Presidents Column: Thanks for All You Do
The last Wednesday in April is “Staff/Employee Appreciation Day.” On my calendar it is called “Administrative Professionals Day” and those of you in my generation will remember it as “Secretaries Day.” Many of whom I spoke to about this special day of recognition assumed the concept was created by the greeting card industry. I confess that I thought the same thing. However, from my research (i.e., browsing the Internet) I learned that the idea came from the Dictaphone Corporation in 1952 in an effort to attract more women to the secretarial profession. That same year the U.S. Secretary of Commerce declared the first week in June as National Secretaries Week and June 4 as National Secretaries Day. The objective was to recognize that both government and businesses depend on the skills, loyalty and efficiency of secretaries to function and to publicize the fact that secretaries were essential to meeting the needs of business. Again, the purpose of this recognition was not just to reward or thank secretaries for their work but to attract and recruit skilled workers to the secretarial profession.
A lot has changed since 1952. Secretaries are now known as “administrative assistants”—somewhere along the way the “s” word lost its status and fell out of favor. The concept of a national day of recognition of secretaries has broadened to become a national day of appreciation for all employees and staff. The week/day of appreciation was moved to the last week in April in 1955. And while greeting card companies do benefit from the celebration of appreciation, it is still the businesses that show their appreciation for their staff members that reap the real rewards.
About now I am sure you are asking yourself what does this have to do with the practice of law. My response is “everything.” Whether you are a sole practitioner or at a mega, international law firm, we rely on our employees on a daily basis, if not hourly, to support our firms and our practice. Think about the many functions your staff performs that are essential to your practice. Who greets your clients and answers their important phone calls; who prepares, sends and collects invoices for your services; who handles your payroll and benefits; who manages and dockets your case files; who recruits and screens new lawyers (and staff); who provides litigation support; who maintains your law library; who copies and assembles thousands of pages of closing binders and trial notebooks? The list of services we rely on our employees to perform is endless. They make it possible for us to do the thing that we love the most: the practice of law. Without support from paralegals/legal assistants, HR professionals, accounting staff, record/docketing staff, word processing, copy center staff, mailroom staff, receptionist and, oh yes, do not forget our secretaries, we would have little time to devote to the practice. I realize that there is a huge difference in the size and specialization of the staff of a sole practitioner versus a hundred lawyer law firm. The tasks listed above may all be performed by one or two staff members for a sole practitioner, while it takes dozens (if not hundreds) of staff members with specialized skills to support a large law firm. But large firm or small firm, we all rely on our staffs to make us look good and keep the wheels on our practices. Our staff members stay late or come to the office early when needed, they travel with us for trials and closings, they take care of personal tasks we are too busy to handle and sometimes they simply make the impossible happen. Often they do these things at great personal sacrifice to themselves and their families.
So what should we do to ensure that we maintain our successful legal practices? We should start by saying “THANK YOU” to our staff members for all they do. Appreciation is a fundamental emotional need and, according to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 64 percent of employees who leave their jobs say it was because they did not feel appreciated. This statistic illustrates the importance of staff appreciation on retention and performance. Additionally, surveys indicate that being appreciated is even more of a motivator than money. Although compensation is certainly one way to show appreciation to your staff, a sincere “thank you” goes a very long way. Letting your staff know how much you appreciate their efforts will increase their loyalty and productivity and ultimately your long term success. Besides, saying “thank you” for a job well done is just the right thing to do.
I have to give credit to my partner, Jim Karen, for recommending the subject of this article. Jim said, “Instead of writing about lawyers, why don’t you write something about how important our staff is? Without them we couldn’t do our jobs.” Well, Jim is right. Without the support of our amazing staff members, we could not practice the superior level of law that is practiced by Dallas lawyers. So thank you Jim and thank you to all of the great support staff in all of the law firms in Dallas. Of course I would be remiss if I did not also say “thank you” to the incredible staff of the Dallas Bar Association, and especially the Executive Director, Cathy Maher, all of whom do so much to support the legal profession in Dallas.
Finally, do not forget to say “THANK YOU” to each of your staff members on April 24, National Staff Appreciation Day, and every day throughout the year.