Towards the end of my active litigation career I can remember a woman coming into my office that wanted to sue the law firm she had worked at for wrongful termination. Long story short: she worked for a named litigation partner at a local firm for 15 years. Feeling a bit unappreciated, she put her word out to the grapevine that she was hoping for greener pasture. Apparently, at the same time, a partner at another firm lost his legal secretary with little notice. He was desperate for a replacement and put his word out to the grapevine and therein they met. A few days later they met for lunch. She is a pleasant woman and obviously knew what she was doing given her work history. So he hired her on the spot.
Then the “problems” began. Apparently she wasn’t as quick as his previous legal secretary. Within 3 months she was let go for her non-productivity. That’s when she walked into my office.
So here was a woman over 40, raising some kids on her own, steady job for 15 years, promises of green pasture and then out on the streets 3 months later without so much as a “sorry.” How would you feel if that was you… or your sister? How do think 12 jurors might feel about law firms who treat people this way?
The “old” Don would have loved to mess with this firm. They weren’t especially nice to me on a case I had litigated against them a few years prior. If I could have somehow squeezed past all the motions to dismiss, etc. and taken it to a jury it would be game over. However, this being the kinder and gentler me, and someone who has learned that litigation is a poor substitute for the taking of personal responsibility and moving on, I asked a different set of questions. Such as, “What was your responsibility in all of this?” “Were you crystal clear about what it took to be a success in this position or did you simply have your fingers crossed?” (As Mary Kay so famously stated, “Most folks spend more time planning their vacations than their careers.”)
What does a litigation secretary do 80% of the day? Type. Did the firm or partner have a typing test requirement? Of course not. So what do you think their typing standard was for that job to be a success in it? The client was astute enough to say, “My guess is the speed met by the previous legal secretary.” And what was that? Who knew? When I asked what her typing speed was she said approximately 80 words per minute in a test she took herself some years ago. (Just an OK typing speed for a high end legal secretary—I never hired less than 100 wpm.) When I tracked down the previous legal secretary she said at least 100 WPM. So there you have it. This legal secretary was a failure the first day on the job and NOBODY KNEW ABOUT IT!
How many employees, not just legal secretaries, are failures on their first day of hire? Fact is, there is no substitute for testing on all aspects of employee performance. For example, you can do an online typing test of your existing secretaries to generate a hiring benchmark and to see who may need some additional training. Here’s an example of one such test. http://www.previsor.com/pdf/FactSheets/Fact_Sheet_Typing.PDF. While you are at it, have the attorneys and legal secretaries create a substantive knowledge test too. If it’s a litigation secretary test their procedural knowledge. If it is a secretary to an estate planning attorney you can test for the relevant knowledge there too. I bet half of all applicants and half of all employees will do better than the other half.
There you have it. A simple formula: test for it if it’s important to you. The failure to do so will guarantee failed employees.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
6050 Santo Road, Suite 240
San Diego, CA 92124