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People Management

Easy Ways to Make Your Assistant Happy

By Lee Rosen

Longtime Attorney at Work friend Lee Rosen, a globetrotting lawyer, remote-work guru and founder of the Rosen Institute, has graciously allowed us to share this fabulous list from his Friday File email newsletter. Slightly adapted for our readers, here are Lee’s easy-to-implement steps to make your assistant happy — and thereby have a long, productive relationship.

happy assistant

It’s shockingly ironic for me to give you advice on how to make an assistant happy. I’ve burned through some assistants — big time. I’ve left more than a few of these relationships smoldering like piles of scorched earth. I have not always been good to the people who work for me.

Irony aside, I’ve learned a few things from my misbehavior.

In-house or Virtual? Either Way, You Need to Get Along

One lesson I’ve learned is that I’m better off with a remote assistant instead of a live person sharing the same office space with me. My assistant is in South Africa, and we communicate mostly via email. That works for her, and we get along pretty well. You, on the other hand, can probably handle an assistant who lives on the same continent as you.

(Deciding whether you need someone in-house or if a virtual assistant is best is something only you can decide based on your practice needs, workstyle and various other factors unique to you and your firm.)

The Path to Assistant Nirvana

Here are 13 easy ways to make your assistant happy.

  1. Let your assistant pick a job title. Some folks want to be called administrative assistant, some like secretary, and some like paralegal or legal assistant. Who cares what the title is as long as the person helps you stay productive? Let your assistant decide what to be called will cost you nothing, and it will make them happy.
  2. Provide a business card. Have a business card made. Everyone likes having a card, and they’re inexpensive. Don’t make this person feel like a second-class citizen because others have a card and they don’t.
  3. Communicate daily. Set a time for a daily check-in and communicate about what you’re trying to accomplish that day. I’d suggest that you check in first thing in the morning; do it by phone if you’re going to be away from the office. Get a routine going and stick to it.
  4. Communicate weekly. Have a weekly meeting lasting for 30 to 60 minutes. Create a format and use it consistently. Attempt to hold the meeting at the same time each week. Use the meeting to discuss larger issues, focusing on your assistant’s long-term goals and how the current work fits into those goals. Gain familiarity with your assistant’s larger objectives and use these meetings to advance their cause. Be willing to listen to problems and concerns arising in the workplace or at home.
  5. Provide clear instructions on how to communicate with you. Set out the rules for how to reach you when issues arise. Don’t allow your assistant to feel awkward about interrupting you or calling you at odd times. Be very specific about what’s OK and what isn’t. There are rules for when the valet can shake the president awake in an emergency. You should have similar rules for yourself and your assistant. It prevents discomfort and makes everyone feel more at ease.
  6. Prioritize your assistant’s communications. When your assistant messages or calls, make it your top priority. The free flow of information between you is critical to an effective relationship, and it makes them feel respected and valued when you respond immediately.
  7. Be polite and courteous. This should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. Say “good morning” and “good night.” Make eye contact. Introduce your assistant to visitors and guests. Treat your assistant the way you would want to be treated. Be respectful. Why do I have to point this out? You know why.
  8. Be aware of family issues. Know the family situation and ask about it. Kid is sick: “How’s Emily feeling?” Husband is out of work: “How’s Bob’s job hunt coming?” Know enough about what’s going on that you can check in and express concern.
  9. Don’t wait for the raise ask. Go ahead and offer a salary increase before your assistant asks for it. Get ahead of the curve and do what you were going to do anyway, but do it before your assistant feels forced to take action.
  10. Buy a gift. You should know enough about your assistant to know what he or she likes as a gift. She collects porcelain pigs? Buy one when you’re in the gift shop on vacation. Buy the flowers on assistant’s day. Take him to lunch. Bring her a cup of Starbucks. Just do it.
  11. Ask for input. You’ve got an argument to make in court tomorrow. You’re outlining the key points. Ask your assistant to talk it through with you. You’ll get valuable advice, and you’ll demonstrate respect for your assistant’s opinion.
  12. Provide feedback. Tell your assistant when things go right. Do the same when things go wrong. They’ll appreciate the feedback each time. People can only improve if they know what’s working and what’s not. The worst feeling is doing your work and having no idea whether it’s making any difference. Feedback doesn’t need to be formal or elaborate. Just a few words can give your assistant the guidance needed to keep heading in the right direction.

Do All You Can to Make Your Assistant Happy

The above is more a “do it all” list than a “pick and choose” set of your preferred steps. 

You’re probably already doing many of these things. I’d suggest you add the rest — immediately. You’ll make your assistant happy, and you’ll be happier for the effort. Hopefully, you’ll do these things, and you and your assistant can have a long and productive relationship. That’s something I can only imagine, but I still dream.

Interested in Lee’s Friday File newsletter? Every Friday morning, join 11,000-plus lawyers in finding actionable approaches for your law practice. Sign up here.

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Lee Rosen Lee Rosen

Lee Rosen is a globetrotting lawyer and remote-work guru, director of the Rosen Institute, a community of lawyers learning to grow their practices, and author of the popular Friday File newsletter. Lee is a recipient of the ABA James Keane Award for excellence in eLawyering. Follow him on LinkedIn and on Twitter @LeeRosen.

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