Posts Tagged ‘control’

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.

Controlling The Scream

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Being an empowered, professional paralegal is all about taking control of that which you can take control. In many circumstances all  you can control is yourself. Realizing that and managing the consequences is, however, far better than any alternative. So, I was interested in the responses to a question posted on the Paralegal Today listserv:

What do you do to relieve your stress level when all you want to do is scream, set your desk on fire and run away??
 
HELP!!    
 
 
 
 
 
Naturally, I have my own answer to this question, but for this post  I am handing the keyboard over to a guest, Kelly K. Corbin, TBLS, ACP,  of  CORBIN LEGAL SERVICES in Seabrook, Texas. Here is her response, posted in full with her permission:

My approach is similar to Nancy’s. [I walk around the block. Usually after I fire off a really gripe-y email (via my personal account) to a good friend.]  Then I take it a step beyond that.  I consciously choose to take my power back.  I choose not to let some outside influence (my attorney, co-worker, opposing counsel, my computer, busted copier, whatever) take my power away.  I make a conscious decision not to let it have power over me.  I realized a few years ago that there was no situation that was worth the rise in my blood pressure.  I LOVE my job and I am a workaholic by nature.  I admit that I thrive on the stress, but I have found that there is a big difference in the adrenaline rush of the stress of trying to get it all done and done well and letting outside influences (typically completely out of my control) exert a power hold on me.  You can’t control a situation, but you can control how you react to a situation!!!  Cliche?  Yes!  True?  Absolutely!    I have worked for some pretty unreasonable attorneys in my many years in this practice, but even the most unreasonable has never fired someone for taking a deep breath, taking a quick 5 minute walk or standing up for themselves.  Everything we do in life is a choice.  I CHOOSE to retain my power! Thanks for your contribution, Kelly.

PS – if all of this zen stuff isn’t working for you, maybe it’s time to scream (literally), set fire to your desk (figuratively) and RUN AWAY!!!!!!   Life is too short not to spend your day doing something you love with people you love (or at least can stand to be around [smile!])!!!!!!!!
HANG IN THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One File at a Time

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I recently had a request for my article on having only one file on your desk at a time. I do not have a formal article on the topic, but I do cover the topic in The Empowered Paralegal using principles established and advocated by several time-management strategists, and I had once before posted a section from the chapter covering the topic. Because of that request and because I have a busy, busy day today including a mid-term (I teach law, but I am taking courses towards my Masters in Philosophy, so I’m taking this test not giving it.) I’m taking the easy way out and re-posting the previous post with an emphasis on the goal of getting to an office Nirvana: One File on the Desk at a Time:

In almost every office of moderate or larger size and in many smaller offices, there is an office that has it door closed all the time because it would be an embarrassment for clients to see it. Let’s call the owner of this office “Joe.” There are files, documents, unopened mail, ancient unread copies of the ABA Journal, Wall Street Journal, the state bar journal and advertisements for legal and non legal journals of every type and description on every horizontal surface. Unopened boxes of USCA pocket-part updates are stuck in the corners and under chairs. There is not even a few inches of open space on the desk. When visitors enter the office Joe, somewhat embarrassed, gestures futilely towards a chair. The gesture is futile since there is far too much clutter on the chair for anyone to attempt sitting there.

It is not the workplace of an empowered, effective paralegal. This workplace controls the worker even to the extent of requiring him to move sideways to avoid knocking papers onto the floor. The empowered, effective paralegal controls the workplace, rather than let it control her.

You can control your workplace by establishing a few basic and easy procedures.
Deleting: The basic operating principle is that each item belongs in recycling unless there’s a good reason to put it somewhere else.

Sorting and Prioritizing: Deleting is part of the overall organizing process. As we noted before, some of the remaining papers may still need attention right away. As you delete, place items in on of four piles which are likely to be small enough in number and bulk to put into file folders. Try manila expandable folders if the standard manila ones are not quite large enough. Label one “Today,” one “To Be Determined Today,” one “This Week,” and one “To Be Filed.” The various piles of rubble have now been reduced to four folders placed neatly on the desk! That’s too many folders to have on a desk.

Planning: Since we can only work on one item, there should only be one item on our desk. In most instances the item will be a client file. In some instances we can “cheat” a bit and call “the mail” one item. The other folders can be put away until you are ready to work on them. Select a time to deal with them and enter that time on your calendar. Stuff in the “To Be Filed” folder is more likely to move out of that folder and into the files if a time, say tomorrow at 10 a.m., is set for getting it done. In the meantime it should be removed from the desk and put in its place.

Just Do It: Before stating the final option, let’s take a look at the common factor in all the previous options. Whether you are deleting an item or placing it in one of the folders, you are disposing of the item fairly quickly. There will be some items, possibility the majority of the mail, where the action required by you is not much more time consuming that, say, placing the item in the “To Be Delivered” folder and doing the delivery. In these cases, just do it.

Keep Control: Survey your new domain. It’s well organized, neat and clean. In fact, it may be a bit too sterile. You’ve taken control, the work and the workspace is yours, but it isn’t quite “You.” Add in a few of the photos, plants or knick-knacks that make you feel at home while at work, keeping in mind that you are a professional and you are at work, not at home or in your college dorm. The key word here is “few.” You do not want to replace paper clutter with tchotchkes.

Now you are ready to get to work. But first, add a time to your calendar near the end of each week to re-establish your office organization.

More on Having a Plan, Stan.

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Melissa H. of Paralegalese has a guest post at Legal Practice Pro entitled “The Paralegal’s Role in Managing the Law Firm,” which would be great except for the fact that she posted it there instead of here. Nonetheless, you should read it.

And you should troll through other posts on the Legal Practice Pro blog, especially “Managing Chaos.” You’ll note that Jay says stuff you’ve heard before. In fact you’ve heard it here! But he says it well, so I’ve lifted some of it for inclusion here:

You see, the fires erupt only when you’re not in control of your surroundings. Sure, there will always be unexpected issues that arise. But when you’re in control, you can handle the issues as they come up because you’ve got a plan in place for dealing with these sorts of things.

Control is attained only by having a plan, and a system for dealing with every facet of your practice. How a client file flows through the office, where things get put, how phones get answered. I’m not talking about some amorphous theory of picking up the phone when it rings, I”m talking about scripting out the entire dance. Yes, the entire dance.

I call it a dance because, well, it is one. For a business to operate properly, all players must move in perfect harmony at all times. Fred and Ginger were never caught on film stepping on toes, were they? So, too, must your business glide effortless from place to place on the dance floor.

Jay speaks in terms of law office operation, but what he says applies to all aspects of professional life, especially paralegal practice.  I’m looking forward to more from Jay on taking charge through planning. It’s not just that great minds think alike (as they do in this case), but this stuff works and works well! It is, in many ways, the foundation of The Empowered Paralegal.

Controlling Your Workspace

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

In almost every office of moderate or larger size and in many smaller offices, there is an office that has it door closed all the time because it would be an embarrassment for clients to see it. Let’s call the owner of this office “Joe.” There are files, documents, unopened mail, ancient unread copies of the ABA Journal, Wall Street Journal, the state bar journal and advertisements for legal and non legal journals of every type and description on every horizontal surface. Unopened boxes of USCA pocket-part updates are stuck in the corners and under chairs. There is not even a few inches of open space on the desk. When visitors enter the office Joe, somewhat embarrassed, gestures futilely towards a chair. The gesture is futile since there is far too much clutter on the chair for anyone to attempt sitting there.

It is not the workplace of an empowered, effective paralegal. This workplace controls the worker even to the extent of requiring him to move sideways to avoid knocking papers onto the floor. The empowered, effective paralegal controls the workplace, rather than let it control her.

You can control your workplace by establishing a few basic and easy procedures.
Deleting: The basic operating principle is that each item belongs in recycling unless there’s a good reason to put it somewhere else.

Sorting and Prioritizing: Deleting is part of the overall organizing process. As we noted before, some of the remaining papers may still need attention right away. As you delete, place items in on of four piles which are likely to be small enough in number and bulk to put into file folders. Try manila expandable folders if the standard manila ones are not quite large enough. Label one “Today,” one “To Be Determined Today,” one “This Week,” and one “To Be Filed.” The various piles of rubble have now been reduced to four folders placed neatly on the desk! That’s too many folders to have on a desk.

Planning: Since we can only work on one item, there should only be one item on our desk. In most instances the item will be a client file. In some instances we can “cheat” a bit and call “the mail” one item. The other folders can be put away until you are ready to work on them. Select a time to deal with them and enter that time on your calendar. Stuff in the “To Be Filed” folder is more likely to move out of that folder and into the files if a time, say tomorrow at 10 a.m., is set for getting it done. In the meantime it should be removed from the desk and put in its place.

Just Do It: Before stating the final option, let’s take a look at the common factor in all the previous options. Whether you are deleting an item or placing it in one of the folders, you are disposing of the item fairly quickly. There will be some items, possibility the majority of the mail, where the action required by you is not much more time consuming that, say, placing the item in the “To Be Delivered” folder and doing the delivery. In these cases, just do it.

Keep Control: Survey your new domain. It’s well organized, neat and clean. In fact, it may be a bit too sterile. You’ve taken control, the work and the workspace is yours, but it isn’t quite “You.” Add in a few of the photos, plants or knick-knacks that make you feel at home while at work, keeping in mind that you are a professional and you are at work, not at home or in your college dorm. The key word here is “few.” You do not want to replace paper clutter with tchotchkes.

Now you are ready to get to work. But first, add a time to your calendar near the end of each week to re-establish your office organization.

Paralegal Stress

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Several readers have arrived at this blog by searches including the words “paralegal” and “stress.”  Certainly paralegals, like all professionals, are subject to multiple professional stress factors in addition to those arises from private life such as spouses, children and finances. This is especially true in situations where they are overworked.

Stress factors include time pressure, workload, docket control, client management and relationships with co-workers including attorneys. The bad news is that there is no way to eliminate these factors. They are part of any profession and of many non-professional careers. The good news is that they can be controlled by paralegals rather than the paralegal being controlled by them.

The primary factor in controlling stress lies in the way the paralegal approaches any and all aspects of paralegal practice. It is a proactive rather than reactive approach. It seeks to understand and manage even those aspects of practice that the paralegal cannot control. This principle involves taking a rational empowered approach to time, file, workload, calendar, client and attorney relationship management.

While the specifics are different with regard to each stress producer, the paralegal can identify the areas of concern, analyze each aspect of that concern, set priorities that address those concerns, obtain a greater understanding of the area of concern, investigate solutions and barriers to those solutions, and establish procedures for implementing solutions and removing or overcoming barriers to those solutions. This can, and should, be done in a direct, rational and professional way – a way that honors our own need to be efficient, effective and empowered, and honors the interrelationships and responsibilities of the legal team.

When a paralegal applies these principles, that paralegal becomes empowered. The empowered paralegal is an essential member of the legal team in any office. In particular, the empowered paralegal not only survives, but thrives in the American law office.

Who is in charge of your career?

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Chere Estrin of the Estrin Report and Know: The Magazine for Paralegals has an interesting article on Examiner.com entitled “In Search of the Rest of Your Career.” It is well worth reading in its entirety, but my attention was drawn to her statement,

I am emphasizing career-changing rather than changing careers. This means taking charge of your present career and changing it around to best suit your needs rather than switching careers all together.

This attitude is the essence of empowerment. 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 primary benefit that accrues when a paralegal learns to manage time, files, workload, clients and their relationship with their attorney is that the paralegal can take charge of these essential elements of their profession. The paralegal controls their time rather than time controlling them, and so on.