Sandra Moss Mallory is the Executive Director of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP. Sandra began her career at SGR in the mid-1960s, rising through the ranks from a firm secretary to become the longest-serving law firm administrator in the City of Atlanta. As she approaches her well-deserved retirement at the end of this year, Sandra reminisces about her experiences at SGR and shares some of the secrets of her success.
So, remind me, Sandra, how long you have been at SGR.
I have been here 50 years. I started on April 16, 1965, as a secretary. I interviewed in white gloves and a suit. There were 23 attorneys at the firm then. After my daughter was born, I came back part-time, a couple of days a week. I had the first job share in the entire City of Atlanta. One of the other secretaries adopted a child the same year my daughter was born. So, we did the same job–I would keep her son and she’d keep my daughter when we worked and we’d trade off. The lawyer we worked for called us his “assistant secretaries.” It was just the funniest thing.
And how did you transition out of the secretarial realm into administration?
My first foray into administration was with the first firm administrator. He had me help him do just about everything that he did. He had a plan to use me and take credit for it. I had a plan to let him use me so I could learn, and it just worked out famously for both of us. So, when he finally left in the late 1970s, I became the Office Manager. I learned about purchasing. I learned about supplies. I learned about negotiating deals. I learned about buying the equipment that we need, the copy machines, the mail machines, all the things that go with that. Then we needed an HR person, so I did that, too. In 1984, I became the Administrator of the firm.
Can you give me an idea of what your responsibilities are as Executive Director?
Well, I can just say “Yes” and that would just about cover it.
What part of your job do you like the best?
I’m a people person. It doesn’t matter what brand of person it is–whether it’s a partner, associate, secretary, mail clerk, doesn’t matter. They’re people and that’s the part I like the best.
What has been most challenging about your career in a law firm?
The most challenging thing was when my kids were little. I didn’t necessarily have to work then, but I liked to work. And I didn’t want my children to lose out because their mother was working. So, I would pack my bag at 5:00 p.m. on the stroke and I’d head out. I coached cheerleading, softball, and did all that stuff. I was on the boards of two PTA’s in two different schools in the same year. Then, when my kids went to bed, I’d get my briefcase out and take care of business. That was the tough part, but I did it.
How have you been able to succeed in a professional environment traditionally dominated by men?
Years ago, Alex Smith asked me, “What do you think is the single most important thing somebody who has your job needs?” And as I told him, I think it’s very helpful that I have children. Because you don’t show any partiality between anybody. You mediate. You stop the crisis. You spank behinds when necessary, but you don’t hold a grudge.
What is the biggest change that you’ve seen in the way law firms are run in the time that you’ve been at SGR?
Law firms used to be run by the attorneys who were the biggest producers of business. It was run like a good ol’ boy network. Today, it has to be operated as a business. Clients are a bit more fickle, if you will excuse that term. They have different parameters that they feel their lawyers need to follow. You can’t overextend. You’ve got to be careful about hiring. You don’t want to grow too quickly. When you build out new office space there’s a method to that, too. You look at a lot more things now than ever before.
And, what do you plan to do in your well-deserved retirement?
Oh, my goodness! All I can tell you is that I will do whatever I decide I need to do that day. I’ve learned a lot of things in my life. Being at SGR is one of the highlights. I learned to fly years ago — whoever would have thought a grandmother’s going to be flying an airplane? But I just thought that would be a neat thing for me to do, and so I did it! I went swimming with the dolphins. That was a wonderful thing. I’ve had some great experiences and I’m going to find the next one.