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By: Christi Condon
CHC Legal Consulting
Greetings, TPS Nation! Why would we, as paralegals, need to learn how to keep our calm in the middle of other people’s disasters? I have no idea. Okay, actually I have about nine thousand ideas as to why we’d need tips on how to manage “the crazy” (whether it’s looming in the office air or standing in a designer suit and peering over your desk)! Today, Christi is here to share a comprehensive list on how to keep your cool in the midst of disaster. Read on. Your future coolness awaits. Perhaps even your sanity.
There are many days as a paralegal when, despite your best laid plans, the unexpected happens. The attorney you work for takes on a tough case or loses one he expects to win. Clients have unexpected issues in their lives and call you in a panic to help them solve them. A deadline has crept up on you and now you’re in crunch time. Or you’ve made a mistake and it feels like the world is ready to come crashing down around your ears.
So how do you stay calm in the midst of the storm? Here are a few suggestions that have worked in my paralegal career:
1. BREATHE. When the world is coming at you a mile a minute and you’re trying to juggle too many balls at once, it’s really important to take a moment to compose yourself. Take a few deep breaths, let them out and if necessary and possible, get up and walk away from the situation for a few moments to clear your head.
2. Keep a calendar and a running to do list on your computer and spend a few moments every day to prioritize your work. This will go a long way towards eliminating your stress. No human being can effectively do more than one thing at a time, so you have to choose the most important things to do and allow the other things to wait.
3. Remember that your clients do not manage your workload. You do. Each of your clients believes he or she is your ONLY client, and of course they do because you’re an awesome paralegal! But when you have other clients whose matters are more pressing, you can give a client with a less pressing matter a time to check back in with you, so you can focus your attention on the client who needs you most at that moment.
4. Always manage a client’s expectations downward. Build in extra time when you estimate how long it will take to complete their work and let them know the worst case scenario outcome. That way, if you finish their work early or achieve a better outcome for them, you will always wind up looking like Superman.
5. If possible, set aside a certain amount of time each day to do tasks that require focus and do them at the time of day when you feel most refreshed. If you can, allow your phone to go to voicemail and stay out of your email until the task at hand is complete. If you need quiet time and it is difficult to get a project done because you can’t get away from your phone or email, try to come in a little early if you are a morning person or stay a little late if you’re a night owl.
6. Try to do the toughest job of your day first. Then all the other ones will seem easier to handle.
7. Keep in mind that if it weren’t for other people’s problems, you probably wouldn’t have this job. Problem solving is one of the paralegal’s greatest strengths. It’s what you do best. So think about all the options available, talk to your attorney and take the steps necessary (one at a time) to solve the problem.
8. Remember that the world does not rest on your shoulders alone. Clients bring their problems to the attorney, not you. And you work under the advisement of an attorney (even if you do contract work). Ultimately, the responsibility for the problem lies with the attorney who has accepted the client’s retainer and hired you to do the work and the client who brought the problem to your attorney in the first place. So try to keep that in perspective as you go about your day.
9. Talk to your attorney if you are feeling overwhelmed. If you approach him or her with possible solutions to the problem at a time when things are calmer to talk, you will often find you have more support than you know.
10. If the problem is a problem client, remain professional with the client (no matter how difficult it may be) and talk to your attorney about the best way to deal with the client. If the client insists on talking to the attorney directly, agree to arrange the discussion. If the situation is not something you can remedy, let the client know they will have to speak directly to the attorney and then arrange for that to happen. You don’t get to choose the clients as a paralegal and in the end it is up to the attorney to solve the client’s problem.
11. Try not to take your client’s or your attorney’s bad day personally. There may be things going on in their lives that you don’t know about that have absolutely nothing to do with you. If your client is having a tough day or even a tough life, try to empathize while keeping them on target with what you can do for them (you can’t fix their entire lives, after all…just the problem they came to your office to solve). And if it is your attorney that is having a tough day (or a tough life), use the same approach. Give them the same kind of empathy, space and respect you’d want if you were having a bad day or life was handing you a basket of lemons all at once.
12. If you are the one responsible for a mistake, own up to it immediately to your attorney and when you do, make sure you have some options for how to fix it. If it rises to the level of malpractice, your attorney will have to notify his or her insurance carrier. If it doesn’t, there may be ways to fix it that you might not be able to think of on your own. Either way, your attorney needs the information, so he or she can appropriately deal with the situation. Then do your best to organize your work so that future mistakes are avoided.
13. Remember that your career as a paralegal is not your entire life. Hopefully you have family, friends, pets or interests outside of your work you look forward to that will take your mind off a difficult day, so that you can come back tomorrow refreshed. If you don’t have anything but your work – it’s time for you to get a life!
14. Try to get some exercise that you enjoy outside of work. I am not much of a gym rat, but I love to bike, skate, swim and dance. Anything that gets your body moving will increase your endorphin levels and make you more stress resistant.
15. Make sure you take time to take care of you. Take a lunch every day. Get up from your desk and stretch. Make sure your desk is ergonomically as comfortable as it can be. If you can, personalize your work space so you feel more comfortable there. Making sure you eat and get appropriate rest is important. In the end, the work you do will only be as good as you are. So take care of YOU first.
16. If your attorney consistently ignores your stress or is unwilling to actively participate in client and case management, look for another job. An attorney who refuses to supervise his or her staff or deal directly with clients is an ethical violation waiting to happen. Get out before it happens to you.
Your job as a paralegal is often a stressful one with many demands. But you chose this career for a reason. If you love your work, as many paralegals do, finding ways to manage stress (both your own and that of others) is imperative. So take time out to remember why you went into this field in the first place. It definitely helps to put the stress inherent in this career in perspective. If those reasons are still valid in your life today, then you’re in the right field. If they aren’t, maybe it is time to reassess your career goals or even take a break from being a paralegal for a while to see if you get your sparkle back. Sometimes taking a break from a career as a paralegal is the best way to manage the stress and remember why you became a paralegal in the first place!
Christi Condon has been a paralegal for 17 years and is the currently the sole proprietor of CHC Legal Consulting, a contract paralegal company she started to assist attorneys to improve their bottom line and better help their clients through effective case management. She is a magna cum laude graduate with a B.S. in Legal Studies from Kaplan University. She is also the mother of two fantastic adult sons and the grandmother to 4 adorable grandchildren. Christi currently resides in Fort Myers, Florida, with her wonderful boyfriend and highly respected and decorated former high school principal, Dr. Joseph Wojtena, but is often on the move, so don’t be surprised if she turns up in your corner of the world! She can be reached on the web at chclegalconsulting.com, by telephone at 941-467-2574 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Wishing you an absolutely fabulous, stress-free day in the perpetual hot seat! Remember why you became a paralegal in the first place — ’cause you can manage the crazy like nobody’s business. Disasters? Bring ’em on. (On second thought, maybe we better save those for Monday!)
We’ll see you in a few days. Good luck finding “your sparkle” during this brief paralegal respite dedicated to your personal sanity. We’ll see you soon!