This article originally appeared in the the Kansas City Paralegal Association’s July 2022 ParaView.
If you have recently read legal industry websites such as law.com or if you read the KCMBA’s KC Counselor magazine, you may have noticed a trend. Attorneys are focusing on their mental health.
You could argue whether Covid caused the need to focus on mental health or if it simply exposed a problem that had been lingering just below the surface for decades: attorneys are often stressed out, not good enough to themselves, and largely not focused on their own health, both physical or mental.
We’re delighted the lawyers have started to find ways to take better care of themselves, and to talk openly about it. At the same time, we want to spotlight the need for those of us who work in support roles to follow their lead.
Rarely a week goes by where we don’t receive an email or text message that one of our client firms is looking to hire a new paralegal. Sometimes we hear from multiple clients in the same day asking us if we know of anybody. In fact, many law firms haven’t recovered to pre-Covid staff levels yet. That’s not because there isn’t enough work, it’s because there aren’t enough good employees!
Covid caused many talented and dedicated paralegals and legal support staff to leave the industry all together. The reasons for this are varied and not the point of this article. What is important is that those of you reading this have been forced to pick up the slack and we see you. When some of you call us about an active case, we now have to ask which one. You are carrying larger case loads, all while navigating the ever-increasing complexity of discovery in an electronic world. The stress and workload can be overwhelming.
While we can’t directly help you balance your workload, we have a few techniques to help us keep things in perspective and to support one another at Complete Legal. We want to share a few of them with you here today.
1. Acknowledge the stress or pressure you feel and allow yourself to appreciate how much you have on your plate.
All too often we complete tasks and quickly move onto the next one, without stopping to appreciate the effort it took to finish the last one.
If you don’t stop and take some fulfillment or satisfaction out of getting the privilege log completed and sent to opposing counsel or finishing up the first pass review of the new data in the Johnson case, the odds of you feeling burnt out increase dramatically.
Take a moment to enjoy your little victory. Get a cup of tea, get some fresh air, or text a colleague before you move on.
2. Make sure you are getting enough sleep.
There are countless studies that cement the link between mental health and average hours of sleep per night. While true that everyone doesn’t need the same amount of sleep, if you aren’t regularly giving yourself 6-7 hours, expect to perform under your peak.
In fact, according to the CDC, adults between the ages of 18-60 should sleep for a minimum of 7 hours per night. Knowing that many of us balance work, family and other obligations on a daily basis, 7 hours may not always be possible, but try to make it happen more often than not.
Things like winding down an hour before bed by chatting, reading or journaling and getting plenty of fresh air and exercise during the day will help make getting to sleep easier.
3. Talk to others in similar situations to compare notes and see if they have any additional coping mechanisms.
Many problems cease being a problem once they are discussed and acknowledged by a peer. Many times, our peers are the ones who give us the advice we need to change the way we look at things or to learn a few tricks that help take the stress out of specific tasks.
This organization of paralegals creates a perfect support group when you hit a wall. I bet you’d be surprised how many of your peers feel the same way you do.
4. Set reasonable and realistic expectations about what you can get done in a day.
It often feels like there is more to do than we can accomplish in a day, but try to adopt a mindset of plenty, prioritize 1-2 to do items each day, and know at the end of the day you’ve done your best.
Once you’ve done what you set out to do, or it’s time to go home, leave work at work. This is often more easily said than done but that doesn’t mean it’s not a healthy habit.
Most of us end up in support services because we like to serve others and support their efforts. This can be amazingly fun and rewarding. It can also make us sacrifice our own happiness for a case or an attorney.
Work on setting work/home boundaries and keeping them. I’ve found that if I set boundaries and make those around me (including my boss) aware of them, they will respect them as much as possible.
5. Learn something new at work.
There’s no better way for me to pull myself out of the monotony of everyday tasks than by being challenged to learn something new. It forces us to take a beginner’s mindset and allow us to use different portions of our brain. This is proven to increase levels of job satisfaction.
With the crazy job market and the number of people leaving the workforce, those of us left behind have been forced to pick up the slack. Try your best to be kind to yourself, listen to your body and above all else know that you are not alone. We are here to help.
We welcome your questions and comments. Contact us to learn more about our no-cost consult.