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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Working for Jekyll and Hyde

Dear Sue: I am a legal assistant with over 20 years experience. I met the lawyer I am working for shortly after he started his own solo practice, and I was happy to take on the challenge of helping him build it.

His mother died just one week after I started working for him, and he had to leave the office for two weeks. While he was gone I did everything I could to get him settled. I set up the computers and a filing system, implemented a billing system, bought office supplies, put together bookcases and other pieces of furniture, answered phones, set up appointments and just about anything else I could to keep the practice running. When he came back two weeks later, he was very grateful for all I had done.

We worked well together; he seemed to trust me, gave me bonuses every other month and treated me to lunch frequently because I never took time out to eat. We had a great relationship based on trust and mutual respect until his wife, who also is a lawyer, began interfering by calling him numerous times each day and stopping by unannounced. He became ornery every time he talked with her, and would be in a terrible mood for the rest of the day.

When I went on a vacation last summer, his wife came into the office to help him out. I suspect she became upset after seeing the bookkeeping records of the bonuses and raises he has given me, because when I returned he was a different person. He would be fine when clients were around, but hostile toward me when we were alone. He stopped saying please and thank you, and no longer comments on my performance. He used to compensate me after winning a case, but hasnít given me a dime since I returned from my vacation. I believe his wife is threatened by me because I have helped her husband win cases.

The times my boss and I planned to come in on the weekend to prepare a case for court or for mediation, he didnít show, so I stayed there and completed the work without any supervision or help on his part. He would always apologize the following Monday saying that his wife wanted him at home.

After moving into plush new offices, he has informed me that he is cutting my pay in half because he is having financial difficulty, which I find hard to believe. I am sure his wife wants me out, so he is trying to force me to quit. The environment he has created since summer has been awful and I think he is trying to create problems to make me look bad. I know he has been saying derogatory things to the clients because of the way they are treating me now. Any advice you could help me with is appreciated.

Ė Working for Jekyll and Hyde

Sue Says: It sounds like you are in a tough position, and there may not be much you can do if your suspicions are correct. If the lawyer you are working for is forced to choose between his wife and you, I am afraid you donít have much of a chance. There are several issues you are dealing with, and most of them are out of your control.

You obviously feel a strong sense of ownership, and have in many ways acted as though it was your own practice. You said that the trouble began when your bossís wife started interfering by calling and stopping by, which concerns me. Perhaps your sense of ownership became overbearing for your boss and his wife. Although you feel his wife is threatened by you, apparently you were threatened by her as well. I understand your intentions were good and that you were trying to help get the practice running, but perhaps the lawyer and his wife would have preferred to set up the office and files themselves, even if it meant delaying it a couple of weeks.

I sense that your Ďtake chargeí manner may have been too much for both the lawyer and his wife.

It is also possible that his needs have changed. Now that he is established, he may want to do things on his own in his own way, and may feel constraints working with you.

It is unclear whether you have ever addressed any of your concerns with your boss; he may not be responsive, but you might consider trying to find out why things have changed so drastically. Hopefully you will gain an understanding of what went wrong and protect yourself from falling into a similar predicament in the future. If you havenít already, start looking for another job Ė there is no reason for you to continue to work in an environment as awful as the one you are in.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at asksue@suemorem.com or visit her web site at http://www.suemorem.com

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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