BY: ANN PETTIGREW
It’s 4:45 on Friday afternoon. Your only daughter’s wedding is tomorrow, and the rehearsal dinner is set for 7:00 at your house. It takes forty-five minutes to get from the office to your house. Are you with me?
Just then, the attorney you work for comes over to your desk and says that the brief you worked on and gave to him last week — you know, the one that doesn’t have to be filed until next Friday — needs to be revised right now because the senior partner wants to review the draft over the weekend. And the senior partner is leaving at 5:30. You force a smile, take the brief from the attorney, and quickly peruse it while he’s talking. Each paragraph is going to move to another location. He has scrawled illegible changes on every single page. He has even printed out pages from a different brief and numbered certain sections for insertion into your brief. The coup de grace? He looks you dead in the eye and says: “While you get started on those revisions, I’m going to run across the street to Starbucks to get a mocha latte. Can you get those changes done before you leave?”
You have three seconds to respond.
In your head, you see yourself taking the death swan stance of Daniel in The Karate Kid, preparing to deal swift justice. Press the rewind button! But then you fast forward to a mental accounting of your 401(k). You only have six more years before you can comfortably retire, but if you give up Pilates, double caramel espresso lattes, paying the mortgage, and cancel your daughter’s wedding — you can hand in your resignation right now.
Take a deep breath and press “pause.”
It’s at this time that you have to think – am I going to handle this with Grace and Aplomb, or will I go rogue and resort to Mace and a Bomb? Human nature, of course, will often opt for the latter. Common sense dictates the former. We all want to handle things with Grace and Aplomb, but Friday afternoon with professional and personal deadlines in mortal conflict, is not the time to learn how. You have to prepare for this type of disaster just as you would a natural disaster. You have to formulate a plan, practice it, then set up a backup plan, and practice that.
Your first line of defense: Communication. That rehearsal dinner wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment event. Tell your attorney about it ahead of time. Put it on his calendar. Remind him about it as often as possible. If you can, schedule that afternoon off. If that doesn’t work, your communication backup plan is to alert your family ahead of time. It’s the “here’s-what-you-do-if-Mommy-can’t-leave-work-on-time speech.” List everything that you have to do for the rehearsal dinner. Parcel those chores out to your friends and family and let them know that you’re counting on them to be your backup in case of disaster. Be sure to let them know that you appreciate their willingness to jump in on such short notice!
Your second line of defense: Negotiation. Try to elicit a compromise with the attorney. Can the two of you — as a team — explain the situation to the senior partner and request additional time? List the strong points of your argument (but not thru clenched teeth and balled up fists!): (1) the amount of changes cannot reasonably be completed correctly in the time parameter given, (2) there is certainly enough time to make the changes on Monday, (3) the importance of the work demands an unhurried and methodical approach, and (4) the senior partner deserves a better representation of the team’s work product (because I can guarantee that a document that is rushed thru will be replete with unseen errors, but the senior partner will see each one!)
Your third line of defense: Teamwork. Build a safety net with the other paralegals, assistants, and support personnel at your job. Let them all know (communication) what’s going on ahead of time. Unless the matter is extremely confidential, keep them apprised of the status of the matter. That way, when the disaster hits, you can tell the attorney that you anticipated his needs and made sure that there is qualified backup at his disposal.
So, get out of the death stance, leave your 401(k) alone, and get to the rehearsal dinner. Grace and Aplomb is possible! Besides…Mace and a Bomb is illegal in most jurisdictions. Be prepared!