Advice column: our new admin person is pushing the boundaries

Dear Ash

Our new admin person is causing a real issue in our department. She was brought in on a temporary basis to help with workloads, for us to delegate tasks such as filing and straightforward letter writing. She has no legal background but over the weeks her confidence has effectively turned into arrogance.

I feel she is crossing the line of acceptability in her attempts to impress our manager and secure a permanent place in the department. For example, she has access to my emails on the basis that she might need to search for background information for letters I asked her to draft. However, she recently took it on herself to answer emails on my behalf, and when I challenged her, she claimed she was “just trying to be helpful”. She also recently questioned certain legal advice I had set out in a letter and suggested some changes. I am an experienced lawyer and don’t appreciate the meddling, but our manager is quite impressed with her “proactive stance” and has recently made a point of thanking her in our team meeting. I don’t want to seem like I am rocking the boat, but her attitude is really beginning to concern me.

Ash replies:

You are quite right in feeling uncomfortable about this person trying to push the boundaries. I have come across lay people who feel they are as good as a qualified lawyer, and although that may be justified in some aspects, the fact remains that lawyers are trained, and highly regulated, to do their job.

You need to take a stance now in order to minimise any potential damage by this person. First, I suggest that you restrict her from having access to your emails in order to avoid her potentially sending inappropriate or incorrect emails to third parties without your knowledge. You will need to consider how best to approach her to confirm this, as you do not want her running to the boss accusing you of not trusting her. You may want to say that it is easier if you print out relevant emails for her to type letters as you sometimes receive confidential mail, e.g. in relation to HR matters.

In terms of her suggestions about your legal advice, I suggest that you plainly say to her that although you appreciate her intentions, you need her to focus on getting documents presented correctly, rather than focus on the advice itself. You will need to do this in a sensitive but firm way in order to remind her of the limits of her role.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162 or by email: katiewood@lawscot.org.uk

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