Monday, April 19, 2010

Typin' for the Man

Among our regular readers, this entry may specifically tickle 4…wait, 5….no, 8….hmmmm, I think at least 10 women in our community.

In the last year, I have become my husband’s legal secretary when he has needed “just a little typing.” I’ve labored at what I had previously only observed when I would drop by the office to help with the filing. I took on THAT task to free his very skilled ladies to do the hard work of the office.

On many occasions, I would watch the hub hover over the shoulder of one of his 4 employees and dictate a letter or a pleading or an agreement or some other legal sheet, as the worker stared straight ahead to her screen, fingers flying across her keyboard.

Often, as is the case, his speaking would speed past even the fastest typist and, depending on his level of frustration or immediacy; he might encourage her with something like, “Come on, what’s the hold up?” Or he might repeat a phrase or sentence; or say, “Wait, that’s not right,” and continue with what WAS right, ending with “Now erase that other.”

Or, he might have misplaced that paper, the one he needed right then as he was running out the door to court. “Get me a copy. Right now. Times a-wasting.” And no matter what pressing concern was pressing at the secretary, she had to push it away to get a copy of something he couldn't find.

Just prior to the office’s closing, Mike kept 4 ladies very busy 5 ½ days a week. He would dictate on little tapes as he flipped through files and then stack the files on someone’s desk, the tape as a little garnish on top.

Mike’s dictating style was and is precise. “blah blah blah semicolon. Blah blah blahhaaah period. New paragraph.”

At his apex, Mike was a work-producing animal: when he closed the office and divided up his current clients, he doubled and tripled 4 other attorneys’ case loads.

And try as he says he might to retire, certain old clients call and he takes the bait. He ends up going to court about once a week for some sort of something.

And that means he needs a staff to prepare the documents, type and mail the letters, and keep his calendar. His staff has shrunk from 4 to 1.

It’s quite the new adventure for me.

First, at his prompting, I would type a document and then save it in a random place because he was all about the next document. I would try to go back and organize. My methods were not always so clear.

Secondly, he wanted letters on letterhead. Except we have no letterhead. In fact, the office had prepared its own letterhead and saved it on those computers which are now no where to be found. I had to recreate….not hard but it took some time and the first time, the boss was breathing down my neck….”Come on. Come on.”

Thirdly, it’s difficult to type with someone standing behind you barking dictation. When I type for myself, I let my fingers go fast knowing I will make mistrokes and will go back to fix them. When Mike is watching, he freezes me at each mistake. “Correct it now. You can’t leave it like that.”

Then, there is this dictation thing. Mike is a very smart man but he isn’t always right with his punctuation. (Well, Budds, it’s true.) Nothing major but things I pick up on. Will he let me correct it? Not without a fight. Also, he and I took typing class in the mid ‘60s when we pounded on manual typewriters….google it. Back then, we were taught to space twice after every period. In the following years when I worked as a journalist, my editors wanted me to cut that to one space. It was hard to change but I finally did and now it’s hard to do it differently.

“Two spaces.”
“Really, one is best.”
“Two spaces.”
“Ok, I’ll change it later.”
“Change it now.”
So I do.

(Then I go back later and fix it. “) )

Also there is a style of writing, a verbiage, that works in the legal system but it’s soooooooooooooooo boring.

Whereas. Whereas. Whereas.

It may be that in the future, the legal universe will embrace electronic communication but for now, at least here, people want their hard copies. So, there’s the pleading, with names and case numbers. Then, there’s the decision, almost the same wording with a few twists. There are affidavits, discoveries, and more letters to tell clients about all of this.

I like a little passion in my writing and reading. The legal world’s job is to squeeze the emotions out of what are often emotionally charged situations. It’s all reduced to droning words. And more and more words.

Now, frankly, I can’t work for long without a bit of game so I did and do find what fun can be wrung out of this. I’ve typed some words for the first time in my 59 years: annullable, promissory, disaffirmance. I’ve typed a few words that were new to me like affiant.
And, a Law and Order groupie, I get a little charge when I type NULL AND VOID, BREACH OF CONTRACT and PREPONDERANCE OF THE EVIDENCE.

So with a renewed sense of appreciation, I want to recognize and celebrate:

This week, April 19 – 23, is National Administrative Assistant Week.

I’ve lived long enough to remember when the true unsung champions of the office were called secretaries, Gal Fridays, girls, and gals. Somewhere, sometime not too long ago, they finally achieved the status name of Administrative Assistants but the work remains hard, unglamorous, sometimes tedious and usually stressful.

When the boss wants something, (using traditional roles here) he wants it yesterday; needs it immediately; can’t imagine you don’t have it done; doesn’t understand why his instructions were not crystal clear or why you STILL can’t read his mind. His secretary (etc.) has few options except to get it done, get it to him, and depending on what day it is, she may even apologize.

And much like the laundry, an administrative assistant’s work is never done. Just as the polished work leaves her desk, she turns to see an ever growing pile of more things that needed to be done yesterday.

So here I’m raising a glass to you ladies and gentlemen. We won’t go out and party because, frankly, at the end of the day, what you want most is to put up your feet.

I know.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my first duty station in the Navy was to take good care of the people that worked for me in the office. These were no "secretaries" for sure. They were Chief Petty Officers and First Class Petty Officers with 10 - 15 years of service and a number of "civilians" with lots more years in service than I had birthdays. I clearly understand that my success in that office was founded in their experience and abilities. 30 years later, I am still grateful for their work - some of which was clearly above and beyond for this green-behind-the-ears Ensign.

    Thanks for your blog! I just peaked in for the first time. Is there a book in the future?? :)