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After the Bar

Personal & Financial

How to Protect the Mental Health of Your Legal Support Staff

Jena Emory


  • The legal profession is stressful, often affecting the work-life balance of attorneys who oversee legal support staff, and legal supervisors must understand their employees’ roles and provide adequate training and support.
  • Taking time to communicate, build relationships, and delegate tasks efficiently can alleviate stress and improve the mental health of both supervisors and their teams.
  • Adjusting work habits can prevent emergencies and foster a healthier work environment, benefiting everyone involved in the legal profession's demanding landscape.
How to Protect the Mental Health of Your Legal Support Staff
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The legal profession can be stressful, and attorneys struggle to maintain their work-life balance throughout their careers. Amidst that stress, attorneys often supervise legal assistants, paralegals, and younger attorneys. Often, the stress of the managing attorney trickles down to their direct reports, affecting the mental health of their staff. It is possible to practice law without letting your stress ruin the lives of the people who work for you. If you know the jobs of the people under you, you can adjust your work to set them up for success without sacrificing work product and mental health.

Know What the People under You Do

The only way to manage the workload of the people who report to you is to understand their role. I am constantly surprised by how many attorneys do not know what their legal assistants or paralegals do. How do you know if you have given your legal assistant enough time to file a motion if you do not know how long filing a motion takes? As a young associate, I was fortunate to have a job where I did multiple paralegal tasks. While I did not enjoy it at the time, I was able to learn what my legal assistants and paralegals do.

If you do not have the time to learn the ins and outs of paralegal work, take the time to talk to your legal assistant or paralegal. Ask them how much time they need to complete a certain task. Most support staff have worked for attorneys who require a lot of last-minute work, and they know exactly how much time they need to complete a project. You should know that, too.

Properly Train Your People

While this should go without saying, many attorneys feel they are too busy to help train their employees. They end up becoming frustrated and firing their employees instead of training them or berating an employee in a moment of frustration. It would have been much easier to invest a little time in training when they hired their staff or a younger attorney. Sometimes, this means standing behind someone’s computer, showing them where a document is saved on the system. Yes, that can be an annoying five minutes you spend training someone, but it will make an enormous difference in their productivity in the long term. Often, if someone is new to the legal profession, they have a lot of questions. That is okay. Just answer their questions. You will always spend less time answering a question than fixing a problem.

Talk to Your People

People want to work for people who care about them. Take the time to say hello and make small talk. While it may seem like a waste of time to you, your staff and junior attorneys will start moving your projects quicker because they like you. I recently started working with a legal assistant who was surprised that I talked to him because no one talks to him. That is a sad commentary on the legal profession. If you take the time to build relationships with your direct reports, not only will it improve their work environment, but it will also improve their work product.

Adjust Your Workload

I am not suggesting you make yourself miserable so your staff can live the good life. I am suggesting that you work in a way that avoids unnecessary emergencies. For example, when you receive discovery requests, do you send them immediately to your paralegal to begin drafts, or do you wait until the day the discovery responses are due? Most emails to legal assistants and paralegals only take a few minutes, and they can be squeezed in, even on an extremely hectic day. Take the time to delegate a task as soon as you receive it to avoid an “emergency” down the road. Not only will that give your staff the time to complete the project, but it will also take that project off your plate.

The legal profession is inherently stressful and can take a toll on managers and direct reports. Attorneys must be mindful of their work habits to protect their own mental health and that of those around them. It is not a futile endeavor. With a few changes to your work habits, you can greatly improve the mental health of the people around you and your own.