I think that the most frequent question that I´ve been asked during my tenure as a paralegal is: How do you handle the stress? I have worked on cases involving negligence, malpractice, racism and discrimination. Being a paralegal is often a 40+ hour a week job, and we often deal with the less than attractive attributes of humankind. Although it can be difficult to put your ideals to the side and separate yourself emotionally from the case, it can become imperative that you do so. It was important for me to do so. I have, however, seen a small percentage of colleagues and lawyers that use their ideals as their shield, and you can hear the passion in their voices as they talk about their cases. Is either of these two solutions perfect or better than the other? I don´t know. Maybe it´s only important that each person choose what´s best for them.
As we´re battling with our own emotional well-being, we also have other issues to deal with, such as the media creating a certain image, remaining focused on the relevant issues, and working through to piece together a reliable story based on the human memory. As mentioned in my last post, “War Crimes of Today: War Criminals Who Haven’t Faced Justice”, accused international war criminals tend to be well known to the general public. The media tends to provide ample coverage especially when a celebrity is involved. For instance, people that normally don’t pay attention to criminal cases probably tuned into the Charles Taylor case when Naomi Campbell testified. The victims are also learning about a case that personally affected them while watching the media. Can you imagine the damage that can occur if incorrect information is provided by the media? You would think that a paralegal and lawyer would have enough to deal with without also having to deal with the media creating a sometimes poisonous atmosphere.
Like I stated earlier, our emotions play a role. With high stakes and dealing with actual personal lives, it is important to remain focused on the relevant issues because: The higher the stakes in the case, the more news coverage the case will receive, the more attention governments will pay, as well as possibly a larger number of victims demanding accountability. It can, however, become difficult to stay focused. Why? You have to not only concentrate on the case, you also have to deal with the personalities of your team mates, the strategies used by the opposing party, the attitudes of the judges, the fragile memories of witnesses, sensationalism portrayed in the media, and the feeling of responsibility for the victims. If that wasn’t enough: you also have to deal with your own personal life and other work obligations.
I have dealt with the various struggles of a high profile case by separating myself emotionally. It was important to me that I focus on the work itself and ignore the stories I have heard and the vivid images that I have seen throughout the case. Have I been able to do that successfully 100% of the time? No. A victim’s story of abuse has penetrated my shield, and the defense’s strategy has hit me below the belt. I’ve even had a reprimand from a managing attorney knock me down a peg, and a ruling from trial chamber put me in my place. If I had to sum up how I’ve been able to succeed in this profession for so long and at this magnitude, then I would say that I’m a fighter; anything else wouldn’t cut it.
I wonder how other paralegals struggle with high profile cases. Care to share?