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Karen R. George, FRP

By: Karen George, FRP

I write today about what is often referred to as The Dark Clouds, The Dead Wood, The Escapists. I am writing about those people in the office who simply put, do as little as possible of the actual work that needs to be done. Now, we all have them, there is always that “someone” who just skims the day away – looking busy, but really isn’t.

While we toil away our days, as Jamie says – tackling the dragons on our desks, there are those who simply don’t tackle dragons or anything else for that matter.

This is not a Rant. This is a discussion about work ethic; some have it, others don’t and are oblivious to what it really is.

When you interview for a job you are usually a bit nervous, if not a lot nervous. You are anxious, you want to make a good impression and honestly, you want the job.  Everyone wants the best “deal” they can negotiate, but oftentimes, they compromise just to get the job. This compromise is part of the problem to be addressed below.

When an employer is advertising to fill a position, be it office services, receptionist, attorney or paralegal, it is because there is a need for that particular service. An employer is running a business. I don’t care if it is Apple, Microsoft or Rippem and Winnem, Attorneys At Law, they are businesses created to make money and the business requires workers to help it provide the service which is the business.  Business 101.

Creating the law office/firm, is not simple nor cheap; there are many expenses and plans that go into it. There are desks, phones, chairs, pens, paper, computers, fax machines, copiers, everything else that needs to be purchased/leased or rented. The law office/firm needs to be able to promote/advertise its product (yes, legal services is a product) to clients to gain business. This is all part of the expenses incurred by the “Partners” to create the place where the offers of jobs is made. Actually, this is the tip of the iceberg, but you get my point.

As we all know, a firm must have employees (some attorneys try it on their own, but that doesn’t last long, as no man or woman is an island and, in particular, within the practice of law). That’s where this story comes in – the employees.

The employees see this as a job where they come in, do their duties, get paid, get sick time, get vacation time, get benefits and leave promptly at the end of their day as designated by the law office/firm. The problem is, oftentimes, the employees forget the bigger picture. The employee wants to do as little as possible for the payment they receive. They often say this amongst themselves, but will not own up to it if confronted by an employer. This is not good work ethic.

Envision the law office/firm as a food chain; a food chain as you were taught in middle school Biology. You’ve got everything from the amoeba to the shark. Now we all know who the shark is in this story. The amoeba has its role in the chain as much as the shark – though a smaller role, but certainly an integral and important role, as well.  Leave out an essential strand or allow a weak part of the chain to remain and the chain is not as strong as it should be to support all of the links around it.

We have seen many firms, large and successful firms, go under during these past few years of difficult economic times. We have seen firms gobbled up by larger firms and people laid off.  What does this have to do with you – the support staff of a firm? A lot…and in some cases, not so much, but still – some.

We need to look at ourselves as part of the whole and not just a separate and distinct entity from the place in which we provide our service (i.e. work). I have always said, if I do my job well, to the best of my ability, put forth the extra effort, then the firm that pays my bills will do well. I am not implying I am the be all and end all to the success of my employer, but I am part of it. If the place of my employ does well, I will continue to get paid, have my benefits, holidays off, vacation time and sick days – my world will continue in the manner to which I have become accustomed.

That’s right, we are a business. We are not just employees. We in and of ourselves are a business. If you want your business to be successful, you have to continually work at making your client happy, insure that your customer (your employer/attorney/firm) is getting what it wants and needs from you.

Particularly, in today’s economy, there are many “businesses” out there ready to take over your customers! They are knocking down the doors, they are sending in their advertisements (resumes) “just in case” there is an opening. No one is guaranteed their customer (job) in today’s market. Does this mean you have to work scared that at any moment you could be replaced by a newer and better company (employee)?  Yes, and no. Yes, because there is no room for dead wood and no, because if you are giving your employer a fair service for what it is paying you, then you are probably going to keep your job.

What happens is, people become complacent, employers become more demanding, the employee feels he/she isn’t getting a fair shake for the job it is doing and things start to fall apart. After all you can’t just raise your prices. So, the employee starts backing off, not giving the full effort. The employee starts hedging on the standard work load it was hired and is being paid to perform. A weak link is created. This weakness may not be immediately noticed but, be assured, it starts to rear its ugly head bit-by-bit-by-bit. Sometimes an employer will call in the weak link and have a talk and try to work things out, a probationary period will be set. Other times the employer will recognize the weak link for what it is and eliminate it, the chain cannot sustain a weak link.

The moral of this long story is, when you are interviewing to really listen and pay attention to everything – don’t just see it as an interview for a job – see it as gaining a new client. Be sure you don’t sell your business short just to get the client – this is never a good deal for you or the client. Make the best deal you can for yourself because once you make the commitment, you have placed your reputation on the line. Your reputation as an employee. You always want to be known as a good employee, an employee who is a strong link in the chain that is your employer’s livelihood chain and for that matter, yours too.

As for those Dark Clouds, Dead Woods, The Escapists – always remember: waste floats to the top and is skimmed off. Once you make the commitment, you have placed your reputation on the line.

Do you have a Dark Cloud, Dead Wood a/k/a “The Escapist” in your office? If so – raise your hand loud and proud. (Sorry…we just wanted to see what it looked like for all of Paralegal Nation to simultaneously raise their hands up into the law firm air!! ha ha) You know it’s true.

Wishing you and yours a “Happy High Heel Friday” and truly terrific weekend! Be sure to check back next week for more fun and educational posts on the TPS floor. We can’t wait to share ’em.

Till then, bask in the glory of your weekend!