Empowerment and “De-stressing”

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.

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