Saturday, November 14, 2009

It Is Never the Secretary's Fault!

When I was a baby Bad Lawyer, young and impressionable, I worked with attorneys who habitually blamed the secretaries for every sin of commission and omission that they, the respective attorneys were themselves culpable.  Naturally, not being able to think for myself, I fell into precisely the same habit.  It was reflexive, didn't return documents timely, it was the secretary's fault; didn't return a call, the secretary didn't give me the message; didn't file a lawsuit, gave it to the secretary and she dropped the ball.  I screwed up in a particularly obnoxious way one time and I blamed it on the secretary, another lawyer--certainly someone more mature than me, said something sane--and on this rare moment I heard it loud and clear--the secretary never fucks up, the lawyer fucks up.  True.

What brings this to mind is seeing the Pepsi, Inc. case where two guys got a default judgment for something like a trillion dollars (actually $1.26 billion) against Pepsi for allegedly appropriating their idea that found its way into the Aquafina product.  Apparently, the secretary to the Pepsico general counsel did not "receive" a letter about the pending lawsuit and Pepsi lawyers did not show up in a Minnesota court to defend:  see AP,, Oh My!

Don't worry about Pepsico, they got "juice," and accordingly, the court vacated the default judgment, see

But the larger point should not be missed, the secretary doesn't pay for malpractice insurance, the lawyer does.  The secretary doesn't have a license that can be suspended, or revoked, the lawyer does.  It is the lawyer who is charged with responsibility to attend to the interests of the client.  The secretary doesn't take an oath administered by the Supreme Court, the lawyer does.  It is the lawyer who is ultimately responsible for creating the systems to protect "fatal dates" and dockets.  Blaming the secretary is outrageous bullshit and attorneys who do it should be thrashed.


  1. Clients know it's not the secretary's fault. If a lawyer blames their secretary then the client can infer:

    i) The lawyer does not take responsibility for their own actions.

    ii) The lawyer is either (a)lying or (b)has deluded themselves into believing that it's not their fault. If (b) then the lawyer won't take action to improve their performance.

    iii) If the lawyer is senior then the lying is engrained. If the lawyer is junior then they presumably have picked up a bad habit at the practice, and the whole practice is suspect.

    All of these are reasons to question if you want to employ the lawyer.

    And it's not just lawyers and secretaries. In my experience anyone who publically blames their subordinates is generally not very good at their job. And they normally don't have much backbone either.