“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” — C.S. Lewis
You’ll never understand the significance of the above quote until you start your first time job and you’re thrown straight in to the deep end. I was so excited about starting my first full time job as a paralegal. It was the first step in my career – the thing that was going to lead me on to getting the thing I’ve always dreamed of, my training contract. But I wish I had somebody to tell me what to expect from it before I started.
I was all psyched up and ready for my first day in the big wide world, but within a week I was feeling so overwhelmed and it took me a while to realise why, I wasn’t switching off. I’d think about my workload when I got home from work, and every weekend I’d dread having to go back to my workload on a Monday. It’s safe to say after three months of being a paralegal, and a lot of organisation, I’ve finally managed to somewhat balance my work and personal life. If you’re struggling with the same, here are a few ways to help you deal with it:
- Understand that you’re not going to know everything as soon as you start. You might have a basic understanding of the legal processes and how things work, but no one will expect you to know everything when you start. I’m still learning every single day I go in to work, and I don’t think that process is going to stop for a long time.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is going to sound like such a cliche, but there really is no such thing as a silly question. You’re going to be placed in situations where you won’t know what you’re doing. With a profession like law, you’re probably also going to be faced with tight deadlines for getting certain things done. The best thing to do would be to ask, and avoid causing any unnecessary delays. That being said, try and avoid asking the same question more than once. You don’t want to provide the impression that you haven’t been paying attention to what your employer has said.
- Take notes on everything. There will be a lot of new information being relayed to you. The best thing to do in that situation is to make notes on everything you’ve been told. From definitions, to using case management systems. Not only will it mean you won’t have to make sure you remember a large amount of information, but it will always be something you can refer to if you ever need to.
- Set diary reminders. Make your outlook calendar your best friend at work. From chasing the other side’s solicitors, to deadlines for sending documents and submitting court bundles – diarise everything. It will mean you don’t have a swarm of information in your head at all times, (which will no doubt minimise headaches) and you can never forget to do something vital.
- Be willing to learn. It’s likely as a new member of staff that you will be expected to stay out-of-hours in order for your manager/fee-earner to be able to teach you how to do legal work. This definitely isn’t out of the ordinary. With 100’s of clients and things to do during the day, it’s near to impossible for them to be able to find the time and train you up in legal work during the day. Try and come to an agreement with them, maybe agree to stay late 2-3 times a week to be trained. You’ll appreciate it once things start making sense when you put them into practice!
- Learn to switch off when you get home. This one is subjective. There are people out there who are willing to make their career everything. For me, I believe everyone needs a personal life. As long as you can manage your work load and work efficiently to get your work done, there’s no reason why you can’t have a good work-life balance. When you get home after a long 12/13 hour day, you don’t want to be thinking about what you’ve still got left to do tomorrow. Take some time to relax and get yourself refreshed for the next day, and then tackle your workload with a fresh mind the day after.
- Always try your best. This one goes without saying. If you don’t want to do well, you wont, it’s as simple as that. As long as you’re trying your best at work and people can see that, people will notice. Make it known that you’re enjoying your job and willing to learn from new experiences and mistakes (because we will all make those now and then).
- Enjoy the experience as much as you can. Make sure you take in everything and enjoy the work as much as you can. It won’t be easy, but the difficult times and learning won’t last forever either. Once you’re confident with what you’re doing, the time will start to fly and you won’t know where it’s gone. I myself can’t believe I’ve already been a paralegal for three months. I don’t know where the time has gone! Enjoy every moment for what it is, and it will all be worth it in the end.
At the end of the day, as long as you try your best, manage your workload and are willing to learn and work, there’s no reason why you can’t have a successful career ahead of you.