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msk2012

Taking your assistant with you to a new firm

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I'm a relatively junior call with a very productive relationship with my assistant. I'm slated to begin a new role in October for which I have the budget to bring on board an assistant of my choosing. My assistant has very strongly implied that she would like this but I'm worried it may damage my otherwise healthy relationship with the principals at the firm I am currently at (she has worked here for over ten years and is practically indispensable).

Is this something that people do or am I just asking for trouble?

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Presumably your assistant is a human being and therefore has the capacity to choose her fate. If the assistant wants to leave, and the principals become angry at you, doesn't that strike you as childish? Do you want to cater to that kind of goofiness? These firms always talk about how it is a business, I say view this issue in that light. I'd take an indispensable legal assistant over a reference any day of the week. The assistant has a concrete value that you will benefit from every day of your working life. A soured boss may bad mouth you, but I'd prefer that problem than sifting through the muck of candidates for hire (there is a lot of muck out there).

Edited by BlueLotus
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1 minute ago, BlueLotus said:

Presumably your assistant is a human being and therefore has the capacity to choose her fate. If the assistant wants to leave, and the principals become angry at you, doesn't that strike you as childish? Do you want to cater to that kind of goofiness? These firms always talk about how it is a business, I say view this issue in that light. I'd take an indispensable legal assistant over a reference any day of the week. The assistant has a concrete value that you will benefit from every day of your working life. A soured boss may bad mouth you, but I'd prefer that problem then sifting through the muck of candidates for hire (there is a lot of muck out there).

No, I disagree. That's not childish or goofy, but rather a practical reality. OP's principals could be very competent and professional lawyers who would nonetheless be irked by bringing OP in, teaching them, and ultimately losing their assistant to them. I say do not view this issue in that light. The principals may be worthwhile connections that mean more than a "just a reference", and who aren't worth losing over an assistant (despite her productiveness).

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13 minutes ago, Trew said:

No, I disagree. That's not childish or goofy, but rather a practical reality. OP's principals could be very competent and professional lawyers who would nonetheless be irked by bringing OP in, teaching them, and ultimately losing their assistant to them. I say do not view this issue in that light. The principals may be worthwhile connections that mean more than a "just a reference", and who aren't worth losing over an assistant (despite her productiveness).

I think you are significantly undervaluing the difference a good assistant makes. And also neglecting the fact that the assistant is an adult, who is not indentured, who wants to leave. Being irritated with the situation is different than taking it out on the OP by withholding a reference or holding a grudge into the future. That shit is petty. Though maybe you are right this is a normal response for people in this field...

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51 minutes ago, Hegdis said:

Is this new role within the firm?

This would be a new role at a different firm (essentially a competitor).

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If she's so indispensable then maybe they should be paying her more so that she actually wants to work there.

 

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There are lots of good assistants on the market. Connections with senior lawyers are way more important to business development. I wouldn’t burn bridges to avoid the hassle of interviewing new assistants.

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8 minutes ago, utmguy said:

If she's so indispensable then maybe they should be paying her more so that she actually wants to work there.

Possibly. Without going into too much detail, there are also other interpersonal factors at play (nothing salacious, just a preference to not be routinely yelled at). I can empathize with this desire and find myself hard pressed to not bring her along.

Edited by msk2012

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1 hour ago, BlueLotus said:

I think you are significantly undervaluing the difference a good assistant makes. And also neglecting the fact that the assistant is an adult, who is not indentured, who wants to leave. Being irritated with the situation is different than taking it out on the OP by withholding a reference or holding a grudge into the future. That shit is petty. Though maybe you are right this is a normal response for people in this field...

I'm not neglecting that the assistant is a person who can make her own employment decisions, but rather looking at it from OP's perspective and whether the assistant or relationships are more valuable 

Edited by Trew

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If you have a good working relationship and she is nearly indispensable, don't roll the dice with a new hire. Take her to the new gig if she's onboard. 

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Your assistant has a mind of her own. 

Tell her that there will be an opening for a new assistant at your new gig working with you and that, if she chooses, she is welcome to apply. 

If she is as great as you say she is then she shouldn't have difficulty landing that job for herself - unless of course you stand in the way because of reasons entirely unrelated to her lack of competency. 

If she actually wants to move, don't let how good she is be a factor that works against her in making that choice.

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Is she your assistant or does she work with multiple lawyers? How long have you been working with her?

I practice in a smaller town. Assistants jump ship all the time. Some firms, further, have higher turn over rates. Many assistants will stand by a lawyer that treats them with dignity. You'd be surprised at how shitty lawyers (and clients) can be with the support staff. Last summer, an assistant at another firm burst into ugly laughter because I asked her how her day was before talking shop. Apparently I was the first person that day (this was late afternoon) who asked. Anecdotally, she left with her lawyer when she moved to a new firm.

Take her if this opportunity is a permanent gig. If there is uncertainty about her future at the new place (it's temporary, contingent on your performance, etc.) let her know the risks and allow her the opportunity to make her own choice.

Ultimately, I recognize the optics of "poaching" an assistant. Assistants are people with their own autonomy. She can make her own mind. Most in the legal community will understand that which will not tarnish your reputation.

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If the assistant also works for a partner, and because you’re a relatively new call, I can see how this would absolutely piss off partners at the firm.

Theres a difference between you working with the assistant and the assistant being “yours”.

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I haven't got anything terribly useful to add, in terms of advice. But anyone who is treating this like a simple and obvious question, or either side of the discussion, just isn't paying attention. 

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Yep - not going to say do it or not do it.

Just if you do do it (ha -do do) - know you have burnt a bridge childish or not, the old firm is not going to appreciate it.

That may or may not affect you, but don't pretend that it isn't the case and weigh the alternatives.

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Stick it to the man. I say on your last day, after you pack up your cardboard box of things and on your way out of your office, you just grab her by the collar and drop her right down in that box, next to your stapler. 

Seriously though - impossible to advise without your lived knowledge of the actual human people involved here, and a multitude of other factors. There's downside risk (angry partners badmouth you in town forever and sandbag your career) and upside risk (she's happier, you're happy, the old firm isn't that perturbed, your new job goes swimmingly thanks to your trusty sidekick). Remember, however, that people tend to have a cognitive bias towards inaction or risk aversion when faced with difficult decisions or decisions where the odds are close to even. If you think that all things considered asking her to come with you (however that works) is probably the right thing to do, don't let the weight of the downside risk completely overshadow the upside.  

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On 9/5/2019 at 9:08 AM, TheScientist101 said:

Your assistant has a mind of her own. 

Tell her that there will be an opening for a new assistant at your new gig working with you and that, if she chooses, she is welcome to apply. 

If she is as great as you say she is then she shouldn't have difficulty landing that job for herself - unless of course you stand in the way because of reasons entirely unrelated to her lack of competency. 

If she actually wants to move, don't let how good she is be a factor that works against her in making that choice.

I have mixed feelings about your post, because it seems OP is in a position to hire whomever they want, and your advice is they tell the assistant they're welcome to apply for a job at the new firm. Yeah, well, everyone legally able to work in Canada is welcome to apply for a job at the new firm. I totally agree up to the person, but if they're that good, "you're welcome to apply" doesn't really cut it.

On 9/5/2019 at 9:23 AM, artsydork said:

Is she your assistant or does she work with multiple lawyers? How long have you been working with her?

I practice in a smaller town. Assistants jump ship all the time. Some firms, further, have higher turn over rates. Many assistants will stand by a lawyer that treats them with dignity. You'd be surprised at how shitty lawyers (and clients) can be with the support staff. Last summer, an assistant at another firm burst into ugly laughter because I asked her how her day was before talking shop. Apparently I was the first person that day (this was late afternoon) who asked. Anecdotally, she left with her lawyer when she moved to a new firm.

Take her if this opportunity is a permanent gig. If there is uncertainty about her future at the new place (it's temporary, contingent on your performance, etc.) let her know the risks and allow her the opportunity to make her own choice.

Ultimately, I recognize the optics of "poaching" an assistant. Assistants are people with their own autonomy. She can make her own mind. Most in the legal community will understand that which will not tarnish your reputation.

I liked your response the best, recognizing the assistant as a person and the risks of a new position.

I mean, change the situation posited by @msk2012 a bit (this is an alteration of the post):

"I'm a relatively junior partner with a very productive relationship with my associate. I'm slated to begin a new role in October for which I have the budget to bring on board an associate of my choosing. My associate has very strongly implied that she would like this but I'm worried it may damage my otherwise healthy relationship with the principals at the firm I am currently at (she has worked here for over two years and is practically indispensable).

Is this something that people do or am I just asking for trouble?" [italics used to indicate changes, bold emphasis added]

If it was another lawyer, people would be jumping over themselves to point out how lawyers are free to leave for other positions and the firm can't hang on to associates etc. But make it a non-lawyer assistant, and suddenly considering whether it's appropriate to offer a job to a great worker for fear of annoying their current employer?! That's like a cartel of law firms conspiring to keep wages low by refusing to hire people from other law firms without approval (I'm overstating the case a bit, I realize OP you didn't mean it like this, and as artsydork notes there are risks to the new position etc., but if you want to make an offer and have authority to do so, isn't it up to the assistant to decide, given the information and risk, what to do, not have you in essence decide for her?).

EDIT: I'm not in the law firm environment, so my opinion is in that sense uninformed. But it's still principled.

Edited by epeeist
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I actually don't think anyone would have a different view if it were an associate rather than an assistant. In fact, a lot of these same views and discussions arise when people talk about their own movement.

Quote

but if you want to make an offer and have authority to do so, isn't it up to the assistant to decide, given the information and risk, what to do, not have you in essence decide for her

No, you've missed the point entirely, because there are three branches: (i) their desire to make the offer, (ii) the authority to do so, and (iii) (side note: the entire purpose of this thread) concern over his relationship with his soon-to-be former firm. Just because the assistant might choose to leave doesn't mean the principals would not hold it against OP, which is exactly what OP is concerned about.

Edit: Also the cartel aside is just silly. People are concerned about poaching talent all the time in every single industry for fear of pissing off a key relationship, it's got nothing to do with the other legitimate criticisms of law firms.

Edited by Rashabon

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On 9/5/2019 at 1:08 AM, msk2012 said:

(nothing salacious, just a preference to not be routinely yelled at).

You buried the lede. 

 

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