Jordana Lewis

Laina: A Legal Secretary’s View of Women in Law

Only the truly fussy would dare complain about my office. Not the law firm, not the partners, not the other summers, but the office itself. My 15th floor window overlooks miles of Southern California sprawl (and one particularly tempting turquoise swimming pool), the leather chair swivels, the ergonometric keyboard supports my wrists, the speakers pump my iTunes, and the air conditioning is perfectly calibrated to combat the afternoon sunshine. But I have no privacy. If I sit at my computer with the door open, and if my assistant Laina sits at her computer in her cubicle, her line of site focuses directly on me. And so she stares at me. All day long. Turns out, things could be worse. Laina’s awesome. She’s been a legal secretary for nearly 20 years. She’s the office guru for electronic filings, overnight curriers, and cherry-topped cheesecake. But it’s not all fun and filings; Laina gets frustrated with her boss and usually quits at least once a year. That she’s made it through July without a major blow-up apparently bodes well for 2006. But in the past they’ve always managed to diffuse any bad blood and, hell, they’ve been together for 17 years already. If she wanted to work for someone new, she would have jumped ship in the early 1990s. But she wouldn’t have dared: there was a chance she would be assigned to a female partner. And, according to Laina, even Pete’s growling and snarling was better than that. Because female partners in the 1990s—and a little bit earlier, and a little bit later—were on a mission. With padded shoulders, coiffed hair, and ruby red lips, they went to work not only to get the job done but to let everyone know they had gotten the job done. They had a lot to prove. They had a lot of ground to cover. They had a lot of challenges to conquer and a lot of skepticism to quash. And they might not have been the easiest to work for. Especially if you were a constant reminder of where and what society thought should make you fulfilled and happy. The conflict between female lawyers and female legal secretaries, then, is an interesting one. On the one hand, a group of women worked hard each day to prove to the world they were capable of more than just secretarial work. On the other, a group of women kept the legal profession running—and the honchos running it sane. And at the time, evidently, there was nothing worse than forcing the two groups to work together. Much has changed since then, overwhelmingly for the better. Laina now supports a number of female lawyers—and they certainly get along better than she does with her 17-year boss. They respect each other, they appreciate each other, and they work amazingly well together. And that’s a good thing because although my law firm’s ratio of male to female partners remains pathetic, the composition of my law school class—and of college classes throughout the nation—assures me that it’s only a matter of time for that to finally change. And when it does, Laina’s ready and more than willing to work with them. Jordana Lewis Class of 2007 UCLA School of Law

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