Or…What the hell is so wrong with your business that they have to fire people every couple of months?
Another rant where I have to decided if I am going to share the contents with the rantee.
The background is this, I worked at a law office as a paralegal for about 2 months. At the end of that time, I was told that me and the firm were “not a good fit.” I knew we weren’t about a month ago but I persevered, hoping that things would get better. I thought they were getting better, but alas, they were not. So…here is my rant.
First, we need to agree that there is a problem. As good old Dr. Phil loves to tell us, “you can’t fix what you won’t acknowledge.” Obviously, there is something awry over at your firm. You have an ungodly turn over of lawyers and paralegals and there is no company memory when the longest person working at the firm has only worked there for 2 years. In the last 6 months, how many paralegals have come and gone? Further, the group you have there is incredibly young and the new paralegal hires that were traipsing through your office looked to be teenage. Although their youth is a problem, I understand its necessity. In the end, the clients are furious at the turnover, and you are ridiculed in court because of it. I believe the scoff at court was, “who is the new flavor of the month over at XXXXX Firm?” The turnover of workers is a HUGE problem, most notably for your bottom line, money.
Now, I want to tell you where I came from when I worked for Steve, up in Newport Beach. During the years I was there, we had 3 paralegals. Sue and Christine were both there for 2 1/2 years each (maybe longer, Sue was there before I got there and Christine after I left), and the 3rd was a summer short timer. The lawyer and his wife, along with me were a constant. The paralegals were all in their 30s and 40s, they were seasoned and always had support staff of their own….I, usually, was their support staff, before I got my degree. We had meetings once a week, like you guys but we went over every case, not just a calendar. Everyone was always on the same page. A spreadsheet was created by each of us with every client we were working on and what was going on in the case. If one of us forgot something, which did happen, another of us would help, even drive up to Orange to file something that needed to be done ASAP. We were friends and confidants. We helped because we cared about each other, not because we were afraid of reprisal.
I give you this synopsis as contrast because now is where I get to the part of what the hell is going on here.
- You have an inherent problem that you, knowingly or unknowingly exacerbate terribly. The problem is the absent boss who doesn’t want to feel absent. You insert yourself in ways that create chaos. The second week I was there, you came into town. We spoke and I didn’t feel as though I named names or called anyone out. However, after you left, I was taken in by an attorney who told me I “stepped on some feathers.” I was told that you sent around an email detailing what I said. Then you specifically asked the attorneys if I was doing things incorrectly. They felt you were goading them to call me out. I was told about the extraordinary high turnover and about the nature of relationship between you and the office. I was warned to never state anyone’s name to you and that I would be encouraged to throw office members under the bus. I should never do this no matter whose fault it was. However, neither should I take blame. I should just correct you that we are all working hard and that I would never do what I was being accused of. The nature of it is such: you tell a person that another office member has complained about them, or said they did something incorrectly, it could be minutia….it could be large, it could be anything. Then, you turn this around and ask the person being called out to call out someone else, usually, the person you have said, or they think ratted them out. So…what you have is a group of people all throwing each other under the bus and deathly afraid they are going to be next. None of this has any bearing on what the truth is, or what is really happening. Things are said only to meet the expectation of the dynamics you created.
- Like unto #1, this is a similar issue. The issue of an absent boss who doesn’t wish to be absent. The problem is that you want to be involved in cases where you are not involved with the clients on a day to day basis. It creates chaos for the attorneys and for the clients to have the attorney’s opinions uprooted. It creates chaos for the attorneys and for the clients to have their attorneys moved because you didn’t think one was aggressive enough. (This perception, is not correct, by the way….The attorney you are under the impression is not aggressive enough is aggressive and a damn good attorney. I think, this is a rumor made in the mix of this absentee boss problem.)
- Your head attorney is a bully. She bullied me from day one. She ripped papers out of my hands, that I was looking at. She announced in front of everyone, where I could hear, “Maybe if I act like I like the person they are interviewing, Alan won’t hire her, unlike the last time” (She was talking about the latest paralegal and me). She scowled at me and berated me. There was no hiding her malicious feeling toward me. No matter what went wrong in her cases, she found a way to make it about me. I loathed having cases with her because it was another venue for her to be cruel. It is no wonder that the most recent paralegal hire didn’t make it. Before she even started working your bully refused to call her by her name. Instead she called her, Porcupine, or Porky. When she was told she was being mean at the office meeting, that didn’t stop her. In fact, it ramped her up. She said it so much, she had the men all laughing and calling this woman Sonic the Hedgehog. They hadn’t even gotten to know her. The bully’s behavior is not professional and it is not right. It is just plain nasty. The last paralegal was the best thing that happened at that office since I was hired. She was real and she was kind. She didn’t deserve the treatment that the bully launched her way, and neither did I.
- For all the “systems” in your office, they are not very useful systems. They create situations that feed all the problems mentioned before. There are no fail safes. Everything is up in the air and when stuff isn’t right, who is blamed 100% of the time? The paralegal. For example, Sub of Attorneys. A paralegal is specifically told not to get a sub of attorney. I can think of two cases. I email the attorneys, “are you sure?” They say “yes”. However, when a sub is needed, guess who was the idiot who forgot the sub of attorney? Me. And for the record, I did let the head bully know that she was incorrect regarding the SOA we discussed. I have email records that she told the client to sign the sub that the other attorney prepared and then told me to mail it back to the other attorney. However, those are the kind of details that don’t matter. They don’t matter because there is no accountability. The lack of systems allow the attorneys…specifically someone who already hates you, to use their screw ups as a way to force a person to quit or make sure they are fired. Or, it allows an attorney who is, let’s just say forgetful, to give a direction and then “not remember” they had given it.
- Lack of company memory by anyone but a bully is infuriating. Didn’t it seem odd that one day you were calling me because someone said I was “loud and enthusiastic” but the week before you were calling me because I was flat. I wasn’t chipper and upbeat. I can’t win for losing with the catch -22s created by this dynamic. Pick a negative adjective out of a hat and the bully could have said it about me. It didn’t matter. It didn’t even have to be correct. In addition to the unbelievable work load, any paralegal coming in has to deal with this insane school yard bullying. No matter how I acted, behaved, or performed, she was going to find fault. Her perceptions are your company memory and it is not good. Because your bully liked one of the other past paralegals, that paralegal was exalted, despite the wretchedness of her work. I had no clue how you could fire me when you hadn’t fired this other girl. She screwed up so many things, so royally, it will take you a long time to dig out and clean up the legacy of rejected documents and broken promises. The worst is that if the bully says something long enough and with enough rapidity, the office takes on that company memory. (Like making fun of the latest paralegal, it denigrated her ability to garner any respect in the office. I am sure her repeatedly saying that I wasn’t doing a good job rubbed off – Another attorney told me flat out that she said it often and that this attorney disagreed with her assessment)
- There is no objective reality because you aren’t there, the bully has another agenda, and there is no neutral to analyze the emails and proof. People can say anything. They can blame people for anything without a shred of proof and they do. That is all they do.
Is there any hope? For me, yes. I need to never be treated with such disrespect, again. We weren’t a good fit, precisely because I was older and so accommodating that I continued to believe I could “kill her with kindness.” I wasn’t going to quit like the litany of other paralegals. We weren’t a good fit because I play by the rules and think that everyone is doing the best they can do. I don’t tattletale. I am an adult. However, the fit wasn’t my problem, look at your track record. I am just another victim of the flavor of the month game.
However, I can’t imagine that this is what you want for your company. Most importantly, the clients are not happy. This whole situation bodes very poorly for good customer service. CLIENTS HATE HATE HATE HAVING A NEW PARALEGAL. Many have told me I am their 3rd or 4th. That is not good. What can be done?
- Foster an environment of kindness and consideration. Don’t entertain the tattling. Don’t goad people to tattle. Create a buck stops here position with the attorneys. This ratting people out has to stop if you want a team that moves together like a well oiled machine. Maybe each attorney should have their own paralegal. I don’t know, but I think it is bigger than that. They have to receive no reaction to tattling.
- Stop moving cases, and stop firing people. Believe me, I don’t want my job back, that is not why I am writing this. It was 2 months of nightmare. However, no matter what wind blows that makes you think one attorney should be over a bigger case, resist the urge. Clients hate a new attorney almost as much as they hate a new paralegal. Make a personal commitment to ending the turnover and case swapping.
- Stop the bullying. The bully has to be put in her place. She has already risen to a position above her bootstraps. She is not a manager. She never received an MBA. She has no advanced training in that area, beyond a BA. You have given the reins to a person who is not looking out for your bottom dollar, she is motivated by her own emotional whims of who she likes and does not like which is determined the second she meets a person. And…who she mistreats has no bearing on who is working well as a paralegal or not. I was called emotional, yet, I never, never was unkind to another person in that office.
- With as many paralegals and attorneys as you have, your system for doing business has to be successful. It has to set up a situation for people who work hard to thrive. How is it that I am the only attorney who passed the California BAR on the first try in your office, I attended a highly prestigious law school, and have a MA, yet I am the screw up. That is another funny, “really?” moment where you have to ask yourself if this is really happening. I am clearly not a dummy. I could make a great argument that I am a whole hell of a lot smarter than some of the attorneys you have working for you. Yet, I was getting to work early (when I started work at 9 – I always got there at 8:30) and always leaving late. Look at when I turned in my time sheets . I never left the office for lunch. I ate while I worked. Somehow, this smart, hard working, people pleasing woman is the scape goat for all sorts of nonsense. Where are the systems to ensure cases are managed properly? Where are the systems to ensure people are treated fairly? Where are the systems to ensure what a bully, or another worker deathly afraid of being thrown under the bus, is saying is, in fact, reality? Why is this such a cluster of crazy? Despite the reality that you have a wolf guarding the hen house, you have no systems in place that would end this behavior. With this many personalities, you can’t rely on everyone meshing. You can’t rely on the goodness of peoples hearts to not be hostile.
- Hire a file clerk. It would take the small tedious tasks, that they can’t bill for, generally, from the paralegals.
I guess that is it. I have worked in many places and in many capacities. I have worked for large corporations and small and I can honestly say I have never worked for a place like this. Between the turnover, the bullying, and the large case load it can become overwhelming for anyone. I have never encountered the behavior of that bully from ANY adult. I have not been treated that poorly EVER as an adult. That is because it is the behavior of a child. However, there is a better way. This better way will cost you nothing and benefit you in happy, content clients, which, in turn, will bring you more income. It is up to you where you wish to go with it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.