Sex, Secretaries and Audacious Attorneys

J0315570   Sometimes, you're just plain shocked at behavior.  Law.com Legal Blog Watchreported today a  bombshell of a complaint over a May 2009 ad on Craigslist under "Adult Gigs" for a secretary/legal assistant. The ad was titled: "Loop lawyers hiring secretary/legal assistant." It read as follows:

Loop law firm looking to hire am [sic] energetic woman for their open secretary/legal assistant position. Duties will include general secretarial work, some paralegal work and additional duties for two lawyers in the firm. No experience required, training will be provided. Generous annual salary and benefits will be provided, including medical, dental, life, disability, 401(k) etc. If interested, please send current resume and a few pictures along with a description of your physical features, including measurements. We look forward to meeting you.

A candidate sent her information including a photo, height, size and measurements. Now, why a legal secretary would not know that laws state giving out information such as personal statistics and photos are no-no's, I don't know.  However, knowing the law and being a victim are two different things.

The next day, the attorney allegedly responded with an e-mail that gave some basic information about the position, but then went on to state:

As this is posted in the "adult gigs" section, in addition to the legal work, you would be required to have sexual interaction with me and my partner, sometimes together sometimes separate. This part of the job would require sexy dressing and flirtatious interaction with me and my partner, as well as sexual interaction. You will have to be comfortable doing this with us.

If you think you're comfortable so far, please let me know and we can proceed with the process.

The next step is to set up an interview. When are you available to interview? I am free to interview today. Please let me know what your availability is.

Lastly, we've actually hired a couple of girls in the past for this position. But they have not been able to handle the sexual aspect of the job later. We have to be sure you're comfortable with that aspect, because I don't want you to do anything that you're not comfortable with. So since that time, we've decided that as part of the interview process you'll be required to perform for us sexually (i didn't do this before with the other girls i hired, now i think i have to because they couldn't handle it). Because that aspect is an integral part of the job, I think it's necessary to see if you can do that, because it'll predict future behavior of you being able to handle it when you have the job.

If you're still okay with everything, let me know what you're availability is and we can figure out a time for you to come in and interview. Let me know. Thanks for your interest.

When I first read this, I thought it was written by a teenager as some kind of weird joke.  However, after the candidate complained to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, an investigation was conducted. The attorney initially responded that:

it appears that somebody with malice [sic] intentions has used my business information to post the advertisement on Craigslist. I did not post the advertisement for a legal secretary...

OK, I understand that someone being maligned on the Internet.  I really do.  There is someone calling themselves a "paralegal expert" down in Georgia who has harassed me via the Internet for a year and a half now, interfering with my business, makes threatening phone calls to my son, posts unbelievable things on list servs and more.  (They most likely will read this and try something else again but I continue to stand up for myself.) I never know what they are going to pull next.  It's vicious, illegal, disturbed behavior and several colleagues and I are ready to seek any and all legal remedies available to us. People like that aren't worth the time of day. Anyway, I digress. I'm talking about how this article elicited empathy, albeit undeserved.

But then, the article goes on to state that "when the attorney was required to give a sworn statement before the Disciplinary Commission, he admitted that he did, in fact, post the Craigslist advertisement and send the follow-up e-mail to the applicant."

This is actually scary.  If what he says is true, that they actually "hired" several legal secretaries who went through that, I sure hope that they are not too scared to come forward and file complaints. Aside from the illegal actions, the hatred of women is very apparent.  This is one of those times that you have a tough time believing what you read.   If this isn't some kind of hoax (and I trust Legal Blog Watch's reporting), just how widespread and how long has this gone on?  


Conspicuous Hole in [Paralegal] Ethics Training

This commentary in Law.com by an experienced paralegal surprised me. What's your reaction?

"For all the talk of the need to prevent ethics transgressions in the legal profession, a glaring education gap exists for one group: paralegals.

"Usually, it does not rise to the level of a topic to be covered -- until there is a problem. It generally crops up after an unintentional violation of the attorney-client relationship by support staff members who have received no ethics training.

"As a paralegal for more than seven years, I often get questions from colleagues asking what to do in certain situations. Those of us who have been educated in an American Bar Association-accredited program have some knowledge of ethical issues. However, some support staff are not even aware of the ethical issues to avoid, yet they are on their firms' front lines every day, in danger of unintentionally violating ethics rules.

"In a poll taken on Jan. 3 by NJParalegal, we asked our members the following: Have you ever received training or instruction by your attorney-employer on how to handle ethical issues, specifically, maintaining attorney-client relationships and the confidentiality of your clients?

"The answer: Of the 42 who responded, 80 percent said no."

Author Cindy Lopez is a paralegal in the office of Charles Byrnes in Toms River, N.J., and is founder of NJParalegal, a career resource. She's also a speaker for Estrin LegalEd Paralegal SuperConferences.


"Rise of Paralegals"

Although you must be a paid subscriber to the Dayton Business Journal to read the complete article (& I'm not!), thought the part you can read was interesting:

"Betty White has worked as a paralegal for Sebaly Shillito & Dyer's Dayton office for 18 years and has held the managing paralegal position for the past 10.

"But White has spent the past two decades doing more than just sorting through legal documents. She travels with lawyers to meet with clients, helps clients prepare documents and helps decide what information is necessary for a case, among a slew of other tasks."

The photo sidebar includes this info:

"Helping out: Betty White is a paralegal with the Dayton law firm of Sebaly, Shillito and Dyer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that paralegal employment will increase 27 percent in the next seven years." [Emphasis added.]

BTW, the firm's website posts profiles of all its paralegals!


"Hutchens, Senter & Britton Announces Certified Paralegals"

Well, isn't this encouraging news? Law firm sends out press release praising its paralegals!

"Fayetteville, North Carolina-based law firm Hutchens, Senter & Britton, P.A., which specializes in foreclosure and civil litigation, announced that employees Lesley Cavenaugh, Dianne Dunn, and Aileen Gibson have qualified as North Carolina state bar certified paralegals. All three support the firm's bankruptcy group.

“'We congratulate Lesley, Dianne, and Aileen on this important achievement,' said Terry Hutchens, managing partner of Hutchens, Senter & Britton. 'Individually, each one's dedication to the profession is to be commended; collectively, they bring a concentration of expertise and talent to our Bankruptcy Group, which is a significant asset for the firm.'”

Too bad the firm doesn't (yet) post paralegal profiles...


"Why Do You Always Need This Yesterday?"

How many times have you asked this question when handed a new assignment?  LawCrossing looks into why this happens & how paralegals can handle these situations:

"Some projects—especially the most urgent ones—seem to demand time traveling as a requisite skill. Everyone wants work done ASAP, but there's only one you and 24 hours in a day. What's to be done?

"Paralegals are the workhorses of the legal world. Unlike the attorneys they assist, paralegals and legal support professionals play a largely behind-the-scenes role. While feats of productivity and grace under fire can force many paralegals to take on superhero proportions, even Superman has to eat, sleep, and have a life outside of work.

"Everyone has heard the phrase 'I need this yesterday.' In almost all situations, it is intended to convey a sense of urgency and an impending deadline. After 'Is this billable?,' this is probably one of the most frequently uttered phrases in the entire legal world. Yet for many legal support personnel, the phrase inspires a sense of confusion cum frustration. How can every task be the most important?"


"Paralegals in position to improve reputation of legal profession"

Well, yeah! This is indeed a welcome news article:

"Paralegals are critical to improving the reputation of lawyers in the community. The legal profession still suffers from negative stereotypes and some do indeed think we're better off 'at the bottom of the sea,' as the lawyer joke goes. Paralegals can pull lawyers out of this muddy, messy, pool of disrepute by displaying the following qualities.

* Honesty and integrity
* Professionalism
* Giving back through pro bono work and volunteering
* Enthusiasm"

Author Elizabeth Balfour's speech at the annual San Diego Paralegals' Association Luncheon in June 2006 provided criteria for the Distinguished Paralegals Awards.


"How to Talk to Your Boss About Being Overworked"

This career article comes from CIO magazine, but I think the advice applies to all knowledge/information workers:

"Twelve-hour workdays packed with mile-long to-do lists and meetings on top of meetings. Cell phones and BlackBerrys that are always on, and laptops you take home to squeeze in one more hour of work. With companies [& law firms] firmly focused on growth after several long years of belt-tightening, employees' workloads are heavier than ever. What can you do to cope with on-the-job scope creep? Stand up and say something before your head explodes. 

"To help you effectively broach the subject of your insane workload with your boss, heed the following advice from executive coaches and leadership gurus.

[snip]

"'At the moment of additional assignments, it is critical to not immediately say yes,' says Kay Cannon, a professional business coach in Lexington, Ky., and president of the International Coach Federation. But you also can't simply say that you have too much work to take on new projects. 'Coming in only with problems makes you look like a victim. You want to be perceived as a leader,' says Barbara Somma, a former longtime director at Johnson & Johnson who's now a professional business coach in Sarasota, Fla."


"LAWYERS ARE FROM MARS, PARALEGALS ARE FROM VENUS"

Hmm, pretty right-on discussion from law firm coach Cheryl J. Leone:

"Having learned one thing during my 42 years of law office management simply is this: Lawyers and paralegals don't talk the same language and they don't think the same way. They live on different planets, breath different air, and they even have different customs. Yet, if there is ever a time and a place and a need for both people to be on the same page, it is with the relationship and communication skills that exist between lawyers and paralegals.

[snip]

"Lawyers tend to under-estimate the project, tend to assume that the paralegal understands what needs to be done, doesn't allow time for questions, doesn't give information, and then when the project is not delivered as the lawyer thought tends to judge the paralegal on lack of performance. It all started with the message.

[snip]

HOW TO CHANGE A NON-WORKING RELATIONSHIP

"You might start by asking your lawyer to read this article. At the very least it tells the lawyer you want a new tomorrow - a good professional working relationship. There are always exceptions to the rule but I tend to find that lawyers want to be good leaders, good employers, and want to improve the process so they become efficient. Paralegals need to stop being enablers and be leaders with their lawyers."


"For Some Firms, Law Is All in the Family"

I'm sure "family law firms deal with unique challenges" & unique experiences too. Has this been your experience?

"Like mother, not so much like daughter.

"At the Milwaukee law firm Pitts & Pitts, clients know whether to ask for the mother or the daughter, depending on what sort of representation they are looking for.

"If they want a pit bull, they ask for the daughter, Trinette. If they want compassion and someone to hold their hand, they ask for the mother, Cristina. It's this dynamic that has kept the mother-daughter personal injury and family law firm in business for the past 22 years."


"Gadgets Put the Holiday Spirit in Your PC"

Yay, more presents for me! Well, not me exactly:

"With the holiday season in full swing, it's time to consider some gifts for your computer. Nothing tells your PC that you care about its happiness more than a few high-tech gadgets to make its life a little more exciting. Of course, if those gadgets also help you out as well, then everyone's happy.

"The first item you might consider is Microsoft's new operating system, Windows Vista. Vista contains many new features, is more stable and secure than its predecessors, XP or Windows 2000. However, be prepared to upgrade various components on your machine."