Posts Tagged ‘stress’

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.

Paralegals Outrank Lawyers and Judges

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

I little while back I did a post discussing (or avoiding discussing) the relative stress levels of being a paralegal compared to being a judge. Stress is just one of the factors used in a new job ranking reported on According to the report, “A paralegal job outranks lawyer in a new rating of 200 jobs by a career website,” beating both lawyers (#82) and judges (#53). The list, provided by, ranks based on five criteria: physical demands, work environment, income, outlook and stress.

 ABA  also states: lists an income figure for each job that is based on estimated midlevel income and income growth potential. For paralegal, the income score is $47,153. For lawyer, it is $113,211. The website also lists a hiring outlook that is based on expected employment growth, income growth potential and unemployment data. For paralegal, the hiring outlook is 23.53, while for lawyer it is 10.11.

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 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.

Who is making your choices?

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Recent discussion regarding a proactive approach to being a paralegal with minimum stress led me to think of Ivan Ilyich, a Tolstoy character who was dying. The passage brought to mind is:

‘But what was this? What for? It cannot be! It cannot be that life has been so senseless, so loathsome? And if it really was so loathsome and senseless, then why dies, and die in agony? There’s something wrong.’

‘Can it be I have not lived as one ought?’ suddenly came into his head. ‘But how not so, when I’ve done everyting as it should be done?’ he said, and at once dismissed this only solution of alll the enigma of life and death as something utterly out of the question.’

But however much he pondered, he could not find an answer. And whenever the idea struck him, as it often did, that it all came of his never having lived as he ought,m the thought of all the correctness of his life and dismissed this strange idea.

Certainly, as explained by Chere Estrin, it is important that you be in charge of your career, but also of your life. The enigma, of course, lies in the difficulty of making the “right” choices. One can indeed plan for happiness. But “what is happiness” is not the entire question. Rather the question is “What is happiness for me?” Ivan based his choices on what “ought” to be done and struggled with himself as to whether he has lived as he ought to have lived.

Making such decisions seems to be a theme on the internet recently. In a discussion on the Paralegal Today discussion forum regarding which specialty to choose, Kelly Corbin, a paralegal in Texas, gave this advice:


Follow your heart. Do what you love and the money will follow. I believe it is especially important when you are starting out in your career that you pick an area that you are passionate about. The legal field can be a very stressful and demanding place. You may be expected to work overtime, etc. and you want to make sure that you like what you are doing or you will quickly burn out. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you will work harder than if you just take a position in a specific area because the starting salary is higher. When you are passionate and working hard, that dedication will pay off in the future. You can study other areas of law to see if there is something else out there that will give you the monetary satisfaction that you desire, but no paycheck can substitute for the feeling of a day’s work well done and a client helped by the services that you perform (whether plaintiff, defendant, human or corporation).

I have worked for pennies, dedicated my life, given up personal plans, missed anniversary dinners and on and on, but at the end of the day (or several years as it were), I built a resume and a reputation that allowed me to go exactly where I wanted and be paid more than adequately for my work. My attorneys know that I am dedicated to the cause. They know that if I won the lottery tomorrow, not only would I not quit my job, I would actually do it for free!

You don’t get there overnight. You must prove yourself in this field. So, my advice is follow your heart. If this all sounds corny or cliche, then follow the paycheck. But believe it or not, the old adage is true . . . . .Money can’t buy happiness! And in my experience, if you follow the money and not your heart, you’ll just be spending that extra cash on therapy, stress management or doctor visits for your depression/exhaustion!

Those are my thoughts.

Kelly echoes Joseph Campbell, a life-long student and teacher of the human spirit and mythology who said, “I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

But even this is not always easy. As Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor points out in her newest newsletter, the grass can sometimes be deceptively greener on the other side of the hill. See her article “A Paralegal’s Struggle: Does a New Job Equal a New and Better Life? or Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side of the Fence?” And also follow the journey of Melissa at Paralegalese as she moves from a one attorney firm in a small town to a major firm in Memphis.

But following your bliss is indeed a good road to follow. Check out this from ABA Journal.comem>:

At one time, Nat Hussey spent part of his time in a courtroom, but now he works in a boat off the coast of Maine trapping lobsters the old-fashioned way, rowing to his traps and pulling them in by hand.

An Associated Press profile of Hussey says he started lobstering this summer as part of a “zero-carbon lobster harvesting project.”

“Other lobstermen roar about,” the AP story says, “pulling traps with power winches, their engines growling and radios blaring rock ‘n’ roll and country music. Hussey works in solitude, waves lapping gently against his boat, a bell buoy clanging gently in the background.”

On his blog, Outpost Matinicus, Hussey describes himself as a “musician, lawyer, dad, fisherman, meanderer.” AP says he was formerly a trial lawyer, and then held down an office job with the Maine Department of Corrections. He still does a little legal work, along with carpentry and odd jobs, to bring in some extra cash.

In a blog post Thursday, Hussey notes a neighbor has already left for a permanent home. “Here the sweet weather, warm water, garden growth all stretch out far past Labor Day,” he writes. “Yet so many departures and a lot less traffic change the atmosphere prematurely away from the summer parade.

“This is secret summer.”

And this post from another Paralegal Today discussion forum:

 a post on the Paralegal Today listserv thread discussing raises:

I recv’d an 18% raise last year but ended up quitting earlier this summer because it was dirty $$. Lots of questionable illegal and unethical things going on in that office. I just took on a new job at considerably less per hour, but good, solid attorneys whom I can trust. The new job is worth every penny.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this E. B. White quote from today’s post on Mississippi 12 Chancery Court judge’s blog:

“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.”  —  E. B. White

Is being a paralegal stressful?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

A recent viewer of this blog was brought here by the search, “Is being a paralegal stressful?” The search also brought the viewer to a number of forums and other discussions indicating that it can be, and often is -even to the extent of causing some practitioners to abandon the career. I hope, though, that the searcher read far enough to understand that being a paralegal need not be excessively stressful. Certainly there are aspects of the job that can lead to “paralegal unhappy.” While stress cannot be eliminated from any profession, it can be managed making the rewards of the profession far outweigh the stress toll.

The key is to manage your work and your career, rather than let them manage you. As is often stated here and explained in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional:

  • The effective, empowered paralegal manages time well. Generally, a lawyer sells legal services, rather than a product. The value of those services is measured by the amount of time spent fulfilling a client’s legal needs. It is essential, therefore, that both the paralegal and the attorney organize themselves and their time to maximize efficiency. In addition, they must keep track of, and bill for, their time in a way that makes sense for the law office and the clients.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages the calendar well. Missed deadlines result in dissatisfied clients, malpractice claims, and attorney disciplinary procedures. It is essential that both the attorney and the paralegal be aware of upcoming deadlines and have a system in place to meet those deadlines without last-minute pressures that increase the likelihood of mistakes.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages files well. The best crafted deeds, contracts, wills and pleadings are worthless if they cannot be found when needed. None of them can even be created if the necessary information cannot be located in a timely manner, or was never obtained in the first place. It is essential that the both the paralegal and the attorney have a system in place, and use that system, for organizing, identifying, indexing and tracking files and the materials contained in the files.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages clients well. The client is part of the legal team. Without the client there is no need for either the paralegal or the attorney and no money to fund the law office. However, the client is the member of the team who knows least about the law and her role in the team. It is essential that the paralegal and the attorney keep the client informed about what is being done for her and why, and what she needs to do for the outcome to be successful.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages the paralegal’s relationship with the attorney well within the legal team. Both the paralegal and attorney must know, and respect, their roles and those of the other; their abilities and those of the other. It is essential that the paralegal understand what the attorney expects of him and the attorney understand what the paralegal can and cannot do for her.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal knows and applies the principles of professionalism and thereby gains recognition of his status as a professional.

    In addition, it is possible to manage happiness. (See Planning for Happiness: The Happiness Project Finally, keep in mind the role of humor and a sense of humor in managing stress. Depending on your sense of humor, you may find some help with Paralegals on Trialor in Paralegal Hell,or both. I’d be interested in hearing of other sites and other ways paralegals work humor into their days.

    Blogging from Paralegal Hell

    Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

    There’s another new blog in the paralegal neighborhood entitled “Paralegal Hell.”  You may have noted the blogger’s comment to my last post about a new blog, “Paralegals on Trial,” but I have removed the comment because it identified the blogger. In an email to me, Paralegal states that the blog helps her relieve stress. She notes, “I do have a sarcastic bite to my blog, but if you read the actual conversations I have with my clients, you will understand why.”

    The blog does provide an interesting read and will likely provide stress relief for paralegals who follow the blogger’s candid reports of some of the most frustrating aspects of legal work for all involved in the profession. Many of those frustrations come from clients, making client management a significant topic in my first two books and a frequent topic in workshops and seminars.

    While I’m sure to read the blog on a regular basis, there is some danger to relieving stress by reporting office occurrences, even anonymously, on the internet, as reported in previous posts on this blog.  Consider this for example, has a post dealing with an attorney in trouble because of posts on her blog which states in part,

    A former Illinois assistant public defender’s blog musings about her difficult clients and clueless judges has landed her in trouble with disciplinary officials.

    Kristine Ann Peshek has been accused of revealing client confidences, allegedly for describing her clients in a way that made it possible to identify them. Peshek referred to her clients by either their first names, a derivative of their first names, or by their jail identification numbers, according to the disciplinary complaint filed on Aug. 25. The Legal Profession Blog noted the accusations.

    Peshek counters that she would never have posted information that she believed would lead to identification of a client, absent the client’s permission or unless the information is a matter of public record. She tells the ABA Journal she is in the process of hiring a lawyer.

    This is, of course, a problem not only for attorneys, but for their paralegals. Less obvious it the fact that it is a problem that extends well beyond blogging to Facebook and other social networks, emails with friends and family and off-line conversations. It is one thing to talk about a difficult, exciting, or interesting “day,” and another to talk about a difficult, exciting or interesting case or client. The latter requires extreme care and in most instances the best advice is “Don’t.” Keep in mind that later the well-known “Monday morning quarterbacks” may be judging whether your musing have cross the line with regard to confidentiality. They will be doing so with the benefit of hind sight and often without the proper context.

    It is true that confidentiality is not broken if the client gives permission or the information is part of a public record. But there will be questions:  Do you have a record of the client’s permission? Was the permission given independently with complete knowledge of the facts, circumstances and consequences? Did the client have time to consider all this before giving permission? Was the client influenced by his dependent relationship with you? Was ALL of the information you revealed part of the public records? And many more. The best way not to cross the line is not to come near it.

    For more on problems with mixing your professional life and social media see Lynne Devenney’s post “Social Media 101: Mojitos and Mourning Don’t Mix on Facebook” on her blog, Practical Paralegalism.

    One good aspect of the blog is that the blogger manages to maintain the sarcasm, while making it clear she still enjoys her career. Another is that the blogger takes an occasional serious turn such as her excellent post on payday lenders. While it will be better if clients do not read most of the posts on her blog -one may recognize themselves and get angry, all clients should read the post on payday lenders.

    Controlling the Scream II

    Thursday, April 8th, 2010

    Yesterday I did a post  on one paralegal’s response 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??
     I liked that post because it worked in well with the concept of an empowered, professional paralegal 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. 
    Today, I am following up with a response posted by Tina Brower Medlock, ACP:
    Kimberly:  I’m going to take a stab at this, because it sounds like you are dealing with some of the same issues that I’ve dealt with before. Yes, some of your stress is that you’ve been out, you’re still recovering from being sick, and it is tax time.  That one gets me every year.  However, it sounds like a bigger issues for you are that (1) no one is listening to you when you raise a concern; and (2) you don’t like that things are going out when they’re incorrect.  The biggest thing I can suggest is to cover your behind.  If you think something is wrong, copy the reason you think it’s wrong (statute, rule, case note, etc.) and attach it to a WRITTEN memo or email to the attorney.  “I’m not sure if you saw this on x client’s file, but . . .”  Then, if she ignores you, you can put the memo in your file and move forward, knowing you did what you could.  And, if anyone calls you on it later, you can pull out exactly what you told her and when.  It takes a little time, but you will save yourself tons of worry and stress. 

    I have the hardest time remembering something very simple:  it is the attorney’s signature, and the attorney’s work product.  If I do what I can to call something to their attention, and they choose to ignore me, then I am not at fault.  It’s not easy to do as a professional, but sometimes you have no other choice.   

    This comment also demonstrates taking control of the situation to the extent possible, but adds the element of protecting the record and acknowledging the attorney/paralegal roles on the legal team. It takes two to make the legal team dance. When one member is not engaged in that dance, the other should both take steps to change the situation to the extent they can, manage the consequences when they cannot change the situation, and make a record of their efforts to protect themselves when (and if) the need arises.  

    I’ve written in previous posts, KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals. and The Empowered Paralegal about some steps to take with problem attorneys. When those steps do not work, or while you are attempting to get them to work, take heed of Tina’s advice.

    Thanks for allowing me to use your comment, Tina!