For many people, working in family law as a junior minion is remembered as one of the most stressful periods of their professional life.You are expected to progress cases for clients – but everything seems to take you three times as long as it takes the others. Is any of this familiar?
- It feels as if you need to look up everything before you can do the work.
- When you do achieve work, it needs to be cleared by the supervisor before it can go to the client.
- Your supervisor doesn’t have time to go through the difficult stuff with you, so it sits and festers on your desk.
- if you have child care/ home obligations then you do not have the luxury of staying late and catching up
- The “to do” pile grows and grows.
Try not to be too hard on yourself. When I began working as a family paralegal I had a permanent knot of worry in my stomach . I worked the whole day but often had nothing to show for it. Everything was difficult all of the time. At 2pm I would start to panic as I knew I had to leave at 4pm or I would pay extra for the child-minder.
What did I say when my principal asked if “I was Ok?/ how were things/ how are you getting on?”- did I say “ Actually, I am really behind and I need extra help” – no, of course not, I nodded and smiled and said it was fine.
I got busted when I took some leave and a client called in which led to the discovery of the monster pile of undone stuff on my desk. A colleague went through the pile of work - but of course words were had when I returned to work. It was a real wake up call about how stressed I was and how quickly things can get out of hand.
All in all it took me about a year to settle down as a useful, target meeting member of the firm. Here are some of the things that really helped me get there and I hope you find them useful too. Lets take it from the point where you walk in on Monday morning, and at 9.30 your post arrives and it has increased your terrifying to do pile by ten new things to sort out.
It’s ok if you feel physically shaky and heart-racey. Well, it’s not OK as such, it is a sign of quite serious stress and you adrenaline system is kicking in. Fight or flight response etc. So you are now going to do something about it.
- Take every piece of paper and lay them out, by client file name, across your floor in a line.
- Get out the files from the cabinet and match them up to the paper.
- Print out the emails that need dealing with and get out their files.
- There should not be a single bit of paper on your desk, related to a client matter, that isn’t with its file and on the floor. I think my record is 27 files on the floor.
- Then get the non-client stuff . Put it in one pile. Go through it and ascertain how long you can ignore it for.
- Go to your supervisor. Negotiate some “clear my backlog ” time. Explain that clients must come first and you hadn’t realised that you had quite so much on. Try and get a least a week where it is agreed you can be let off seeing new clients or being given new stuff. Negotiate a period of secretarial support. Make it clear you are not empire building, but just need a bit of the firm’s resources. Subtly remind people that it could be a “compliance issue” if you do not get on top of things. Best of all, get an agreed period of time where you be unavailable on the phone to clients.
- Deal quickly with any non client really urgent stuff. It will shut people up and then you can get on.
- Pile up the client files into three separate piles (you can’t leave them on your floor, people will keep asking you annoying questions). I assume that all the work is relatively urgent.
- Pile 1 is quick and easy (ish)
- Pile 2 is long and tedious but easy (ish)
- Pile 3. These are the fish files. A fish file is a file that you don’t know how to progress. First you ignore it for a week. Then you realise you have ignored it, you are late in progressing it and anyway you don’t know where to start. It grows eyes and starts looking at you when you are in your office. The longer you leave it the more it stinks. That is why it is called a fish file.
In my next post I will discuss how to deal with fish files as they require special ninja techniques. We also need to talk about time management and coping with stress at work. I won’t leave it too long as I know you want help with the fish files – but make a start on piles 1 and 2 and you will feel better by lunch time, I guarantee it.