Whether you want to accelerate your career growth, grow your practice, improve client service or simply get more accomplished with less stress, your assistant or secretary can be the critical partner you need to achieve your goals.

Do You Need a New Assistant – or a New Approach?

If you are like many lawyers, you may not have a productive relationship with your assistant or you may not be capitalizing on his or her abilities. What that means is that you are doing things you don’t have to be doing, using your time inefficiently, missing opportunities to shine and stressing yourself out in the process. Is it possible that you have the wrong assistant for your needs? Sure, but it’s equally likely that you are taking the wrong approach and, therefore, getting unfavorable results.

3 Questions to Ask Your Assistant

If you are accustomed to simply giving orders and expecting mechanical and unquestioning compliance, you may be missing an opportunity to have an assistant who takes more off your plate than you could ever imagine. Your assistant likely has untapped talents and ideas you don’t even know about. Why? Because you have never asked.

The following three lines of inquiry have the potential to turn a lackluster relationship with your assistant into a mutually beneficial partnership that will get you both what you really want. In other words, a win-win:

Ask What Her Goals Are. Have you ever taken the time to learn about what your assistant wants? Do you have any idea what her professional goals are? It may be that she is happy simply coming to work every day, following directions and delivering great work product. Or, it could be that she is interested in learning more about your practice, improving her skills and knowledge and taking on greater responsibility. Having that information will allow you to determine which tasks you can count on her to do well and how her contributions can benefit you and your firm.

Sample Questions: If you were doing exactly what you want to do in your current position, what would that be? In other words, if this were the ideal job for you, what would that look like? Do you see yourself in this same position three years from now, or is there something else you have in mind for the future?

Ask Him to Suggest Productivity or Process Improvements. While you are busily crafting briefs, drafting agreements, fielding conference calls and trying to bring in clients, your assistant is observing the inner workings of your practice. He may know whether your office technology needs an upgrade, another employee is causing trouble or a particular associate or client needs a bit more attention. Make it clear to your assistant that you value his opinion and that his voice matters.

Sample Questions: What changes do you think we could make around here that would improve the way the office runs? Employee morale? Client service? If you ever have suggestions for things we could be doing better, I’m interested in hearing them.

Ask What She Needs or Wants From You or the Firm. In order for your assistant to excel in her position, she needs the proper information, tools and support. While you may be assuming you have provided what she needs to do her job properly, you will never know for certain unless you ask.

Sample Questions: What tools, information, training or other support do you need or want to help you work more effectively or efficiently? Is there something the firm or I could be doing more or less of?

Treat Your Assistant as a Valued Team Member

Implement these tips to ensure the most valuable conversation with your assistant:

  • Make it clear that you are asking the questions for the purpose of improving your relationship, not just improving your assistant. Remember that this conversation is meant to benefit both of you so that in addition to you getting what you want, your assistant gets what he or she wants, as well.
  • Listen closely and, to the extent possible, act on your assistant’s ideas and requests. As executive assistant and author Kristina Schneider has said, “If you want to sort of listen to them and give them a sort of answer, then expect them to sort of meet your expectations.”

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