Receptionist Stays 50 Years at Law Firm

When Mary McBryde went to work at Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP, the 1957 Central High School crisis was still four years away.

McBryde was a divorced, working mother when most other moms were homemakers.

"It was the deck that I was handed," she said.

While McBryde answered the telephone, filed papers and carried out other receptionist duties, her parents took care of her two young sons. Mark McBryde is now manager of Stephens Inc.'s public finance department, and Mike McBryde is a senior vice president and trust manager at Metropolitan National Bank.

Nearing her 84th birthday, McBryde still works for the same company, now on the 23rd floor of the Bank of America building in downtown Little Rock. Wright Lindsey & Jennings is celebrating is 103rd anniversary this year, and one of its first clients was the Rock Island Railroad, which transferred McBryde's father to Little Rock from Hot Springs when she was a girl.

She's seen the law firm grow from eight attorneys to 52 and has gone from using ink blotters and manual typewriters to computers and fax machines. McBryde has become as much a part of the firm as the founders whose photos hang on the wall.

"When the electric typewriter came in, it was the equivalent of Mr. Ford [and his Model T automobile]," McBryde said. "It was a red-flag day."

She's still not "into computers" but has worked on them, though she prefers the firm's multi-line phone system that falls more into her job description.

McBryde watched as the staff changed physically and philosophically. Fifty years ago, the dress code dictated suits and ties for the men. Now staffers opt for khakis and Polo shirts while outside the courtroom.

Staffers nowadays are also much more fast-paced, doing research on the Internet as opposed to thumbing through old law journals and court documents.

Communication in and out of the office has become instantaneous; e-mail arrives every minute instead of Western Union telegrams that once came every day. In-house dictation moved from a secretary's shorthand on a steno book to the computer of an attorney who writes his own memos and sends it to his assistant for formatting.

Women have become more prevalent in the workplace, and they have moved up the corporate ladder from receptionists to paralegals to attorneys at the venerable law firm.

"The years have gone in a hurry," McBryde said.

McBryde is still very active in the firm's routine business. She reads a number of local and national newspapers daily and saves articles of interest to the firm. She has no plans to leave.

"I had no thoughts of (retiring). When you're able to do things, you can't play bridge every day. You can't garden every day. You can't clean out a closet every day ... I liked what I was doing, and frankly, I like putting money in the bank," she said.