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The Status Report

Life Support

Personal assistants are more than a fix for late fees, disarray and sloth

October 14, 2007|Meghan Daum | Meghan Daum is an opinion columnist for The Times. Contact her at magazine@latimes.com.

Anyone can hire a personal assistant, but how do we decide whether we're busy or important enough to deserve one? Is it a matter of having disposable cash to pay someone $15 to $50 an hour to run to the dry cleaner or answer the phone and tell our mother we're in a meeting? Or must we hit bottom? Must we lose our library privileges because we didn't return our books? Must we forget our partner or spouse's birthday/anniversary/major surgery date once too often? Would employing a personal assistant solve these problems?

The answer these days is an unqualified yes. Not to be confused with office assistants or interns, personal assistants do just what their job description implies: They help us with that thorny enterprise known as being a person.

"A lot of people who have a personal assistant don't need one," says Jack Lippman, owner of the Elizabeth Rose Agency, a domestic-help outfit known for its celebrity clients. "And a lot of people who don't have one do."

Lippman, who produced and starred in "High Maintenance 90210," a reality show about his agency that aired on the E! channel earlier this year, has owned the business for 18 years. During that time, he says, people have increasingly needed help.

"Even in a so-called recession the demand is still here," Lippman says. "People will get rid of a Rolls-Royce, but they'll still need an assistant."

Those whom Lippman places earn $40,000 to $125,000 a year. Almost all have worked at big talent agencies or for celebrities. But the job of celebrity assistant, with its reputation for bizarre demands as well as spectacular perks, is generally considered an entity unto itself. Ordinary civilians who need help--and who can't afford a placement service such as Lippman's, which charges clients 15% of an employee's annual salary--often are forced to take matters into their own hands. And it can feel a lot like Internet dating.

"I put an ad on Craigslist, and I got about 100 responses," says Jamison Baum, an L.A.-based graphic designer. "I sat in the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and interviewed people. And when I finally hired someone, she only lasted about two weeks."

Then Baum heard about Lambent Services, one of a handful of companies that provide part-time personal assistants. With specialties in everything from bookkeeping to foreign language translation to what the company's website calls "exercise enforcement," Lambent's assistants are young, college-educated and available for as few as four hours per week. The hourly rate for most services: $30. That means that for $120 a week you can have someone run errands, organize your closet or translate poetry into Russian (no child care or housework, though). Lambent originated in New York, but its L.A. office has quickly outpaced its East Coast counterpart. According to the website, "those who are affluent in L.A. most easily perceive the benefits of framing their lives as a thing to be managed by others."

Baum, for his part, has no trouble perceiving the benefits of his Lambent assistant, a 24-year-old Yale graduate named Jamie who has helped him shop for healthcare plans, set up computer databases and mail rebate certificates worth hundreds of dollars.

"There are so many things that you're just too busy or lazy to do yourself," Baum says. "You know how you get a bill or a bank statement in the mail and there's a mistake? It would take me forever to deal with that, but Jamie can do it in five minutes."

The appeal of having an assistant may be obvious, but the question of necessity still looms. There is, after all, a fine line between knowing how to ask for help and just being helpless. An assistant in your life can provide a feeling of accomplishment, even if nothing is being accomplished at all. Wasted time doesn't feel quite as wasted if it's not yours.

"Much of the popular conception of personal assistants comes from watching reality television, where celebrities don't go anywhere by themselves," says Christine Gutierrez, client relations manager at Lambent Services. "But it doesn't have to work like that. There's a cachet to saying you have an assistant. No one has to know it's only four hours a week."

*

Gag Index

51% prophetic

49% pathetic

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