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Jamie Collins

By: Jamie Collins

When we last left you, in Part I of the “Runaway Railroad/Paralegal Planner” series, you found yourself immersed in the paralegal twilight zone. What a fun place to be…right?! Your attorney, and others, commenced to running around the office like chickens with their heads cut off, you received about 7 random client calls in a row, you were told that the court clerk was holding on line 1 to schedule a conference, that deposition for tomorrow was just cancelled last minute, so you’d need to call the client to advise her not to show up, your co-worker walked in with a random question about how to perform a particular task, and there you sat, behind that big, wooden desk in that leather, executive chair with the crazy “my day is being torpedoed ” eyes, as the runaway railroad crashed through the center of your office, and whisked you away to…you guessed it…Crazy Town!    

There you found yourself with that to-do list gripped tightly in your paralegal clutches, yet again, void of the preferred amount of check marks to indicate satisfactory completion of the listed tasks and exponentially growing by the minute, with more items that aren’t going to get done — yet again today — despite your best paralegal efforts.  Why? Because you unsuspectingly boarded that runaway train, yet again. It happens to the best all of us working in the legal realm…and often.

So how do you cope? Today we’re here to offer up some suggestions on how to navigate that ultra crazy day at your law firm like a pro. The next time you find yourself entering the paralegal twilight zone and your foot making its way up onto the platform of that runaway train, keep these tips in mind:

1.  Take a deep breath. Seriously. I’m not joking. It sure beats a self-implosion. When we become stressed, our blood pressure elevates, our heart rate increases significantly, our palms begin to sweat, our chest tightens and we can feel our stress level go sky high on the paralegal charts. It is in this moment that you will need to take a few, intentional, deep breaths to remind yourself that you may indeed be entering the paralegal gauntlet, but you will remain oh so calm.

2.  Mentally acknowledge that this is not just an unfortunate part of the job – it is the actual job you were hired to do. You are an expert.  I would akin this to being a member of elite Seal Team Six. Do they train extensively with regard to how to handle and diffuse a crisis? You bethca. Yet, are there days when the members of Team Six lead normal lives, do normal things, likely follow to-do lists and don’t find themselves in the midst of a major crisis?  Sure. This is one thing paralegals (and many other legal staffers) have in common with Seal Team Six. We are trained! We know how to best navigate a tricky situation, sidestep a legal landmine and avert a full-on crisis…and with the best of them, I might add.

It may not always be in your “plan” for the day, but when that crisis arises, you, my friends, are Elite Paralegal Seal Team Six. You need to get in there, full fury, to get the job done, and not just done right, but done well. That’s what we do. Firms cannot hire someone off the street to do what we do best: crisis management. That is the job. That’s what sets us apart. That’s what makes us special and helps to elevate our reputation among our esteemed supervising attorneys and respective law firms. It’s what makes us — paralegals. 

You can bet your paralegal behinds the attorneys in any given law firm in America know exactly who the members of their firm’s Elite Paralegal Seal Team Six are. They do know…and likely…so do you.  So, if you make the elite team – be thrilled – and after following steps 1 and 2, rise to the challenge, my friends. Accept that it is an honor and a privilege to be called onto the legal battlefield, yet again, to diffuse a crisis (or twelve)…even when you had 20 other things to get done on that to-do list today and at this point, it may get as long as Santa’s. After all, you are paralegals.  You are the elite. You were hired to be on Paralegal Seal Team Six. You are one of the chosen. One of the proud. One of the knowledgeable and skilled members of the legal team. Own it.

That crisis is the job.

3.  Briefly pause to assess the task at hand.  This is no different for us than it is for a nurse or doctor who works triage in an emergency room.  When individuals enter that emergency room, the medical staff works to promptly and appropriately assess each and every situation that presents itself.  Well, in lieu of an emergency room, my friends, we find ourselves performing “legal triage.”  Merriam-Webster defines “triage” as:

           1.      a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment [legal services] to patients [attorneys] and especially battle and disaster victims [clients] according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors

                  b: the sorting of patients [attorneys and clients] (as in an emergency room) [more like your office and mine] according to the urgency of their need for care

          2.     the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success

Instead of patients, busy and frantic attorneys race around our law firms and into your office and mine, day in and day out, with a myriad of legal problems, deadlines, potential issues and crises and legal triage must be performed.

Pause briefly to assess the situation, determine what/who will be involved and how to best navigate the situation to decrease the number of casualties to zero. Yep, zero. That is the unspoken paralegal and attorney goal on all days that end in “y.”

(Full credit to Julie Weinkauf of the Institute for Paralegal Education : http://www.nbi-sems.com/instituteforparalegaleducation.aspx, for the concept of “Legal Triage.” Brilliant!)

4.  Reflect upon steps 1-3. Yes, I’m serious. Go back and reflect upon them. You are about to enter the gauntlet.

     a.      Take a deep breath, think to yourself: “I am calm;”

     b.      Acknowledge that you are an elite member of Paralegal Seal Team Six and you WILL get this job done, and not just done right, but in a truly impressive fashion; and

     c.       Pause briefly to reflect upon the task at hand (legal triage style) while considering what/who will need to be involved, what needs to be done now vs. later and how you will take this task down full fury.

5.  Focus and take action.  This is called entering “the zone.” At this point, you’ve made it through steps 1-4 and all that remains is you and this task. You will dominate it. You will own it. You will make your attorneys consider you as a worthy recipient for the Paralegal Medal of Valor when all is said and done.  After all, you are a paralegal. That’s what we do — we focus. We take action. We dominate tasks. Anything that stands between us and successfully accomplishing the task at hand better move aside or it will most certainly become a casualty of greatness. We are the elite.  We are paralegals. Seal Team Six is rolling in to get the job done. Stand back.  We have arrived.

And last, but certainly not least…

6.  Add the words “unknown crisis” to your paralegal to do list — at all times.  Yep. This is called planning ahead…and we all know you like to plan.  If you can’t avoid it, you might as well write it into your daily work life and dedicate it as a line item on that fabulous, paralegal planner to-do list. You sure can’t prevent it, so embrace it!

Hey – at least you’ll be able to check one thing off of that list at the end of the day, right?

So, the next time you find yourself slinking down in your chair, about to slide beneath your desk and into hiding safety…instead, acknowledge that this is the moment – harness your inner paralegal, pull yourself up straight and tall in that executive chair, sit proudly, speak confidently, breathe deeply, be calm, enter “the zone,” acknowledge your glorious paralegal duty as you enter the legal battlefield…and prepare to dominate the task at hand to show them exactly who you are and what you’re made of, my paralegal friends. Earn that stellar reputation, a future promotion, high compliments from your boss, and the respect of your esteemed supervising attorneys, peers and law firm.  After all, you are a member of Elite Paralegal Seal Team Six.

For you, this is just another day.

√ Paralegal Crisis

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Hey TPS readers – do you have any additional tips you’d like to offer Elite Paralegal Seal Team Six? If so, we’d love to hear them! Hit that comment button and sound off.  Lord knows one can never have too many useful tips for navigating a full-on crisis Jackie Bower style (or Jack…for you fellas out there) while the wind blows through your hair on that runaway paralegal train! 

We’ll see you soon!