Attorneys and paralegals are a little bit like peanut butter and jelly. Both are pretty good on their own, but they definitely work better together.
Nonetheless, some attorney-paralegal relationships end up being like oil and water – they simply don’t mix.
If that’s your current relationship with your attorney, don’t despair.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the key strategies you can use to build a better relationship with the attorneys in your life.
Look for a good fit from the get-go
Ideally, your quest for a great relationship with your attorney will start before you ever get the job.
During the interview process, remember that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. In light of that, be sure to ask questions about what your potential attorney expects from a paralegal.
If the attorney basically wants someone to make copies, work in the file room, and answer receptionist-level phone calls, but you’re looking for more hands-on legal work, the job may not be for you.
The truth is, your relationship with your attorney will be most positive if you feel challenged, trusted, and like your skills are being utilized.
If not, it could be a doomed relationship from day one.
Communication is key
Like any strong relationship, the relationship between attorney and paralegal needs to be characterized by good communication.
While there are many articles about how to communicate effectively with your boss, some of those tips are of paramount importance within a law office.
- Don’t run to your attorneys every time you have a question. Rather, keep a list of questions and then ask for a dedicated time to discuss those items. This will signal that you’re mindful and efficient with your time and theirs.
- Always take notes when you’re discussing work issues with your attorneys. This way, you’ll avoid having to have things re-explained at a later time.
- If you’re feeling upset about a work-related issue, talk to your attorneys calmly before you feel like you’re losing control.
- Talk to your attorneys about when and how they want to be reminded about upcoming deadlines – and then stick to their wishes. Do the same thing with other types of reminders so that you don’t come across as a nag or bring things up too late for them to address.
Build an appropriate personal relationship
Having a healthy balance between your professional and personal relationships with your attorneys is critical.
Over time, you’ll naturally want to share some personal details with each other, perhaps over lunch or in the car on the way to the courthouse.
There’s no problem with that.
In fact, studies show sharing some personal details with your boss can increase your happiness at work.
Topics like children, partners, pets, weekend activities, and favorite hobbies are all good things for you and your attorney to know about one another. That way, if you are called out of the office on a family emergency, for example, your attorney won’t be blindsided by the fact that you have people at home you’re responsible for.
Having a personal connection is also a good way to keep positivity going in the workplace, too.
Asking about someone’s vacation as you pass in the hall communicates that you care about more than just a paycheck. Likewise, when your attorney asks about your dog’s obedience training, it shows that they see you as more than just a commodity.
Keep it appropriate — you probably don’t want to share your dating foibles or the graphic details of your last doctor visit — and you’ll start to create better rapport and real friendship.
Strive to make your attorney look good
Another sure-fire way to forge a great relationship with your attorneys is to make them look good around the office.
To illustrate this point, imagine two different paralegals:
Paralegal 1 has a persistently negative attitude. He’s grouchy with almost everyone and he always seems to be the initiator of office gossip. He’s frequently late to work and has a habit of speaking loudly in the office hallways, causing multiple attorneys to shut their office doors when he’s around.
Paralegal 2 is typically one of the first to arrive in the morning. She is kind and respectful to her coworkers and stays out of the office fray. When the attorneys need someone to research an obscure issue, she’s often the first to raise her hand, completes the task quickly, and reports back competently to the attorneys. She is well liked by employees at all levels within the firm.
Trust me when I tell you that both paralegals are noticed by others and their respective behavior patterns are very much imputed to the attorneys they work for.
In fact, many co-workers believe Paralegal 2’s office behavior reflects her attorney’s positive leadership style. That benefits both of them over the long term.
Aim to be a credit to your attorney and to yourself. There’s no downside to being a reliable, well-liked employee.
Respect client relationships
Let’s look at the attorney-paralegal relationship from a different angle for a moment.
If you want to know the best way to ruin your relationship with your attorneys, treat their clients disrespectfully. Nothing will destroy your relationship faster.
The truth is, clients are your firm’s lifeblood.
You won’t always like them, and you won’t always agree with their side of a case. Nonetheless, paralegals do need to maintain solid working relationships with clients.
If you strive to do that (and if your attorneys can trust you to communicate with clients when they’re not around), your relationship with the attorneys will be far better off for it. It’s a major part of being a reliable and trustworthy staff member.
Study and share
Everyone in your law firm is busy. That’s a given.
Nonetheless, it is incredibly important for attorneys to stay informed about significant legal developments within their practice area.
There’s no reason why that same principle shouldn’t apply to paralegals.
Make it a habit to read relevant legal news daily and then report to your attorneys as often as is appropriate. Subscribing to newsletters, podcasts, or industry magazines is a great way to do this without investing too much time.
When you hear something relevant, share it with your attorney. They will absolutely appreciate your time, effort, and ever-growing expertise in their practice area.
Moreover, your entire team will benefit from your efforts, which is sure to have a positive impact on your relationship with the attorneys.
Give credit when credit is due
Finally, don’t forget that your attorneys are people too. They like authentic compliments just as much as you do.
Often, employees forget this and never give their bosses compliments for a job well done.
Nobody wants you to be a kiss-up (trust me on that) but if your attorney has a significant victory, don’t be afraid to speak up and recognize their accomplishments. Your relationship will definitely be better off for it.
It’s good practice to thank your attorney when they go out of their way for you, too. Appreciate their good leadership, because not all managing attorneys make great bosses.
Give it time
Remember, relationships aren’t built overnight. It takes time to create and deepen the bonds between you and your managing attorneys.
Stay consistent and positive. Your habits will pay off, and it will be so worth the wait.