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By: Anonymous Paralegal, USA

Today, we’re giving the TPS floor to an anonymous paralegal who wants to speak candidly about an important topic we’ve not seen covered elsewhere. Perhaps one you can relate to…working with “the boss’s wife,” or another family member or friend of your firm. It can certainly be a difficult situation to navigate and one that often requires all the grace, patience, and fortitude of a paralegal saint. So, sit back TPS members, sip that caffeinated beverage, and enjoy…

Do you work with your Esquire’s wife? I do. And it goes downhill from there. A little background about me…married, two kids (now 16 and 18), a dog, house, 2 cars – a typical suburbia with lots of soccer moms in our neighborhood.  I do not have a paralegal degree, nor do I have a certificate or any other “professional” designation. I do, however, have approximately 25 years of experience working in law firms. All of my previous experience was with firms that practiced Civil Litigation, Medical Malpractice, Catastrophic Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, Birth Trauma, and even Toxic Tort Defense. So, with that said, I believed my knowledge of “The Job” was fairly well rounded.

Then, in 1999, we moved here, to middle-class suburbia. I spent a number of years working in the Downtown area of Cincinnati.  But, after 1-2 hour drives (sometimes 3-3 ½ if there were Reds’ game), twice a day, five days a week, and paying almost $200.00 per month for parking, it was oh so very hard to get up in the morning and look forward to going to work.  I had been contemplating leaving that firm for only a little while. I had been with them since the inception of the firm, and it was almost as if I were leaving my child. However, I digress. 

One evening, while perusing our local newspaper, an employment ad literally jumped up and darn near smacked me in the face. It was close to home, a 15 minute drive – 20 tops, small town – perfect! I thought “what could it hurt to send a resume?” So I did . . . and this leads me to where I am today.

I remember when I interviewed with my Esquire six years ago. I was so excited to have that opportunity because, well, the firm was close to home in a very small historic town (think “Mayberry”). I remember quite clearly my interview six years ago. I felt that the interview went very well and hoped that I would be an ideal fit for the job. I did not however, have any experience in the 90% of law he practiced, but thought – I can learn, right? I can usually hit the ground running and learn along the way. One of his interview questions was this: “Would you have a problem working with my wife?” Thinking she was a fellow paralegal, legal assistant or secretary, I said “No, of course not.”  Now, in hindsight, I believe my answer has been much to my detriment. Needless to say, I was offered the job and accepted.  I was thrilled!

First day on the job, I discovered that said Boss’s Wife was not a paralegal, legal secretary, legal assistant – or anything else legal. She was the receptionist and prepared the firm’s billing – BY HAND – because she refused to learn how to use the billing program. She made it crystal clear that she was a Registered Nurse and she had absolutely NO intention of learning anything legal, in any capacity, whatsoever. She came in sometime around 9-ish and left precisely at Noon. I thought “Oh Boy – am I in for a ride.” I actually considered calling my old firm to BEG for my job back! But – I’m not a quitter. Then summer arrived…and was I relieved… she took the summer off! That was the best summer EVER! And then autumn rolled around and back she came – with a vengeance. 

I’m a people person; I very much enjoy the interaction I have with our clients, other paralegals, secretaries, the Court personnel, even the judges, magistrates and other lawyers. I really do love our county because it is small (again, think “Mayberry”). The Downside? Everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows what everybody else is doing – when they do it, how they do it and who they do it with. And the only reason I know the “Town Scoop” is because I work with the “Town Snoop” a/k/a My Boss’s Wife.

Now, mind you, I do like the woman and I adore my Esquire. He and I – we have that “ESP” thing going on. Someone once told me it was as if we were a married couple…much to my horror. I learned very quickly how to anticipate his moods, his needs – many times before he even realized it. “The Wife” absolutely hates this. However, bottom line is that we have all become very good friends and he refers to me as “one of the family” and introduces me as “My Della” (think Perry Mason). Now, my first thought was “Oh crap – he’s pulling the ‘Godfather’ on me!” I was waiting for my initiation into the Legal Mafia. You know – where you have to kneel, genuflect and kiss his ring, call him “Don” the whole she-bang. And, Lord knows I have been tested enough in these past six years to ace whatever initiation rituals the Legal Mafia may have. I believe now that my initiation ritual was actually the test of working with “The Wife”.

I am surviving…hanging by a thread still, but still hanging. “The Wife” is a Registered Nurse with a Bachelor’s Degree and finds it absolutely appalling for nurses NOT to have that degree (community college is a “cop-out” for losers.  MY son goes to a community college and he is NOT a loser!). She knows more about illness/sickness than any doctor, and is more than willing to tell you all about it, and has an opinion as to whether or not any case that comes in is “worth it” – even the divorces and criminal matters.

And THIS, my friends, is where my complete and utter dislike of this woman’s personality comes into play, followed by my nickname for her: “Nurse Ratchet”. She has absolutely zero compassion, zero tact, and zero tolerance for our clients. As I said earlier, for many years I worked in the areas of Medical Malpractice and Catastrophic Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Birth Trauma. So, it would only stand to reason that I would become familiar with medical terminology, prescription medications, procedures, protocols, etc. And she will be the first one to tell me that I am absolutely “wrong” about it all. Yet she refuses – strenuously – to any mention of becoming a Legal Nurse Consultant. We could really use another body to review the medical records, yet she refuses.  Mind you, the woman has not worked in a clinical setting or in a nursing capacity for the last 22 years. And I am thankful for that – truly. There would be so many unhappy patients!

Our firm handles mostly divorce, custody, juvenile, criminal and some (about 5% of our caseload) personal injury and medical malpractice. Now, “The Wife” does our billing – that’s all.  She works part time (usually between 9 and 9:30 – Noon). If she works a FULL day is 9 or 9:30 to Noon, then 1:30-2:00 until 3:30 or 4 – and boy is she whipped after such a hard day! Most of her day is spent talking on the phone with her mother, her daughter, her son or her brother – and loudly too. She has one of those voices that make you cringe.

She is also one of those people who, while talking on a cell phone, believes that you need to yell to be heard. Annoying?  Oh yeah. She will get a bill or two out the door during the day. On a particularly “heavy” day, she may get as many as five or six out! And then the clients call about their bill. It’s either wrong, they don’t have the money to pay it right away, or they want to make payment plans. Now, I understand that this is a business, and every good business must have policies in place in order to make money. However, “The Wife” is in charge of the billing, accounts receivable/payables, and fancies herself the Office Manager (because she orders office supplies). All billing calls are to go to her. And again, this is where the complete and utter dislike of “The Wife” enters. She treats clients less than stellar…and that’s putting it mildly. 

There is so much more I could say on this matter, but at the bottom of the barrel of monkeys – my question is this:  If “The Wife” is going to work here – should she not be treated like any other employee and be expected to follow the same rules and policies that others are expected to follow? All of which INCLUDE playing nice with others, treating the clients with respect, and having at least some modicum of compassion?  The answer is YES! It is.  Why the play nicely with others rule does not apply to family and friends is beyond my comprehension.

So, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, whether it’s the boss’s wife, mother, sister, brother, father or friend, I would recommend thinking the situation through as follows:

Should you stay or should you go? Is this something you are able to deal with in your working world?  Can you really, truly continue to work with this person day in and day out?  Really?

If yes – Godspeed, my friends.

If no – don’t walk…run! (Okay, look for a job first, but lace up your sneakers…)

Determine if there is any way to improve the situation. 

Perhaps a very well-crafted and delicate discussion with the boss would help, perhaps not. But be careful! 

You could possibly work to build a relationship with this lovely soul…or avoid him or her like the plague. 

Sometimes, the only way to improve the situation is to remove yourself from it if it’s something you simply cannot tolerate any longer.

Realize that this situation is a test of your paralegal sanity.  This is a test…I repeat…this is only a test. You get to choose if you are going to continue along with this “family” experiment or exit with grace.  The choice is yours – so don’t feel trapped or powerless.

Adhere to the creed “what doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger,” but you do need to be mindful that negative energy is like cancer – and it spreads. Be mindful of how much (if any) you allow this person’s negativity to creep into your realm of existence. You have a choice. Do not allow this person to steal your happiness…cling to it (your happiness) as tightly as you would clutch your handbag in a flea market.

Do not allow your negative experience with this person to change the essence of the person and paralegal you are. You are better than the situation you find yourself in. If the environment is starting to change your positive qualities and suck your paralegal soul, it’s time to get the heck out of there! Do not allow this person to change you for the worse.

Whatever it is you’re going through – I can relate. In my work world, I try very hard to apply my best “paralegal therapist” to placate “Nurse Cratchet,” but there is nothing I can say without getting a contrary answer ending with “am I right?” I nod, shake my head, smile, and do my best to tune her out.

On the advice of my Esquire, I follow HIS directions – not hers. So, therefore, at this point, I believe I am…a Survivor…and interestingly enough, now a part of the “legal mafia” because I’ve most assuredly passed the initiation phase for that, otherwise known as “The Boss’s Wife.”  I wish all of you out there dealing with the boss’s wife or some other less than stellar family member all the grace, patience and tolerance you will need, as well as an “express pass” to the paralegal high road…you’re going to need it!  And you are not alone.

Do you have a tip you’d like to share with our readers on how to deal with “The Wife” or another family member or friend of the firm? Have you been there, done that? (I’m guessing a lot of you have).  We could certainly use all the help we can get on this perplexing topic, so share away! 

Be sure to check back for the terrific posts we’ll be sharing from esteemed attorneys and other interesting folks in the near future! Happy Friday TPS readers! We’ll see you next time.