Are paralegals doomed to burnout? Is it just a question of time? Paralegal burnout in the legal field seems commonplace. Mix in a pandemic that has turned up the heat on stress, overwhelm, and hardship, and paralegal burnout seems inevitable.
Is paralegal burnout unavoidable?
Many of the causes of paralegal burnout need to be tackled by the leadership of the firm, but you can protect yourself from paralegal burnout by focusing on the areas of burnout that you can influence.
Let’s look into what you can do to avoid and recover from paralegal burnout.
How To Safeguard Yourself From Paralegal Burnout
While insufficient reward and unfairness need to be addressed at a company leadership level, many of the underlying causes of burnout can be lessened to shield your health and sanity.
First things first, let’s make sure the position and the company are a good fit for you.
Before taking a new paralegal position, you need to ascertain that the firm’s culture and your values are aligned. Like acid eroding steel, the constant conflict of working on something which you oppose will gnaw at your soul. Such misalignment between your core and your work will eventually lead to burnout.
You may discover core values when previously unassailed ethics are under bombardment. It could be small things, such as being asked to lie to your clients about the status of their matters.
If daily you feel as though you need to wash out the yuck of your day, your beliefs and your duties may be mismatched.
Once you have found a position that supports your core values, you can create habits, practices, and procedures to protect yourself from the debilitating exhaustion and apathy of burnout.
Paralegals are often the structural underpinning of law firms and legal departments. With their efficient systems and processes, they provide everything from client support to ensuring that all deadlines are met. Basically, they tackle everything outside of the attorneys’ realm of expertise.
But who supports the backbone of the company?
While it may take a village to raise a child, it definitely takes a whole network to thrive in the legal field and to avoid paralegal burnout. While your friends, family, and children’s caretakers are essential life and work survival foundations, your professional support structure is vital to avoid burnout.
Do you have a strong, supportive professional community?
Your professional network of support includes your superior and even leadership above your boss.
Together with your boss you can identify the current priorities, work towards career goals (your boss cannot help you become a senior litigation specialist if she does not know your career goals), and make sure that your workload is not overwhelming.
Smart attorneys rely on their paralegals and view them as key team members. Knowing that your boss has your back helps to keep overwhelm from overtaking you.
Make sure you have peers as part of your support community.
Your peers, both within your company and outside of your firm, can share work smart tips, how they balance work and family/life and even provide job leads. With your peers, you are not alone in this high-pressure profession.
The Paralegal Club was created to be a trusted support network for both new and seasoned paralegals.
A sense of control can dial down the feeling of being crushed by life and work. While having control over the future is an illusion (as this pandemic has dramatically illustrated), there are things that you do have control over.
You have the control to choose how you will react to something. You have the control to prioritize self-care so that you are healthy and at your best.
You have control over your attitude.
A positive attitude will not only make your work life better; it can also protect your health and help you be your best you. Your mind is always listening. What are you saying to it?
You have a lot of control – over yourself.
That may not sound like a big deal, but it is powerful.
Staying in your center of control empowers you and helps you to remain calm in the midst of chaos.
Do you know the difference between busy and productive work? Do you establish your daily, weekly, and monthly priorities? Do you work in a focused systematic manner? Are you flotsam on the river or the captain of your ship?
Taking the time to establish daily priorities and working towards those can ward off burnout.
Life is noisy. Each call, email, text, and ping takes you from the important matters you need to do and pulls you towards someone else’s urgent problems. If you allow the urgencies of others to dominate your time, you will feel as though you have no control.
While you need to respond to client calls and your boss’ emails, knowing your daily priorities helps you to return your focus to what needs to be done now.
Being productive, meeting a goal, hitting a deadline, and accomplishing a challenging task will demonstrate your competence to yourself and your boss.
Knowing the priorities for the day staves off overwhelm.
To be successful, attorneys must have a high mastery of the English language. After all, words can make or break a contract, will, or pleading.
You would think such mastery would translate to being a great communicator.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Not all attorneys are proficient at clearly explaining what is needed nor are they always timely in their communications.
Poor communication can lead to paralegal burnout.
What is a paralegal to do?
You may not be able to make your boss a better communicator but you can make sure you understand what is needed.
If something is unclear, ask for clarification.
Establishing a regular touch base can ensure that you both agree on the current priorities. Work with your boss to make sure that you understand expectations, from the work-product needed today to your responsibilities.
Your boss most likely is not a mind reader. If you want something (to be considered for a more senior position or reduce your current workload while handling a personal situation), you must communicate it to your boss.
While your boss may not be a great communicator, you can be.
Ensuring an affinity between your values and company culture, establishing a strong support network, staying in the center of your control, focusing on completing your must-do priorities, and being a master communicator will ward you from burnout.
Share your best tips for not getting overwhelmed as a paralegal in the Official Paralegal Club Facebook Group.