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Paralegals at Home: Tips for Healthy Remote Work Habits

Posted By Justin Fromke, Friday, May 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 7, 2020

Never in our lifetime have we experienced what we are experiencing right now concerning the current pandemic.  I am sure you have read stories and maybe even heard your grandparents or great-grandparents talk about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.  But more than likely you have never experienced the complete turmoil our society and economy has been thrust into by the coronavirus, or COVID-19, viral pandemic.  And definitely our legal industry has never experienced such a situation before.  Firms and corporate legal departments literally overnight had to scramble to provide resources for their employees to either work in shifts in the office so as to reduce the number of people in a confined space or to work exclusively remotely from their homes.  Those of us who were consigned to work from home were thrust into an environment typically not conducive to a normal working situation.  I’m sure you’ve asked yourself, “How do I work from home?”  When I was thrust into working from home, I literally had approximately 30 minutes to think and react.  One day I was in the office, the next day I was not.  I gathered up my work laptop, docking station, and some documents and took a few personal items and left the building.  I was unsure what the future held but was more concerned with working from home.  I am the type of person who enjoys the social interaction of my coworkers, so how was I going to work all alone with only my pet to keep me company?  How do I communicate with my co-workers and conduct meetings?  How do I even set up my home office?  We all were faced with these questions.  My goal here is to provide you with some practical tips in creating a home office, being the most productive, and having a healthy perspective while working from home.


First, let’s talk about setting up your home office.  As most of us have experienced, our home office environment is more than lacking or, let’s be honest, virtually non-existent.  Living the single life has afforded me the luxury of using my additional bedroom as a home office, complete with desk, Mac computer, and some office supplies.  But not everyone is as lucky.  The first thing you have to do is evaluate your home. Do you have a spare bedroom or craft room? Does it have a desk or work table?  You need a comfortable space from which to conduct your work.  If you don’t have one, think creatively.  Even using concrete blocks as a base and an old door as a desktop is better than nothing.  Also, having a separate room with a desk can afford you space to close off when your spouse and/or children are being too loud when you have to concentrate or when you have to conduct a video conference call.  For me, the biggest challenge was making room for my work laptop and spare computer monitor to set on my desk already containing my personal Mac computer and podcast equipment.  I improvised by adding a small portable table at the end of desk for my spare monitor and shifted other equipment around to make room.  While my home workspace is not ideal, it is functional and will see me through this temporary situation.  If you don’t have a spare room to function as your home office, consider setting up a space at the dining room table or countertop in your laundry room.  Home workspace real estate may be a hot commodity with your spouse and children also at home, so make sure when you set up your space you consider the needs of your new “co-workers” who will also be clamoring for the same thing.  The ultimate goal is to create a space you can go to when it’s time to work. 


After you have evaluated your home and created a functional workspace, make sure you have included tools you use in your office to assist you.  Did you bring home physical files?  Do you need to scan files and upload to your system?  If so, do you have a scanner or multi-function home printer?  Consider all the necessary physical tools you use in your daily work to assist you and help you remain as productive in your home office as you were in your law office.


Second, make sure you focus on work during work hours.  For me, I established right away I would continue to work my normal schedule; 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with my normal lunch scheduled around noon.  Creating a sense of normalcy in the midst of an abnormal period will help you stay focused and productive.  When I’m at home, I see about 100 different projects I could be working on—from laundry to closet organization to binge watching my favorite Netflix series.  The goal is not to succumb to those distractions.  Get up in the morning at your normal time and do your normal morning routine.  Shower, make your bed, eat a healthy breakfast, fix your hair, and get dressed.  Unless you are going to have a Zoom call with the local judge, you don’t need to wear your typical work attire.  However, I do recommend you get dressed in comfortable clothes.  I may be crazy, but I even put on shoes!  For me, getting up and keeping to a morning ritual helps me feel like I am getting ready for work and heading to “the office.”  If you have kids and a spouse at home with you, ask them to allow you to work uninterrupted as long as possible.  Young children won’t necessarily understand why you can’t stop what you’re doing all the time and play with them.  To get the most out of your workday while spending time with your family, work in short bursts and take mini-breaks to spend with your family, maybe playing a round of cards or taking a walk around the block.  Then get back to work.  While it may not be ideal, it will provide you with an opportunity to be as productive as possible working, while being able to provide time with your family so they don’t feel completely neglected.  


Finally, keep a healthy perspective in all of this.  The amount of stress we all have come under is immense.  It’s more important now than ever before to make sure you take care of your body, mind, and soul.  For those of us who are single and live alone, isolation can be a dangerous thing.  Make sure you make time to connect with friends and family, adhering to social distancing mandates, of course.  If you cannot physically be with your friends, consider setting up a Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangout video call once a week.  Make it a “virtual happy hour”!  Designate a time for everyone to call in via video conferencing and have your favorite snack and beverage at hand and just talk with each other and catch up.  If you’re a person of faith, check to see if your church or synagogue is conducting daily or weekly services via the web and tune in.  Also, be sure to stay active.  If you used to go to the gym, look for exercises and gym classes via the web.  Get outside when the weather is nice and take walks through your neighborhood.  The goal is to ensure you are taking care of the whole you!


Remember, while this will not last forever, it’s important to make sure you try to maintain a level of normalcy in the midst of an abnormal world.  Stay safe and stay healthy!



-post by Carl Morrison, ACP, RP, PP-SC, AACP


Carl Morrison, ACP, RP, PP-SC, AACP, is a Manager of Legal Services for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.  Carl is also the host of The Paralegal Voice on Legal Talk Network.  To hear his recent podcast concerning paralegals working from home, click on the following link: https://legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/paralegal-voice/2020/03/paralegals-at-home-carls-tips-for-healthy-remote-work-habits/

Tags:  COVID-19  docket  paralegal 

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Communication Strategies in a Remote Work Environment

Posted By Justin Fromke, Friday, May 8, 2020
Updated: Thursday, May 7, 2020

You are working remotely. You are not in the same place as your attorney and team anymore. You’ve learned a whole bunch of new videoconferencing platforms that you now must use interchangeably. Every morning brings another meeting to discuss productivity. You are stressed and overwhelmed. You feel like you aren’t on the same page as your lawyer. Frustration mounts. Maybe there’s a breakdown in communication? Maybe you are still adjusting to this crisis? Maybe you just want to scream? Whatever the reason, don’t fret. You are still in control of your work. You just need to approach everything with one centered idea: you can do this. How you ask? You can do this by being a good communicator.

I have worked remotely for a few years now. At first it was because the lawyer I worked for was in California and I was in Texas. Then, before COVID-19, I travelled a lot for our national firm. I learned that communication was the only way I could be productive, effective, and sane. It also has allowed me and my attorney to work in tandem, instead of against one another. It has helped us build trust that we are doing our best work for our clients.

Want my secret sauce? Here’s a short list of communication strategies I use in my own practice:

1. The Check-In. This is by far the best strategy in my arsenal. Every morning, I send my lawyer an email about what I am working on and our priorities. This helps him know where I am at in my work. It also prompts him to keep me posted on what he is doing, too. He’s getting better at that.  He emails me in the evening what he plans to work on the next day. It helps us stay focused on the tasks we need to do.

2. Choose the Right Method. What should be a call, an email, or a videoconference? That depends on the situation. Emails and text messages are void of emotion and can lead to interpretation issues. When it comes to a complicated topic or question, a call may be better than an email. If you have an attorney or team member who asks a lot of questions, a phone call is often better. For a quick touch base, email is best. It is important to remember that face-to-face interactions are most effective when dealing with sensitive topics or establishing trust.

3. Communicating Realistic Expectations. Most lawyers think it will take less time than it actually does to finish a project. Paralegals deal with this all the time, but few come out and tell their lawyer how long a project will take to complete. Good news, you are in the driver’s seat. Unsure of how long a project will take? You can figure it out. Start a timer and go! If it is a particularly long project, I recommend you keep your lawyer informed of your progress. I do this routinely. So, when I tell my lawyer how long a project is going to take me, I can use examples from previous projects. I am confident in my time estimations because I have some back-up experience.

4. Listen with Your Ears AND Your Eyes. You can actively listen with your ears and your eyes. So much of what we as humans communicate is non-verbal. Make sure to pay close attention to tone, facial expressions, eye movements, and even hand or arm gestures. It is not atypical for a lawyer to convey “everything is fine,” but appear to be frustrated. It is a good idea not to only rely on the words they are saying, but also how they are saying them. These non-verbal cues are some of the reasons why face-to-face communications are more effective in some instances. In fact, feel free to come out an ask for a videoconference call when you think it is needed.

5. Reframe to Avoid Misunderstanding. I use reframing often when my lawyer’s instructions make no sense to me. Reframing is when you listen to an instruction or a direction and repeat your understanding back to the person who gave you the instruction. I have found that when I reframe complicated instructions, the attorney often wanted me to do something completely different. In some cases, they talked themselves out of that particular idea or we brainstormed a more efficient way of completing the task. Reframing should not be used in all instances, but it is a very helpful tool when it comes to complex and complicated projects or ideas.

6. Engage in Non-Work-Related Communication. I cannot stress this enough: you need to talk to your lawyer or team at some point about things that are not work related. Ask them how they are doing. Inquire about their family or pets. Make small talk about the weather. Get to know them. By getting to know one another, you are more likely to trust one another. With trust comes grace. You are likely to treat each other better (and with more kindness and mercy) when you know each other. All it takes is 15 minutes a week. It is worth it, trust me.

Good communication strategies benefit everyone. You do not need to be in the same room (or even in the same city) to effectively communicate with one another. I have come to realize in my years of working with lawyers that you get what you give when it comes to communication. When presented with the possibility of over- or under-communicating, I always over-communicate. I would rather be persistent than make a mistake – costing my firm money, client trust, and damaging my reputation. Remember, the tools you need are already within you. The ability to solve conflicts and be productive is in your hands. All you need to do is communicate them. You've got this.


-by Candess Zona-Mendola


Candess Zona-Mendola is a Trial Paralegal at a national law firm that helps victims of food poisoning outbreaks, the author of  The Indispensable Paralegal – Your Guide to Getting It All Done, and is the Editor of www.MakeFoodSafe.com.

Tags:  COVID-19  docket  law firm  paralegal  work from home 

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Want to Work Fast

Posted By Rachel Daeger, Thursday, March 12, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Dear Eula Mae:

I’ve been in the legal support field for a few years now. My previous position as a data processor/typist was all about production and speed and it is a little different now that I’m a legal assistant. I want so much to do my job fast but I’m having to go back and correct little things almost daily. I get frustrated by handling the same documents over and over. This really slows down the process and I’m sure my boss is not happy about having to look at these documents over and over too. I don’t want him to think he made a mistake in hiring me for this job. I want to do well as a legal assistant and need advice on this.

--Want to be Speedy


Dear Speedy:

It seems like everything in the world today is all about speed, however, in a legal office, it is more important for the work to be exactly correct. The rhythm of the legal assistant’s job is different than a production position like a typist. The legal assistant is required to take exceptional care in handling clients’ information. This means a lot of reading and proofreading which takes time.

The work needs to be perfect before it leaves the office. My best advice to you is to be sure you have the right resources (grammar books and websites marked) and skills (which can be developed) in order for you to do the best job that you can. At the desk, a legal assistant’s job is about dependability and accuracy. After you type some documents, take a moment to occupy your mind a different way--take a short walk around the office, go get a cup of coffee, do some copying or filing—anything that is different than what you just typed. Then come back to the document and read it backwards from the end of the document to the top.

There is something about how the brain works when doing this that will help you spot any mistakes. But before you turn the work in to the boss for signature, try reading it out loud (silently of course) one more time to look for any other corrections needed. You can learn to slow down in the office with the goal of having the best outcome possible in your work.

It will take you a little effort to do this, but you will be very happy with the results and your boss will notice the improvement too.

Tags:  ask eula mae  docket 

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