By: Jacqueline King
Greetings, TPS Nation! Long time no blog…we know, we know. Let’s chalk it up to the fearless founder’s busy paralegal life, summer vacation to the sunny beaches of Florida, recent jury trial, feverish writing of a future best-selling book, and newly appointed position involving some “ethics directing” (yes, just like a flight attendant with the hand signals and everything, directing me some ethics in Indiana), spinning paper, and saving esquires, among other things.
Today, we’re thrilled to bring a new writer to the TPS stage to share a little wit and wisdom with all of our favorite readers. Put simply: We think she’s fun and fabulous! We’re sending this one out to every paralegal out there who has ever mentally plotted killing a supervising esquire silently in his or her head at least 80,000 times. Oh yeah, I guess that’s all of them. Right. Moving on.
Without further ado, here’s Jackie.
Let’s be honest, managing our bosses can feel like a cross between taking care of our children and our significant other. Much like children, we are tasked with keeping them organized, maintaining their schedules, preparing them and making sure they have food at the necessary times. A hangry boss is no fun. When things go bad, we take the brunt of any moods and roll our eyes behind closed doors, like we do with our significant others. Then we dive in head first and fix the problem. It seems impossible at times. Especially when they are playing tug-o-war and you are the rope. Other times there isn’t enough ibuprofen in Walgreens to get through the day. Do not break. You can survive. I promise.
When I started in this field 13 years ago, I worked for one attorney. That appears to be the norm: one paralegal to one attorney. Now I get the pleasure of working for four. Yes, that’s right, four: three partners and an associate. Sometimes, I feel like my office should be a padded room. All I need is a strait jacket. Two have additional paralegals, thankfully, and two have just me. The workload, which is the nature of the beast in this field, isn’t the only difficult aspect. Prioritizing tasks and keeping each attorney organized is equally stressful and difficult.
The other day I was in my office, minding my own business (filing my nails, as my supervising attorney says). I looked up and I had one attorney sitting in the chair in my office and two standing outside my door. Kind of similar to when you’re riding down the road and you see three or four vultures circling in the air. You feel an immediate onset of sympathy for the dead animal you know is in the field. That’s me. The poor animal getting ready to be picked apart by the vultures. Each had a task they needed completed. Each task was equally important to them. My job, handle it all. The ability to manage your workflow, and their workflow, and manage it sufficiently and timely, is the most important job you have when working for multiple attorneys. Knowing your limits is the second.
I’m lucky enough to have four great bosses, each a mentor to me. Even better, I’m a rock star to them. I handle my business and I get the job done. The down side, I work for four of them. My sanity is questionable at times. Ask my husband. My firm is a small firm, but is leading the technology game in our area. It ascends the norm in supplying me with the necessary tools to do my job and do it well.
The most essential tool I have is a task system. If you don’t have one, get one. Now. Your top priority for yourself, and your firm, is to find a task system. It is imperative to effectively manage your work. A missed deadline is a work death sentence. Say hello to the guillotine. Next, once you have it, use it. I know people that don’t. It was nice working with them. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that the only way to function was with a list of tasks on a piece of paper. Or, a sticky note stuck to your monitor. Of course, the most important sticky note was always the one that fell off. It would stick to something else, or worse, it ended up being trashed. Now we live in a world with a mass amount of technology available at our fingertips. There is no reason to miss a deadline, or worse a statute of limitation.
When all four attorneys expect that you will get that demand letter out, file the lien, prepare the accounting and draft that answer, all at the same time, a task management system allows me to enter all of my tasks in one place. The task management system allows me to see what deadlines I have coming up and manage my weekly workload by deadlines and importance, not solely by answering which attorney is screaming the loudest. Sometimes, I almost expect steam to start coming out of their ears and their head to explode. Don’t get me wrong. It could be entertaining. But, you know who would be left with the mess. Just call me Cinderella. When this happens, don’t hesitate to tell each attorney that something has to take precedence. They rely on you to keep them tasked and make sure they don’t miss deadlines. You are doing yourself, or them, no favors if you don’t tell one attorney they have to wait because the other one has a deadline ahead of him.
Next, organization is key to alleviating some stress. If you ever find a way to be stress free, bottle it and sell it. Hello, millionaire! Organization also maintains a happy boss when you have four of them. It is guaranteed your attorney is going to be unorganized. I believe it is a prerequisite to obtaining your JD, along with passing a sloppy handwriting class. We are paid to stop that from spiraling too far out of control. When they are pulling their hair out and cannot locate the letter they just signed, we should be able to produce it with a smile almost immediately. If I have to climb to the top of Mount Correspondenceville (yes, that’s a real place) to get it, because I haven’t filed in two months, then the chances of me surviving in this field are slim to none. My boss is going to throw a temper tantrum when I can’t produce what he needs, when he needs it. Think two-year old in full meltdown mode because he can’t have ice cream for dinner. I’m guaranteed to miss something if my desk looks like the aftermath of a category 5 hurricane.
Here is where I also have to advocate for going completely paperless. Yes, getting there will test every ounce of patience you have and make you question your sanity. You may look around and think it isn’t possible, but I have lived to tell the tale. It really is possible. Once you go paperless, you will never put labels on another folder again! When your boss is yelling for you to find that one interrogatory response, in a sea of thousands of responses, being able to pull the response in less than two minutes is like winning a paralegal gold medal. We are the champions, my friend. As for your boss, that makes him happier than a pig in mud. Document management software, a desktop scanner and a paperless office have saved my sanity on more than one occasion.
Now that I can somewhat manage myself and my stable of bosses, knowing my limits has been the hardest part. I’m a bit of a people pleaser. I suppose we all are to a degree. We all want to do our jobs, do them well and to the best of our ability. If I make a mistake, I want to learn from it and fix it. Sometimes I want to bathe in wine, but that isn’t as productive as fixing the problem, I suppose. I take pride in my work, and I want my bosses to take that same pride in my work. And in me. Always volunteering, always saying yes and taking on too much has been the biggest struggle of working for four attorneys. Whether it is fixing a technology issue with the “magic button” each one believes exists, staying until midnight to get a brief filed or handling another person’s work, I had a problem with saying no, and becoming overwhelmed. I still have that problem to a degree, but I have learned to go to the attorney to ask for help. We all have the “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself” mentality. In this field though, it is important to find at least one other paralegal, or legal assistant, that you trust to help you when you’re overwhelmed. Even if it is just making copies, scanning or mass mailing, we need that help occasionally. Remember, we are all in this high stress profession together; stable of bosses, lost Post-Its, wine bathing, and all.
At face value, working for multiple attorneys seems daunting. I don’t proclaim to be the best at doing so. I am constantly striving to improve my abilities. However, somehow I’ve managed to not get a wisdom hair yet, or maybe that’s the dye. I also sleep most nights without being gripped in terror. Once you learn how each attorney operates and cater to his or her working style by properly managing their tasks and files, you will find that your everyday life becomes less stressful and your work flows much easier.
Heck, you might even learn how to thrive…
Jacqueline “Jackie” King is a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal for Rose Harrison & Gilreath, P.C., in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Jackie is a 2005 graduate of Halifax Community College with an Associate of Paralegal Technology, a 2014 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Law & Society and a current student at West Virginia University where she is working to earn her Masters in Legal Studies. Jackie’s current workload includes federal and state litigation, estate planning and estate administration. When she isn’t working, she is with her husband and two daughters or finding new body art in the tattoo parlor. She may be contacted at JackieKingNCCP@gmail.com.
If you enjoyed today’s post, do the fearless founder a big favor and give Jackie a shout. Post a comment or share this post with paralegals in your corner of the legal world. We love it when you do!
We’ll see you soon.