Triathlon is a pretty amazing sport. It’s dynamic, challenging, requires both a fast pace and endurance. It’s a physical game without a doubt, but the mental game is often what defeats you. You must think fast and be prepared for that inconvenient flat or season ending injury. You need to be multidisciplinary but treat those disciplines as a unified whole, and train for transitions. You eat while in motion. You need strong foundations, without them the only thought in your head is related to the pain. It’s also an endorphin rush. The thrill of conquering a race, of pushing your limits, of challenging yourself and succeeding; triathlon is rewarding.
If this sounds a lot like practicing law — I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Litigation especially is an endurance event, but almost any practice area fits the description. The law is filled to the brim with challenges and rewards.
Your paralegal is your endurance training.
Your paralegal, like your training build up, is a critical component of your practice. Wait what? Yup, that’s what I said: your paralegal is your training build up. You got the base done in law school and your early years. But the build up to race day, where the real work happens, that key stage where you combine all the pieces together? That’s where your paralegal comes in.
Play the long game… Ask yourself where you want your practice to go, how you want to get there, what you envision happening at each stage. This is your training plan, your business development plan. You’ll want to build your team — whether it’s an increasingly large in house team or a virtual team of independent contractors — around the stages in this plan. Your needs change over the course of time and you’ll want to staff accordingly and be prepared to do so before you’re in the weeds and scrambling.
….but don’t ignore the sprint. Each stage of the plan has goals. You need to be able to focus on strategy but you can’t lose sight of the day to day work or get bogged down and overwhelmed. Your virtual paralegal can handle so many substantive but low level tasks — monitoring dockets and calendaring dates, drafting documents in anticipation of motions practice and transactions, fielding non-legal strategy calls from clients (like the “what’s happening with my case?” question), scheduling mediation, and even reminding you when something is overdue from the client. All of these tasks free you to focus on more substantial work while keeping a case moving.
Without nutrition it all crashes down
What does it take to feed your practice? In many ways the same things it takes to feed you. Nutrition starts with business development. New clients, building relationships with old clients, networking, these are the blocks of your nutrition plan just as much as carbohydrates, proteins and fats form the building blocks of the food that fuels your body.
Then there’s CLE. Everyone, even your paralegals, needs CLE. Yes, even you lucky lawyers who don’t have a mandated CLE requirement. It’s not bare lettuce, devoid of value, acting as filler and taking valuable time away from what you prefer to do. Continuing legal education offers valuable refreshers on legal principles and generates awareness of current developments across areas of law. CLE is seasoning. You don’t need much, but it sure makes things more interesting and without those complex electrolytes, your muscles will stop twitching.
Your paralegals can be a real benefit to your firm’s nutrition. They are often on the front lines of technology development from ediscovery to next generation PACER and electronic filing, from cloud case management and sharing information with clients, to new developments in court rules and procedures.
Rest days are critical
In my last post about avoiding burnout, I talked about making sure you take advantage of your rest and self care. This is your rest day and no training plan functions without them. This is when your body absorbs all the work, gets stronger, learns the lessons you taught it. The price to pay for skipping them is injury and the dreaded DNF. You know your practice suffers when you’re swamped: you can’t take on new clients, your current clients struggle to reach you, deadlines start falling through the cracks. Then the snowballing begins and vacations fall by the wayside and your family forgets what you look like.
Your paralegal keeps your cases moving even when you aren’t there.
Your paralegal can help with this as well. Build your paralegal relationships, work with them so they can function for a few days without you. If they’re in the loop on your cases, they can field calls from clients and brief you later. They can manage routine tasks and document generation, circulate filings, and triage your plate so that the emergencies are on top when you return, or, if you’re someone who really needs to check in at least every couple days while you’re away, you deal with them at a set point in your day because they’ve briefed you on the situation. Either way, there’s less time devoted to catch up, or bouncing back from an injury, because the work never stopped and you are fully briefed.
See? I told you running your practice was like triathlon.
Alison Pacuska is the president of Pacuska Professional Services, a boutique consulting firm focused on top-tier paralegal, and legal assistant services with a focus on intellectual property and solo practitioners. Talk with her about your practice.