Paralegal’s Guide to Balancing Work and Life

If I had been asked to write this article four years ago, I would have said that a paralegal could not achieve a balance between work and life.  At best, a paralegal teeters on a tightrope holding her work life in one hand and tightly grasping onto her personal life in the other hand.  One wrong step will cause both to come crashing down on top of her on the floor below.  This sounds very bleak but that is exactly where I was four years ago.  I was an office manager, a paralegal and an assistant to a bankruptcy trustee.  I also filled in as the bookkeeper, human resources director, IT person and, occasionally, the file clerk.  To say that I was stretched too thin would be a slight understatement.

Paralegal Balancing Work and Life

Paralegal’s Guide to Balancing Work and Life

I loved my job; however, I had nothing left for my family, my friends or for me.  After 13 years, I decided that I needed a better balance between my work life and my personal life – – at least closer to a 50-50 split than 90-10.  Giving so much of myself to my job was taking a toll on my health as well.  It was time for me to take back control of my life even if I had to wrench it away from my job.  I made a very difficult decision to leave my job because I knew that I would never be able to cut back my hours or give less of myself to that job.  My employer was not just an attorney that I worked for, he was a man that I deeply respected and I was fiercely loyal to him for the majority of my paralegal career.  I took the opportunity to leave when he hired someone that I knew would give him the same amount of loyalty and dedication in order to find a way to balance my career with the rest of my life.

A new job and a new way to look at work

The paralegal position I accepted may be viewed as some as a demotion because I am now “just” a paralegal. I am not responsible for the hiring and the firing of staff nor do I deal with technology issues (I call a real IT person if I need one).  I realized that the main reason for my unbalance was that I was working several jobs instead of only one.  Because I had the responsibilities of several jobs instead of only one, it took me 60 to 70 hours each week to fulfill all of my duties in the office.  Now that I have one job, I can complete my work within a reasonable amount of time each week.  Therefore, that is my first tip for balancing work and life – – have only one job outside of your home.

Tips for balancing a paralegal career and a life 

You are the paralegal, not the entire staff – Being a paralegal is a full-time position so work hard and do well in that one job.  If you are expected to do to the job of two or more individuals, you should consider finding another job.  Employers will, and do, take advantage of paralegals that are willing to work seven days a week and have skill sets in addition to being a paralegal.  Paralegals may be required to work overtime on occasion; however, it should not be to do the job of two or more people on a permanent basis.

Blending work with life – Because technology has made it possible for us to work from anywhere at anytime, finding a good balance between work and life is best achieved by finding a better way to blend the two together.  The reality is that we living in a day and time where our work travels with us when we are away from the office.  For example, I often check my work emails from home; however, now I only check work emails after my daughter is in bed.  On weekends, I check emails before she gets up each morning.  If I take work home (I try to limit this to emergencies), I do my work at the table as she is doing her homework.  By accepting the inevitable, I am able to fit my work life into my personal life when it is best for me.

Organization should be your best friend – Before I changed jobs, I always seemed to be looking for a piece of paper, a telephone number or a file that I “just had in my hand.”  Because I was so busy, I allowed my work and my home to become an unorganized mess.  Being unorganized was a huge waste of my time.  My favorite organizational tools are mobile apps that help you do everything from plan weekly meals to track court dates.  Browse iTunes to find mobile apps that will benefit your specific needs.

Have a strong support system – Having a strong support system at home and at work helps me maintain a healthy work-life balance.  My co-workers and I have an agreement that we will cover for each other when we have family obligations.  Likewise, I have close friends and family that are available to pitch in when there is an emergency at work that requires me to work late or go in over the weekend.

Take care of yourself – If you are not mentally and physically healthy, you will not be able to perform at work or at home.  In order to have a healthy work-life balance, you must make time for yourself.  Regular check-ups, exercise and vacation time are essential for keeping yourself healthy both physically and mentally.  If you are run-down, you are more prone to catch whatever illness is going around and that takes you away from your work and your family.

Because of the economy and the job market, most paralegals probably feel that they must give more than is expected in order to have job security.  However, when you neglect to take care of yourself and your family, your work will eventually begin to suffer.  In order to have a healthy work-life balance, take care of yourself first so you can take care of work and home.

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About Tonya P.

Tonya has a BS in Political Science in addition to her paralegal degree. During her 23 years as a paralegal, she has worked in the areas of family law, real estate, probate law and bankruptcy law. For the past 15 years, she has worked solely for bankruptcy attorneys including her time working for a bankruptcy trustee.

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