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Ask Eula Mae: What To Do When You Are Overwhelmed

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Monday, April 24, 2017

Dear Eula Mae:

 

Can you help me?  It seems I have been getting busier at work and my workload has grown to the point that I am nearly confused.  The files on my desk have slowly piled up to where I cannot tell what is coming or going.  I am just working one file at a time and not sure where to start to get all of this straight.  I love my job, I want to do well, and the boss is depending on me to do a great job in supporting his efforts.  It is really a concern that I might be losing a grip on managing my job.  There has to be a way to figure out how to make it all run more smoothly.  Please help.

 

Overwhelmed in Omaha


 

Dear Overwhelmed in Omaha:

 

It takes a special person to work in a legal support position.  Part of having these special skills is the ability to handle a large workload, timing and scheduling everything well, and giving exceptional attention to details.  Quiet ambition and growth in the law firm can easily lead to the feeling of being overwhelmed.  Here are a few tips to help you get back to feeling in control of your duties.

 

First, you must know where you are to know where to begin.  Schedule time to clean and sort everything.  If that means staying a little late for a day or two, do it because the payoff will be great. 

 

·      Clean your work area.  Get your desk and files in order.

·      Batch like things together.  This can be a real time saver.  You only have to think out the procedure one time for what needs to be done next.

·      Make a list of your current projects and where they are in the process.  This information can help you develop a checklist so you can tell at a glance what needs to be done. 

·      Organize each batch by due dates and you will know what has to be done first.

 

If along the way you discover that there is really too much work for one person to manage, you need to have a conversation with your attorney.  Start by presenting a typed list of your current projects and the status of each.  Is it time to move some of the typing to the word processors or hire a new person, or does your boss want to pay you overtime?  Anything can happen and the goal is to do what is right and fair for all.

 

Note that if you feel overwhelmed at work, you may have that feeling at home.  The same process will work there too. Once you know where you are, you will instinctively know exactly what to do.  


 

Submit Your Questions to Ask Eula Mae By Clicking Here.

Tags:  administrative  legal assistant  legal career  legal job skills  legal office  legal professional  legal professional training 

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Bullying in the Workplace: Identifying the Types—Have You Met One?

Posted By Charlene Sabini, CLP, ALP, Friday, November 18, 2016

Bullying in the WorkplaceIs there currently a U.S. law against workplace bullying?


No.
The United States is last among the industrialized western democracies. The U.S. completely ignores workplace bullying in its vast collection of laws.

Is there a law in my state?


No.
No state has an anti-bullying law for the workplace. Remember, there is a big difference between having a bill or bills introduced (potential laws), compared to laws that have been passed by both houses in the state legislature and signed into law by the governor.[1]

These are questions and answers we do not want to see. But we do.

So, don’t we already have federal employment discrimination laws that might also cover bullying? In only 20% of cases do our anti-discrimination laws actually apply. This is difficult to understand. In order to claim sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or hostile work environment, the recipient of the mistreatment must be a member of a protected status group (based on gender, race, disability, ethnicity, religion, etc.). For example, a white female bullied by a white female (or a man of color bullied by another man of color) are not protected. “Technically, bullying is a form of violence—certainly verbal, but non-physical. One of our preferred synonyms for workplace bullying is ‘psychological violence.’ However, violence policies and laws always focus on the acts and threats of physical violence—striking someone (battery), or threatening someone so that they fear being physically hurt (assault). The one exception is the inclusion of verbal abuse in violence policies. So bullying that is verbal, but not physical, is completely legal.”[2]

Let’s further define this kind of bullying:  workplace bullying is a repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more aggressors. It is clearly abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. It can also be interference with one’s work or sabotaging of one’s work, as well as various kinds of verbal abuse.[3]

It is often about control—control of the targeted person, not unlike domestic violence. It can be an act of commission or omission (withholding vital resources from the targeted person). It can escalate to involve others, and it ultimately undermines legitimate business interests when the bully’s personal agenda supersedes the work itself.[4]

The specific types of workplace bullying are many and often terrifying. One category is Threats to Personal Standing and can include:

  • Spreading rumors, hurtful gossip, or innuendos
  • Yelling, name-calling, mocking, insulting, or ridiculing
  • Unwanted physical contact or physical gestures that intimidate or threaten
  • Invalid or baseless criticism
  • Accusatory or threatening statements
  • Faultfinding or unwarranted blaming
  • Displaying offensive photos or objects
  • Temper tantrums, mood swings, or shouting
  • Humiliation, public reprimands, or obscene language
  • Ganging up against a coworker
  • Aggressive posturing

Another category is Threats to Professional Standing and can include:

  • Denying access to resources, assignments, projects, or opportunities
  • Stealing or taking credit for another’s work
  • Interfering with someone’s work performance
  • Failing to return phone calls or messages
  • Little or no feedback on performance
  • Withholding information essential to perform one’s job
  • Toxic emails
  • Flaunting status

Yet another is Control or Manipulation Tactics:

  • Failing to invite someone to an essential meeting
  • Threatening job loss
  • Excessive monitoring or micromanagement
  • Assigning tasks that cannot be completed by deadline; setting unrealistic goals
  • Interference or sabotage
  • Ignoring a coworker with the intent to harm or control
  • Treating a worker differently than peers and coworkers
  • Ostracism, isolation, dissociation, or exclusion from others
  • Refusal to take responsibility
  • Excessive, impossible, conflicting work expectations or demands
  • Inequitable and harsh treatment
  • Other objectionable behavior designed to torment, isolate, pester, or abuse

Example:  Angela:  Fired by a Bully

“I worked for the Law School Admission Counsel, the company which administers the LSAT. My boss never liked me and why she hired me is still unclear. She bullied me extensively, yelling at me in front of my coworkers, threatening my job privately in her office, and discouraging alliances with coworkers. She treated people similarly in other departments, yelling at them in meetings. I tried to appease her until she threatened my job . . .”[5]

And it is not unusual that the company bullies are visible to other employees in the company. They are the proverbial “elephants in the room,” not unlike perpetrators of domestic violence. In their battering way, bullies minimize, deny, sidetrack, and blame their targets, hoping to avoid accountability for their actions.[6]

Anton Hout, founder of OvercomeBullying.org, identifies eight bully types:

  1. The Screaming Mimi. This is the most easily recognizable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behavior is meant to berate and humiliate people. They thrive on the notion that others fear them.
  2. The Two-Headed Snake. To a coworker’s face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the coworker is out of earshot, this person will destroy his colleague’s reputation, stab him in the back, and even take credit for his work.
  3. The Constant Critic. This bully’s goal is to dismantle other people’s confidence through constant—and often unwarranted—criticism. A critic will look for any possible flaw in someone’s work and labors tirelessly to kill that person’s credibility. Impeccable work? No problem:  this type of bully is not above falsifying documents or creating evidence to make others look bad.
  4. The Gatekeeper. Every office has at least one employee who gets off on wielding his or her power over others—regardless of whether that power is real or perceived. Gatekeepers deny people the tools they need—whether it is resources, time, or information—to do their jobs efficiently.
  5. The Attention Seeker. This type of bully wants to be the center of the action at all times. They will try to get on their superior’s good side through consistent flattery and even come on as kind and helpful to their peers—especially the newer employees. However, if coworkers do not provide the right amount of attention, these bullies can quickly turn on them.

    Attention seekers are often overly dramatic and relate everything to something that is going wrong in their own lives to garner sympathy and control. These bullies also have a tendency to coax personal info out of new employees—only to use it against them later.
  6. The Wannabe. This is an employee who sees himself or herself as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything. But Wannabes are not usually very good at their jobs. To compensate, these bullies spend a majority of their time watching more competent workers and looking for areas of skilled workers’ performance to complain about.

    Wannabes will demand that everything is done their way—even when there are better ways of doing things. Because they are automatically opposed to others’ ideas, they will do everything in their power to prevent changes to their work processes.
  7. The Guru. Generally, there is nothing wrong with this bully’s work performance. In fact, it is not unusual for a Guru to be considered an expert in his or her own niche area. What these bullies offer in technical skill, however, they severely lack in emotional maturity.

    Gurus see themselves as being superior to their coworkers. As a result, they do not consider how their actions will affect others, are not able to fathom the possibility that they can be wrong, and do not accept responsibility for their own actions. In addition, because these bullies feel as though they are “above it all,” they do not always feel compelled to follow the same rules as everybody else.
  8. The Sociopath. Intelligent, well-spoken, charming, and charismatic, sociopaths are the most destructive bullies of all. Reason: They have absolutely no empathy for others, yet they are experts at manipulating the emotions of others in order to get what they want.

    These bullies often rise to positions of power within the company, which makes them extremely dangerous. Sociopaths tend to surround themselves with a circle of lackeys who are willing to do their dirty work in exchange for moving up the ranks with them.

The best defense a company can have against workplace bullying is a clearly worded policy that prohibits any type of bullying behavior.[7]

Clearly, workplace bullying can take many forms and wear many guises—all unpleasant and all destructive. There is no federal law that applies to bullying specifically. In some cases, when bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, “bullying” overlaps with harassment and schools are legally obligated to address it. Here in Oregon matters of workplace bullying overlap somewhat with bullying phenomena primarily at schools and universities:  the terms used in the Oregon anti-bullying laws include harassment, intimidation, or bullying, and this covers cyberbullying as well. The following groups are listed under Oregon educational anti-bullying law:  race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, familial status, disability, and source of income.

“Although a number of states have considered anti-bullying legislation, none has yet to pass such a law. That does not necessarily mean bullying is legal in every situation, however. Bullying is illegal when it violates federal or state laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace.” (These laws protect employees from harassment based on the previously mentioned characteristics.) “If a workplace bully is targeting an employee based on a protected characteristic which could qualify as illegal harassment, the employee would have a ‘hostile work environment’ claim if the unwelcome conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would find it to be offensive, hostile, or abusive. To date, neither federal law nor the law of any state prohibits workplace bullying outright.”[8]

 


  1. http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/faq.php, The Healthy Workplace Bill, by Gary Namie, Director, last viewed October 22, 2016

  2. Ibid.

  3. http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/definition/

  4. Ibid.

  5. https://www.thebalance.com/types-of-bullying-2164322, Sally Kane, July 25, 2016, last viewed October 22, 2016

  6. Ibid.

  7. http://www.hrmorning.com/8-workplace-bully-personality-types/, Tim Gould, July 19, 2016;  last viewed October 22, 2016

  8. http://labor-employment-law.lawyers.com/employment-discrimination/workplace-bullying-the-meanest-of-the-mean.html, Lisa Guerin, J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley, last viewed October 23, 2016


Charlene Sabini, CLP, ALP, is legal assistant for attorney David Vill in juvenile law matters in Eugene, Oregon. She is Director of Education for her local chapter, NALS of Lane County in Eugene, and has enthusiastically occupied that position for over four years. She is editor of her chapter’s bimonthly newsletter, NALS in Motion, which has been published unfailingly for nearly four years. She has earned three successive NALS CLE Awards and plans to sit for the PP exam in March 2017. She is a proofreader on the NALS Editorial Board and has contributed articles/essays for the NALS docket and @Law. Charlene is an affiliate member of the Lane County Bar Association and was responsible for initiating that level of membership with the bar for nonlawyers in 2014. She also petitioned the Oregon State Bar Association to allow guest speaking attorneys at nonlawyer education meetings to receive CLE credit (which was formerly not allowed in Oregon) and was successful. She is also a 13-year volunteer with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene, has served as the county sheriff’s newsletter editor, and is currently serving as the county jail librarian. The Oregon State Sheriff’s Association/Jail Command Council awarded Ms. Sabini the Jail Volunteer of the Year award in 2009.

Tags:  legal  legal assistant  legal career  legal education  legal job skills  legal jobs  legal office  legal professional  legal professional training  nals  office procedures  paralegal  paralegal office 

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Ask Eula Mae: Work v. Law School Decision

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Ask Eula MaeDear Eula Mae:

I have an ALP certificate and work part time for an attorney as an office clerk but lack the hours needed for a four-year law study program in lieu of going to law school.  Most of my duties are as a personal assistant and I do not have much to do.  I am taking the Multi-State Professional Exam (MPRE) this week “just for fun.”  How do I get my foot in the door without much legal experience?  Should I bite the bullet and go to law school or stay on my current path and hope to find work in a more robust office?

New Hampshire Newbie


 

Dear New Hampshire Newbie:

Well, you have a lot going on and a lot of questions!  This is good!  There are several things in your letter to consider:  (1) you need hours for a four-year law study program, (2) you need more to do in your job, (3) it sounds like you really want to work in a law office, and (4) you are trying to decide whether or not to go to law school.  Let’s take these one at a time.  

  1. You need hours for a four-year law study program.  Are you in college or looking for certification hours?  Either way, if you love the law, you can find classes to attend through professional organizations such as NALS, technical schools, or online classes at your local university.  

  2. In your current job, start with the boss.  The boss needs to know you need more to do and you are willing to learn.  Bosses are a great resource for legal professionals for career ideas and maybe as a mentor.  You could interview the boss about his experience in law school.

  3. If your goal is to work in a law office, there is much to learn right where you are.  If you have exhausted the resources there (after talking with the boss, of course), then it might be time to move on to a busier office.  Legal work can take place in many areas.  You can work directly for an attorney at hospitals, corporate offices, title companies, insurance companies, utility companies, etc.  As your own research project to help you decide your next step, it might be good to look at other areas that have legal assistants.

  4. A big decision such as whether or not to go to law school is not one to make quickly.  There are many reasons for this and the main one is to absolutely know why you want to go to law school.  It is a big commitment.  First, you will have to finish your undergraduate degree and then secure the funding to pay for law school.  This is a job in itself.  Then you will need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).  All of this could take some time, but that is really not a problem because you can go to school any time in your life.

 

What makes your main question difficult is the fact that there are so many options!  Now, how to make a big decision:  make a comparison chart with a list of what you could do (law school v. legal assistant, paralegal certification, etc.).  For each item, make columns of time involved, resources available and needed, costs, and list the positives and negatives of each.  You have plenty of time to decide.  You can always go to law school and working as a legal assistant until you are ready will better prepare you for law school.  The real answer to your question is for you to follow your heart.  You will be fine whatever you choose to do.

 

Eula Mae Jett

 

Submit Your Questions To Ask Eula Mae By Clicking Here.

 

 

Tags:  ask eula mae  legal  legal education  legal job skills  legal jobs  legal professional  paralegal 

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