Legal Staffer Dilemma: Too Nice or Just Part of the Job?

Office Wife or Multi-Tasker?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever run a personal errand for your supervising attorney. Did you do it just to be nice – or because you wanted to keep your job?

A law firm receptionist wrote the Wall Street Journal for career advice, asking how she should handle a “high-powered” attorney’s requests that she pick up his dry-cleaning – and his kids from camp – while his wife is out of town. (Never mind the part about babysitting them until the end of the day. I know, I can hear some of my readers’ quips about what “babysitting” in a law office entails right now.)

The Wall Street Journal career columnist actually answered the receptionist’s letter (how cool is that), suggesting she could help her long-term career plans by being less of a doormat and having “a candid conversation with the boss and [setting] some boundaries.”

Actually she called the attorney’s requests “outrageous” and said, “…he’s clearly taking advantage of you…Stop it!”

I suspect a few of you that have been there and done that are probably thinking you’d have to make some new short-term career plans, if you told your boss you didn’t want to pick up his dry-cleaning.

And some of you have never been asked to pick up anyone’s kids at school or run a personal errand, which is a good gig if you can get it.

Would you give the receptionist the same advice about the personal errands, and helpfully add, like another career expert the Wall Street Journal consulted, that being too nice can mean less pay and fewer promotions down the line?

Honestly, I’m not sure it’s possible to be too nice, but I was raised, many decades ago, in the South to be a (possibly overly) polite and helpful woman, and sometimes I wonder if I’ve paid for it by being less direct and/or confrontational than I’ve needed to be at times during my career.

But I’ve also had legal support staff jobs where I picked up dry-cleaning, babysat children in the office, and ran other personal errands for the big bosses, and I’m pretty pleased with my paralegal career today.

So, dear readers, is running personal errands for your supervising attorney being too damn nice, or just another day in the life of a legal staffer?

Sources:  Wall Street Journal; ABA Journal

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