Is Your Legal Secretary Annoying Your Clients?

Do you know what your legal secretary is really saying to clients?
Do you know what your legal secretary is really saying to clients?

I have to marvel at the experience of a friend who is having his long-time lawyer for various personal matters draft a relatively basic will. Of course, the friend should have signed a will long ago. The important point is, he’s hiring a lawyer, the one who has helped him with a number of business matters, write one now.  Key point: repeat customer.

The other key point in this story is the lack of service he is getting from both the lawyer, a one-man shop, and the lawyer’s legal secretary. In my own experience, and writing of course very generally but with some knowledge of this subject, legal secretaries tend to become very solicitous of the lawyers they serve. They are, after all, there to ease their lawyer’s way.

Beware the legal secretary who protects his lawyer at the expense of the firm's clients.

Beware the legal secretary who protects his lawyer at the expense of the firm’s clients.

And they do. In so proceeding, however, without sufficient oversight and coaching, they can begin to accommodate their boss’s needs at the expense of the client. Pertinent example: The legal secretary in our little will-drafting scenario emails a lengthy form to the client seeking information needed to draft the document. Things like his heirs’ names—in this case, his kids—and their birth dates and his assets and stuff like that.

Easily enough completed by the client and returned to the legal secretary so the lawyer can put together that will.

So is it just out of sheer laziness that the legal secretary is emailing the client back to ask how old his kids are? Can she not compute the birth date specified on the form he just provided to her? Is she sparing her boss’s time—and her own—at the expense of the client? And, in so doing, is she pissing that client off?

It’s when the client starts to think, what a pain, that there’s trouble. If a repeat client is finding dealing with the lawyer, or, in the lawyer’s effort to streamline productivity, his legal secretary, to be annoying, will that client be incentivized to return with more and bigger business in the future? Will he keep saying good things about this little firm? Or will the legal secretary’s inability to do basic math to figure out someone’s age start being the punch line in stories told about the firm?

What is your legal secretary emailing to clients?

—Lori Tripoli

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