By Stayce Wagner, Spencer Crane Etiquette, LLC
Being a temporary legal professional is hard work. Anyone who has ever done it, myself included, will tell you that. Consider that as the perpetual new kid on the block (be prepared for your new workplace nickname – “The Temp”) you are constantly under scrutiny: every interaction is an interview and every assignment is a potential referendum on your abilities. Your skills are often underutilized because no one cares that you have a law degree or that you are an e-discovery wizard – if an attorney shows up with an unexpected request for hearing binders, guess who is going to get to do them? You may also notice that your supervisor is not at her best – most likely due to the stressful deadlines and long hours that necessitated hiring you. And if that isn’t bad enough, every workday could be your last.
It’s no wonder that once in a while a stressed out temp will snap under the pressure and bring the crazy to the office by engaging in unacceptable behavior: arguing with a manager regarding the proper way to perform an assignment and disappearing during the work day comes to mind. My favorite example is the temp who answered her cell phone in the middle of receiving instructions on an assignment. Really? (These are all real-life examples. Yikes.)
But it doesn’t have to come to this. A lot of stress can be avoided by recognizing that your success or failure will be determined by how your supervisor perceives your performance. In other words, your attitude is just as important as your expertise. It is simple: a good attitude tips the scales in your favor and a bad attitude works against you, regardless of your skill level. Employers prefer to work with temporary legal professionals who are cooperative and helpful first and experts at their craft second. What this means is that top notch office protocol skills can and will set you apart from all of the other equally capable and skilled temps on the project, especially if they have decided to revolt because the document review procedures aren’t to their liking. (Another sad real-life example. Ouch.)
We all know it’s tough in the world of temporary legal professionals but you are too bright and capable to let the stress of temping lure you into engaging in these mind-boggling office antics. Review my list of 5 “musts” for temporary legal professionals. It doesn’t matter if you are a temporary professional veteran or a newbie trying to get her foot in the door, these 5 “musts” will help you to keep temp work in perspective and will hopefully prevent you from succumbing to TEMPorary insanity.
The 5 Must’s for Temporary Legal Professionals:
1. You must do your best.
You are a skilled and capable professional, so perform at your best level. Keep in mind that while the assignment is temporary, the professional impression that you are creating with the employer is permanent. The legal community is smaller than you think. Word – good and bad – gets around quickly.
2. You must accept that your tasks may be beneath your skill level or expectations.
Not all of your assignments will be opportunities to show off your expertise or skill set as workflow can change rapidly in legal environments. You need to be adaptable if you are going to succeed as a temp.
3. You must be discreet about job searching.
Your supervisor understands that you are probably seeking full-time employment, but use your coffee and lunch breaks to job hunt if you need to conduct your search during work hours. If you have an interview, saying that you have an appointment will suffice. Don’t broadcast the fact that you are looking for a “better” job – you may be hastened out the door before you are ready.
4. You must adhere to the basic rules of professionalism.
Don’t use your mobile phone in the open, don’t be habitually late or leave early without asking for permission. Be sure to dress appropriately – if it is a business casual office, great. Otherwise, dress for the job.
5. You must end on a positive note.
Accept the inevitable with grace and class. When the assignment ends, thank your supervisor for the opportunity and leave your workspace or office in a neat and orderly fashion. Finally, don’t forget to offer to leave an exit memorandum on any work in progress.
Spencer Crane Etiquette, LLC is dedicated to teaching the art of using business etiquette skills to advance careers and to build productive and pleasant work environments. www.spencercrane.com
This article was originally published in the Spring 2013 edition of Know, A Magazine for Paralegals, KNOW – Temporary Insanity