Paralegals have many advantages as members of your team. For one thing, they don’t come with the same set of expectations as an associate. They don’t expect to become partner one day; they don’t have the same salary requirements, the need for prestige or the robust ego. Their output, needs and motivation are different than those of the driven, highly-educated professionals with whom they work, but they are still valuable as part of the team.
Regrettably, their efforts are often overlooked and underappreciated by the attorneys and associates with whom they work.
This is understandable when you examine it from the attorney’s point of view.
Trained to look for mistakes and pinpoint errors, busy attorneys don’t always stop to think about how the job is getting done by their paralegals. They are focused on getting everything done right and on time. Consequently, in the chaotic atmosphere caused by difficult clients, multiple tasks and conflicting deadlines, the contributions of the paralegals are unappreciated.
If you suspect that the paralegals in your firm are not being given any measure of acknowledgement or encouragement, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your paralegal feels like an important part of your team.
In this blog, we’re going to discuss the first, and arguably most important step of the acknowledgement process, which is:
Actively acknowledge them for their hard work.
Most paralegals really thrive on feeling that they make an important contribution to their team, as opposed to being motivated by increases in pay. As hard as this is to believe, studies of paraprofessionals and what they value bear this out. Attorneys on the other hand are often highly motivated by increases in pay and the increase in status that comes as a result. This motivational difference is real evidence of the cultural divide that splits paralegals and attorneys. Given this, any attorney that wishes to be more inclusive of the paralegals on the team should get into the habit of delivering more words of acknowledgement to them.
In fact, the best ratio is three compliments for every criticism. Why deliver more compliments than criticisms? Because the human brain is wired to give greater importance to negative information, therefore criticism is taken much more seriously and leaves a greater impact. This is disastrous for the paralegal who thrives on acknowledgement and is paired with an attorney who only notices his or her faults.
A couple of examples of compliments, for those who aren’t accustomed to catching people doing things right, are as follows:
“Jane, I heard you on the phone with the clerk at the courthouse, and I really appreciate how gracefully you handled that situation.”
“Thanks, Susan, for your research on the Smith case – what you found will be a great help to us.”
One firm we worked with had a meeting every Friday afternoon at which they would acknowledge one of the team members for something they did well. If, for example, a paralegal handled a difficult client exceedingly well, they would be acknowledged for it in detail. Why is this a brilliant management technique? Giving verbal acknowledgement of the team member in front of his or her peers instills in them a deeper sense of pride and satisfaction than if the acknowledgement happened in private. This made the team member feel especially important and appreciated.
Being proactive in acknowledging the work of your paralegals goes beyond simple verbal appreciation, however. To find out more about going the extra mile for your hardworking paralegal, check back next week for the next step in our four-part series, “How to Make Paralegals Feel Like A Valued Member of Your Legal Team”.