Is It OK For Solicitors To Ask Their Secretaries To Cancel The Milk For Them?

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Hearing trainee solicitors talk about “their secretary” always makes me cringe. Invariably it’s done in a disbelieving, yet boastful, way (i.e. “Only 25 and I’ve got a servant!”). Of course, it’s possible that I’m just jealous.

One of the problems with gaining secretarial support at such an early age is that the trainee becomes conditioned to think that servitude is normal – and, increasingly secure in the master role as their career progresses, begins to cross boundaries. Soon, office assistance is no longer enough…

By the time these pampered trainees become partners, their sense of entitlement has often spiralled out of control – as this recent post on Digital Spy, from an acquaintance of a secretary at a London solicitors’ firm, illustrates:

“Utterly Pathetic Solicitor(s)

My girlfriend’s just been out with her mates, one of whom works in London for a firm of solicitors as a secretary. She (her friend) got a text from her boss, whose wife also works at the same place, they are both partners. They are going away on holiday on Monday and the bloke told my girlfriend’s mate by text this morning (Saturday) to make sure she cancelled the milk whilst he is on holiday.

No, not the work milk, but the milk delivery at the house he shares with his wife.

My gf was gobsmacked and told her friend that they were surely having a laugh, and said that the friend looked very embarrassed and insulted.

Bloody pathetic useless overpaid wastes of spaces if you ask me!”

Not that everyone agreed with the author of the post. As one responder put it: “If you’re someone’s secretary, you put up, or shut up”.



As a paralegal I was quite rightly never assigned a secretary, so spent my first couple of years in law learning to do pretty much everything myself – including all aspects of billing on files in my own name. Even as a trainee, I was never assigned one in any of my departments. In fairness that pretty much echoes every other aspect of my life – I still haven’t appreciated the concept of division of labour yet!

As well as helping me appreciate just how much support work goes into making fee-earning efficient, this instilled self-sufficiency and resourcefulness – if there was no secretarial support or the secretaries were tied up with urgents, I’d do things myself, as I always had done. If secretarial support was available, then I’d use it if appropriate and productive and was genuinely grateful each time a secretary assisted me with something, even if it was small, trivial and/or well within the scope of their job. I can see how this may be viewed as inefficient in terms of utilisation had I stayed on and qualified and would have been something I’d need to approach differently as a qualified solicitor expect to charge [x] hours per day; however, but I never lamented the lack of a ‘designated’ secretary as a para or trainee and found it quite educational.



Well no, clearly not okay to have them cancel the milk, but ridiculous to suggest that it’s not useful for trainees to have secretaries. Trainees have billable hours targets, and the client should not be paying for them to do admin tasks. Secretaries also tend to be amazing at admin and can save a huge amount of time. It might sound callous, but there needs to be a division of labour.

Goes without saying though, that trainees (and others…) should know how to do admin tasks (work the printers/copiers/fax) for the inevitable need to do these taks at midnight…


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