How Young Lawyers can Avoid Panic

One of the things that seems to occur to me far less now is that feeling of utter panic when things seem like they are getting out of control.

You know the one – your heart beat gets faster, your stomach starts to tighten, and you start visualising all the things that are going to go wrong. It commonly occurs when we feel like we’re not in control of circumstances.

The work is overwhelming and there’s no end in site. We have too many deadlines coming up, and not enough hours to get everything done. Home life is stressing you out and you’re having trouble concentrating.

There’s innumerable options where you start to feel panic setting in, so in the space of a short article I’m not likely to cover everything. But let’s try a few strategies to help you get back that sense of control.

Re Prioritize

Generally speaking, if you agreed to do something by a particular time then you should. BUT – if you can’t, or things have come up, or your circumstances have changed, then you need to deal with it. Don’t just leave things in a gigantic pile of urgent tasks while you struggle to get them done.

Stop for a moment and think. Which tasks have non-moveable dates?  Court dates frequently fall in this category.  Compliance dates for contracts are the same. Generally speaking these can’t be moved without having to beg someone (other party, Judge or whatever) to give you something.

However, many of our deadlines are self imposed.  These are dates like delivering documents to clients, finalising tasks, or getting things out the door. The next step, however, is to triage those deadlines – which are likely to move more easily and with minimal frustration.

Some clients (and some supervisors) deal with this kind of flexibility better than others.  Obviously you want to take the path of least resisitance here, because you don’t need a client calling up your boss and telling them how slow you are.  So be a bit careful, but if you have good relationships with some clients and know them well, you should be able to predict which one/s might tolerate a slight delay in their task. Then you have to call people and tell them.

Don’t email – do them the courtesy of a phone call, as you’ll be able to gauge their reaction better.  Give them a realistic timetable and an honest explanation of why it couldn’t be done in time.  Generally these will be non-urgent tasks, but that doesn’t mean your client won’t react emotionally about it. Once you’ve moved enough things, stop.

Stop Promising Too Much

So this is actually the source of the panic in the first place, and it’s a tricky one to manage when you’re a junior lawyer.

What happens is someone demands something to be done by a particular time, and you say yes (because saying no is bad). However, this will also come up when you’re implementing step 1 above – trying to rejig the timelines, your gut reaction will be to promise a really fast turnaround, because you’re already guilty about doing it late.

This is a critical time to ensure that you give an accurate estimate, because if you don’t deliver this time then you will be eroding the trust your client has in you.

The problem is that you will look consistently slow and late if you do this too much, because frankly you can’t say yes to everything. I realise that saying no can be a problem in some firms who have particular views about young lawyers and their desire to go home sometimes.

So if that’s you, rather than just saying “no” how about “yes but” as your standard response. “Hi Joe – can you do this thing urgently.” “Sure thing Bob, but I’ve got 19 urgent tasks to do for Mary, so I won’t be able to get it to you until tomorrow.” “Well, Joe, this is more urgent”. “No worries Bob, could you just have a chat to Mary and as long as she’s OK for her tasks to wait I’ll get right on it”.

Get Help

Pretty sure the title says it all here. If you are so overwhelmed that you are going to fail in your duties to your client or otherwise cause damage to the firm, then you need to speak up and get help. Most (and I emphasise MOST, but definitely not ALL) firms would rather you let them know.

Better than doing this at the last minute though, try and exercise some rational decision making and spot it before it becomes an issue.

There’s Plenty More

Of course these are really just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully they offer you some strategies to start to use when you are feeling overwhelmed. By far the best course to avoid panic is to be well prepared, and make good decisions with what you promise and what work you take on.

That said, no matter what you do you’ll probably find yourself in a flap at some point or other, so exercise some wisdom and see what you can do.

Got any sure fire ways that you use to avoid panic?

Let us know in the comments!

  • A tip a picked up from one of those QLS webinars that your boss makes you watch was to WADE through your tasks. You do need to spend 10 minutes in the morning ever day or two to utilise it but I have found it helpful.
    Write – a list of what you need to do (yes it may be an A4 page long)
    Assess – the time it would take to do each task
    Decide – whether to do it, delegate it or dump it
    Execute – prioritise your list and plan time to do it (in a calendar is helpful)
    I find I get a lot of satisfaction from crossing things off my list but it is also good to make you think about what went wrong that day when you realise that you only managed to cross one thing off.

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