practices federal Indian law and litigation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he is a Director and Shareholder of Sneed Lang, P.C. He also serves the Kaw Nation as an Associate Justice of their Supreme Court.
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