Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Paralegal Picture: Best Internet Quotes for the Week Ending 02/28/09

A paralegal makes beer part-time and enjoys increased popularity with his friends and family, several paralegals provide information regarding consumer rights, a recruiter comments on the decline of the legal secretarial profession (and a book author forecasts the decline of lawyers) and two paralegals are deployed together in Iraq.

"I pretty much have a micro brewery in my house, for all intents and purposes.” – by North Dakota paralegal, Michael Philleo, who makes his own beer and is head of a brewing club, The Muddy River Mashers. (Mr. Philleo may get this year’s Practical Paralegalism Blowin’ Off Steam Award for the best way to relieve the stress of working as a paralegal.) (KFYR-TV)

“I think the future for legal secretaries is that the job has become sort of a hybrid. They are going to be called legal assistants and handle more specific tasks.” – by Peggy Kruza of Kruza Legal Search in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, about lawyers becoming more self-sufficient as the need for someone to take dictation declines and lawyer-to-secretary ratios increase. (Philadelphia Business Journal)

"Once legal work has been broken down and the optimal ways of conducting each task have been identified, these tasks can be sourced in a variety of lower cost ways. For instance, many duties can be 'delawyered' by being delegated to non-lawyers, such as paralegals and law clerks." – by Michael Rappaport in his article “The end of lawyers as we know it”, describing an argument made by Richard Susskind in his book The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services (Oxford University Press, 2008) (Lawyers Weekly Canada)

I’ve trained a lot of Soldiers. In terms of motivation and job knowledge, Johnson and Smith are two of the best I’ve trained.” – by Staff Sgt. Cedric High, about Roxanne Johnson, a military justice paralegal, and Tamara Smith, a paralegal assistant, currently stationed at the Baghdad Justice Center in Iraq. (DVIDS)

"They are susceptible, they are gullible, they are vulnerable and they are lonely.” – by senior paralegal Evelyn Gay, an employee of Georgia Legal Services, who recently spoke to a group of seniors about how to protect themselves from identify theft scams. (WTOC TV)

“You never know what issues will come up down the road or in the middle of tenancy. You want to expect the best of people, but sometimes that doesn’t work out.” – by University of Minneapolis Legal Services legal assistant Barbara Boysen about the need for students to carefully inspect the actual apartment (not the model) they want to rent. “They should not feel reluctant to test out the plumbing, run faucets, closely inspect the appliances.” (mndaily.com)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Stole the Idea for this Job Satisfaction Poll from Above the Law

Above The Law recently published a poll regarding attorney job satisfaction (“I hate my life” is one option), after the ABA Journal reported that 76% of a survey group of 2000 law school grads were happy with their career choice. It occurred to me that somebody should ask the folks who work for these attorneys about THEIR job satisfaction, too.

Please see the paralegal job satisfaction poll at the sidebar. After all, I bet many of these attorneys wouldn't be nearly as satisfied with their career choice without their trusty and unsung sidekicks, I mean, their paralegals, right?

Also, for a wicked good daily laugh, check in at Above The Law, which I like to call "the blog that says all the stuff that I wish I could."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Looking for a Job? "Sweat the Professional Details"

If you are currently seeking employment (or anticipate seeking employment in the near future), I recommend that you carefully review Steve Langerud’s article, “Remain ‘Bold and Valiant’ in Your Job Search.” Mr. Langerud, an assistant dean for career services at the University of Iowa College of Law, gives excellent advice applicable to all job-seeking professionals, not just lawyers.

Mr. Langerud’s “Basics” may seem like common knowledge, but in today’s competitive job market, many of them bear repeating (and posting on your refrigerator):
  1. Be realistic (and flexible) about the job market.
  2. “Sweat the professional details.”
  3. “Employers can afford to be ruthless in their evaluation of candidates” (and they are).
  4. “Crafting an error-free resume is critically important."
  5. Write cover letters that demonstrate your knowledge of the employer’s business.
  6. Tell prospective employers how you will benefit them.
  7. Be “direct, courteous and honest.”
  8. Use a formal style when communicating via Email (no text abbreviations).
  9. Respond promptly to requests for documents and decisions.
  10. Ask for help in your job search: network.

See Law.com.

Grammar Geek Giggle for Today

Every day I get a not-so-gentle punctuation tip from grammar guru, Lynne Truss, via her 2009 Eats, Shoots & Leaves 365-day calendar. Today's quote is:
The apostrophe indicates the omission of letters: We can't go to Jo'burg (We cannot go to Johannesburg -- perhaps because we can't spell the middle bit).

That gave me pause for thought. A lot of locals (including me) write "K'ville" instead of the full name of a local town, Kernersville, NC. Maybe people think we can't actually spell it?

Paralegal Profile: Sharon G. Robertson, ACP, NCCP, Advocate for Safe Jails and Landscape Gardener

Job Title: Paralegal

Employer: North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, Inc., Western office in Linville Falls, NC.

Years of Paralegal Experience: 24

Specialty Areas: Prisoner Civil Rights; Civil Litigation

Career Highlight: Working to make the North Carolina county jails a safer environment for both the pre-trial detainees and the staff who work there.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Try to stay abreast in the general areas of the law (similar to what you studied in your paralegal classes) that you normally do not work in. Too many times I hear paralegals say they are not attending a seminar because there’s only one course that applies to their field.

Be willing to jump in and volunteer for unassigned tasks, even when it is outside your ‘comfort’ zone. This applies to both your job and your professional associations (or "clubs" as my husband likes to call them). Yes, you need to be involved in your state and national paralegal associations. The skills you attain by volunteering to work on a committee or as an officer cross over into your work place. And, I cannot begin to say enough about the great friendships I have formed across North Carolina and nationwide through my involvement in paralegal associations.

Favorite Internet Resources:

Okay, don’t laugh but my favorite Internet resource is the weather site http://www.averyweather.com/Forecast/Linville as weather plays an important part to life in the mountains.

My second favorite resource that I use daily is the inmate locator page on the NC Department of Corrections website http://doc.state.nc.us/

Fun Fact: I am seriously addicted to landscape gardening. My husband and I simply enjoy planting flowers, trees, shrubs, bulbs, etc. We look forward to the spring when over 6,000 daffodils (48 varieties) bloom from late March through May. Then our dogwoods, lilacs, azaleas, rhododendrons, and other blooming shrubs will start opening as well, along with the perennial plants in the rock garden. We’re trying to cut back the number of annuals that we plant as we get older.

We enjoy the solitude of the Linville River and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The river provides us with the opportunity to see and feed the wild Wood Ducks, Mallards, and other waterfowl that land on the Linville River, which is a part of my front yard. During the fall and winter we enjoy watching the wild turkeys that come to the river. My husband and I are also serious amateur photographers, and enjoy the wildlife that frequently visit our homestead located in throughout the year.

Professional Bio: Ms. Robertson is the Paralegal for the Safe & Humane Jails Project, an IOLTA funded grant. She graduated from the University of Arizona in 1976 with a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education (Social Studies), and received her Associates Degree in Paralegal Technology in 1985 from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 1989 Ms. Robertson earned her Certified Legal Assistant designation from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and her Civil Litigation Specialist designation from NALA in 1994. She is a member of NALA and has served as Affiliated Associations Director for two years and NALA Region 2 Director for four years. Ms. Robertson is an active member of the North Carolina Paralegal Association, having served as President and Chairman of the Board. She is an active member of the Paralegal Division of the North Carolina Bar Association, having served as LAD Chair. Currently, she is serving on the North Carolina Bar Association’s Strategic Planning/Emerging Trends Committee and is the Site Coordinator for the Asheville call center for the 4ALL Task Force. She is also an active member of the Legal Assistants Division of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

Ms. Robertson serves as a member of the Curriculum Advisory Board for the Paralegal Program at Western Piedmont Community College in Morganton, North Carolina. She enjoys birding, gardening, and quilting, and is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Twitterbox Update: I Want to Be Ron Sylvester, Courtroom Twitterer

Actually, Mr. Sylvester is not a “courtroom Twitterer” although he is a “multimedia reporter” for The Wichita Eagle and Kansas.com who covers trials, and tweets continuously from the courtroom. Not only is he very good at providing live commentary in Twitter’s 140-character micro-blogging format, but he’s got my dream job. He’s also ruined me for other courtroom journalists, because now I want them all to twitter from public hearings. He’s changed the face of courtroom print reporting, especially for impatient trial enthusiasts who no longer want to wait for the morning paper (or even the evening news).

Mr. Sylvester started twittering from the courtroom in early 2008, initially as a media experiment. By the end of the trial we were getting a lot of reaction from readers,” he said. “People said they were sitting at work, refreshing the page over and over again to keep up with the trial. (Not that any of us would admit to doing the same thing, but think of all the time he saves us from having to watch hours of Court TV).

Using a T-mobile Dash phone and a Bluetooth foldable keyboard and obtaining permission of the presiding judges (“I explain it as live blogging…one sentence at a time. February 17, 2009 from txt), Mr. Sylvester sends updates to Twitter, using his Tweets as a form of note-taking to write the full print story later. It’s easy to understand why he has hundreds of followers with Tweets as follows:

Prosecutor: If you can't listen to both sides, you shouldn't be here. Juror: "I'm ready to go right now!" Even the judge laughed. 09:50 AM May 08, 2008 from txt

One juror forgot to turn off his cell phone. Ring tone: “Carry on My Wayward Son,” by Kansas (1976). 09:38 AM May 12, 2008 from txt


And the “Tweet goes on” as Mr. Sylvester tweeted today from a racketeering trial:
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten: “Twitter is on.” I will be tweeting from trial of accused Crips gang members in federal court.”

Anyone need a courtroom Tweeter in North Carolina? I’ve got some vacation time…

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Paralegal Picture: Best Internet Quotes for the Week Ending 02/21/09

“It was a great blessing to take what God had given us and give it back to those who need it.” – by New York certified nurse paralegal Linda Caffrey who traveled to the Dominican Republic earlier this year to provide free health care as part of a mission trip. (The Buffalo News)

"I hope they're not waiting for another accident to happen just to do something. We cannot afford another terrible accident like the one we had last year.” - by Florida paralegal Jesse Mendoza, an employee of Florida Rural Legal Services in Ft. Myers, about the September 2008 van crash which killed six farm workers. (The News-Press)

“I don’t think there’s been a more important time to know what’s in your credit report and (learn if) your score is accurate.” – by Denise Richardson, former real estate paralegal turned consumer advocate and author of Give Me Back My Credit. (The Daily News)

"Every day someone is getting laid off. It’s pretty depressing. But I am strong in my faith. I’ve been down this road before, and the Lord will make a way. I don’t give up. I just keep looking. Someone might be hiring you eventually." – by unemployed Texas paralegal Ivy Jones who was laid off from her job of 10 years at Baron and Budd, a Dallas litigation firm in May 2008. (Star-Telegram)

"This was so egregious, it cried out for prison time. I think she just found it easy pickings for the most part. (It was) a lot of vulnerable people." – by Deputy District Attorney Dana Aratani about non-lawyer Romina Zadorian’s recent sentencing to 10 years in prison for taking victims’ money and failing to provide immigration legal services. (Whittier Daily News)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

High School Students Compete in Mock Trial Competition

Today I had the privilege of volunteering for the 17th Annual Wade Edwards High School Mock Trial Competition sponsored by the North Carolina Advocates for Justice. Hundreds of students across North Carolina competed at the regional level in nine cities: Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greenville, Asheville, High Point, Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Winston-Salem.

For many years, I was the Site Coordinator for the local competition at the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, until I missed a few years due to my youngest daughter’s frequent hospitalizations for sickle cell disease. Needless to say, I am very grateful that her health has stabilized and that I had the opportunity to volunteer for a few hours this morning. My good friend, Rhonda Rodenbough, an experienced paralegal at Wells Jenkins Lucas & Jenkins in Winston-Salem and president-elect of NCAJ's Legal Assistant Division, was this year’s Site Coordinator, and brought two paralegal volunteers from her firm, Lorrie Bennett and Lora Clayton.

To prepare for the competition, teams worked with teachers and attorneys in reviewing case evidence, courtroom procedure and legal arguments. A panel of legal professionals scored each team based on how well they demonstrated critical thinking skills, public speaking, courtroom demeanor and teamwork. Courtroom art and journalism contests were held in tandem with the mock trials.

The top 16 teams will advance to the State Finals to be held at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on March 21-22, 2009. The winner of he North Carolina State Finals will compete in a national-level competition, the American Mock Trial Invitational, in May 2009.
(NCAJ Press Release)
Volunteering for your local high school mock trial competition is a great opportunity to give back to your community, as well as network with other legal professionals. It’s inspiring to see the enthusiastic, polite (and extremely well-dressed) high school students demonstrating their in-depth knowledge of courtroom procedure. One team’s advisor, a local attorney, told me that he had been advising teams for 17 years, and that nine of his former high school students had become lawyers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Series Presents: Vicki and Me

On Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 8:00 p.m. EST, Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, and mastermind behind The Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Series, will present an hour-long live teleconference "Doing It All!" with me as her guest. I was really excited to be invited, not only because I can do this from my house in my bathrobe, but because I'm a big fan of Vicki's work, especially her expertise in the areas of ethics and time management. We plan to discuss a variety of issues relating to the paralegal profession. I just talked to Vicki via telephone this afternoon and enjoyed the conversation so much that I couldn't help but think how great it would have been to know her when I first started out in this field. She's definitely someone that I'd meet for coffee (and pick her brain) on a regular basis.

Vicki and I plan to discuss:
  • How we integrate work with outside interests. (I remember I used to have outside interests.)
  • How we manage to balance our personal and professional lives. (This is the part where *I* pick Vicki's brain.)
  • How we use social networking sites to increase our knowledge and build our professional connections. (I would have killed for these resources back "in the day" when everyone would have laughed at a concept like the Internet.)
  • The importance of giving back to the paralegal profession. (Many wonderful people have guided, supported and mentored me, so I feel lucky if I can do that for someone else.)

I hope you can join us for some fun. I promise that neither Vicki nor I take ourselves too seriously, and are at heart, paralegal educators who enjoy teaching and learning (all of the time). You can sign up for this presentation whether you attend the live class or not. If you're not available at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, register for the call and then listen to a recording at a time convenient for you.

Per Vicki Voisin, the extraordinary and energetic Paralegal Mentor: "Go to this page RIGHT NOW to reserve your 'front row seat' for this important event. You'll see how easy it is to secure your spot when you click here."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bank Pays $165.00 per Hour for Paralegal Time in Dumpster Diving Case

An unidentified Connecticut paralegal in the employ of Pullman and Comley is worth $165.00 per hour, at least on firm billing statements submitted to People’s United Bank. William Wenzel, a partner in the firm, represents the bank in a civil suit against James Hastings, who failed to appear in Superior Court on contempt charges earlier this week. Mr. Hastings threatened to publicize thousands of bank customers’ sensitive financial records (including Social Security numbers), which he found in the outside trash bins of the bank’s local branch offices. (Court records refer to him as a “dumpster diver”.) Last year, he was ordered not to disclose the contents of these records, but he posted a “documentary” on YouTube anyway (the site pulled the video).

In addition to suing James Hastings to prevent dissemination of this information, People’s Bank is now being sued by unhappy customers. According to Mr. Wenzel, the bank has spent almost $40,000.00 in its litigation against Mr. Hastings (including Mr. Wenzel’s billing rate of $395.00 per hour and a former federal prosecutor’s fee of $420.00 per hour). A bank employee testified that documents are now shredded daily and that its trash bins are locked and posted with “No Trespassing” signs – but Mr. Wenzel told the court that Mr. Hastings continues to attempt to raid the bank’s trash bins.

See Connecticut Post.

So, in conclusion, People’s Bank is paying really big bucks to an attorney and his staff to litigate a “hot mess” of legal issues, which arose out of throwing thousands of its own customers’ financial records in trash bins that any persistent and obsessive dumpster diver could find and try to post on YouTube.

Jury in Lawyer Impersonation Case Doesn't Buy "Chihuahua Defense"

Today Texan Mauricio Celis was found guilty of 14 counts of falsely holding himself out as a lawyer -- and ordered to be fitted with an electronic monitor immediately. The guilty charges included multiple counts of accepting checks for attorney fees, handing out a business card stating he is a licensed attorney in Mexico as well as describing himself as an attorney licensed in Mexico on a website, describing his occupation as an attorney licensed in Mexico on an insurance application, and signing settlement documents as an attorney. The sentencing phase of his trial started today. Mr. Celis is appealing the verdicts in this case, but still faces charges of theft, money laundering and claiming to be a police officer.

See KrisTV.com.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Prosecutor in Lawyer Impersonation Trial Coins “Chihuahua Defense”

If you haven’t been following the Corpus Christi Caller-Times’ daily coverage of Texan Mauricio Celis’ criminal trial on 23 counts of impersonating a lawyer, you are missing a real courtroom treat – and a few good laughs. During closing arguments today, Prosecutor Eric Nichols dubbed Mr. Celis’ defense that he can practice law in Mexico “The Chihuahua Defense”. Father and son defense attorneys, Tony and Hector Canales, divided their closing remarks. Tony Canales disclosed that he shares tacos with District Attorney Carlos Valdez but said the only reason the trial occurred is because “Mr. Valdez here and these fancy lawyers want to be cutesy with the way they read the law.”

District Attorney Valdes concluded the closing arguments by pointing out that Mr. Celis’ ability to practice law in Mexico is irrelevant, because the law requires him to be a lawyer in good standing with the State Bar of Texas. Now the jury is considering the evidence and deciding whether to mark each count “guilty” or “not guilty”. (This is a bit off topic, but the news story says the jurors got lunch from Whataburger. What?)

See Corpus-Christi Caller-Times.

Principles vs. Paycheck: What If You're Asked to Do Something You Believe is Wrong?

In my January 23, 2009 entry, "Lawyer Accepts Reprimands for Unethical Conduct" I discussed the real case scenario of a paralegal who complied with an attorney's request to help him deceive a client, by covering up part of a document. I posed the question, "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?" I asked a number of legal professionals what they would do if they found themselves in the same situation. Several of them, including Christine Parizo, Lyza Sandgren, and Patti Clapper, commented directly at the entry. They shared good insights and recommendations, including refusing to participate in unethical behavior, starting an immediate job hunt and calling the state bar.

The following legal professionals sent me emails with their views:

Paralegals find themselves is this uncomfortable position all too often. While I understand the need for a job and a paycheck, unethical behavior cannot be condoned. The first step is to say 'no' and explain why. If the behavior continues, the next step would be to speak with a managing partner. The State Bar of Michigan has an ethics hotline that can be called anonymously. This might be a good place to turn for guidance if all else fails. One more thing: paralegals cannot be disciplined by the State Bar. However, they can be subject to civil lawsuits when they participate in unethical behavior.
-Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor at http://www.paralegalmentor.com/index.html

The employee has the same ethical responsibility to the client as the attorney. Knowingly assisting the attorney in perpetrating a fraud on the client is inexcusable conduct regardless of the employee's personal financial situation. Would you sell your soul to the devil for a paycheck? Step up to the plate - report the attorney to the partners, management of the firm, or others in power/control. If there are no others, or the complaint falls on deaf ears, contact the bar--become a whistle-blower and maintain some integrity.
-Rana Holcomb, Senior Legal Assistant at Elliot Pishko Morgan P.A.

This is a tough one, Lynne. I don't think keeping a job, even in this economy, is worth prostituting your reputation. Why give up your principles for an employer that may be out of business next year? Jobs will come and go. There is always work for an honest person. Ben Franklin said, "Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended." To me, NOTHING is worth losing my honor, principles and reputation.
-Deana M. Waters, ACP

I don't know if professional advice from others would be all that helpful here. You're either the kind of person who would do this, or you're not…In the legal business, we get by on our reputation. That's it. It's good or it's not. What field do you suppose that paralegal is working in now?
-Kerstin Walker Sutton, Attorney

With the number of layoffs being reported every day, and not just in the legal sector, this issue becomes even timelier. Assuming that your household finances will collapse with even one or two missed pay periods, what would you do if you were asked to do something you believe is unethical or just plain wrong – would you stick to your principles or risk your paycheck? (Or would you do something in between?) Please feel free to comment and/or pick your most likely reaction at the Principles vs. Paycheck survey at the side bar.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Laid-Off Lawyers May Be Eyeing Paralegal Jobs

It’s no secret that competition for paralegal jobs is stiff in the current economy, but it may surprise some paralegal job seekers that lawyers are submitting applications for the same jobs. Steve Lopez, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, recently interviewed Los Angeles attorney Ellie Trope, who began applying for non-lawyer jobs, including paralegal positions, after she was unable to find permanent work as an attorney.

Ms. Trope, who has 15 years of experience as an attorney, noticed a trend by employers to specifically exclude attorneys in their paralegal job postings. She says, "After a while with the paralegal jobs, the listings said, 'No attorneys.' I think it's because they figured attorneys would leave as soon as they found work as lawyers."

However, losing your job as a lawyer is no less traumatic than losing your job as a paralegal. Ms. Trope fell behind on her mortgage payments and was forced to apply for unemployment benefits. Despite the strain on her marriage and the financial setbacks, she has found a silver lining:
"I've found strength in myself I never thought I had, and the things that were important to me before are now less so. Seeing my kids happy matters more to me than anything, and whatever happens, I think this will be one of the defining experiences of my life."

See the Los Angeles Times.

Grammar Geek Alert: I Am In Love with “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks

My co-worker, attorney Helen Parsonage, turned me onto my latest Internet crush, The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks. Blogger Bethany Keeley, a PhD student in rhetoric, whose obsession with unnecessary quotation marks started as a family joke, enjoys the traffic of thousands of readers with the same pet peeve, as well as enthusiastic reader contributions with humorous photographic evidence of much-abused quotations.

Ms. Keeley, who never dreamed she’d grow up to be a “punctuation celebrity”, candidly states "I don't consider myself a prescriptivist or a pedant. So I'm open to critiques of my own language. I make plenty of mistakes myself." (Have I mentioned how much I like Ms. Keeley already?)

An amusing recent entry on February 12, 2009, is a photograph of assorted wine bottles in a wooden crate, with a sign reading, “Discontinued ‘Wines' A Very Good Deal”. The photo contributor, Brian, sagely interprets what the sign says (even if it wasn't the poor sign author's original intent): “So we had these bottles of grape juice and they expired, so we just re-sealed them with a cork and they are in this crate. buy it!”

The blog even has a Facebook group, Quotation Mark “Hunters”, so all you fellow grammar geeks can “fan up!”

See Washington Post.

Paralegal Student Wins $3,000.00 Scholarship

Nevada paralegal student Kendal Stephens was awarded The Women’s Opportunity Award of $3,000.00 by Soroptimist International of Washoe County.

The Women's Opportunity Award provides support for women who are the primary wage earners for their families and also are pursuing higher education or additional skills and training. The award can be used for tuition, books, childcare, carfare or any other education-related expense.
Ms. Stephens, a single mother of four, will use the award to continue her paralegal studies at Truckee Meadows Community College.

See Reno Gazette-Journal.

Paralegal Accused of Hiding Marriage to Agency Supervisor

New York paralegal Pansey Lawrence has been accused by her employer, NYC Transit Authority, of hiding her 12-year marriage to her boss, now retired transit lawyer Patrick Leach. The agency has an anti-nepotism clause requiring co-workers to disclose marriages to each other, in part to prevent one family member from supervising another.

The 1996 marriage came to light after Mr. Leach filed two civil suits, including one which accused NYC Transit Authority of age discrimination. The other was against an upstairs neighbor for “excessive noise-making”. The neighbor’s attorney identified Ms. Lawrence as Mr. Leach’s wife in court papers. Ms. Lawrence is currently suspended without pay. The couple could face criminal prosecution if the agency’s investigation turns up evidence that they “falsified time sheets or collected pay for time not actually worked.”

See Daily-News.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cat Got Your Tweet?

Twitter.com is not just another networking site for posting brief statements about your every move during the day. In fact, a running monologue about your more mundane activities, including comparing prices of tomato sauce in the pasta aisle and running out of toilet paper (again), is not the recommended, or most effective use of Twitter.

Creatively using that 140 (or less) character status to market yourself, your business, your blog, or your causes, as well as maintain current relationships and build new ones is the real draw of Twitter. Naturally, you don’t want to be a bore, which then leads to anxiety about being boring, which then leads to the dread writer’s block, which is really kind of silly given that you only have to produce 140 characters…right?

In Paul Bradshaw’s February 16, 2009 blog entry at The Online Journalism Blog (“OJB”), he suggests “10 things you can tweet about on Twitter” including sharing a useful link, a quote or a question. Not to place any pressure on you, but Mr. Bradshaw astutely observes:

One great thing about Twitter - and this is why it is so useful for student journalists - is that after a while it trains you to look for interesting things around you (and think how you can communicate that in 140 chars). Those who write off the minutiae of Twitter need to realise: it’s the writer who makes it interesting.

See OJB.

Legal Assistant Staffer Gets “Secret” Pay Hike from Governor

The New York Post is reporting that legal assistant Ryan Dalton, a member of New York Governor David Paterson’s inner staff, received a 17% increase in salary to $52,000.00, despite the governor’s implementation of a hiring freeze and request that 130,000 state employees forego a negotiated 3% raise effective April 2009. His legal assistant is one of a dozen members of his inner staff, including his secretary, his deputy, his counsel, “confidential stenographer”, two “confidential assistants”, and “special office assistant” (got to love some of these job titles), who received very generous pay raises.
The startling pay hikes, costing about $250,000 annually, were granted after the governor's "emergency" declaration in August of a looming fiscal crisis that required the state to cut spending and impose a "hard" hiring freeze.

See Digital Journal and the New York Post.

How many of you received a 17% raise in the last year?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Former Paralegal Writes Identity Theft Book

Former Massachusetts real estate paralegal turned consumer advocate Denise Richardson spent 15 difficult years restoring her credit after she became a victim of identity theft. She turned her bad experience into a positive situation, sharing her story in a consumer handbook, Give Me Back My Credit (Infinity Publishing, 2006). She urges people to become more knowledgeable about their own credit history, including accessing their free credit report once a year at Annualcreditreport.com, in order to avoid becoming victims themselves.

“It’s just a known fact that as the economy goes south, crime goes north,” Richardson said. “There are more innovative ways to scam us, so people have to be more suspicious and less open to people who are soliciting them.”
See Bowling Green Daily News.

For more information about Ms. Richardson and identity theft, see her website at http://www.givemebackmycredit.com/ and her blog at http://givemebackmycredit.com/blog/. Her public LinkedIn profile may be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/deniserich.

Nurse Paralegal Volunteers in Dominican Republic

New York certified nurse paralegal Linda Caffrey, RN, head of the medical records department at Cohen & Lombardo, traveled to the Dominican Republic with a team of volunteer health professionals earlier this year to provide free health care to poor villagers, through the ministry Score International. When the partners at Cohen & Lombardo head about her plans, they “did not hesitate for one moment to generously donate a substantial amount of money to my trip.”

One of Ms. Caffrey’s patients was a toddler with “two severe ear infections with ear drums ready to burst,” she says. “She had to have been in so much pain and probably would have had lost a good part of her hearing.”

See The Buffalo News.

Non-lawyer Sentenced for Theft from Victims Seeking Immigration Legal Services

Californian Romina Zadorian, owner of the now defunct RZ Services, Inc. in Montebello and self-described “immigration consultant”, plead guilty to eight counts of grand theft and taking more than $500,000.00 in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this month. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay her victims more than $900,000.00 in restitution.

Ms. Zadorian’s immigration services business became the subject of “the biggest immigration fraud case prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Consumer Protection Division.” Many of her clients say that she represented herself not only as a lawyer, a paralegal or a former immigration officer but as an expert in immigration, and then took their money (sometimes their life savings), and not only failed to assist them with the immigration process, but filed incorrect documents and tried to pay their fees with bad checks. Ms. Zadorian is not a lawyer or a bonded immigration consultant; her defense counsel insists that she never represented herself as a lawyer.

238 complaints against Ms. Zadorian’s business were filed with the Department of Consumer Affairs, and she was initially “charged with 101 counts of grand theft personal property, one count of identify theft and four counts of forgery.”

At Zadorian's sentencing, one victim told the court Zadorian promised her she would "fix her papers" to stay in the country so her 8-year-old son with leukemia could get medical help.

What she got instead was a deportation order.

See Whittier Daily News. See also The State Bar of California "News Release".

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Paralegal Writes Mysteries Featuring Plump Paralegal Protagonist

California paralegal Sue Ann Jaffarian has written the fourth book in her Odelia Grey Mystery series, Booby Trap (Midnight Ink, 2009). The fictional Odelia Grey is “a middle-aged, plus-sized paralegal” on the trail of a plastic surgeon “to the rich and famous” whom she suspects is a serial killer (because his own mother thinks he might be the killer, too).

In addition to being a full-time paralegal in Los Angeles, a popular speaker, a writer and a blogger at Babble ‘n Blog, Ms. Jaffarian is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and has a new series pending, the Granny Apples mysteries.

Rhonda Pollero, self-described “Supreme Geek”, has also written a mystery series featuring “caffeine-addicted, discount-sale-shopping fashionista and under-achieving paralegal”, Finley Anderson Tanner. The third book in this series, Fat Chance (Pocket, 2009) is scheduled to be released this spring.

What's next? I’m envisioning a wildly popular new television series about a paralegal crime solver who is both obsessive-compulsive and a frighteningly accurate guesser (stealing a combination of the USA Network Monk and Psych “hooks”), since paralegals are rumored to have super powers -- including the ability to read minds, and to sort, organize and index thousands of pieces of old documents in mildewed cardboard boxes or straining Hefty Cinch Saks that might make a normal and reasonable human being run screaming from the room. Anyone got any ideas for working titles? (Patti, can I steal “Legal Duck”? It’s catchy.)

The Paralegal Picture: Best Internet Quotes for the Week Ending 02/14/09

It's been a busy week in the paralegal profession. A legal assistant is essential to maintaining her attorney's practice while the attorney deals with a health crisis, a fictional paralegal juggles fashion and murder, a domestic paralegal discusses custody of the family dogs, and a former paralegal tried the job but didn't like that "caged" feeling.

"Terri Kelly, Rosemary's legal assistant, has been invaluable, and of course, as Rosemary would tell you, she has the best clients in the world.” – by Maryland attorney Mary Ann Ferguson who has been generously covering attorney Rosemary McDermott’s practice while Ms. McDermott awaits a heart transplant. (The Frederick News-Post)

"I've been a paralegal for 20 years and the actions of Mr. Salazar are staggering, and the number of people he’s victimized and the dollar amounts are more than I can even estimate.” - by Colorado paralegal Michelle Judson about the sentencing of real estate mogul Erie Salazar in a mortgage scheme. Ms. Judson worked on the case for nine years. (The Denver Channel.com)

"We've had cases where, just like the parents will share custody of the kids, they have joint custody of the pets, and this is spelled out in the separation agreement." – by North Carolina paralegal Steve Dunn while discussing pet custody in domestic cases. (Asheville-Citizen Times)

"Sometimes, I almost feel guilty I have a job.” - by North Carolina paralegal Annie Kosko, who is working with an increased number of clients that are filing bankruptcy petitions. (WRAL.com)

“Pert paralegal Finley Anderson Tanner is stunned when her divalicious mother, Cassidy Johnstone, sells her the beach-front house once owned by Finley's late beloved stepdad, Jonathan Tanner, for $25,000. Discouraged by the renovations needed on the property, Finley finds support from such friends as interior designer Sam and annoying if hunky PI Liam McGarrity. Nothing prepares her, however, for the literal skeleton in the closet—the remains of a girl clutching a medallion Finley gave Jonathan when she was a child. Finley's frantic efforts to stay romantic and fashion forward while seeking to identify a homicide victim and catch a nefarious killer make for a jittery mix that doesn't always jell.” – Publishers Weekly review of Fat Chance, a novel by Rhonda Pollero. (Publishers Weekly)

"I felt like I was in a cage.” – by North Carolinian Kimberly Clark who tried working as a paralegal but has since started Avalon, a farm therapy program. (The Winston-Salem Journal).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Paralegal Moonlights as a “Hopeless Romantic”

Mississippi paralegal Beverly Jackson and her best friend, Felicia Simmons, help “romantically-challenged” men create romantic ambiance for their significant others, courtesy of their business, Hopeless Romantics. Both work full-time, but on evenings and weekends, create romantic rooms for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and even a proposal.

Jackson attorney David Nelson can tell you firsthand. He hired Hopeless Romantics in December to help celebrate his fiance's birthday.

"We went out to eat with some friends and had a great time," says Nelson, 33. "I had a gift for her back at the house, so we stopped by there afterward. When we walked in, she couldn't believe it. They had rose petals scattered on the floor. Chocolate-covered strawberries. Champagne and two glasses. Candles burning."

"She was like, 'When did you have time to do all this?' You should have seen the look on her face. I didn't have the heart to tell her somebody did it for me. But it was the thought behind it that counted, is the way I looked at it."

Nelson says his fiance was "blown away." He adds: "I stepped on flowers for three days, but it was worth it."

See The Clarion Ledger.

Congratulations to Ms. Jackson and Ms. Simmons for creating a beautiful business model. So, for those of us who don’t live in Mississippi, when will romantic ambiance be available for purchase online?

No Shortage of Work for Bankruptcy Paralegals

The bankruptcy business in eastern North Carolina is healthy but “heartbreaking” according to Fayetteville attorney Bruce Allen. Layoffs and foreclosures are leading to an increased number of bankruptcy filings.

Paralegal Annie Kosko, an employee of The Law Offices of John T. Orcutt, says her firm filed 65 petitions in January 2009. "Sometimes, I almost feel guilty I have a job", she says.
[Ms.] Kosko said every day brings new emotion as she tries to help clients.

"Some of them cry; some of them are angry," she said. "Some days, it's fantastic because you can help everybody you see, and it's wonderful – you feel great. Some days, it's not."

See WRAL.com.

Paralegals frequently work one-on-one with people going through some of the worst experiences of their lives, including bankruptcy. Helping individuals navigate the emotionally-charged bankruptcy process with dignity and respect is demanding but fulfilling work. Ms. Kosko, you’re doing good work, and I’m glad you’re there to help.

Paralegal Charged With Not Reporting Income on Tax Returns

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts, Reading resident Margherita Mauro has been charged in federal court with three counts of filing false tax returns, allegedly omitting "significant income" she received as a real estate paralegal (over $500,000.00), in addition to her salary, from two Massachusetts law firms. She is accused of failing to report the extra several hundred thousand dollars on her tax returns for 2002 and 2003. (I know the real reader questions will be what do real estate paralegals earn in Massachusetts, and how did two law firms not feel the bite of this employee’s alleged extra compensation, which both firms reported via 1099’s in 2004?)

This appears to be another situation where a non-lawyer may have had easy access to firm check books and at best, used questionable judgment when handling business accounts. At worst, if convicted for filing false tax returns, she faces three years in prison, plus probation, a $100,000.00 fine and restitution. According to the indictment, Ms. Mauro allegedly wrote and signed checks to herself from the law firms' operating and IOLTA accounts, and then deposited some of the checks into her personal accounts and used others to make personal mortgage and credit card payments.

See The Eagle-Tribune and United States Attorney's Office.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

ABA Journal’s Pick for Top Legal Blog of 2008

ABA Journal’s selection for best legal blog of 2008 in the news and politics category goes to Above The Law “A Legal Tabloid.” I checked it out and this blog is definitely my cup of tea. Mostly written in a dry, wry and “thou shalt not take thyself, the law or anyone else too seriously" tone and edited by Elie Mystal (who won the "ATL Idol" competition to become the new Editor-In-Chief of ATL in August 2008 and whose ATL profile pic resembles a cross between a cranky Stitch and a vampiric Tweety Bird), this blog delivers the latest legal news in an entertaining “take no prisoners” style. I like it.

However, if your stomach is a bit weak, the most recent entries are a bloodthirsty account of the many, many law firm layoffs which have occurred in the last week. There is even a survey asking whether today, Thursday, February 12, 2009 should be known as “Black Thursday”, “Pink Thursday”, “Bloody Thursday”, “Terminator Thursday”, “The Thursday the Music Died”, “The Valentine’s Day Massacre”, “The Return of John Wilkes Booth” or “Thin the Herd Thursday”. (I’m torn between “John Wilkes” and “Thin”). And even in the midst of all this bad news (you can go to ATL directly for a roster of the firm job massacres and a rising body count), the following quote from a federal judicial clerk elicits a horrified guffaw: "I know the federal budget is set, but this almost makes me want to chain myself to my desk so they can't make me leave. People at firms must be quaking in their Manolos."

Of course I’m adding Above the Law to my list of favorite blogs.

Paralegal Earns NALA Certification

West Virginia legal assistant Brandy Hayton, an employee of Huddleston Bolen, has earned her Certified Legal Assistant (“CLA”) certification through NALA. In 2005, she graduated from Minnesota State University with a bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies. She is the current Secretary of the Legal Assistants/Paralegals of Southern West Virginia, as well as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life team, “The Replacements”.

See The West Virginia Record.

Legal Assistant Is a Candidate for Los Angeles Mayor

California legal assistant Carlos Alvarez is running in the March 2009 election for Los Angeles mayor. He is employed by an HIV/AIDS non-profit group and is a self-described “community activist, and a proud member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation.” Mr. Alvarez recently gave a campaign speech at Holman United Methodist Church, stating:

My campaign is a bit different from others because I am a socialist. I have a socialist perspective. I believe that the vast wealth of society should be enjoyed by the people who create it—the people who work for a living each day. My campaign calls for every person in L.A. to have a job, food, decent housing, access to free, quality healthcare and education, and a clean environment.
For his full speech, see PSLWeb.org.

Paralegal Sues Former MLB All-Star

Maine paralegal John Nathans, a former catcher with the Bridgeport Bluefish, filed a lawsuit in Connecticut federal court today, seeking to recover damages from former Major League Baseball All-Star Jose Offerman for alleged permanent injuries sustained in an August 2007 incident. Mr. Nathans alleges that Mr. Offerman attacked him and the pitcher with a bat during a game (after being struck by a fastball by the pitcher), causing serious post-concussive injuries which ended his baseball career. Mr. Offerman faced two felony assault charges but was given probation and ordered into anger management treatment. He was also ordered to pay the medical expenses of Mr. Nathans and the pitcher.

See WCSH6.com and The Baltimore Sun.

Paralegal Is a Member of Indie Rock Group with New CD Release

Pennsylvania paralegal Dan Buckley, a 2007 graduate of Elizabethtown College, plays guitar and bass for Cleanfall, an indie rock group which recently released its first CD, “Idle Talk”. The group’s lead singer, Matthew Collins, says the CD “is inspired by negative thoughts and experiences, but how they ultimately make you a better person — or at least make you realize the kind of things in life that are important to you. Hopefully, from there, we can find and realize those important things.”

See The Etownian.

Check out the group's play list at http://www.myspace.com/cleanfallband.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Abraham Lincoln is a Modern Day Paralegal

I knew this headline would get your attention. Seriously, Washington paralegal Abraham Lincoln is named after President Abraham Lincoln and even claims the nation’s 16th president is a very distant ancestor. Of course, his email username is “mrprez16”.

The current Mr. Lincoln’s mother describes how she chose his name:

“I never knew I was going to marry a man with the last name 'Lincoln,' never dreamed about it. So when I got married (in 1982) to my husband, Dean Lincoln, and we had our second child, and it was a boy," she says, snapping her fingers, "sure enough, I wanted to name him Abraham.”

“We didn't have to argue very much because of course the heritage that he has ... and his great-grandfather's name was Abraham."

He is interested in attending law school, with an eye on a future career in politics or public service like his namesake.

See CNN.com.

Of the current Mr. Lincoln’s aspirations, President Lincoln might say, “You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm.” (Source:Letter to General Joseph Hooker, Jan 26, 1863)
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Does anyone remember using the same educational coloring book picture of Lincoln shown above -- in elementary school during the 1970's?

Former Legal Assistant Accused of Theft from Prosecutor’s Office

An unidentified legal assistant with the Douglas County Prosecutor’s office has been accused by the Missouri State Auditor of stealing more than $4,400.00 in cash during her employment. See the full auditor's report at http://www.auditor.mo.gov/press/2009-20.pdf. She was terminated in March 2008; the prosecutor’s office asked the state auditor to review its financial records after discovering they “were in shambles.”

According to the audit, the legal assistant in Douglas County [stole] cash payments for court-ordered restitution, delinquent state tax payments and bad check restitution and fees collected at the office.

To conceal the thefts, the employee -- not named in the report -- held back some receipts and deposited checks and money orders from those payments in place of the stolen cash.

The auditor’s report concluded that “lack of oversight” was a contributing factor, stating "there is no documentation that the work performed or the records maintained are reviewed by a supervisor or the Prosecuting Attorney."

The News-Leader mentioned the similarity of this case to the theft of $1.3 million dollars from the City of Springfield by former Municipal Court accounting clerk Rhonda Bateman, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2007. (Although there seems to be an rather significant difference in the amount of money netted by these former employees).

See News-Leader.

Cases of non-lawyers stealing funds while working under the supervision of an attorney raise an interesting issue of accountability (pardon the unintended pun). Lack of adequate supervision seems to be a common theme in many recent news stories involving the alleged unauthorized practice of law or theft of funds. However, lack of supervision does not excuse or mitigate an employee's wrongdoing.

Twitterbox Update: Use Twellow.com to Locate Twitterers in Your Marketing or Professional Niche

I’m new to the Internet networking site, Twitter.com, which allows users to share (or "tweet") “microblog” updates of 140 characters or less about their current activities or thoughts, personal or professional. But I have to say that for a person who admittedly “pooh-poohed” the idea of the “constant comment”, I fall more in love with Twitter every day – especially as an up-to-the-second news resource. (I only wish that the character limit for usernames wasn’t so short; I could have been the “PuckishParalegal” or “PuncVigilante” in a more verbose world.)

However, I was initially taken aback by the challenge of finding Twitterers that I’d like to follow (or get to know much better). In addition to being a news hound, I want to meet legal professionals all over the country who know stuff that I don’t (which is a lot). I am especially interested in the ones who are marketing themselves, their law firm or their business via Twitter. Entering “paralegal” into Twitter’s people search feature only yields six results. Going to the very cool Twitter search site, Twellow.com, and entering “paralegal” yielded 67 results – much better! I identified at least a dozen paralegals that appear to be using Twitter to discuss marketing, technology and their careers. In addition to using Twellow.com to search for kindred souls, get your own Twitterer profile listed as well and help others find you!

Paralegal’s Email Is Evidence in Lawyer Impersonation Trial

Texan Mauricio Celis is on trial in Corpus Christi this week on 23 counts of falsely holding himself out as a lawyer. He alleges that he is licensed to practice in Mexico and never represented himself as a Texas lawyer.

Three of the counts are based on fax cover sheets, on which the prosecution maintains that Mr. Celis inaccurately identified himself as a licensed lawyer. His defense counsel says the cover sheets were errors resulting from Mr. Celis’ name replacing a lawyer’s name previously listed on the fax sheets, and presented an email from Mr. Celis’ paralegal "which stated it was a mistake that Celis was listed as a licensed attorney in Washington and instructed employees to throw away previous forms and use corrected ones."

For more information about this interesting case involving the alleged unauthorized practice of law, The Caller-Times’ daily coverage of this trial is excellent.

See The Caller-Times.

(As an aside, all of your business E-mail correspondence should be carefully proofread and sent with the authorization and knowledge of your supervising attorney -- you never know when it might end up being a key trial exhibit.)

Freelance Paralegal Writes Column for Local Newspaper

California freelance paralegal Pamela Case is one of a select group of Tracy residents to have a column in its local newspaper, the Tracy Press. In her February 10, 2009 column, “Buyer beware – and insured beware”, Ms. Case does an excellent (and amusing) job of explaining a convoluted civil suit, Safeco Insurance Co. v. Parks. In very plain English, Ms. Case demystifies the insurance dispute as follows:

So we have a homeowner dragged into a court case because his girlfriend’s daughter’s friends kicked her abusive, drunken boyfriend out of a car and he eventually got hit by another car.

Then the girl’s grandmother gets dragged into it because she had renter’s insurance on her condominium, and, although the policy had an automobile exclusion, it was still held liable for the granddaughter’s actions.

The insurance company was held liable for bad faith because it failed to cross reference Michelle with her grandmother and offer a defense at the outset when everyone was focused solely on the mom’s boyfriend’s policy.

See the Tracy Press.

Paralegal Student Nominated for GOAL Award

Kathleen Rizer, a student at Middle Georgia Technical College's Paralegal Studies program, is one of 14 students to be nominated by instructors for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL), “a statewide program of the Technical College System of Georgia which honors excellence in academics and leadership among the state’s technical college students.” The nominees will move forward to a preliminary judging round later this spring, with two finalists competing for the state title in May. “The state winner will serve as an ambassador for technical education in Georgia over the course of the next year.”

See The Sun News.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What You Need to Know Now About Sexual Harassment

Everyone who has a job needs to know the following basic information about unlawful sexual harassment:
  1. It is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  2. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
  3. If unwelcome sexual behaviors, including advances, touching and requests for intimate favors, interfere with your employment or work performance, or create a hostile work environment, this is sexual harassment.
  4. Harassers can be male or female, and do not have to be of the opposite sex.
  5. Unlawful sexual harassment may occur even if you do not lose wages or are not terminated.
  6. The conduct must be unwelcome. Tell the harasser immediately that his or her behavior is not welcome and must stop.
  7. If you believe that you are being sexually harassed, report it immediately to your employer via any means available, including following company harassment or grievance policies and telling your supervisors.
  8. Document in writing all alleged acts of sexual harassment, your efforts to stop the harasser, your reports about the harassment and your employer's response.
  9. If you believe that you are a victim of sexual harassment, find out your rights immediately by contacting an attorney who specializes in employment law. The deadlines for filing many types of employment-related legal claims can be very short. It is better to have an early consultation regarding your legal rights and remedies than wait until it is too late.

See U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "Sexual Harassment" and "Facts About Sexual Harassment"

The National Women's Law Center has an excellent FAQ about sexual harassment at http://www.nwlc.org/details.cfm?id=504&section=employment. I suggest reading both the U.S. EEOC information and the National Women's Law Center FAQ very carefully and saving these links as favorites on your browser. The National Women's Law Center blog, Womenstake.org, is also worth checking out.

Hopefully, you will never experience sexual harassment at your workplace. But, in the event that you ever do experience it or know someone who is experiencing it, be educated, informed and prepared, and know your rights.

Army Paralegal Supervisor Awarded Bronze Star Medal

Alaska paralegal supervisor and Army Staff Sergeant Luke M. Randazzo has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his part in mission Operation Enduring Freedom. He recently returned to Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, after being deployed to Iraq.

See Island Packet Online and Armed Forces News Service.

Guest Blogger: 2009 LegalTech NYC, by Jeffrey L. Smith

I just returned from a recent trip to the 2009 LegalTech® Conference held in New York City February 2-4, 2009. If you are not familiar with LegalTech, it is the largest technology show and exhibition geared specifically toward the legal profession and those associated with it. I have been a regular attendee since 1998 and noticed the conference has grown steadily in visitors and exhibitors. For a technology geek like myself, I’m in a candy store for three days. This year, on the last day, I stopped someone who looked official and asked how many people attended. I was floored when she said an estimated count was 10,000 attendees, with close to 400 exhibitors (This figure included those with a three-day pass, one-day pass, exhibitors and their entourages).

LegalTech holds two conferences a year – the other one, LegalTech® West Coast is held during the summer in Los Angeles. The New York show is where a lot of vendors come to launch their new products or latest version with "bells and whistles". However, LegalTech is well known for the informative breakout sessions that occur during the week and highlight the current trends happening in the legal profession. This year was no different, with a number of sessions dealing with the collection, processing, reviewing and preservation of electronic discovery or “e-discovery” (i.e. e-mail, Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, etc).

Since the amendments to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (F.R.C.P.) which took effect December 1, 2006, that has provided guidance in e-discovery. A lot of emphasis is on the proper collection of data. The vendors have looked at the rules and developed slick new software to make the job easier. The breakout sessions give attendees an opportunity to learn from those who are living and breathing it every day. They include corporate attorneys and those working in private practice, judges, paralegals, corporate and law firm IT professionals and vendors. You’re able to get a little bit of everyone’s perspective on how they handle technology. Other sessions included how legal professionals can take advantage of the Web 2.0 technology (i.e. blogs, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter), E-Compliance and Record Management programs.

Each day featured a Keynote speaker who highlighted the theme of that day’s breakout sessions. One of the popular Keynote speakers was John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge, United States District Court of the District of Columbia. Judge Facciola has heard a numbers of matters related to e-discovery pass through his court. He has gained a lot of respect from his peers and those before his court for having a grasp of the changes in the F.R.C.P. and “gets it”. He is a sought out and popular speaker. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak this past fall at an E-Discovery Conference presented by the Georgetown Law Center in Washington, DC and he was fabulous.

You too can hear Judge Facciola and other Keynote speakers. LegalTech will kick off its videocast “Legal Tech On Demand” starting Sunday, February 15th. You can see the keynote speakers and other select sessions for free. However, the true LegalTech experience is to actually attend the conference and learn firsthand by knowledge-sharing and networking with 10,000 of your closest legal profession colleagues under one roof. The next show for 2009 is LegalTech West Coast to be held June 24-24, 2009 in Los Angeles and 2010 LegalTech New York February 1-3, 2010.

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Jeffrey L. Smith is a litigation paralegal for Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. in Greensboro, NC.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Former Public Defender Admits Sexual Harassment of Staff and Consents to Suspension of Law License for Five Years

Former Durham County Public Defender Robert Brown, Jr. was scheduled to appear before the North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission last week, but the case was not heard. Instead, Mr. Brown and the Hearing Committee entered into a “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order of Discipline by Consent” dated February 6, 2009, wherein Mr. Brown’s license to practice law in the State of North Carolina will be suspended for five years, effective thirty (30) days from the date of the order.

After three years of active suspension, Mr. Brown may apply for a stay of the remaining two years, if he complies with multiple conditions agreed to by the parties – including providing evidence that he has undergone evaluations by both a board-certified psychiatrist and “a psychiatrist who specializes in treating sexual offenders in the professions.” Both psychiatrists are required to provide sworn certifications that Mr. Brown does not suffer from “any condition creating a predisposition for inappropriate sexual behavior.” If the stay is granted under these conditions, he must obtain and pay for any psychiatric and psychological treatment recommended by either psychiatrist, and provide biannual reports from his medical providers stating that he has followed all treatment recommendations and that he is not a threat to the public if he practices law.

Per the February 6, 2009 consent order, Mr. Brown admitted to violating “Rule 8.4(d) of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct by engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice by sexually harassing Janice Ingram, Rachel Allen, and Danielle Bruno, all who were employees of the Public Defender’s office whom defendant supervised, and by engaging in conduct that brought the office of the Public Defender into disrepute.”

The Hearing Committee’s “Findings of Fact”, based on the consent of the parties, include the following events, all of which occurred at the Durham County Public Defender’s office while Mr. Brown was the appointed Public Defender and had the authority to hire, fire and discipline his entire staff:

Danielle Bruno was hired as an assistant public defender in February 2005. A month after she started work, Mr. Brown told her that she was “too nervous and that if she couldn’t be comfortable around him she would not be able to keep her job.” He exhibited sexually inappropriate behavior towards her, including discussing her physical appearance, asking about her sexual activities and frequently calling her into his office to have these discussions behind closed doors – despite her efforts to stop him or avoid him. In October 2005, he discussed her interest in a permanent position which had become available with the Public Defender’s office but said if she wanted it, she had “three days to be his friend.” Ms. Bruno filed an action in December 2005, seeking Mr. Brown’s removal as the Public Defender, which resulted in his suspension with pay. On December 26, 2005, Mr. Brown resigned as Public Defender, effective January 31, 2006.

Janice Ingram was initially hired as a temporary full-time legal assistant in March 2005. She was a 29-year old divorcee with two young children. Mr. Brown offered her a flexible schedule so she could attend classes and care for her children. After she was hired, he began engaging her in “inappropriate and unwelcome intimate sexual conversations.” He promised to help her personally and professionally, including giving her pay increases, if she would “trust him” and “help him”, but also frequently remarked that it would be hard for her to find another job with flexible hours. He suggested that he wanted more than a working relationship, and touched her in sexually inappropriate ways.

Rachel Allen was hired as a legal assistant in August 2005. She was a 30-year old single mother whom Mr. Brown also offered a flexible schedule so that she could attend classes and care for her children. Soon after she was hired, he began behaving in a sexually inappropriate manner, including touching her on her waist and stomach, discussing her physical appearance and asking about her sexual activities, despite her efforts to stop him.

The Hearing Committee also found that Mr. Brown’s inappropriate actions interfered with the ability of Ms. Bruno, Ms. Ingram and Ms. Allen to perform their jobs and that his conduct harmed them. The Committee found that his conduct was aggravated by a prior disciplinary offense (1996 State Bar reprimand), a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses, vulnerability of the victims and his substantial experience in the practice of law. Mitigating factors were the loss of his job as Public Defender and his participation in a lawyer’s assistance program. The Committee concluded that “[a]n active term of suspension is the only sanction that can adequately protect the public.”

Faith Herndon, a Durham attorney who represents Ms. Bruno, Ms. Ingram and Ms. Allen, states, “In the Consent Order Mr. Brown admitted to certain conduct, including sexual harassment. My clients have waited for years - literally - for that kind of admission and are very relieved. They've also waited for years for appropriate discipline by the Bar and appreciate the Bar's work on this. There is a civil lawsuit pending in Wake County Superior Court, involving federal Title VII claims, and a tort claims action before the Industrial Commission. As to what will happen next in the civil cases, we are just moving along as steadily as we can so we'll have to see, but we feel good about it.”

Ms. Bruno, Ms. Ingram and Ms. Allen are to be commended for making the difficult, but necessary decision to pursue all available legal remedies for their sexual harassment by Mr. Brown, including reporting his misconduct to the State Bar. These cases are especially sensitive for plaintiffs, made more difficult by the length of the judicial process and re-living the personal and humiliating nature of the inappropriate sexual acts themselves. No one should have to endure any type of sexual harassment in order to earn a living.

Ms. Herndon notes that what is especially interesting here is that the Bar censured Mr. Brown for behavior towards his co-workers and employees, rather than his clients. “It was a little unusual in that regard and it's important that the Bar recognized two things here - that a lawyer's obligations extend to his subordinates as well as his clients; and that sexual harassment is inconsistent with a lawyer's obligations and the exercise of justice.”