Don’t Make Friends with the Secretaries: Things my Partner Taught Me

It’s in my nature to be nice to everyone. I am open and smiley and chatty. You’re walking out to lunch, I’m walking out to lunch? Let’s have lunch together! That was then. Now, I practice law. That part about walking out to lunch? That was a joke. I rarely leave the office during the day.

I don’t always eat lunch, but when I do, I eat it alone in my office with the door only partially closed to avoid seeming unfriendly and standoffish. Weird, right? My firm provides a lunchroom. We have a microwave, refrigerator, Keurig, all pretty good stuff and someone keeps it clean. So why don’t I take a break from my office and settle down in the lunchroom for conversation and hummus, even only for a few minutes? Well because – and this is where the weirdness comes in – my immediate supervising partner told me on my second day at the venerable Neptune & Uranus that I should be careful who I associate myself with. That’s exactly what he said: be careful who you associate yourself with. Styled in that wise-older-man way of giving a young, naïve woman a guiding hand through the wilderness. So what vile, contagious creatures make use of the lunchroom? Not the drooling monsters and vermin you are likely imagining. No: it’s the secretaries.

Our secretaries are a mix of young women, some with small children, all with polyester clothes and cute hair, and older, large women who hate everything they see. They whine a lot, but most of them know their jobs and can format docs like they were born to it. In the outside world, I would easily make friends with any one of them, bonding over some shitty thing a husband or boyfriend did (because I have my own stories), or maybe they could give me a recipe for cheese dip (is that a thing?) But here on Neptune, and in its mirror-image firms that are scattered over this city like pesticide, ridding it of societal ills with furiously filed motions and briefs, hierarchy prevents me from offering them more than instructions for filing my work or a brief inquiry about their weekend.

There are a number of legitimate reasons for not getting too close to the secretaries. First, their lives tend to be filled with drama, whereas mine must be filled with work, so I can’t afford to get too sucked into their latest situation. Second, I am, by necessity, my secretary’s boss. If I become her friend too, that dynamic changes. It’s hard to make a friend do something, and even harder to reprimand said friend when she does something wrong. Third, information is valuable and secretaries love to gossip; they score points with other secretaries and with their bosses by being repositories and subsequent spewers of interesting tidbits. I don’t want my confidentially aired dirty laundry to be the bargaining-chip equivalent of a jailhouse cigarette. If I turn a heated moment into an opportunity to complain to my secretary about a partner or another associate, my comment will inevitably get back to that lawyer. Maybe not directly from my secretary, but certainly through one of her fellow secretaries.

I get all of this, but it frustrates me and makes me feel like a first-place douchebag. I want to be friendly, I want to go to happy hours with them and eat lunch with them and get those recipes that I know they have. But first and foremost I have to “conduct [my]self in a manner befitting the Bar of This Great State.” Ok so nobody actually said that exact thing. But that’s the underlying theme: you’re a lawyer, so you’re above them and must act accordingly. Gawd.

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