You know it: Everything in the attorney’s office is dire and must be done ASAP. But you are organized, you are proactive, and you prioritize — so you think you can handle just about anything. Until it happens: that last-minute request by the attorney. It could be the ping of an incoming email or the creak of the office door that alerts you to what’s about to happen. It can make you lose your breath (or want to pull your hair out). But first tip here is: breathe (and don’t pull your hair out). You got this. And here’s how.
First, the important thing is to remember the context: Your attorney-boss did not do this on purpose. He or she is busy, and no matter how well organized you are or the attorney is, things fall through the cracks sometimes. Even then, the last minute request may not even be a thing that fell through the crack, but a new idea that must be implemented immediately. So, last-minute requests are not usually the result of something you missed and it almost is never the consequence of an attorney wanting to make your life miserable (or to see you bald the next morning), it’s just something that happens and that must be dealt with promptly and adequately. With that said, here are five helpful tips for dealing with last-minute attorneys.
Clarify the Request
Make sure this last-minute request is not only requested of you to perform at the last minute but must be completed at the last minute. Sometimes an attorney may be inspired by some strategy and want it completed immediately just because he or she is excited about it. But if the clock is ticking towards 4:50 PM, then maybe it can wait until tomorrow morning. It can be just as exciting in the morning as it is now. You can advise your attorney it will be your priority the next day.
In this regard, you need to clarify also what exactly the work is and its purpose. Is it a pleading, and if so, what is the deadline? Is it a letter to opposing counsel, and if so, what is the benefit of getting it out today versus tomorrow? It may be better if it can go out tomorrow, then it actually does go out tomorrow, so the content is not rushed. Maybe a courier can deliver it in the morning, so it is still arriving on the same day. Whatever it is, clarify it first, then think of your resources and any alternatives, and then clarify what will be done, i.e., doing it today or waiting until tomorrow.
After you have identified the real urgency of the request, act decisively and concisely. Waste no time. Even if it can be completed the next day, within those last ten minutes, make sure you have confirmed the details of the request so you and your attorney can relax and know that it will be taken care of first thing tomorrow morning.
On the other hand, if it must be done right then and there, call whomever it is you need to call to confirm you will be home late and then take a moment to determine the best plan of action. Remember: You were probably asked if you can work overtime sometimes, so this may be one of those times.
Get an Extension
This tip flows from the “Act Concisely” tip. If it is a pleading requiring immediate preparation, then maybe you can get an extension. Find out by checking online or by calling the court. You probably already have a template that can be used for an extension request, find it and begin filling in the details. If you do not have a template, be sure to create one for future use. Having easy to use templates for these kinds of pleadings will help dramatically with time.
One word of caution, however: Find out if postponing the pleading via extension will impact the case at all. Sometimes an attorney wants to get a motion out immediately for strategic reasons. In these situations, you do not want an extension; it is indeed a last-minute request to be completed last minute. This also brings me back to tip no. 1: Clarify. Part of clarifying the task is knowing its purpose, and knowing the purpose will aid you in how you respond.
Complete the Request
Now you know what is expected and what needs to be done, complete it. There should be no ifs or buts about it. We all need to pull a little more weight sometimes, and this time is one of those times. Throughout the process, though, be always mindful and aware of what you are doing. When rushed, it is easy to make an error. So even when rushed, keep your composure. Remind yourself: You got this. And when it is completed, it will be gratifying to you and your boss — it will not go unnoticed.
All the above tips are what you should do in the immediate situation, but long-term, you need to make sure you have your boundaries set. You aspire to be the best and do great things for your attorneys, but you do have limits. Those limits need to be vociferated and made known. When you exceed your limits, quality deteriorates — as does your health.
Consider, too, if these last-minute requests have become a theme or pattern. If so, maybe your boss has also pushed his or her limits. If you have a good working relationship with your attorney or want to build one, communicate. Find out what’s happening, why it’s happening, and offer a solution. Maybe it is as simple as mid-week meetings to confirm the agenda and review cases and deadlines. Simply checking in with each other can be a big help.
Last-minute requests should not be a part of your everyday schedule, and if they are, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. You should, however, expect last-minute requests from time to time. And when they happen now, you know how to deal with them effectively — and in a manner where you won’t lose your hair or your job.