Saturday, January 31, 2009

What National Paralegal Association Should I Join? (Or Getting the Most Bang for My Buck)

I assume that most of us have limited funds for professional membership dues (especially with the current economy), either through our employer or out-of-pocket. In addition, many of us tend to spend our professional dues budget to join local and state groups, in no small part so that we can use their resources to access fellow state law practitioners. I am currently a member of the N.C. Bar Association Paralegal Division and the N.C. Advocates for Justice Legal Assistant Division (at a cost of several hundred dollars per year paid by my employer), and am active in both state associations in one or more capacities, including executive committee member, specialty section member, CLE speaker, listserv contributor and volunteer.

While reading the most recent issue of Legal Assistant Today, I started thinking about broadening my professional worldview by joining a national association for paralegals, but then wondered, “Which one is the best fit for me and the best buy for the cost of the annual dues?” In a perfect world, I could join them all, but the economic reality is that I can only join one, maybe two, at best.

I identified the following national associations as possibilities (excluding more specialized groups for practice areas, management, educators and technology), and included their annual membership dues for non-students (click on the association abbreviation for the link to their membership information):

AAPI (American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.) - $20.00
NALA (National Association for Legal Assistants) - $125.00
NALS (The Association for Legal Professionals) - $135.00
NFPA (National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc.) - $85.00 (or join your local chapter)

If I left out a national association, please let me know! Now I need to examine the benefits of membership in each national association, including accessibility to and applicability of continuing legal education seminars and national conferences, certification programs, publications and networking opportunities. I’ll do my usual chart summary (remember that attorney who nicknamed me “PH” or “Perfectionist from Hell”?) and share it with you soon.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you regarding your recommendations for a national association, via reader comment and/or answering the single survey question found on this blog. Thanks in advance for your feedback!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Lack of Paralegal Staff Lands Lemon Law Firm in Hot Water

Attorneys Craig T. Kimmel and Robert M. Silverman, two of the founding partners of Kimmel & Silverman, a lemon law firm with offices in multiple states, were suspended on September 2, 2008 by the Maryland Court of Appeals for failing to properly supervise a new satellite office and failing to properly communicate with a client. Their petitions for reinstatement are pending.

Their problems started in 2004, when they staffed a new satellite office with a single attorney, Robin Katz. Although she repeatedly requested a paralegal staff member, her request was denied until the satellite office met certain quotas, including generating $10,000.00 in revenue per week. Ms. Katz singlehandedly filed over 450 lawsuits during the next eleven months, but failed to file deadlines in 47 of them, resulting in dismissals with prejudice of all 47 cases.

After a one-week vacation in July 2005, Katz returned to the office to find two bins of mail that had piled up in her absence. Overwhelmed, she resigned on the spot.

At that point, Silverman came to the Maryland office and found stacks of unopened documents. He promptly hired three Maryland lawyers to handle the work.
See Law.com.

If Kimmel & Silverman had made a different decision -- to hire at least one experienced and competent paralegal to assist Ms. Katz -- would they have had a much better outcome, i.e. a successful (or at least functional) satellite office and satisfied clients? Instead, Ms. Katz accepted voluntary disbarment, the firm had to settle 47 legal malpractice claims, and the senior partners are not only suspended and facing sanctions in Maryland, but are also facing disciplinary action in New York and Pennsylvania.

Paralegal's Facebook Research Aids in Dismissal of Juror

Ohio paralegal Theresa "Tracy" Combs' Facebook research helped remove a member of the jury pool from consideration to sit on the jury for a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court trial this week. Ms. Combs is employed by Waite, Schneider, Bayless and Chesley, a Cincinnati civil litigation firm, which represents the plaintiff.

On Tuesday, potential juror Barry Price wrote on his Facebook profile that “Barry Price is sitting in hell … aka jury duty.”

In one of the affidavits [attorney Stan] Chesley submitted to the judge, on the issue, Chesley paralegal Theresa “Tracy” Combs wrote that Price’s Facebook page was one of 238,000 that belong to the “Cincinnati, Ohio” network on Facebook. Price had his Facebook page set up so it could be viewed by others in that Cincinnati network as well as those in Procter & Gamble and Purdue University networks on Facebook.

After Mr. Price's dismissal from the jury pool, the defendants tried to have the case declared a mistrial but Common Pleas Judge William Mallory denied the request.

See Cincinnati.com.

Internet networking sites, including MySpace, Facebook and Twitter can provide a mother lode of potential juror information to professional jury consultants and thorough paralegals like Ms. Combs.

Ms. Combs' public LinkedIn profile may be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/8/991/722.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Gives Workers More Time to File Pay Discrimination Claims

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the first bill of his presidency, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The legislation gives workers additional time to take pay discrimination cases to court. Under the new law, each new discriminatory paycheck extends the statute of limitations an additional 180 days.

"Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue, it's a family issue," Obama said. "And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month's paycheck to simple and plain discrimination."
The act nullifies a 2007 Supreme Court decision which denied Ms. Ledbetter the chance to pursue her pay discrimination claim. The Court ruled that she had missed the 180-day statute of limitations to file a claim -- even though she did not learn that she was receiving less pay for doing the same job as her male co-workers until her almost 20-year career at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. was ending. Ms. Ledbetter stood beside President Obama as he signed the bill.


For more information regarding Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, including equal pay, hiring and firing, and prohibited discriminatory practices, see the U.S. EEOC's "Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers" at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html.

Disparity in pay between male and female legal professionals remains a hot topic in the legal field. See Tammy Pettinato's article, "Survey Results Show Gender Difference in Legal Profession Salaries" in the January/February 2009 issue of Legal Assistant Today.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Public Defender Requests Funds for Two Entry-Level Legal Assistants

Public defender Jeff Adachi says his office is out of funds and manpower, and has requested $49,580.00 from The City of San Francisco to fund two entry-level legal assistant positions to help with homicide cases. In the interim, he is no longer accepting new homicide and certain felony trials, instead directing these cases to private counsel.

Mr. Adachi and San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, disagree over the necessity for the funds -- Mr. Newsom arguing that the public defender's office could have budgeted for the positions, and Mr. Adachi criticizing the City for hiring hundreds of other employees instead of additional staff for the public defender's office.

See the San Francisco Examiner.

The public defender's office currently has one support staff vacancy posted for a Senior Account Clerk in Bookkeeping/Payroll at http://sfpublicdefender.org/careers/job-openings/.

Paralegal Recognized for Racial Justice Advocacy

Today Texas paralegal Steve Crane was honored by the Longview Race Relations Committee for his advocacy for racial justice. See my previous entry "Paralegal Receives Unity Award for Work on Race Equality."

A labor activist, Steve Crane has held many positions in his local and national unions and in the regional chapter of the AFL-CIO and the Greater East Texas Central Labor Council. He spoke on the extraordinary week of the presidential inauguration and re-visited the struggles and dreams of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King and many local citizens such as Clarence Bailey, James Johnson and Darnell Thomas. As a child, Crane learned from his mother that injustice is evil. He regards his relocation to East Texas as a God-inspired event. He worked to name a park in southern Longview after Bennie Jackson, who is a local union activist and plaintiff in the voting rights lawsuit that brought single member districts to Longview. Crane worships at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, where he is an elder and the Garden Coordinator.

Crane’s favorite quote is from the late rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix--”When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”


See East Texas Review.

Paralegal Swamped with Foreclosure Work

North Carolina paralegal Evan Watkins has no shortage of work auctioning properties in foreclosure. In 2008, the foreclosure rate in Brunswick County, North Carolina almost doubled from the previous year.
On Thursday, paralegal Evan Watkins only had a few foreclosed properties on auction, but still he has auctioned off his share of properties. “Four or five a week, but of course I'm only one paralegal, and we handle counties all over the state.”

See WWTV3.

Do you know someone facing the possibility of foreclosure? Experts recommend that homeowners contact their lenders immediately if they think they may get behind on their mortgage payments. The Federal Trade Commission provides a well-written consumer bulletin, "Mortgage Payments Sending You Reeling? Here's What to Do" at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/homes/rea04.shtm.

Paralegal Helps Pregnant Women in Crisis

California paralegal Inez Whitlow is the Executive Director of Chicks in Crisis, a non-profit group which helps women with unplanned pregnancies and adoption services. Ms. Whitlow founded the organization in 1997, initially working out of her garage.


“I’ve been in that situation and I know how hard it is to ask for help,” she said. “I was that poor chick, I had three kids.” Since many of the “baby mamas” that she works with are without a car, and often a home, Whitlow comes to them and takes them out for a meal. The women can get a healthy meal for their baby and tell her their story.“By the time they’re done talking, I’ve got a plan,” she said.

Ms. Whitlow graduated from Humphreys College with a bachelor's degree in Paralegal Studies and is a licensed adoption facilitator. She has received numerous awards for her work with Chicks in Crisis, including the first Women of the Year Award from the Sacramento City Council in 2006. She adopted her youngest son, who would otherwise have become a ward of the state foster care system.

I highly recommend watching the video of Ms. Whitlow talking about the birth mothers she works with and the benefits of open adoption at http://chicksincrisis.blogspot.com/. She is truly a hero to young mothers in crisis and to the new families she helps to build.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Paralegal Files Court Action to Locate Mentally Ill Son

California paralegal Enne Currie is scheduled to appear at a mental health court hearing on January 29, 2009 in Redlands. She has filed legal action, pro se, to ascertain the location of her mentally ill adult son, Dirul Lewis, who has been in the mental health system for many years. She alleges that he has been moved to an undisclosed location, following the recent abrupt ending of her conservatorship.

Ms. Currie describes her son:

"My son wrote poetry, did recitations and impersonations, artwork and sketches. He loved reading the Bible. I drew strength from his courage and resilience in the face of all of this. He cared about people. He wanted to make something of himself. My son could read at two years old and now he mumbles."

See Christian Newswire.

Legal Staff Volunteers for United Cerebral Palsy














Florida paralegal Shelby Best, billing assistant Cathi Robinson and their employer, Smith, Hood, Perkins, Loucks, Stout, Bigman, Lane & Brock, P.A. a full service law firm in Daytona Beach, contributed to the success of the United Cerebral Palsy of East Central Florida's "Life Without Limits", an edible cruise ship which won first place at the 2008 "Rotary Gingerbread Magic". The Daytona Beach Rotary Club and Volusia Mall hosted the second annual event to raise money for local Rotary charities. The ship is currently on display at the law firm, which sponsored its construction.

Dotti Bernhard of UCP of East Central Florida designed the winning ship which "sports an outside pool with shower, outdoor movie screen, rock-climbing wall, a second level with fancy shops and a Calypso lounge in the rear and an exotic island in the near distance." Dottie says, "If you look into a smaller porthole toward the aft, you can see a tiny couple jumping up and down on a stateroom bed."

See the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Paralegal Profile: Melissa M. Wickerath, ACP, Real Estate Paralegal and Full-time College Student

Job Title: Legal Assistant

Employer: Casey’s General Stores, Inc., Ankeny, IA

Years of Paralegal Experience: 10

Specialty Area: Real Estate

Career Highlight: I earned the ACP (Advanced Certified Paralegal) designation through NALA in 2006.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Network, network, network!! Joining NALA and the LAT Listserv were two of the best things I have ever done for my career.

Favorite Internet Resource: Google!

Fun Fact: In a former life, I was a bartender!

Public LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dir/melissa/wickerath

___________________________________
I "met" Melissa through the LAT Listserv. In addition to being a full-time paralegal, she is a full-time student in Kaplan's bachelor's degree program, majoring in Paralegal Studies with a Real Estate emphasis. She is also very active in the Iowa Association of Legal Assistants, currently serving as the NALA Liaison. She recently posted the following great advice for locating your first job:

- Network, network, network. Join your local association and become active.

- Don’t limit your searches. There are lots of great legal jobs out there that don’t happen to be in private practice.
- Sign up for placement with a temp service (or two). Sometimes this can be the best way to get your foot in the door (I speak from experience).
- Consider membership in one or more national organizations. These can provide additional networking opportunities, as well as CLEs and certification.
- Know your market. Speak to others in the legal field and human resource departments, and develop an understanding of what credentials are at the top of the list in your area.
- Don’t limit yourself. Be prepared to accept other positions (secretary, clerk, etc.) to get started and also be willing to explore other areas of the law.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I was Twittered!

I am still contemplating the pros and cons of Twitter. I do enjoy some of my friends' Facebook tweets (especially Smitty's dinner plans). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was the subject of a public "tweet". (This discovery also throws a big monkey wrench into my future article about controlling your own Internet presence...)

"Puglover27" posted a Twitter update on January 22, 2009, "Had an excellent paralegal, Lynne DeVenny speak to students about networking." It is true that I was the speaker for a networking webcast for Westwood College Online students that afternoon. This was my first webcast and it was being recorded. I could not see my listeners, and they could not comment until the end. I started to feel like I was giving a rather lengthy soliloquy in my car. I had no idea whether I was scintillating or snooze-inducing.

So I was pleased to get a positive "tweet". Thanks, "Puglover27"!

Paralegal Charged with Credit Card Theft from Law Firm

California paralegal Phelicia Williams, formerly with Price and Associates, an Oakland civil rights litigation law firm, has been charged with multiple felonies, including using firm credit cards to charge more than $7,000.00 in unauthorized purchases. She has entered "not guilty" pleas to all charges.

Price and Associates did not know that Ms. Williams was on probation from a prior 2005 forgery conviction. I suspect their future hires may have to agree to a more stringent background check. Some of the criminal charges stem from Ms. Williams' internship with the City of Oakland Mayor's Office, which also did not check her background.

See The Oakland Tribune.

Paralegal Internship Opportunity with West Virginia Circuit Court

Morgan County Circuit Court in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, plans to utilize unpaid interns, including paralegal students, to assist with record management. Circuit Clerk Kimberly J. Jackson is excited about the public service opportunity and is ready to start as soon as interns are available.
She said the students can learn from the records-management process.

"We all win," she said.

See The Herald-Mail.

Legal Assistant Is Hired as Director of Marketing for Gibson Ferrin & Riggs

Frankie Y. Vandehei has been hired as the new Director of Marketing for Gibson Ferrin & Riggs, a Mesa, Arizona law firm. She has over twenty-one years of legal experience
"We are thrilled to have Frankie join the Firm," said Managing Partner, Scott Gibson. "She is bright, talented, and energetic, and will help us better meet the ongoing needs of our clients and business associates."


See Press Release Newswire.

Paralegals Report Sexual Harassment by Supervising Attorney to State Bar

Paralegal Janice Ingram, legal assistant Rachel Allen and assistant public defender Danielle Bruno filed complaints with the N.C. State Bar against former Durham County Public Defender Robert Brown, Jr. The women reported multiple acts of alleged sexual harassment by Mr. Brown (their employer at the time), including making inappropriate sexual remarks, inappropriate touching and retaliating against them at work if they did not respond to his requests for sexual favors. Mr. Brown’s disciplinary hearing is scheduled to be held in Raleigh on February 5, 2009.

Staff writer Barry Saunders of The News & Observer states:

Of course, one reason Brown and I get along respectfully is that I'm not a callipygian client, assistant public defender, intern or paralegal in his office. Nor am I a single working mother with kids who needs flexible hours and, thus, an understanding boss.

Were I any of those, chances are I wouldn't think he was such a swell guy.

You see, those appear to be the types of women most in danger of receiving what we'll call the "full Bob." According to complaints, that entailed being summoned into his office and, behind closed doors, being groped, propositioned or made an offer you shouldn't refuse -- unless you wanted to lose your job or get passed over for a promotion.

See The News & Observer.

The N.C. State Bar’s Complaint against attorney Robert Brown, Jr. is a public document and may be viewed at http://www.ncbar.com/discipline/DHC_File_DHC_file_filename_bv.asp?DHC_file_doc=4. Mr. Brown’s Answer may be viewed at http://www.ncbar.com/discipline/DHC_File_DHC_file_filename_bv.asp?DHC_file_doc=43.

Know your rights regarding sexual harassment at work. For further information, start with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) article “Facts About Sexual Harassment” at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/fs-sex.html.

Guest Blogger: "Ten Tips for Immigration Paralegals" by Helen L. Parsonage, Attorney


  1. Know your way around the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website at http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis. In one place you can find forms, current fee schedules, regulations, updates on policy changes and procedures, and a whole host of other indispensable information. If your attorney is agreeable, you might want to set up your own account on the Case Status Online automated service, so that you too will be able to track cases in the system and inform clients quickly about any status changes.

  2. Be familiar with the Department of States website at http://travel.state.gov/. Learn to read, understand, and be able to explain the Visa Bulletin.

  3. If your firm handles PERM applications, cultivate your contacts at the local Employment Security Office. You will find your life a lot easier if you build a strong working relationship with the individuals responsible to handling your job postings and responding to your prevailing wage requests. Goodwill can make all the difference.

  4. Make sure you have, and maintain, a rigorous tickler system for visa expirations, appeal deadlines, responses to Requests for Information or Notices of Intent to Deny and the like. Once deadlines are missed, there is no going back and clients’ livelihoods, and sometimes even lives, can depend on the success of their cases.

  5. Learn how to conduct background checks on corporations and individuals. Corporate clients will appreciate not being asked to provide documents such as annual reports and corporate filings that can be easily downloaded. Visit the company’s website, and bookmark your Secretary of State’s corporation division. Individual clients don’t always remember, or feel comfortable disclosing, details of criminal records, but it is vital that the attorney have accurate information. The small cost of accessing online criminal record databases is money well spent.

  6. Review all the supporting documents provided by clients for completeness and compliance with USCIS or DOS requirements. Familiarize yourself with the documents from countries you encounter frequently and ask follow-up questions about that odd-looking divorce from a country that has no legal divorce, or that church-issued marriage certificate from Mexico (hint: in Mexico a church wedding alone is not valid, there has to be a civil ceremony as well). A useful reference can be found at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/reciprocity/reciprocity_3272.html

  7. If your firm has a copy of Kurzban’s Immigration Sourcebook, browse it as often as you can. It is the number one text on immigration law, and your work will be more interesting and productive if you familiarize yourself with it.

  8. Take the time to learn your clients’ names. In other words, know the naming conventions for Hispanic clients, Indian clients, and any other nationality you encounter. It means a lot, and is basic courtesy, to use your clients’ names correctly. Don’t be afraid to ask the client to teach you the correct pronunciation. An interesting article can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_name.

  9. Be aware of, and open to, cultural differences. More than in any other area of law, your firm’s clients will have different religious views, different views on the role of women and different experiences with government bureaucracies. You will have to leave your cultural preconceptions at home. This doesn’t mean you are required to put up with outright chauvinism, but talk with your attorney about appropriate responses.

  10. Last, but not least, enjoy the chance to meet such a diverse clientele.

    ______________________________
    Helen L. Parsonage is an attorney at Elliot Pishko Morgan P.A. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She practices in the areas of immigration, employment and criminal law. She is a former paralegal with extensive experience working on immigration cases. Her public LinkedIn profile may be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/helenparsonage.

Help! My Attorney Wants Me to Prepare Her Curriculum Vitae!

One of the exciting aspects of the paralegal profession is that you never know what you might get asked to do when you get to work. I was once asked to draft an employment contract for a motorcycle stuntman -- and the firm I worked for at the time did not specialize in employment law. (That assignment occurred "B.C." or "Before Computers" had Internet access and E-mail, so I trekked to the local law library and located sample contracts, which I found by using the good old card catalog.)

A fellow member of a professional association found herself in a bind when she was asked to draft her supervising attorney's curriculum vitae or "CV", including sections for publications and awards. A CV is very similar to a resume, but focuses more on academic accomplishments. Because her attorney needed it quickly, she posted a request to our professional association's legal assistant listserv, asking if anyone had a go-by. (If you think your own resume is a challenge, wait until you try drafting a detailed CV for someone else.)

Fortunately, there are many CV go-bys online. I sent my colleague several templates to consider, including a simple CV template at Microsoft Office Online and an academic CV template from About.com: Job Searching, which includes a listing of articles and book publications. There are also sample CVs for almost any specific professional field available online.

I still view the Internet as a miracle. I am continually grateful that I no longer have to make frequent trips to the library, although I believe that using a card catalog was character-building.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Vicki Voisin, ACP, "The Paralegal Mentor" and Ethics Expert

Job Titles: Paralegal, Author and Speaker

Employers: I work for Running Wise & Ford PLC in the firm’s Charlevoix, Michigan office; I also produce a bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence and offer continuing education opportunities for paralegals.

Years of Paralegal Experience: 30

Specialty Areas: Running Wise & Ford is a general practice firm so I am exposed to almost all areas of the law, though I focus on probate and estate planning and workers compensation.

Career Highlight: Serving as President of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and as an expert witness in a legal malpractice case.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Billable hours are a necessary evil. Be sure to plan your year so you meet your billable hour goals.

Favorite Internet Resource: My favorites depend on the case I am working on so they are too numerous to list. I did present several in my article titled ‘RU Vetting?’ available at http://www.paralegalmentor.com/archive/090408-ru-vetting.html.

Fun Facts: I have run the Boston Marathon twice, and I am a native Texan.

Professional Bio: My CV can be viewed at http://www.paralegalmentor.com/vicki-cv.pdf.
____________________________
Vicki Voisin is a nationally recognized author and speaker on issues related to ethics and to the paralegal profession. She is the creator and presenter of EthicsBasics, a unique program designed to raise awareness of ethical concerns by legal professionals and corporate employees. She also publishes a bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. You can subscribe to the ezine at http://www.paralegalmentor.com/ where subscribers receive a free Special Report titled ‘Is Your Computer Talking Behind Your Back?’ She is a past president of NALA, received the Association’s President’s Award in 2003, and presently serves on NALA’s Advanced Certification Board. She is also a member of the Paralegals/Legal Assistants Section of the State Bar of Michigan and served as Chair of the Section in 2005-2006.

Paralegal Designs Workout Dresses

Idaho paralegal Christine Nienstedt has launched her own line of exercise dresses, after receiving many compliments on the dress of her own design that she wore to participate in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (a half-marathon and endurance bike ride).

Ms. Nienstedt views competing in grueling endurance races as a special occasion, a celebration of both femininity and strength. She calls her exercise dress a “Nuu-Muu.” 'They felt celebratory and fun," Nienstedt says. "I wondered why more people didn't do it."

See the Idaho Statesman.

These dresses look like something I would enjoy wearing to Zumba classes and can be ordered online at http://www.nuu-muu.com/home.htm.

Ms. Nienstedt is a Senior Paralegal at Cowan Miller & Lederman, an immigration law firm. Her staff profile may be viewed at http://www.cmlseattle.com/paralegals.asp.

Federal Prosecutor Promises to Utilize Legal Assistant to Manage Schedule

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Hart promised U.S. District Court Judge U.W. Clemon that he will utilize his legal assistant to keep his calendar and keep him informed of upcoming court appearances. Mr. Hart appeared in front of Judge Clemon today in Birmingham, Alabama to explain why he should not be held in contempt and sanctioned for missing a sentencing hearing last summer.

Mr. Hart admitted that he had “lost control” of his calendar and that he had learned from his mistakes. "I've delegated more," he said. "I apologize to the court."

See the Birmingham News.

Legal Assistant by Day and Roller Derby Queen by Night

West Virginia legal assistant Laura Collins is a “Chemical Valley Roller Girl” and co-founder of the Kanahwa Valley team. The team has been practicing for the past several months on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights at a local skating rink.

Roller derby (like the legal field) is not for the faint of heart:

It gets physical very fast. Specifically, nobody is allowed to hit anyone. Players aren’t supposed to deliberately trip, hook or jab opposing players with their elbows or use their helmeted heads as batteringrams. Hauling off and slugging another player is strictly against the rules.
See The Charleston Gazette.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Community Service Suggestion: Paralegal Association Food Drives

Americans are losing their jobs at record rates and more families have empty pantries. Food banks across the country are reporting bare shelves which cannot meet the needs of their rapidly increasing clientele.

Soup kitchens, which provide hot meals, and food pantries, which offer groceries mostly to families, are the backbone of the current nonprofit food system. Most are in the hearts of cities and rely primarily on individual donations of food or bulk supplies from large food banks. They also need money for overhead, all of which leaves them vulnerable during economic downturns such as the current one, nonprofit leaders say.

See “Activists seek new ways to get food to 35 million” at MSNBC.com.

The North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ) is hosting a networking luncheon for its Legal Assistant Division members in February 2009. NCAJ is providing lunch, so as an additional community service project, attendees are invited to contribute to the local food bank by bringing a non-perishable food item. (Even my church is having a “Souper Bowl Sunday” food drive at its service next week.)

Any food pantry can use donations, no matter how small. If your professional or student association is planning a seminar, luncheon or get-together soon, please consider having a simultaneous food drive for your local food bank.

Former Legal Assistant Named Consumer Advocate of the Year by Consumer Attorneys of San Diego

California resident and former legal assistant Paula Lawlor has been named “Consumer Advocate of the Year” by the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego. Ms. Lawler is the founder of the nonprofit organization People Safe in Rollovers.

The former legal assistant was called "The Erin Brockovich of vehicle-roof safety" by Automotive News and is now a self-made roof crush consultant to attorneys across the country, working on trials against Ford, GM and DaimlerChrystler.

See Del Mar Times.

Ms. Lawlor started her career as a specialist in roof crush injuries in 1992 by working as a legal assistant for personal injury attorneys. She became "adept at finding witnesses and culling out important documents that clearly showed that automakers were clearly to blame for the roof crush injuries in rollovers."

Her passion for her work is clear, and she loves helping the families of rollover crash victims. Ms. Lawlor has the people and research skills which define many successful paralegals.

"I had no background, no training, nothing," she says. "But I'm a natural Private Eye. I'm organized and I use my artist's eye for detail. Most importantly, I connect with people and end up with the most information."

See Bisnar Chase L.L.P.

Certified Paralegal and Paralegal Instructor Joins McAfee & Taft

Oklahoma certified paralegal J. Lynn McKay has joined McAfee & Taft’s Tax and Family Wealth Group. Her duties include “assisting attorneys [with] wills, trusts, estate taxes, gift taxes and probate law.”

Ms. McKay is an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law’s Department of Legal Assistant Education, and has received the certified paralegal designation from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). In addition to a bachelor’s degree in journalism, she has a legal assistant certificate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law Center.

Active in the legal profession, Ms. McKay received the 2002 “Legal Assistant of the Year” award from the Central Oklahoma Association of Legal Assistants (COALA).

See The Oklahoman and Ms. McKay's McAfee & Taft Staff Profile.

Paralegal Joins Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo L.L.P.

North Carolina paralegal Kevin Denver has joined the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo, L.L.P., a Charlotte-based personal injury firm. He has over 20 years of paralegal experience, including in the areas of medical malpractice and personal injury. Mr. Denver will work in the firm’s workers' compensation department.

See The Charlotte Observer.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Former Paralegal Creates Popular Online Budgeting Site

Brent Hunsberger, personal finance columnist and blogger at “It’s Only Money” rated former paralegal Marc Hedlund’s online money management site Wesabe as his favorite in his article “How online money management sites stack up.”

Wesabe: Get to Know Your Money, a popular budgeting site, helps its users ("Wesabeans") make good financial decisions, improve their personal finances and benefit each other as a community with “collective intelligence.” The site has gotten excellent reviews from many sources, including Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, The Wall Street Journal and Reader’s Digest. The site even has its own Twitter feed.

Mr. Hunsberger praises the free site:

My pick? Wesabe, and not just because it was co-founded by Reed College graduate and ex-Tonkin Torp paralegal Marc Hedlund. Unlike the others, it gathered my credit union and all other essential accounts and allowed me to budget expenses for free (Fees for advanced features are in the works, Hedlund says). Buxfer might've gotten my bizz, but I don't want to pay to budget. Mint might get it if it ever can automatically access my credit union or would allow manual uploads.

Mr. Hedlund is Chief Product Officer for Wesabe and a blogger/author at Wheaties for Your Wallet. He worked as a paralegal when he graduated from college and wryly recounts his war with the firm copier at OnJava.com.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lawyer Accepts Reprimands for Unethical Conduct

Connecticut attorney Frank DiScala, formerly with DiScala, DiScala and Papscy in Norwalk, received two reprimands (by agreement) to appear on his professional record from the Statewide Grievance Committee, one for forging signatures on legal documents and the other for "not advising a client in writing to consult with independent counsel prior to accepting the settlement."

The grievance complaint, filed by firm associate Michael Colombo, contained multiple allegations of unethical conduct by Mr. DiScala, including that he directed his paralegal Lisa Snow to cover up portions of a document so that a client would not be aware of her right to sue for malpractice and to seek independent counsel.

The second violation had to do with a client named Beatriz Martinez, whose personal injury suit DiScala could no longer litigate because he had failed to file it before the statute of limitations ran out on her claim, Colombo wrote.

According to Colombo, DiScala had Snow cover up the top portion of a form while Martinez signed it. The form was a waiver of her right to seek counsel in a claim against DiScala.

Martinez was additionally deceived when DiScala told her he had in fact settled her case and gave her $15,000 out of the firm's expense account, money which she believed DiScala would be reimbursed for, the grievance states.

See The Hour.

I like to think that if an attorney asked me to knowingly help him deprive a client of her legal rights that I would quit on the spot. However, in this economy, I also sympathize with any legal support staff professional who is directed by his or her supervising attorney to engage in wrongdoing. Not knowing the facts regarding Ms. Snow’s involvement, whether she was browbeaten, “job-scared”, ignorant or a willing participant, I can only feel sorry that she had to work for a lawyer who at best, exercised poor judgment, and at worst, deceived clients.

Assuming that you were the paralegal in this situation and also assuming that your household was dependent on your income, what would you have done?

Paralegal Present to Watch President Obama Sworn In

North Carolina paralegal Elizabeth "Liz" Linzan attended the inauguration with college friends. Although she did not have tickets to any official activities, she wanted to be physically present to see President Obama sworn in. She was awed by the diversity of the audience and says,

"I watched right next to the Washington Monument, which was wonderful in itself. To be there, in the moment, with millions of people all on the same page, with the same emotions and feelings, was amazing."

This was Ms. Linzan's first trip to Washington, D.C. In addition to attending the inauguration ceremony, she also did some sightseeing and attended the HBO Lincoln Memorial Concert.

Ms. Linzan is employed by workers' compensation attorney Annemarie Pantazis in Charlotte, who was happy to give her both Tuesday and Wednesday off to attend (and recover from) the inauguration.

In May 2008, Ms. Linzan graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a bachelor's degree in sociology. While she was a student, she served terms as the President and Community Service Organizer of the Carolina Hispanic Association (CHispA).

Guest Blogger: Do you Twitter? Smitty does! by Jeffrey L. Smith a/k/a "Smitty"

Many of you are connected on a number of social networking sites. One of the biggest draws on these is the “status” feature, which allows you to keep up with your friends in real time. Now you can take it up a notch by using a site that has really taken off in the last year: Twitter. It is a microblog in which you and your friends can track each other by text messaging from your cell phones or smartphones; the messages relating to your whereabouts and what you are up to during the day are called “tweets.”

It’s pretty entertaining to read not only what people are up to, but also the playful musings among Twitter users. There’s a bit of gamesmanship as to who can top whom with creative tweets. But Twitter has its serious side, too. Users often Twitter at major events and deliver breaking news or firsthand accounts of what’s happening at a given place or time. I enjoyed reading many tweets from friends who were at the Inauguration of President Obama and getting a real-time sense of what was happening on that historic day. Twitter has about 5 million users that include the news media, government officials, athletes and housewives.

Twitter integrates with Facebook so you can stay connected with friends on that site as well as your Twitter site followers. I joined Twitter last fall and really enjoy using it. I plan to connect with more people via Twitter in the coming weeks at events in the community. You can sign up for this cool social networking tool at http://www.Twitter.com. To follow me go to http://twitter.com/smittyinwinston. Hey! I just might follow you too;-)

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Reprinted by permission of Jeffrey L. Smith from Smitty's Notes - January 2009 Update.

Paralegal Profile: Jeffrey L. Smith, Corporate Paralegal and Community Organizer

Job Title: Litigation Paralegal

Employer: Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. (an agrichemical business) Greensboro, North Carolina

Years of Paralegal Experience: 22 years



Specialty Areas: Litigation, Electronic Discovery and Electronic Records Management

Career Highlight: Making the move from working in private practice to a corporate environment in 1996. The work day may be shorter. But the pace of the day is still the same. One huge benefit is establishing a great day to day working relationship with your “clients” who are also your colleagues in the company. It helps out tremendously when you are in a crunch on a discovery request. Yet, you know when their schedules are overloaded and try to be considerate when working with outside counsel.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Sign up and read the free e-newsletters provided by law firms, vendors and professional organizations. Trends in litigation and technology move quickly. Use them as professional intelligence resource and share with the attorneys you report to and other paralegals.

Favorite Internet Resource: Kroll Ontrack’s Case Law Update and E-Discovery News e-newsletter. It comes out monthly on the latest case law and news in electronic discovery. It’s free. Sign up at http://www.krollontrack.com under “Resources”.

Fun Fact: In 1997 I started a twice monthly e-newsletter and web site called Smitty’s Notes serving the Winston-Salem community. With over 10,000 subscribers, it covers non-profit, arts and entertainment, downtown developments and other community news. It is also posted on our local newspaper Winston-Salem Journal web site – Journalnow.com. I also tape a video segment called “Weekend Spotlight” on NBC affiliate WXII12.com web site. Let’s say all makes for a busy week. Plus, I’m huge proponent of the current social media and social networking trend. It helps prove the theory of the "Six Degrees of Separation" and makes your personal and professional network a whole lot wider and rich.

Professional Bio Link: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffreylamarsmith

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paralegal Dances with Michelle Obama at Inaugural Ball

Sergeant Elidio Guillen, a Marine paralegal and litigation support specialist, danced part of one song with the President’s wife, Michelle Obama, at the Commander-In-Chief Ball on January 20, 2009.

Sgt. Guillen said of the experience,


"It was something our family will treasure all our lives. My family has played a small part in history, at the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president."

The California native is employed by the Defense Department’s Office of the General Counsel and is an Iraq war veteran.

See McClatchy Washington Bureau.

Honors Paralegal Graduate to Speak at College Graduation

New paralegal graduate Lisa Leandro, a resident of California, will speak on behalf of the graduating class at Empire College School of Business’s semiannual graduation exercises on January 27, 2009. See Press-Democrat. She is graduating with honors from the paralegal associate degree program. In 2008, she joined the Redwood Empire Association of Paralegals (REAP).

While googling Ms. Leandro, I stumbled across Empire College’s newsletter, The Empire Writes Back (anybody out there a Star Wars fan?) The Spring 2008 issue is an outstanding example of collegiate reporting and student initiative. In addition to a great article on networking and tips from working graduates, the newsletter celebrates the activities and achievements of its students, including obtaining internships.

In 2008 Empire College paralegal students obtained internships not only with private law firms, but with various Sonoma County court offices, including Superior Court Traffic Division, Court Interpreter’s Office, Family Law Facilitator’s and Small Claims Clinic. The paralegal program also has working legal professionals mentor its students.

Paralegal Profile: Kim Plonsky, LAT Software Reviewer and Gadget Whiz

Job Titles: Freelance Paralegal/Writer/Software Consultant

Employers: Solo personal injury litigation attorneys in Lafayette, Louisiana (paralegal/writer); software consultant to law firms in Southwest Louisiana; independent software trainer consultant; columnist and software reviewer for Legal Assistant Today magazine.

Years of Paralegal Experience: Approximately 30 years.

Specialty Areas: Civil and Trial Litigation of all types, primarily Personal Injury; Civil Law and Procedure; Appellate Law and Procedure.

Career Highlight: Paralegal to J. Minos Simon, who famously sued God in the 1980s in the midst of the Catholic priest child sex abuse scandal, and was portrayed by Jack Warden in the HBO movie, Judgment, loosely based on that case.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Learn the rules of procedure and court rules for your practice area and keep the bound books handy. Highlight, flag, and refer to them often, even when (especially when) you already “know” the rule. Knowing and staying current with these rules—rather than relying on outdated forms or customary practices in your local area—and the "letter of the law," paralegals can avoid embarrassing mistakes that can sometimes even be fatal to your client’s case. An added bonus is the ability to quickly spot any procedural/technical errors in your opponent’s work product, which can sometimes be used to your client’s advantage.

Favorite Internet Resource: LitiLaw, a free collection of hundreds of legal articles, written by lawyers and published in connection with CLE seminars. LitiLaw is a quick and easy source for getting up to speed on unfamiliar areas of law or legal issues, and jumpstarting legal research assignments.

Fun Fact: My friends nicknamed me "Go-Go-Gadget Kim" and "MacGyver," because in addition to being a technophile, I am a shameless gadget freak.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Layoff Preparedness: A Transfer to the Branch Office in Somalia is a Bad Sign

Since fall 2008, it has been nearly impossible to open a newspaper that does not contain local, state or national layoff announcements – followed by many career articles warning us to prepare for the possibility of our own layoff. No wonder some of us feel a bit jumpy at work if our boss does not respond to our E-mails (mine only responds to the ones that pique his interest.)

The Wall Street Journal reported warning signs of a possible layoff, including your boss failing to make small talk. The Institute for Paralegal Education recently published an article about recession proofing your career by making a contingency plan. Christine Parizo, author of A Paralegal’s Blog, also blogged about layoff preparation, including updating your resume. These are all very prudent ideas for any professional in this economy.

Now you’re sitting at your desk a bit worried because your boss walked right past you without saying “hi” and you can’t find a copy of your resume anywhere (or remember the particulars of your employment from 1985). So I was ready to laugh (nervously) when I recently read Dale McFeatters’ column, "Telltale signs that you are losing your job." He really lays those warning signs out quite clearly, including:

On a whim while out on the road, you call your office and ask for yourself. A voice identifying itself as you answers.

You return to find a stranger in your office. He insists he’s had that same office since 1999. Your co-workers back him up on it. He insists those pictures on the desk are of his family, not yours. Your co-workers back him up on that, too.

Oh, snap. That happened to me once, and then I realized I had been transferred to my own voice mail. Now about those E-mails…

Paralegal to Run for Another Term on School Board

Illinois paralegal and IT administrator Christine Vickers, a member of the Indian Prairie District 204 School Board since 2005, filed paperwork to run for another 4-year term. She wants her district to focus on education and not just school construction.
"I believe we have a lot of work to do for the students of District 204 and I want to be part of raising the educational, academic bar for 204 kids," she said.

See The Daily Herald.

Ms. Vickers is employed by the Chicago law firm of Wiedner and McAuliffe, Ltd., which specializes in defense litigation. Her School Board bio may be viewed at http://board.ipsd.org/Pages/MemberBios.aspx.

Paralegal Profile: Lourdes Bugarin, Freelance Paralegal and General Hospital Fan

Job Title: Senior Paralegal

Employer: Freelance paralegal and translation services -- currently with Law Office of David Eaker, offices in Dallas and Rockwall, TX

Years of Paralegal Experience: 34

Specialty Areas: Family, Civil Trial and Personal Injury Law

Career Highlight: Working on a workers’ compensation jury case in federal court was a career highlight. Our client, a nurse injured from a fall while on hospital duty, suffered spinal cord and brain injuries, which incapacitated her totally -- requiring permanent 24-hour care. Her physician husband and young children brought suit against the insurance carrier after they denied benefits. The attorney for whom I worked 10 years fought for this family so well that the jury gave us everything we asked for and the judge lectured the insurance company. In Dallas, Texas, in the mid-90’s, this was truly momentous!

Paralegal Practice Tip: For many years, I have kept a spiral notebook next to me in which I write EVERYTHING I do each day. I jot down every case I work on, the name of the pleading(s) or correspondence (to/from whom), the phone calls I made and received, the substance of those calls, including telephone numbers, and the time I spent on each.

When I need to bill, I have all the information at hand. When it’s a contingency case, I know how I am using my time and whether I am investing too much or too little time on any particular case. The best part is when an attorney asks me, “Why haven’t you finished Project X?” I can readily reply and show him or her exactly what I have done that day, week or month! It also avoids searching for misplaced pieces of paper with critical information on them. The only time I use those is when I copy information from my spiral notebook to such a piece of paper to hand to someone else.

Favorite Internet Resource: Attorney’s Tom Mighell’s free subscription blog and weekly e-zine: http://www.inter-alia.net/. He writes about everything legal and gives great information on sites and blogs, and the latest in technology. He’s definitely a Tech Guru. He’s a Dallas guy who has gone national!

Fun Fact: I’ve watched General Hospital since 1964. It is more challenging to keep up with it now. I am very involved with local, state and national paralegal associations, and in the very thick of political activities!

Eats, Shoots And Leaves Calendar: Text Messaging Addicts Beware!

Today's timely advice from Lynne Truss, author of the 365-day Eats, Shoots and Leaves Calendar, is for those who love their text messaging and abbreviations so much that they may be losing the habit of using standard English in their professional communications -- and not even realize they are doing it.

In the world of text messages, ignorance of grammar and punctuation obviously doesn't affect a person's ability to communicate messages such as "C U L8er".


High school teachers and college instructors are receiving formal papers with text abbreviations instead of proper spellings. Employers are complaining about receiving cover letters and E-mails written with text abbreviations, especially from "Gen Y'ers" -- and sometimes following interviews, unwelcome "THX" texts on their private cell phones. ("THX" is "thanks" for the uninitiated, not to be confused with "THX Surround Sound!")

Webopedia hosts an amusing Internet site for text messaging abbreviations (over 1,000!) but beware of using them in standard business communications, including E-mail to colleagues.

But I admit to giggling over the following text "codes:"

AIAMU: And I am a monkey's uncle
OATUS: On a totally unrelated subject
PAW: Parents are watching
ROFLCOPTER: Rolling on floor laughing and spinning around

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Paralegal and Minister Takes Essay Winners to Inauguration

Illinois paralegal Reverend Angela Hill attended President Obama's inauguration, bringing with her three wards of the state of Illinois, Britney Hudson, Anthony Brown and Jasmine Williams, winners of an essay contest culminating in the historic trip to Washington, D.C.

Reverend Hill is employed by the business and litigation law firm Bryan Cave LLP. In addition to her legal work, she also runs In His Grip Ministries, which ministers to youth on the street in Chicago.

Ms. Hill is committed in particular to wards of the state. To demonstrate the irrationality of the widespread reluctance to adopt kids beyond infancy, she and her husband adopted a 10-year-old girl about a decade ago. Then she devoted her ministry to kids failing to win adoption, especially those approaching emancipation.

When she sponsored the essay contest for Illinois wards of state, her ministry could only afford to take two winners. Several attorneys at Bryan Cave LLP donated the funds to bring a third winner and to supply a van for the trip.

"Angela is very humble about her work outside the firm, but those of us who are aware of it know that she is having a tremendous impact on the lives of others," says Derek S. Holland, a Bryan Cave lawyer.

See The Wall Street Journal.
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Please take a minute to visit Reverend Hill's ministry website to see the remarkable work she is doing, in addition to her full-time job as a paralegal. As the adoptive mother of my own incredible youngest daughter (through the state foster care system), I also want to raise awareness of the many amazing older children currently living in state foster care, ready and waiting to experience the joy and stability that a "forever family" can offer.

Paralegals Nationwide Attend Inauguration

Maryland paralegal Cindy Whartman braved the cold to attend President Obama's inauguration, but admitted, “My feet are frozen, my nose is frozen, the tips of my fingers are frozen, and I just couldn’t take it anymore.” See the The New York Times.

Another Maryland paralegal Aprile Ransome traveled to the inauguration and chatted with 60-year old Martha Ward, who expressed the desire of many Americans when she said she wanted to be present to "feel" it. See the Hartford Courant.

California paralegal Tamu Thompson travelled to Washington, D.C. with her sister to reunite with a longtime friend. Ms. Thompson rose to the challenge of obtaining winter wear in her hometown of San Diego. "It was more of a task to get thermal underwear than getting airline tickets," she said. "Getting hats and scarves was like finding a needle in a haystack. They don't sell those in San Diego." See The Warren Record.

Nevada paralegal Rhonda Kennedy marveled, "To see an African-American president in my lifetime, even though I am a Republican, it is still overwhelming to see that and to say, 'I can do anything.'" See The Review-Journal.

Can Twittering Help You Find a Job?

I have heard a lot of “Tweets” recently, and it is not bird song. It is the continuous chirping of Twitter, the latest craze in social networking sites. “Twitterers” use the free site to send short messages of 140 characters or fewer to their fellow Twitterers. The Twitter premise is to tell others what you are doing -- often.

While not a user myself, the messages can be linked to other social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, where I have seen friends “tweet” messages such as:

“Oops, I’m still figuring this Twitter thing out and sorry for posting 500 messages in the last 6 minutes!”

“I have been stuck in traffic for 2 hours and I swear the guy in the car behind me is trimming his nose hair.”

But sometimes I see Tweets being used effectively for marketing purposes, educational announcements and networking.

Jonnelle Marte, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, recently wrote a column “Twitter Yourself a Job,” discussing the possibilities of using Twitter in your job search. Ms. Marte uses Alexa Scordato’s successful job query via Twitter as an example:

Looking for a new job, Alexa Scordato didn't email or call her contacts about possible openings. Instead, she messaged them via the social-networking Web site Twitter.com.

Her brief message: "Hey there! Looking for a Social Media job up in Boston. Are you guys doing any entry level hires?"

Within a week, she had an interview. Within two weeks, she had a job.

Ms. Marte reminds Twitterers to keep tweets appropriate. The same rule for usage of any social networking sites applies: never tweet anything you would not want your employer, colleagues or friends to see.

See The Wall Street Journal.

So will I be twittering anytime soon? I am still mulling it over. Let’s face it – I am not that interesting. Plus, I usually benefit from having a time lag between my thoughts and actually sharing them. (People who know me well might even suggest that I lengthen that time lag.) I worry that I might look like a “Twit” instead of a “Twitterer.”

Paralegal Takes Personal Day to Celebrate Inauguration

Like many Americans, Indiana paralegal Libby Moss requested the day off from work today to celebrate President Obama’s inauguration at home with friends and family. She is employed by the personal injury law firm of Craig Kelley and Faultless in Indianapolis.

Ms. Moss shared the special meaning of this day to her family:

"In 1963, I vividly remember being greatly impacted by (President Kennedy's assassination)," she said. "It changed my life."

That death, and the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy, made her appreciate the power of such historical moments.

"My sister Toni and I made a pact back in the 1960s that if and when the United States elected an African-American president, we wanted to be a part of history," Moss said.

See The Indianapolis Star.
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Kudos to Craig Kelley and Faultless for recognizing the importance of this day to its staff. (And how great is “Faultless” for a lawyer’s name?) I know my employer Elliot Pishko Morgan P.A. would have given any employee who wanted to participate in the inauguration the day off as well, but it just happened to be a snow day for school children in our district. (My firm did host an pizza lunch to watch the inauguration for those who worked today.) I will always remember that my 12-year old daughter and I celebrated this historic day together at home.