Stress is a common theme when talking with lawyers and legal professionals. The nature of our work often puts us in stressful situations – demanding clients, tight time constraints and adversarial situations.
Here are a few tips for avoiding stress.
First, be careful in client selection. You probably have clients right now that you had a bad feeling about from the beginning. Learn to trust your gut (or that of your trusted paralegal) at the outset and don’t agree to work for them.
Red flag clients often arrive on the eve of a major deadline, with unrealistic expectations, stacks of legal research that they have done themselves, or they’ve fired three lawyers prior to you. Don’t try to save the day. These are the clients that will take up a great deal of your time with very little financial benefit.
Second, set boundaries. We train people how to treat us. When you give your personal cell number to clients and respond to their emails at 10:00 p.m., you are telling them that you have no boundaries on your time and that they have 24/7 access to you. Is this what you want? I don’t believe this is the only way to retain clients.
Clearly communicate your firm policies around communication. Discuss this in your initial client meetings and follow up in writing. Set reasonable time periods within which to respond and set both office hours and working hours. For instance, if the office closes at 5:00, but you want to be available to clients via email until 7:00 p.m., let your clients know this is your policy.
Talk to your clients about what constitutes an emergency. Some areas of practice may require that clients get in touch with you at 3:00 a.m. or on Saturdays. However, if you are clear about what is acceptable for Saturday calls, you can avoid arguing over your most recent bill on a Saturday afternoon.
Third, prepare a document of “Frequently Asked Questions” to share with your clients. You know the questions that you are asked over and over again. When your clients are in stressful situations, they don’t always remember all of your excellent advice. Define those scenarios that frequently occur and answer the questions that always get asked over and over. Share this with your client at the first meeting and follow up as needed.
Did You Know?
Our smart phones can cause us stress. Did you know they can also cause pain? Your head weighs 10 – 12 pounds and when we bend over looking at our phones that is 60 pounds of weight applied on our neck. This leads to wear and tear, force on our spine and pain. Instead, lift your phone to eye level to use it.
Stand like a superhero (hands on your hips, chest pushed out, head held high). Harvard researchers found that people who hold a “high-power pose” for as little as two minutes feel more in control.
Contrary to what our parents told us, chat with a stranger. Scientists have shown that brief exchanges with the grocery clerk can leave you with a lifted mood.
Calm your mind with this relaxation exercise:
- Sit in a quiet, comfortable place on a chair or on the floor (do not lie down)
- Select a word or phrase such as “calm” to focus on
- Close your eyes and repeat the word, either silently or aloud as you slowly breath in and out
- If you notice your thoughts wandering, repeat your word to refocus
- Continue for a few minutes, then open your eyes and slowly refocus on what’s around you
If you’re looking for more ways to reduce and manage stress, the North Carolina Bar Association will host “Attorney Wellness: Achieving Health Physically and Professionally” on January 8, 2016.
We can’t add more hours to the day or avoid handling family and work responsibilities. However, we can manage our stress. Stress management is taking charge of your lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. Employ these tips and stress reduction techniques and experience more moments of calm and less worry and anxiety.
Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.662.8843.