Archive for the ‘Stress Management’ Category

Managing Stress the NFPA Way

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I’m just now making  my way through the August/September 2012 issue of NFPA’s Paralegal Reporter which you can subscribe to here. I subscribed during a special offer. I don’t know if the offer is still special, but the Reporter is well worth the regular subscription price. This issue has a number of good articles including one on Cloud technology, Estate Planning in the  Digital Era, Retaliation in the Workplace, and Medicaid: Estate Recovery and others. I was particularly interested in “Stress Management, A Plan for Working Paralegals.” The article works off the same premise as The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, i.e., that stress in best managed by managing your work (and personal life), rather than allowing it to manage you. While TEP discusses time, workload, workspace, client, and attorney relationship management, this article focuses on time management. It has quick, concise, clear suggestions for ten steps to follow and suggests following them for 28 days to establish their bona fides: 1. Assessing How You Spend Your Time, 2. Scheduling, 3. Setting Reasonable Goals, 4. Prioritizing, 5. Evaluating Tasks Once, 6. Learn to  Say No, 7. Delegating, 8. Limiting Interruptions, 9. Investing Time (an interesting concept), and 10. Maximizing Rewards.

Check it  out. I best the time it saves will outweighs the time it takes to read it!

KNOWing When It Isn’t Working the Way It Should

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The basic premise of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is time, file, calendar, client, attorney, and self management should be an integral part of everyday practice. But how do you know if the management is effective? Self-assessment is critical and the sooner a problem is noticed, the sooner corrective action can be taken. This is the point of an short article in a recent KNOWnewsletter: “15 Warning Signs of Poorly Managed Assignments.” Here are the first three and the link to the rest:

1.          Missing deadlines because you are handling too many matters.
2.         Receiving assignments from more than one attorney and cannot prioritize them.
3.         Consistently receiving assignments you don’t know how to complete.

Empowerment does not come from the outside. It comes from within. It is not granted, it is earned. The empowered paralegal gains that power  and the confidence that comes with being professional, and by being a competent, effective and efficient member of the legal team. The paralegal who self-assesses, indentifies problems, and develops a plan to overcome those problems will recognize in themselves the ability to manage their practice, gain self-confidence and the respect they deserve, and feel the satisfaction and gratification of being a legal professional.

Vicarious Traumatization

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

This is another “ditto for paralegals” post, i.e., a post that riffs on a post from another blog originally intended for attorneys, but which I feel applies as well to paralegals. This one is another excellent post by Judge Larry Primeaux whose excellent blog as a Chancery Judge has been the basis for several posts here. Judge Primeaux writes about the phenomenon of vicarious  traumatization as experienced by attorneys who “see almost every conceivable form of mankind’s capacity to be inhuman … violence and its physical and emotional scars, financial coercion, verbal cruelty, sexual abuse, use of children and other family members as weapons, defamation, and on and on in a breathtaking, seemingly inexhaustible panorama of brutality that seems almost limitless in the scope of its imaginative cunning.” Of course it is not only attorneys who endure such experiences, but each member of the legal team. Indeed, in many instances the paralegal has the more direct experience, acting as a shield between the attorney and the client – taking the phone calls, doing the initial interviews, managing the client as the legal team prepares to ADR or litigation.

Because I am 99% certain he won’t mind I’m copying his entire post here, but encourage you to follow this link and troll through his many useful posts:

Lawyers who represent people see almost every conceivable form of mankind’s capacity to be inhuman. We see violence and its physical and emotional scars, financial coercion, verbal cruelty, sexual abuse, use of children and other family members as weapons, defamation, and on and on in a breathtaking, seemingly inexhaustible panorama of brutality that seems almost limitless in the scope of its imaginative cunning.

Over time the exposure takes its toll. Some lawyers develop a defensive cynicism that effectively shields them from their clients’ pain, but also prevents them from empathizing. Other lawyers experience burnout that makes them ineffective. Still others experience sleeplessness, irritability, sadness, loss of concentration, difficulty in intimacy, depression, and a panoply of other symptoms. Your clients’ problems too often intrude into your own life and can come perilously close to becoming your own problems.

All attorneys who represent people experience stress. Even extreme stress. Some deal with it in a healthy way. Too many others self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or toxic behavior.

There is research that dubs this phenomenon “Vicarious Traumatization.” It is the process by which a lawyer who comes into contact with the client’s traumatization can become traumatized himself or herself.

Here is a link to a paper published by the American Bar Association entitled Secondary Trauma and Burnout in Attorneys: Effects of Work with Clients Who are Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse, by Andrew P. Levin, MD.

A lawyer is quoted in the article:

“It actually feels good to hear that I am not the only one who feels depressed and helpless and that these issues are worth studying. Fortunately, the stress has decreased with experience and time for me, but I still have vivid memories of quite traumatic experiences representing victims of domestic violence who were so betrayed that it was difficult to continue to have faith in humankind.”

Read the paper and see whether you recognize yourself there.

Attorney Supervision – Another Point of View

Friday, August 12th, 2011

I’ve often posted here on the attorney’s obligation to supervise paralegals. Superlegal Fun reverses the roles in a post on her blog and examines the need for paralegal supervision of attorneys in a post entitled, “10 things you should never let lawyers do by themselves.” While the list is humorous, speaking as an attorney I can confirm that she is right about enforcing these rules.

For example, “Rule No. 1: 1. Never let an attorney hold an original document without supervision. They WILL write on it, spill coffee on it, or lose it and claim they never saw it before. The “WORKING COPY” stamp is your best friend.” This was an actual rule in my office. I just could not stand the responsibility of having an original document. However, I tried to extend the rule to everyone – the originals were tucked safely away and everyone used “working copies” for day-to-day tasks.

Click the link above to get the whole list and her final advice:

Usually, the older attorneys recognize that they are not allowed/able to do these things. BUT, those attorneys, on occasion, will try to be “helpful” and handle their own crap. Reinforce with those attorneys it is a bad idea and that they have tried to be “helpful” in the past and it ended in disaster.

The list can be filed a number of places, but I’d start with “Stress Management.”

Happy Talk

Friday, February 11th, 2011

We have happy paralegals and unhappy paralegals, but apparently on the whole the paralegal profession is a happy one, at least according to Forbes which reports that the legal profession (not just lawyers, but the profession including employees of attorneys) is the tenth happiest in the United States:

To evaluate the data, CareerBliss conducted 200,000 independent employee reviews from 70,000 jobs all over the country to collect 1,600,000 data points on nine factors of workplace happiness. These included the employee’s relationship with their boss and co-workers, their work environment, job resources, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture, company reputation, daily tasks and job control over the work that they do on a daily basis.

Each factor was followed by a ranking of how important that element was in the employee’s overall happiness. These numbers were combined to find an average rating of overall employee happiness for each job type.

The fact is, however, that we cannot depend on our profession to make us happy. We are responsible for our happiness within the profession we choose. Try planning for happiness. While you have to have a dream, you need the happy talk to make that dream come true. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMORAZCog5A.

Workspace Strategies

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Workspace, workload, docket, and time managements are key elements of professionalism for paralegals, forming the basis for a significant portion of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional.” Early in this blog I did a post based on the book entitled “One File at a Time,” that included some advice on how to begin workspace management. It was and continues to be one of the most popular posts on this blog.

Shortly thereafter Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor asked in her newsletter “Is ‘One File at a Time’ Realistic?” Vicki recognized that for a working paralegal One File at a Time is a, perhaps unreachable, ideal but advocates taking steps that will bring that ideal closer to reality. At the time she offered ten tips, all of which were excellent.

Now Vicki is going a step further by way of recognizing January is Get Organized Month. Instead of a guest on the Mastermind Call scheduled for next Tuesday, January 11th at 8pm Eastern time, she’ll be presenting her own Kick Start Strategies to Organize Your Work Space….and it’s f’ree. The tagline is “Spend 60 minutes with me and you’ll love spending time in your office!” Here’s more:

In this webinar you’ll learn how to organize your desk, as well as every drawer, filing cabinet, shelf, book case and closet in your office. Even how to organize your FLOOR…yes, I know all about your floor! In Kick Start Strategies to Organize Your Workspace, you’ll learn:

processes for deciding what to keep and what to toss/shred
how to tackle those piles of paper that take on a life of their own in your office
keys to prioritizing your work and planning your day
steps to creating an organized and peaceful workspace that will result in higher productivity

These strategies will transfer to anything in your life that needs organizing, both at home and at your office. Again, there is no charge for this webinar…be sure to join me on Tuesday… just follow this link for more information and to register.

This is bound to be an hour well spent and I hope you’ll join Vicki for this call.

 

Whose job is more stressful, yours or a judge’s?

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I’m not actually entering into this fray – or suggesting there should be one. However, Judge Primeaux of the Mississippi 12th District posted “Ten Commandments for Reducing Stress” on his blog today and it occurred to me that it might be as helpful to paralegals as to judges:

This from a judges’ meeting a couple of years ago.

I    Thou shall not be perfect or even attempt to be.

II    Thou shall not try to be all things to all people.

III    Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done.

IV    Thou shall not spread thyself too thin.

V    Thou shall learn to say “no” without guilt.

VI    Thou shall schedule time for thyself.

VII    Thou shall have something to look forward to every day.

VIII    Thou shall sometime be slack, idle and inelegant.

IX    Thou shall keep thyself happily fit.

X    Thou shall embrace the present and let go of the past.  

For many paralegals number III, “Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done,” may seem like a prescription for increasing stress if taken individually. But this need not be the  case. As discussed in several posts here and at length in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional, stress reduction may best be accomphished by learning to manage time, work space, workload, dockets, clients, and relationships with attorneys – all those things that create the stress in the first place. Failing that, try following the judge’s commandments.

Empowerment and “De-stressing”

Monday, September 27th, 2010

I have just gotten to reading the most recent edition of The East Coast Paralegal, a magazine for paralegals published in Nova Scotia, Canada, where paralegal practice is on a different basis from that in Ontario, which has been the subject of many posts here because of its experiment in licensing paralegals through the Law Society, the same body that oversees attorneys. The magazine, sent to me by Ann-Marie Allen, Editor-in-Chief, is well worth the read. In particular, there is an article entitled, “DE-STRESSING YOUR LAW FIRM BY DE-STRESSING YOUR LEGAL STAFF” that consists of answer to questions posed by ECP to Estelle Morrison M.Ed. C.W.C., Director, Health Management Ceridian Canada Ltd. 5th, who recently wrote an article on de-stressing law firms for The Lawyer’s Weekly.

I’ve written frequently about diminishing the stress associated with the paralegal (and legal) profession, so I’m always interested in solutions proposed by others. I’m particularly taken by Morrison view that de-stressing the law office must include being aware of, and doing what can be done to decrease, the stress placed on the legal staff, most especially the paralegals.

I can’t reprint the entire article here, but the first exchange will give you a good idea of the approach:

ECP: What specific areas can lawyers improve on to help destress their staff?
EM: One of the most important areas for lawyers and other professionals to be concerned with is workload and worklife balance. This issue has become critical in recruitment and retention efforts, employee engagement and of course, employees’ personal experience of stress. Understanding what is appropriate in terms of job demands, time frames, setting reasonable expectations for hours of work and supporting efforts to set boundaries between work and home are some of the ways that Lawyers can foster healthy work environments and working conditions.
Where possible, encouraging staff to exercise control over their work or have input into decisions is another way to reduce stress and elevate job satisfaction. Rewarding and/or recognizing efforts or accomplishments at work, even if only verbally, can send the message to staff that their efforts are noticed and their hard work is appreciated.
Depending on the nature of the practice, the legal work environment can be pressured and laden with negative interactions. Many clients seeking legal services are doing so for situations that may involve significant stress, conflict, fear or sadness. To offset the heaviness that this can bring to the staff, lawyers should find ways to bring a sense of fun or playfulness, where appropriate, into the workplace.

The primary premise of The Empowered Paralegal series is that paralegals can, and should, take control of their work, their work place, and their career. I believe that this kind of empowerment must come from within and can be developed through implementation of techniques that enhance management of time, workload, calender, docket, workplace, clients, and relationships with attorneys. However, this is not to deny that law firms can, and should, provide an environment that encourages paralegals to take that control and internalize that empowerment. It is not just a matter of respect (although that is a large factor.) Doing so de-stressing paralegals, which de-stresses the law firm, which increased both the quantity and quality of productiveness by the entire legal team.

It only feels like a war zone

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

I understand the tendency of paralegals to describe their workplaces by comparison to war zones, but usually avoid such comparisons out of respect to those who are serving in real war zones (although sometimes the two coincide). When it comes to stress and happiness, a frequent topic here recently, apparently some lessons from the war zone can be applied to the legal field. This post from ABAJournal.com references attorneys but much of it is applicable to paralegals also. Here’s an excerpt:

Happiness researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are working with the U.S. Army to teach soldiers how they can bounce back from the stress of deployment in a war zone. Those lessons also can apply to lawyers, says one of the school’s experts, lawyer Dan Bowling.

Writing for the Careerist blog, Bowling lists 10 happiness tips for lawyers, many of them lessons developed for the military training…

A few of Bowling’s tips:

• People are happiest when their jobs play to their strengths. “If you are a happy-go-lucky extrovert, try to avoid spending 10 years doing discovery requests,” he says.

• Keep your perspective. “The universe doesn’t revolve around you and your worries,” Bowling writes. “If you aren’t in the top half of your class, it’s not the end of the world, although it might seem like it when first-year grades come out. If you don’t make partner, life will go on.”

• Be sociable and thankful. Keep in contact with friends and express gratitude to those who matter.

Here’s a link to the original article on the The Careerist blog.

The Secrets to a Stress Free Career

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

I am on the OLP Advisory Board so of course I attempt to read everything that come from OLP. However, May was a very busy month and then June was spent in a cabin in Maine where I limited by work mostly to Working with the Elder Client.  So it is somewhat strange (and embarrassing) that it was only be following a link  back to an Australian site that led one viewer to this blog that I found myself reading, “The Secrets to a Stress Free Career – What Your Employer Doesn’t Want You to Know,” by Chere B. Estrin, the Chairperson of the OLP Board of Directors. So after doing my truly great posts on stress, I find Chere writing,

Article after article has been written about stress. It’s the same old, same old: manage your stress, have a plan, stay positive, visualize your last trip to Hawaii in the sun-soaked terrain, exercise daily and get regular hot rock massages. That, or have a glass of good merlot, get in the bathtub with lots of Evelyn & Crabtree and listen to old Doris Day songs. I don’t know where some of these authors get this stuff, except to say that they must live in Dreamland, somewhere east of here. Have they ever worked in a law firm?”

Of course, she’s not the only one noting the particular stress of working in a law office as readers of Paralegal Hell are already aware.  But as usual Chere goes well beyond such observations and provides invaluable insight.

Normally I might just post a link to her article, but I fear that some readers might feel my ability to accurately judge Chere’s insight has been unduly influenced by the wonderful things she said about Working with the Elder Client. So I am going to take a minute or two to cull out some of that insight in hopes that you’ll follow the link and read the whole article. Then you can judge for yourself.

First, Chere dispels some of the foremost myths about stress:

Myth #1: Stress is normal for anyone working in the legal community.
Myth #2: Stress is caused by working too much.
Myth #3: Stress is cured by working fewer hours.
Myth #4: Stress is cured by working more.
Myth #5: Stress is cured by focusing on stress.

Then Chere gets to the truth about stress:

Work does not give you stress. Feeling bad about work gives you stress. This means that changing your work hours, responsibilities, priorities or work environment is meaningless, unless it also changes the way you feel at work. Those stress management courses will not do the trick either, unless they can achieve just that.

Fortunately, she ultimately seems to agree with me (which does have something to do with why I think her insight is invaluable):

Most common sources of stress for legal professionals undefined deadlines, lack of control over time, difficult clients, escalating intensity, no margin for error – are outside of a paralegal’s personal control.  What truly determines how much stress these circumstances cause paralegals is the degree to which these “givens” are perceived or interpreted as threatening. Any perceived threat – real or not – triggers our body’s “fight-or-flight response.” Over time, it is possible to modify how your body reacts by paying attention to how you perceive situations as threatening. Ask yourself whether an issue really justifies your current reaction to it – or, whether or not it will matter at all a month later. Practiced regularly, you can keep matters in perspective so that stress is relative to the importance of the situation.

In the end the one thing anyone can control is how they manage the things they can’t control! Anyway, take a few minutes and read the whole article here.