Is Everything a Rush Project for Paralegals?

Attorneys have a reputation for being procrastinators. We’ve all seen the memes and jokes about it. They’ve all seen them too. So we assume that’s just the way it is. It’s always been that way, and we just have to get used to it.

What if it didn't have to be that way?

Can you prevent all rush projects with what I’m going to talk about today? No. But what if you could reduce them by 50%? Even more of a reduction would be better, but imagine if you’re currently dealing with one rush project per day, and you could get that down to 2 or 3 per week.

The result is less stress for you and a better work product. Maybe even less late nights or weekends.

Let's start with the big picture of the problem.

When everything is a rush project, mistakes are more likely to happen. You know your work product could be better if you had more advance notice of the project or the deadline. The problem is, the attorney waits until the last minute to give you the assignment.

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3 options to change things

Option 1:  Leave and go find an attorney who is not a procrastinator.

Good luck with that one! Just kidding. They do exist. So do unicorns. Besides being unemployed, the problem with this option is that there’s no real way of guaranteeing that the next one won’t be the same. How would figure that out at the interview?

When they ask “do you have any questions for me?” I guess you could say “Actually, I do have a question: are you a procrastinator? Do you wait until the last minute to give work to your paralegals?”  I was definitely kidding on that one! I don’t recommend that you do that in the interview.

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Option 2: You can try to change them.

Start pulling your hair out now if you decide that’s the route you want to take.

I can tell you in the 30+ years that I’ve been working with attorneys, you’re not going to change them. Is it completely impossible? No, nothing is 100% impossible. But it’s not likely to happen.

Option 3: Change you.

If you can’t leave, and you can’t change them, then the only other option is to change you.

You might be thinking, wait a minute, Ann! They’re the problem, not me! Why do I have to be the one to change?

Hear me out for a minute. Try to keep an open mind.

There are two things you can change that you have control over:

  1. Change what you do
  2. Change how you think

Change what you do

This means that you stop enabling them and the behavior.

Now, I’m not saying that when they bring you that last-minute project, you say no, I’m not doing it because you waited too long. Not at all.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

I worked with an attorney who was famous for how well she wrote briefs, mostly appellate briefs, but all briefs, really. So everyone on the team knew that if she’s in charge of the brief, it’s going to be an absolute mad dash to get this thing filed on time. Now, this was back before e-filing. This was when you sent the brief by US Mail  (if it was finished days ahead of schedule – which you know never happened).  So, nothing got filed that way with most attorneys.

It was either hire a courier (of which we had 3 different companies on call) or send a firm employee in their car to the clerk’s office to file it. And because the couriers were putting their reputations on the line, they would give you a cutoff time.

In this case, the brief had to be filed in the clerk’s office for the US District court in Rome, Georgia – which, on a good day, even back in the late 90s, was about a 90-minute drive. So the courier’s final cutoff was like 2:30 or 3:00 or something.  Well, of course, that deadline was missed, so I was going to have to drive it there myself.

It was after 3:30 by the time she put the final touches on this brief and I was heading out the door. On a Friday in horrible Atlanta traffic.

But once I got to the side roads in north Georgia where I could make up time, I was driving around 90 miles per hour on a 65 or 70-mph road.

I made it to the clerk’s office just as security was getting ready to lock the front door.  I begged him to let me in. He did. The brief got filed.

On my drive back, I was still shaking at how fast I drove. Happy that I made it, but I said to myself that day:  I will never do that again. I could have wrecked, going that fast I probably would have killed someone or myself. I had a daughter at home.

I tell you that story because guess what happened the next time the reply brief was due? The same thing. Only I think she pushed it even closer that time. But I didn’t speed. I drove the speed limit. And I didn’t make it on time. The brief didn’t get filed on time, and I had to call the office to tell them.

Did she learn her lesson? Yes.

Because she cared about inconveniencing me or everyone else on the team? No.

Because she had to deal with the wrath of the senior partner about why she pushed it so close to the deadline.

I knew no one was going to blame me for “only going the speed limit, so it must be Ann’s fault we missed the deadline.”

Please don’t take this to mean that missing a deadline is the way to change a procrastinating attorney. I didn’t miss the deadline on purpose. I just made the decision that I wasn’t going to break the law and risk my life to meet the deadline.

The story’s point is that they have no reason to change until it affects them.

rush project for paralegals

When you’re stressed out to the max, like Mach 10 stress, trying to get those exhibits and motion together to get it e-filed before the deadline, and you’ve got 10 minutes, but you really need 20 minutes, is that attorney experiencing any of that? No.

Do they know you’re experiencing that? No.

Do they know you’re about ready to blow a gasket and that you’re cursing at them under your breath? No.

They don’t know ANY of that. And then the next day, you keep quiet, get your work done and wait until the next emergency project and do it all over again.

If you want them to stop waiting until the last minute for everything, then you have to tell them:

👉  How it’s affecting you.

👉  How it’s affecting your work product.

👉  How it might affect the client.

👉  How it can be different.

You’ve got to be open, honest, and specific. You’ve got to be willing to have the hard conversations.

Change how you think

Changing how you think means that you develop a proactive mindset.


post-it note quoting Stephen Covey on proactive people

Your circumstance is that the attorney is a procrastinator. You know that. You’ve tried to change them, but it doesn’t work.

Now you’ve had the courageous conversation so that they’re aware of how all of this is affecting you, the work product, etc. Now you’ve got to tell them how it can be different.

If you keep up with what’s going on in the client files, and you know that there are usually certain things that happen at certain times, then what if you proactively started preparing for them in advance instead of waiting for the attorney to tell you what to do?

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re a litigation paralegal and you work in products liability. Every time a new case comes in, the attorney asks you to draft a motion to remove the case from state court to federal court. Draft it now and send it to them to review. You know that the next thing that happens is discovery requests get served on the Plaintiff. Start drafting them now instead of waiting until you get the order removing the case.

Put together a new case checklist of all the things that you do in the various stages of the client files. Also, make sure you’re copied on everything that comes in related to the client file so that you know in advance when something is due.

I’m telling you, in the 30+ years in this industry, I have never once heard an attorney complain that their paralegal was too proactive. Trust me, they will appreciate you being proactive.

Is this going to prevent you from ever receiving a last-minute project? No. But it will definitely reduce the number of them.

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Meet the Author

A portrait of Ann Pearson for the Paralegal blog.

Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, and host of the Paralegals on Fire! Podcast Show, and passionate about promoting the paralegal profession.

Ann spent 20 years working as a paralegal manager and a litigation paralegal before opening the Paralegal Boot Camp in 2010. 

Ann’s training programs focus on adding immediate value to a paralegal’s career and bridging the gap between what a paralegal learns in school and what they actually do on the job.

Visit the About Us Page to learn more about why Ann started the Paralegal Boot Camp.

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