Q&A with Rachel Therrien, Office Manager, Berman & Simmons
Rachel Therrien, the longtime office manager for Berman & Simmons, is retiring at the end of 2014. From building maintenance to equipment solutions and the hiring of new staffers, Rachel has been a problem solver since day one. And although her work is often done behind the scenes, it does not go unnoticed by her fellow employees. They will sorely miss Rachel, while at the same time wishing her the best in retirement.
How did your career at Berman & Simmons begin?
It was back in 1989 when I was hired as office manager. I had worked for a local concrete manufacturer for 2 years. It was a position I took in a hurry. It used everything I knew up to that point — human resources, benefit administration, safety, accounting, customer service. But I was looking for a new position in a different setting, and I heard about this position. My husband had Steve Silin as a lawyer. He called Steve and said I was interested, but we wanted to know if it was too late, because they had taken the advertisement down. They made an exception, and I think I was the last person to come in for an interview. I met with Gary Goldberg, Jeff Rosenblatt, and of course with John Sedgewick, who ultimately offered the position, and that was over 25 years ago.
What jobs had you done prior to your work with the firm?
My career started with Quoddy Mocassins, which was part of R.G. Barry Corp. I was there almost 10 years, starting in customer service, then into accounting. I found I had an aptitude for numbers, and I became an accounting supervisor, staff accountant, dabbled with some personnel things. Then they moved their offices to Boston, and I didn’t want to move at the time.
I took a position with Allied Container, the corrugated box plant in Auburn, that became Union Camp, and now International Paper. That position was kind of a dual role of staff accountant and personnel manager, and there were 150 people there. I married the manufacturing manager, and at the end I felt it was in the best interest of my marriage and company relations if we parted ways. My husband stayed on, he just retired from there. That is when I went on to Superior Concrete and then came here to Berman & Simmons.
What range of skills did you need as the office manager for the firm?
I needed to be a jack of all trades, to know a little bit about everything. There was one significant surprise right in the beginning. They didn’t tell me I also had responsibility for this building, which obviously I found out rather quickly. It is a big building. Inside, outside, doors, windows, heating systems, AC, renovation work. I had no facilities management experience whatsoever.
It was such a diversified position, and I loved it. When I first came here, downtown Lewiston was all retail, so reception for the firm was on the second floor. They had just purchased the Supovitz building and it was bare, there was nothing in here. There used to be a mens’ clothing store on the ground floor, I think there was a hairdresser on the second floor. It had been vacated for quite some time. We broke through the walls, I worked with contractors, and through that process I discovered that I really enjoyed designing workspaces.
What are some of the biggest changes that have taken place in the office since you started here?
Technology is really the biggest. When I started, they had just purchased their first mainframe computer. Otherwise, typewriters were a mainstay. Secretaries still knew how to take dictation. We had a mainframe and dumb terminals in all the secretary stations. Superview was the word processing software of the day and Caseload was the new billing and financial software they were using, so I had to become familiar with that. This was when car phones needed to be hardwired into cars. Staying on top of the hardware and software has been a challenge.
What accomplishments are you proud of?
I’ve been fortunate to be part of a great team, with talented co-workers who all contribute to the firm’s success. If I were to put everything into a neat package, I would say I help people and I fix problems. Sometimes people just need reassurances, but there is a lot that needs fixing, whether it is machinery, equipment, or a schedule. That is pretty much what administration does. We support the attorneys and their staff in what they do best. We try to make sure the doors open, the lights turn on, all the equipment is working as it should, and the right people are in the right jobs doing the right kind of work.
There have been so many projects here. The biggest one, that I remember working the longest and the hardest on, was probably the ProLaw conversion. In 2005 we went from a product called Winvantage to ProLaw, and that was a brute. ProLaw is our case management system, it combined our word processing functions with client and matter information, kept it all together in one place. The rest are projects that you always feel good about, checking things off when they have gone well, whether it is renovations or a new website, photo sessions, videos.
What are some of the rewarding aspects of your work here?
In the administration, we do a lot of work behind the scenes as it pertains to clients. The lawyers of Berman & Simmons represent injured people, and we don’t usually get to deal one on one with those people. We see the amount of money that is being spent on these cases, we hear about the cases in our day-to-day activities. So for me, signing that final check to the client is pretty rewarding. This is especially true when it has been a long case, and I know how severely the client has been injured. I always get moved by the thank you cards and letters we receive from clients. We hear about how the attorneys change the law for the better, but they also change people’s lives.
Working for this firm has been rewarding financially in many ways. They are very generous. But who would not be proud to work for such caliber of attorneys and staff and dedicated people? It’s also rewarding to still have some people here who I hired, and to see them grow in their positions and do well. It’s all about the people, and I’m going to miss them.
Have there been any zany or colorful characters who have worked with you over the years?
There is one who comes to mind. I won’t mention his name but I’m sure if people read this they are going to know who it is. It is an attorney who would walk in the office in his bare stockings, much to the chagrin of me and the safety committee. He would banter endlessly against anything and all things Bush related, and he would always have political cartoons pasted on his office door. What was most endearing, he was probably the best listener we had here, and because of that he was a champion of the staff. Yes, he was a character in many ways, but he was also a great guy.