‘If You Become His Second Wife, You are a Fool’: Shifting Paradigms of the Roles, Perceptions, and Working Conditions of Legal Secretaries in Large Law Firms
Illinois Institute of Technology - Chicago-Kent College of Law
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Forthcoming
The academic literature which addresses the creation and transformation of large law firms seldom mentions the presence of legal secretaries. Likewise works which discuss women attorneys and even issues of gender in such firms also neglect women secretaries to the point that one might conclude that female lawyers are the only women at large law firms. Such absence of legal secretaries, the vast majority who are women, reproduces law firm hierarchies in which attorneys are deemed to matter and to be of importance in understanding the legal profession and law firm dynamics while secretaries remain invisible. Given the lack of secondary literature on legal secretaries in large law firms, much of this article is based upon legal secretaries’ responses to a nation-wide survey which I conducted in 2009. Using such data, along with other primary sources, the article examines how legal secretaries’ roles and work have changed during the past fifty years, why women decide to become legal secretaries, their level of satisfaction, the work/ family conflicts they experience, how the recent financial crisis has affected them, and the complicated relationships that they have with attorneys, especially women attorneys. Moreover, the most significant scholarship on secretaries has depicted the secretary/boss relationship as one of a personal and domestic nature – what we might call the “second-wife” or “office wife syndrome.” Yet what does this mean in a culture in which the very meaning of “wife” is changing and unstable and where legal secretaries now work for a multiple attorneys, including women lawyers.
Date posted: April 6, 2010
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