Of all the people who provide the glue that stick a good law firm together who is the most important? The managing partner? Nah, too ambitious and focused on the bottom line.
The ‘staff partner’? Too focused on people problems.
The Chief Executive, should the firm have such a being? Far too concerned about fee structures and trimming the partner ranks.
No, the one you’re all missing is the tea lady. And yet, the law firm tea lady – like tea ladies everywhere – are a threatened species. Climate change has nothing on the demise of such people, yet they have an overriding effect upon how an organisation functions.
For Sydney law firm Spruson and Ferguson, their tea lady is now retiring after 12 years’ solid service and – of course – she will not be replaced.
Robyn Tuckwell has the morning and afternoon tea orders for about 180 people memorised, down to the last detail.
“Well, it’s nice to have someone know what you drink, that cares how you like it and, I don’t know, and a bit of banter with it,” she said.
Ms Tuckwell knows more about the people drinking her tea than just their orders.
“They’ve always got something to tell you; whether it be, ‘don’t tell anyone else, this is a secret’, or keeping up with the news. And I’d say, ‘oh, I hadn’t heard that’,” she said.
After Ms Tuckwell decided to retire, the firm chose not to replace her.
“It’s not a financial saving; it’s just … this is the modern way of life,” David Griffith, chief executive of the firm’s parent company IPH Limited, said.
“Robyn is the one commonality between all of us, I guess, who touches everybody twice a day.”
One principal at the firm, Greg Turner, believes Robyn Tuckwell may well be the last office tea lady.
“We work with a lot of big companies around Sydney, Australia, internationally. Most of my big clients are northern hemisphere — New York, Chicago, Munich, London. And I visit these firms and I know not one has a tea lady,” Mr Turner said.
“And I’m sure we’re the last, which is very sad. So from my view it’s a real passing of an era.”
Mr Turner would prefer the company employed a new tea lady, rather than abolishing the position.
“But the other principals are a lot younger than me; [in] their 30s and 40s and I’m in my mid-60s. And they’re thinking, ‘no, we don’t need a tea lady’,” he said.
“It’s just, times are different.”
Ms Tuckwell plans to use the time gardening and caring for her six cats.
“I’m looking forward to a new challenge, but I know further down the track I’ll miss the comradeship,” she said.
Source: ABC News