ANONYMOUS ASSISTANT

WELCOME TO LEGAL LONDON………

NEWS FLASH: AA is recovering from medical treatment. The column will be back as soon as she is fit.

Written By: anonymous - Nov• 30•12

ALWAYS BE NICE TO YOUR SECRETARY

 

It’s only a few days later, after Gemma has cleared the final detritus from my overflowing out tray, that I notice the little bag again. It has slipped down the side of the desk and wedged itself next to the cupboard. I scoop it out and on to the desk. There is a note: “Thanks for all your patiense and kindness. I have really enjoyed working with you (although I don’t like filing, and I hate Tarquin). I shall always be grateful to you and the firm for allowing me to follow my dreams. Lots of luv. M J

Despite all the years of training I’ve devoted to her, she still can’t spell.

Inside is a selection of pink, glistening beauty products: ‘hot hair honey’, ‘sparkling skin soak’; ‘beaming bath balm’ and ‘shimmering shower shine’:  I pick on up and examine the label: “Heavenil Bodiz combines astral technology with Hollywood glamour to create a new skin care experience for the 21st Century. Its founders were inspired to create a brand which creates out-of-this-world cosmetics for women who have their feet firmly on the ground.”

Well that’s me: feet well and truly in the mud; perhaps these promising potions will rejuvenate me?

Jane thinks not. “What’s all that revolting gunk?” She sees the bottles on my desk.

“Heavenl Bodiz: cosmetics which are out of this world for women with their feet firmly on the ground!

This makes her laugh. “Well, at least we now know it’s an aspirational skincare brand and not a lap dancing club in Basildon. What’s Mel’s connection with it?”

“Oh,” I haven’t thought of that. “I don’t know. Perhaps she sells it, like an Avon lady.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “I she throws Heavenli Bodiz parties with male strippers and Pina Coladas on tap!”

Is that what she has in mind for her leaving do, I wonder? Jane hopes so; “It will make a change from sausage rolls and melon balls,” she declares. Although not much.

Jane’s hopes are dashed, however, when Personnel announces that all secretarial leaving dos are being combined (to ‘save money’) Any plans Melinda had of gyrating cage dancers are abandoned in favour of cheap wine and nasty nibbles. She doesn’t care though, she’s persuaded the other seccies to head ‘up West’ afterwards, to make up for lost opportunities.

“Tarquin is coming to Soho with me!” she giggles. “We’re gonna take him to a gay bar aren’t we girls?”

“Yeah!” they all chorus.

“You wanna come Helen?”

“Er, no thanks,” I decline. “I don’t want to cramp your style.”

“You wouldn’t do that, you she girls?”

“Noooooooo!” They crowd in on me; eyes wide with mascara, like bush babies with attitude.

“Ah, well that’s very kind, but I have to get an early night. I’ve got too much to do tomorrow.”

“She works too ‘ard, doesn’t she girls?”

“Too hard! Yeah!”

“You should give yourself a break,” Danielle advises, “Make the most of your youth; you’ll be old and wrinkly before you know it.”

“Not if she uses Mel’s products,” giggles Lynnette.

“Products?”

“You aven’t told her?” They turn to Melinda.

“I ‘aven’t seen her ‘ave I!” She protests.

“Tell me what?” I demand.

She takes a deep breath. “That I’ve got a contract to supply beauty products to health spas.”

“Not just any contract!” Lynnette nudges her. “She’s only got a bleedin’ ten million pound deal!”

A TEN MILLION POUND DEAL! I stare at her for a moment. She nods, bashfully, as if it’s all as much of a surprise to her as it is to me.

“How the hell did you manage that?” Jane gets straight to the point. “You can’t even take messages correctly!”

“I don’t really know…..” She admits.

“Her sister got her into it,” Danielle cuts in. “Her ex bought some of the stuff back from one of his many business trips.”

“Sordid affairs,” Melinda whispers. “He used to buy stuff to salve his guilty conscience. My sister really like it and started sending off for it, mail order like. Anyway, eventually, she got into importing and asked me to help. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since then. We got a licensing agreement, set up a website, did a few events and now this.”

Got a licensing agreement, set up a website’” This from a woman who can barely sign her first name! I am speechless, well and truly speechless. I have four A levels, a law degree (and more professional qualifications than I can count) and I can’t even get a pay rise. She, on the other hand, has a ten million pound deal!

“Is that why you went to California?” Jane persists.

“Partly,” she admits.

“And, all those sick days…..?”

“Yeah.”

“And all my hours of lost filing!?” This restores my powers of speech.

“Yeah,” At least she has the grace to hang her head as she admits this one. “I didn’t really ‘ave time to run the business and do all of that.”

“But you were being paid to do all of that!” I shout. “For me!”

“I know,” she admits. “But I was never very good at it.”

That is true. But it’s not the point. “You shouldn’t have been moonlighting when I needed my letters typing! You caused me so much stress and anxiety over the years!”

“I’m sorry,” she bites her lip. “I didn’t mean to. It’s just that I always dreamed of doing somethin’ more excitin’ than just workin’ in an office…….”

There is a sudden, wistful note in the air whilst those of us who still just work in an office are consumed by envy and astonishment and despair.

“Well, well done Melinda,” Liz is the first to speak. “At least you have managed to escape, which is more than can be said of the rest of us.”

“Thanks,” she admits. “I ‘ope you’re not too cross with me Helen. I was gonna ask you to be part of the Heavenli Bodiz advisory team.”

This is too much! Melinda is offering me work! This is some sort of psychotic episode; I’ll wake up in a minute and find myself lying on the floor of my flat.

“You’ll get free samples,” she adds, as if this will clinch the deal.

“I’m not cross with you,” I sigh. “Well, I am, I’m furious and frustrated and upset! But I’m, also, incredibly jealous and surprised and impressed: by Melinda. Of all people!

“Well, that’s ok then!” she laughs. “I’ll sign you up straight away.”

With that small innocent gesture of reward, she hands me a tiny piece of power over The Partnership: the most feckless secretary in Essex becomes my first genuine client.

 

 

 

The End of an Era

Written By: anonymous - Nov• 12•12

The redundancies are confirmed: Melinda is in line to receive four months’ money, a glowing reference and a leaving party (not bad for someone whose greatest contribution to the office has been the introduction of glitter pens). And when she (finally) tells me, she doesn’t even bother to feign sadness or shock; it’s all just one great big carnival of excitement.

“I’ve got some news,” she squeals, “I’m leavin’ at the end of the month!”

“So I gather.”

“Isn’t it great?!”

I half expect her to do a small cartwheel over my desk.

“Marvellous,” I agree.

“Oh!” she gasps. “Are you upset?”

Is she kidding? “Not at all. I’m very pleased for you. Secretarial work is not suitable for everyone.”

“No,” she agrees. “You’re right. I’m not cut out for a life of mindless drudgery. I was made for much higher things.”

Higher things? Standing there with her fake boobs and her fake nails in her fake clothes, she tosses her (fake) hair extensions over her shoulder and fixes her (fake) lips into a (fake) smile to deliver her fake leaving speech.

“I’m really, really grateful for all you’ve done for me Helen, I’ll never forget working wiv you. You’re a great boss. I ‘ope you get the appreciation you deserve; and I really ‘ope they replace me with a decent secretary.”

“Me too,” I agree.  It might make up for the past five years.

“I’m really sorry that I won’t have a chance to finish that filing you gave me, but, well, the thing is, I’ve got so much holiday left to take that Veronica says I can leave on Friday. I know it’s a bit short notice but I thought that you probably wouldn’t want me hangin’ about, now that my mind has been made up and everythin’.”

Friday! Two days’ time!

“Friday is absolutely fine.” Could only be better if it was tomorrow!

“Thanks again Helen,” she smiles. “I’ll clear my desk and make sure I take all my George Clooney stuff with me.”

“You do that,” I nod. “I would hate to think of you without George.”

With a tearful blink of her (fake) eyelashes, she bids me farewell and skips off into the night; her bag crammed full of stolen biros and glitter pens; humming Jessie J’s lyrics “It’s not about the money, money money….we don’t need their money, money…”

 

Those two days are the best two days of my entire professional career. Despite the drizzle and the crush on The Tube I actually look forward to going to work. There is nothing anyone can do to rattle me; I don’t mind the multiple intrusions from Simpering Veronica; the tiresome bleating from Tarquin and I even tolerate Malcolm’s endless whinging without so much as a snarl. I am a woman on the brink of administrative happiness and it feels marvellous. In fact, by Friday afternoon, my good mood has expanded so much that I even purchase Melinda a small leaving gift and agree to take part in her presentation! And, soon I am lost in raptures; waxing lyrical about all the ‘good times’ we’ve had; how much I am going to really miss her ‘special skills’. I can see Jane (open mouthed) at the back but I can’t stop, I’m too happy to say anything bad. It’s like the past five years have been obliterated and the past forgotten. I am a one-woman Truth and Reconciliation Committee!

 

By the end of it Melinda is sobbing so much she threatens to stay on, but then she sees the enticing pile of presents on her desk and pulls herself together.

“I’ll miss you all so much!” she clutches her fluffy pink ‘Leaving Bear’ (a special gift from Danielle and Lynnette) to her chest. “I can’t believe I won’t be here next week. It’s been great working for Helen and Tarquin, they have taught me so much, and you all feel like part of my family. I don’t know what I’ll do without seeing you all every morning and hearin’ all your stories. I ‘ope you’ll all keep in touch with me on Facebook or Twitter, at least. And I ‘ope to see you all at my leaving do in a few weeks”

She collapses into her chair with a final, teary, gasp as the onlookers offer a polite round of applause.

 

At five thirty I am still in a state of euphoria and when she offers me a sentimental hug, I welcome it with open arms. We stand there, for a moment, like two reality TV contestants caught up in the emotion of our eviction.

“I’ll miss you Helen!”

“And I you!” I agree.

“Thanks for everythin’.”

“No, thank you.”

“You’re a brick.”

“So are you!”

With a tearful gulp, she extracts herself from my grip and looks me in the eye. “I’ll see you at my leavin’ do next month. It’s gonna be wicked. Make sure you’re there.”

Then she deposits a little spangly bag on the desk, winks and shimmies out; head back, boobs out and heels clicking; the scent of coconut oil and Lambrini trailing in her wake. I feel an unexpected pang of regret: I might get my filing done next week, but I won’t get any of this.

Unless I move to Essex.

 

 

Redundancy Olympics

Written By: anonymous - Oct• 29•12

Now that she has competition, Melinda really goes for gold in her quest to for redundancy: no typing is left intelligible; no filing complete; no message decipherable. She is Olympic Champion of shirking; skiving and malingering. I find myself oddly impressed by her efforts. It takes a Herculean degree of determination to be even more useless than she already is. In fact, I am almost tempted to congratulate her on her efforts (although I don’t; as she doesn’t need to know that I am whole-heartedly backing her campaign; at least not yet. Not that she is makes much of a secret of her campaign, aside from a few, half-hearted, attempts to speak quietly, or in code, it seems to be the main topic of conversation in the typing pool).

“What are you gonna do with the redundancy if you get it?” Danielle hisses to Lynnette.

“A new kitchen,” she tells her. “And a Caribbean cruise.”

“Are you mental?” she scoffs, “You might get a new cooker and fortnight in Benidorm, if you’re lucky.”

Lynnette frowns. “Do you think so?”

Danielle nods. “If they were planning to make it that good we’d all be queuing up to take it.”

This perturbs Lynnette; she takes a bite of her doughnut and wonders aloud if it is too late to pull out?

Danielle shrugs. “Ask em.”

“I might.” She takes another bite in contemplation. “I really fancied Barbados…..”

“What about you?” Danielle turns to her Melinda (who is staring absently at an expense form). “What are you gonna do with your winnings? Open a donkey sanctuary? Buy a yacht? Get your arse lifted to match your boobs?”

I half expect this to start another secretarial slanging match (or worse, a fight) but, to my surprise, Melinda barely reacts; she simply raises an eyebrow and smiles enigmatically. “I have ideas……”

“Oh yeah?” Danielle challenges.

“Yeah.”

They stare at one another for a moment. Melinda smiles again.

“Well, I suppose there’s a first time for everything!” Danielle laughs.

 

Melinda’s behaviour is so strange and out of character that I decide to summon her into my office for a chat.

“Is everything all right?” I say, with casual concern.

“Fine,” she nods.

“Oh?” I say, “I see; only you seem to be a little distracted at the moment.”

“No, I’m not,” she shakes her head. “I’m just fed up with working next to those losers out there. I’m trying to rise above them; that’s all.”

“Very admirable,” I agree. “But your work has been a bit hit and miss this week.”

“Has it?” She seems pleased to hear this.

“Yes. So, I just thought that I should check that everything is ok. I know secretarial manoeuvres can be unsettling.”

I shoot her a knowing look; now is her chance to confide in me; to tell me her redundancy plans. But she just shrugs and says she, “would welcome a change of scenery, if it meant escaping those two nasty old witches.”

“Well, be careful what you wish for,” I advise.

“Ok,” she nods, “Can I take an early lunch?”

 

I let her go and call Veronica.

“Hello, you have reached Veronica’s phone. Veronica is not here at the moment, but do please leave a message for her and she will endeavour to call you back as soon as she is physically able to do so!”

I leave a message (in similarly gushing tones) and a few moments later I’m rewarded with a return call from the lady herself.

“Helen my dear! Lovely to hear from you. I hope everything is well?”

Why do I always feel like a Sunday school pupil when she addresses me?

“I was just wondering what was happening about Melinda.” I tell her.

“Melinda?!”

“My secretary.”

“Oh yes!” she laughs. “Sorry! I’ve been really busy interviewing trainee applicants this morning.” No wonder we never get any decent candidates.

“What’s happening with the redundancy programme?” I persist.

“Oh, that!” Yes that. “Caroline doesn’t want any fee earner to feel concerned about the re-co-ordination of support assistance; your needs will be fully catered for….”

This has an air of rehearsal about it, which irritates me.

“I’m not remotely concerned about the ‘re-co-ordination of support assistance’,” I snap. ”I just want to know if she is leaving or not.”

“Oh! I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Caroline.”

She calls back twenty minutes later to tell me that the decision is being made next week; so difficult a choice it is it requires ‘a top level meeting of Department Heads’ (ie The Boss and Caroline, eating biscuits and pretending to agonise over the options of three averagely useless and one spectacularly useless secretaries.)  Can’t wait to see what they decide.

 

 

Voluntary Redundancy

Written By: anonymous - Oct• 15•12

It begins with a phone call from Simpering Veronica……

“Helen, how are you?”

“I’m fine, thanks.” All the better if I could get you off the phone. “What can I do for you?”

“Well,” she pauses. “It’s more about what I can do for you, actually. You may have heard rumours of administrative changes?”

“I have.”

“Well, the rumours are partially true, there are going to be some, small, changes around here. Some support functions are being re-defined; some secretaries are being promoted…..”

I am only half listening as she witters on about off-shoring and streamlining I’m typing an e-mail to Miranda about legal costs.  It is only when the mentions the words: voluntary and redundancy that my ears prick up.

“Sorry, did you say the firm was asking for volunteers for redundancy?”

“Yes,” she confirms.

“Really? Well, I’ll certainly think about it.” Hallelujah!

“I’m afraid it only applies to secretaries.”

“Oh bugger!”

She breathes in sharply; no doubt shocked by my use of the Anglo Saxon.

“Sorry,” I mutter. “It was wishful thinking.”

“I understand,” she soothes. “It’s not always easy doing our day jobs.”

She can say that again. “But I do have some good news for you. Even if you can’t take redundancy, there is a high chance that your secretary can and will. She has applied to be considered.”

I reel back in my chair. Melinda is leaving! Of her own free will! Without any fight or unpleasantness! This is up there with degree results in terms of being a shockingly good moment in my life!

“Are you ok?” Veronica is still on the phone.

“Yes!” I shriek. I want to reach down the line and hug every pastel-covered inch of her. “When will it be confirmed?”

“Soon,” she says. ”We have to speak to the fee earners concerned, of course; then the formal selection process takes place, but there are only five candidates for three slots so, and so, well, the odds are in her favour, If Tarquin agrees I think it would be difficult to stop it.”

Don’t stop it! It has my full support! “Can I have Gemma?”

“Gemma? Oh, yes, well, we shall have to think about that, but that is one of the options we’ve been looking at.”

“Marvellous. If that can be arranged, I agree. Wholeheartedly! What happens next?”

“We follow the process and then, once three are selected, we shall discuss the package with them and then agree the terms. Once all that’s finished they can leave. It could be over pretty quickly.”

“How quickly?”

“Two or three weeks, I should think. If it all goes well. We still have to get Tarquin to agree it, of course.”

“He’ll agree it.”

“Well, then, if you’re right, I would imagine that the change will probably be affected by the end of the month. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, please don’t mention this call to Melinda.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t!”

As soon as she’s off the line, I take out a big red marker pen and circle the last Friday of the month; Melinda’s leaving day! Christmas has come early this year!.

 

I don’t mention the phone call to Melinda, of course, but I can’t resist sharing the good news with the others. Liz and Alex instantly share my joy but Jane is upset that Danielle has not put herself forward for selection.

“Why hasn’t she volunteered?” she grumbles. “It’s not as if she likes working with me.”

Although, frankly, who would?

“Perhaps she thinks she’ll replace you in the reshuffle?” I offer.

“Yes? Well, maybe I’ll beat her to it,” she huffs.

But who else would take Jane on?

“What is Melinda going to do with her windfall?” Liz asks.

“I have no idea.” I have been so busy being happy for her departure I haven’t stopped to think about her motivation.

“Perhaps she’ll open a tanning salon?” Jane offers, “Or a nail bar?”

“Noooo!” I scoff. “That would require hard work and dedication. She’ll probably just end up falling into a similar job through a friend and repeating the same old lazy-arsed pattern.”

“Will you give her a reference?”

“Oh, yes.” I laugh. “Melinda Peach is a very special secretary. Her filing is extraordinary, her typing is astonishing and her attention to detail defies belief!

Claims and Circumstances

Written By: anonymous - Sep• 24•12

“Do you have any complaints?

“I don’t like the coffee, and the loo roll could be a bit softer.”

“No! Not thoe kinds of complaints; complaints against you, in a professional capacity.” Malcolm is in charge of our professional indemnity insurance renewal this year. And he is taking to the extreme.

“Oh” I laugh. “Er, no, I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?” He peers at me inquisitively.

I shake my head. “There are no complaints that I’m aware of.”

“And what about those that you are not aware of?”

“Well, I er, obviously, don’t know about them.”

“But there might be some?”  Christ, who made him Cardinal Mendoza?”

“Well, yes, but there might, also, be life on Mars. I just don’t know.”

“Then who would know?”

“The disgruntled clients, I guess.”

“Do you have a list?”

“No, I would only have a list if they had, actually, complained.”

“What about a list of potential complainants?”

“Any one of our clients could fulfil that role!”

“Aha! Then you must have a list of them.”

“You can’t submit a list of all our clients – who may – or may not – have complaints,” I point out. Some of them might be perfectly happy with our service.”

“Then we must find out!”

Malcolm decides to call each and every client and make sure that s/he/it is happy with the work we have done. In his mania he enlists me, to go through the contacts I have. He is working his way thought the A-Cs when The Boss finds out.

“Don’t be so bloody stupid!” he explodes. “Do you want to encourage complaints?”

“No,” Malcolm admits, “But I don’t want to overlook any either.”

“You cretin! You only have to notify insurers of any complaints you’re actually aware of. You don’t need to go calling round and inciting more!”

“Better to be safe than sorry,” he retorts. “You know what Underwriters can be like…”

“I know what clients can be like! They don’t need any encouragement to moan!”

 

I don’t think Malcolm is cut out for this role. He sees gripes and grievances in every corner. The Boss, on the other hand, takes the path of least co-operation; skimping on information and providing on the barest detail of potential problems to insurers. A client might have threatened to kill him with a machete and feed his entrails to a pack of marauding wolves but he wouldn’t think that was worth notifying them about.

“He didn’t mean it,” he will say, even when The Solicitors Regulatory Authority/Law Society/Legal Ombudsman/Supreme Court steps in. “Our service was exemplary.”

But then he will expect full indemnity coverage when he’s struck off the roll and fined millions of pounds.

 

For once, Malcolm does not give in. He goes off to study the terms of the policy; returning looking very pleased with himself.

“It says we have to notify them of claims and circumstances which might give rise to claims,” he tells Alistair.

“And what the hell does that mean in English?”

“It means” He puffs out his chest, “that complaints, suspected complaints; possible complaints and, even, cock-ups (which the victims don’t know about yet) have to be disclosed to insurers.”

We always have quite a few of the latter kind, which The Boss usually covers up.

“And what if we don’t know that we’ve cocked up?” He says facetiously.

This throws Malcolm. “Well,” he considers, “Then I guess, we can’t disclose those ones.”

“Precisely! See! That’s my point; don’t go digging when you don’t know what’s buried in the graveyard. Stop stirring the pot!”

Two clichés that you don’t, often, hear in the same sentence.

 

But, as it turns out, Malcolm’s digging has had some unexpected results. Whilst there are a few gripes and grumbles about invoices or delays, there are, also, compliments and plaudits from many others.

The Boss is said to be, “An example to other litigators,” Malcolm gets praised for his meticulous record keeping and, even, Jane does well. One client says she is, “Intimidating” (which she takes as a huge compliment) and another calls her “The most tenacious litigator,” he has ever seen (which, obviously, means the same thing.)

 

And, bless her, Margaret seizes the chance to tell them how wonderful my Risk Assessment was. “We can’t speak highly enough of Helen. She is dedicated, professional and highly intelligent. You should promote her immediately,” she tells Malcolm (although he doesn’t pass the last bit on.)

 

All in all the mad insurance review is a success.

“Underwriters will be impressed,” he tells me. “We might even be able to knock a few quid off the premiums, with these reviews.”

“Well, good luck,” I tell him, as I’m edging out of the door.

“Thanks Helen,” he nods. “Just one more thing. There is another question I need to ask everyone: are you aware of any claims or circumstances which might give rise to claims, regarding conduct inside the office?”

“What do you mean?” I frown.

“I mean: employment disputes, health & safety breaches, that sort of thing. I’m sorting the internal policies as well.”

He smiles up at me, like a little boy. I hesitate. Do I mention Carlton?

“You should probably speak to Personnel about that,” I hedge.

“Oh I have,” he nods. “I just wanted to check with you, in case there was any unfinished business…..?”

I hesitate. Is this come clever trick to make me accept the status quo?

“I hope not,” I reply. But it’s impossible to predict what the future will hold.