If you ask most people in the legal profession if they are stressed, the resounding answer will be, “YES!” This includes everyone from judges and court personnel to attorneys and their staff. While I recognize that everyone has stress, paralegals must deal with their own stress as well as the stress of balancing the needs of all of these individuals. Paralegals are given the unique job of making clients happy, supporting the attorney, balancing the court’s demands, appeasing witnesses and experts, badgering contractors when necessary and dealing with the interoffice politics that are inevitable in a law firm. Paralegals must accomplish the one thing that no one else in the legal field must do — Make everyone happy on a specific timetable while always keeping the goal of the case the focus of every action. No wonder paralegals are stressed.
Paralegals balance the demands placed on them by everyone involved in a case with a calm and pleasant countenance even though they may be falling apart inside. Does this sound familiar? You have an early meeting that was not scheduled but the lead attorney decided to call at the last minute, a deadline that is now looming because you had to take time for the unscheduled meeting that was highly unproductive, a client that has decided to take a “vacation” from the stress of dealing with the case and an attorney who has one foot out of the door but needs to review the documents that must be filed with the court before it closes in an hour.
If you were a cartoon, your head would blow up to five times its natural size, turn red and steam would come out of your ears. However, you are not a cartoon. You are a real person and you must find ways to deal with the stress or the stress will eventually take its toll on your personal and professional life. Below are stress-relieving tips for paralegals when attorneys, clients, witnesses, co-workers, court staff and contractors prove to be too much to handle.
Paralegal Tips for Unwinding, Relaxing and Relieving Stress
Take breaks during the day
Eating at your desk or quickly downing a yogurt and coffee on the way to a meeting is not considered a break. Taking just a few minutes away from your desk, the phone and others will help you fight stress. Take a 10-minute walk outside or sit on a bench while you eat your lunch. Allow your mind to think about anything other than work and those involved with your work.
Never hit “send” when you are angry or frustrated
Count to 10 before you hit the “send” button on your email or texts. It is very easy to shoot off a quick, terse reply when you are frustrated but this often leads to a more stressful situation in the future. Avoid the stress by taking a few deep breaths and re-reading your response. In most cases, you will find that rewording your reply will achieve the same result without creating the potential for more stress.
Honesty is usually the best policy
You may be tempted to tell a little “white” lie to a client who is difficult or an attorney who is demanding the impossible. However, lies usually come back to haunt you. It is much better to say, “I do not know but I will find out” or “No, I have not done that but give me a few minutes and I will have it for you.”
Use your vacation time
Believe me, the office will not cease to operate if you take a vacation. Your attorney may act as if it is the end of the world but he will survive and so will the other people who come to work each day in your office. Things have a way of working themselves out even though you are not there to push them along. You need time away from work in order to relax and de-stress. You cannot be your best for others if you do not take time for yourself.
Pick your battles
Going to battle over every minor issue will only result in you being too tired to fight the major battles that deserve to be fought. If you wear yourself out battling issues that are not worth your energy, you will have nothing left when it really counts.
Helping others is rewarding and relaxing. You will be surprised at the boost in your levels of contentment, happiness, confidence and self-worth. Positive emotions such as these deter stress and help you cope with stress on a much more positive level. Volunteering also gives you another outlet in addition to work to help people (most paralegals view themselves as “facilitators or helpers”). It also removes you completely out of the legal environment (provided you choose an opportunity that is not law-related) so that you can give your full concentration to something other than your job.
Live a healthy lifestyle
One of the best ways to prevent and cope with stress is to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes getting plenty of rest — working late and going in early will take a toll on your mind and your body. You need to eat healthy foods (do not skip lunch or grab a candy bar) and get enough exercise (make time for the gym or for sports). When you take care of your body, your mind benefits as well. You must take care of yourself in order to take care of others.
Laughter is one of the best ways to relieve stress. When you feel overwhelmed, get a cup of tea or coffee, sit down at your desk and laugh for a few minutes. A quick internet search will give you plenty of material (e.g. some of the great paralegal jokes by Stu’s Views.)
Paralegals can experience an enormous amount of stress dealing with the objectives and needs of so many people (and that is just on one case – we have many cases). As a paralegal, we tend to want to please everyone all of the time but that is impossible. The best we can do is perform our job to the best of our ability knowing that what we do will make a difference. However, if we fail to take care of ourselves, we will not be very useful to any of the people who depend on us each day.