When I first started out as a paralegal, I had this fantasy of a predictable 9 to 5 schedule.
I soon learned there is no regular day for a legal professional in a law firm. The natural order of chaos always found a way to clutter my desk. Where did these medical records come from? You will not be able to find your favorite red pen under the Jones redweld. Wait, is that the Jones redweld? Looks like the labels you printed didn’t make it onto the folders themselves.
The Trick with Having a Semi-Human Day is to Make It Yourself
Even when you feel your attorneys come first. If you don’t stand up for your to-do list, no one else will. I watched my colleagues eat frozen Lean Cuisine lunches at the desks. They settled for stale crackers from the vending machine as a snack. They were tired all the time. Cutting corners on your food will not make you more productive. If all you have in your guts is a peanut butter Lance cracker, you are going to crash.
Here’s how to Have a Semi-Human, Regular Day for Most Days
Get to your desk. Don’t look too hard at the mess. You’ll have a plan for that later. Put your lunch in the fridge and fill your bottle with cold water.
If you haven’t had breakfast yet, this is the time to do it.
Whatever you do, DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL FIRST. I beg of you. You will get sucked into the portal of hollowing ghosts, all chanting, “I need this yesterday, send me this two days ago, boooooooo.”
First, make a to-do list. Determine what is most important to get done today. Don’t allow anyone to interrupt you during this time – not even an attorney jumping up from his or her chair under the guise of saying good morning when they want to make their to-do-list your to-do list. Tell them you will meet with them in a moment. I know this sounds like a suicide mission, but trust me. Make a weekly or twice-weekly date with each of your attorneys to be sure each of your to-do lists are working in harmony.
Check your email. Feel your hair blow back as if you are in a wind tunnel. Think Bridget Jones’ Diary when she is driving in the convertible and her hair scarf falls off. This is your new hairstyle.
Here’s the meat of your morning. Get the bulk of your to-do list done. Take a moment around 10:30am to munch on a handful of almonds or a yogurt or chips and guacamole.
GO TO LUNCH. YES I SAID GO TO LUNCH. FLEE FROM YOUR DESK. YES I MEAN IT. GO FAR AWAY. It will all be there once you get back. You will return with a refreshed perspective.
Do your semi-important work now. You are about to hit a wall at…
You need a nap. You want a nap. But you can’t nap. This is the moment to have another snack or stand up and stretch. If you don’t want people to see you stretching, go to another room. Close the door. Those five minutes of silence will energize you.
Yes, I said five minutes, but you will take ten. That’s fine.
Do your least important work now, if possible. This is the moment when an attorney is going to give you a last minute project. Often it can’t be helped. Do what you can. It is best to do it when you are fresh in the morning rather than exhausted at night. That is how mistakes are made. If you need to cry because the deadlines are making you crazy, I have perfected the art of crying behind my reading glasses without anyone knowing (preferably done during allergy season): allow yourself to tear up, but don’t sob. Stare off into the ether, wondering if you were a dancer in a past life, and then get back to it.
Congratulations – You are Super Paralegal.
Coming Next Post
What happens when your case room is about to explode? You wish it was mostly paper, but it’s stuffy paintings of men in hats hunting or bears in hats hunting men. You can’t dump your office pictures in her, Attorney Person! Find out how to diffuse this Mission Impossible-style scenario next time.
Ex-Super Paralegal, Joanne Spataro