I’m more fortunate than a lot of people, I suppose, in that during coronapocalypse my industry, the law, has been considered an essential one and we never really shut down. Things shifted to Zoom and WebEx. We discovered that a lot of those meetings that we suspected could have been emails really could have been emails all along. We found out that we really like wearing comfortable shoes with our fancy clothes.
And here, I have to stop to give a great big shout out to administrative professionals. Assistants. Secretaries. Paralegals. Clerks. Keepers. Right-hands. Whatever title you have given them in your office, these over-worked, under-paid people, usually women, have proven how invaluable they are.
I’ve said before that the legal field is one of the last professions where formality rules the day. We still use honorifics and titles and say things like, “my esteemed opposing counsel” and “wheretofore” without a shred of irony. We wear suits on a daily basis. People whip out $300.00 fountain pens to write on seventy-five cent yellow legal pads. Seersucker remains a thing on grown people. Seersucker!
We are a highly educated bunch, with lots of book-learnin’. We finished college, then law school, then passed the bar exam, and we go to at least 12 hours of continuing education each year, followed by Bloody Mary luncheons. We can do lots of impressive things with our law degrees, like transfer millions of dollars-worth of property, save people from (or put people on) death row, and help protect vulnerable people from their abusers.
What many of us cannot do are common, everyday tasks like work a computer. That’s what our admins are for. I know a lot of lawyers who don’t even know how to dial their phones – their admins do it for them and then say, “Hold for Mr. So-and-So” when the person answers. So sheltering in place has thrown a major wrench into any lawyering task that requires any action more complicated than writing an instruction on a yellow pad or answering a simple email (which will inevitably be sent “reply-all” instead of “reply” regardless of appropriateness.)
One day I sent a PDF file to a number of judges I was on a committee with and asked for feedback. Most of the feedback I got was “How do I open the attachment?” They were bewildered once they were deprived of the option of yelling, “Linda? Can you open this attachment for me?”
A few weeks ago, a friend needed to take a payment from a lawyer and then thought the lawyer was not who he said he was when the lawyer could not figure out how to work PayPal or any other means of sending a credit card payment on line. “He wanted to send a paper check,” my friend said. “A paper check! A bigwig like that can’t work PayPal? I doubt it.” I corrected her in a hurry. If he was over forty (he was) and worked for a large law firm (he did) odds were good he was used to shouting “Diane! Pay this for me with the AmEx” and then it magically happened.” Deprived of Diane in the next room, he really had no idea what to do beyond write a paper check and put an old school stamp on the envelope.
I think we’ve learned something important here. In our annual seminars it is important to give updates on the law and trial techniques. But it is equally important to give instruction on how to work the tools that work the law. A brilliant lawyer who can’t key in a brief into a computer or can’t search for a recently issued opinion online from his phone is at a serious disadvantage. If she can’t open an attachment from an email, she isn’t going to be able to participate in remote meetings and she is going to be left behind. I proposed the following seminars to my class of court’s training council:
- “Reply vs. Reply All: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters.”
- Open Email Attachments and Your Mind
- Spread Sheets: They’re Not Just for Math Wonks
- To Mute or Not to Mute: a Conference Call Primer
- PayPal and Venmo and Zelle: Oh My!
What are your suggestions? I’ll be happy to pass them on. In the meantime, why don’t you take Diane and/or Linda out to lunch, or at the very least, buy them a DoorDash or Uber Eats gift card to show your admins how much you appreciate their unfailing ability to do all those things you can’t do.
 A disproportionate number of admins are named Linda or Diane.
 I’d bet any amount of money he tried to lick the back of the stamp before realizing it was self-stick.
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori at her website, www.loriduffwrites.com, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Her newest book, a Foreword INDIES Gold Medal award winner, “If You Did What I Asked In The First Place” is currently available by clicking here.