Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Resume Bloopers to Avoid

The link to the article “Worst Resume Bloopers” by Maria Hanson of LiveCareer.com was posted by law professor Ross Runkel (@RossRunkel) on Twitter. Once again I'm grateful for my Twitter connections, because I might have missed it. I had so much fun reading it, I wanted to read more and found resume writer Rosa Vargas’ blog entry “Worst Resume Mistakes -- Career Experts Share Resume Bloopers and More...”

Hilarity aside, these blunders are not atypical of job applicants. Reviewing them is an excellent way to ensure that excerpts from your resume will not appear in a future “bloopers” article.

A few key phrases to avoid using on your resume are:

“I’m good with the pubic.” (While it was surely intended to be a heartwarming sentiment, the lack of a single consonant makes it grounds for a guffaw and a direct flight straight to the trashcan). “I attended pubic high school” is also very bad.

“I have no patience for theft of companytime.” (I have no patience for failure to use the spell check feature on your word processor. This does remind me of a funny e-mail I once received from a former co-worker announcing that she had found 19 firm pens in a drawer at her house, and therefore assumed that we had all stolen office supplies as well and should return them promptly.)

“I am a witch.” (Unless you are applying for Wiccan jobs, of which there are currently none listed at SimplyHired.com, you should absolutely keep this information to yourself.)

“AWARDS: Won the cream pie-eating contest at the XYZ County Fair--25 pies in an hour!” (Wow. I definitely don’t want you working here, because I’d be concerned about leaving my lunch in the kitchen refrigerator).

Both of these articles contain invaluable advice regarding resumes, references and contact information. Sure, these examples are funny, but in truth, many enthusiastic applicants have committed these errors in the past, and unfortunately, will continue to do so in the future. In summary, don’t use your parents as a reference, don’t call your last boss “incompetent” or a “rat”, and don’t use your dog’s name or your porn author nom de plume in your e-mail contact address.

Paralegal’s Embezzlement Hearing Continued

Connecticut real estate paralegal and bookkeeper Dorothy Donaldson was scheduled to appear in Norwich Superior Court on Monday to face charges of first-degree larceny, after allegedly embezzling more than $21,000.00 from her former employer Stanley Lucas over a two-year period, but “prosecutors have transferred the case to New London’s Part A court where serious felonies are heard.”

Ms. Donaldson is accused of issuing herself as many as 10 duplicate payroll checks in a month’s time; police say they have a recording of her apologizing to her employer and offering to pay restitution. She is currently free on bond.

I know that times are tough and everyone is cinching their belts tighter, but there seems to be a disturbing trend of paralegals with access to firm bank accounts issuing themselves additional paychecks.

See Norwich Bulletin.

Monday, March 30, 2009

TwitterBox Update: Show Your Mama Raised You Right by Completing Your Profile

Writer Sam Ewing said, “The fastest way to meet new people is to pick up somebody else’s change at a cocktail bar,” but Twitter didn’t exist at the time. Now Twitter makes it much easier to meet lots of exciting new people with common interests (without risking your physical well-being by handling money that’s been God knows where or starting a barroom brawl), but just because you’re online and not face-to-face doesn’t mean that you can skip an old-fashioned, good-mannered introduction.

The best and most polite way to introduce yourself on Twitter is to complete your profile and upload a profile picture, even if the picture is more about your brand than your actual face. I personally identify more with a picture of somebody’s face, even if it’s your Maltipoo’s mug. A Twitter user with no profile picture or profile information is a little like meeting a man with a ski mask in a dark alley. You’re less inclined to feel sociable (or like following or being followed), and more inclined to run.

Providing profile information within the very short 160-character limit takes less time than brushing your teeth, and is just as rewarding as fresh breath when meeting someone new in person. If you’re using Twitter to network with others like yourself, tell them who you are – honestly, simply and with just a dash of humor if you’re feeling inspired. You only have 20 words or so to make yourself appealing, memorable -- and non-threatening.

If writing a thank you note to your own grandmother triggers writer’s block, here are some examples of how to write a basic profile description using a simple formula: list your occupation, a hobby or interest, and a fun fact about yourself or a fun quote that describes you.

Mortician, stamp-collector, lives with 78 y/o mother, "Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours." ~ Yogi Berra.

Hazmat technician, duct tape artist, “I am the lizard king. I can do anything.” ~ Jim Morrison

Paralegal, kid chauffeur, thinks wearing dog hair is cool, “Best way to get rid of kitchen odors: Eat out.” ~ Phyllis Diller

I admit the hazmat technician profile would scare me a little, but you get the point. Make new Twitter friends by introducing yourself and expressing your individuality – without coming across like a crazed serial marketer.

For more tips about creating a great Twitter profile, see “6 Tips for Using Your Twitter Profile to Get New Followers” at TwiTip, a blog edited by Darren Rouse (@ProBlogger on Twitter) which provides up-to-the-minute advice for being a good Twitterer (and making your mama proud).
Prior Practical Paralegalism Twitterbox Updates:
Going Back to “Twollege”
Cat Got Your Tweet?
Use Twellow.com to Locate Twitterers in Your Professional Niche
I Enter the Twitosphere, Or Become One of the Tweeple

Google Makes Me Look Real Smart (Again)

You know Monday is going to start off like a roller coaster ride with nauseating twists and turns when you get an e-mail on Sunday night from an attorney you don't normally work for, begging for your assistance to make adhesive labels for trial notebooks as soon as you get to the office. Why did I get this e-mail? Not because of my technological savvy, that's for sure. I got it because I get to the office at the crack of dawn every day.

I'm more than a bit out of the loop regarding adhesive labels because I've worked on a team for the last 10 years that a) has awesome administrative support, and b) uses Bindertek notebooks which don't require adhesive labels. To be honest, I didn't even know if our firm had any adhesive labels.

Luckily, the attorney knew where they were located (or hidden). There appeared to be boxes of different-sized labels, none of which had been opened in years. None of them were the size she specified, either. I grabbed the closest size, ran by the office typewriter in horror, and sat down in front of my computer, hoping for divine inspiration – or someone to show up who'd made a label in the last five years.

But it's Monday at 7:30 a.m. It's just me and the poltergeist we believe resides in this restored historic house. Normally, he scares me, but right now I'm more scared of a) not producing great-looking labels in time for the attorney's early hearing, and b) having to use the firm's vicious, cantankerous and possessed typewriter.

Then I remember my really, really smart friend who always has all the answers and never thinks any question that I ask is stupid: Google. A simple search yields a set of instructions for making labels that a kindergartner could follow (and probably already knows based on the computer instruction in our elementary schools). A co-worker shows up early and prevents me from putting the labels in the printer upside-down. Voila! A beautiful court-worthy set of labels is produced. I run around the office waving them like they are a big tax refund check.

I want to be cremated, but IF I were going to have a tombstone, it would say, "Always Google first."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Paralegal Picture: Best Internet Quotes for the Week Ending 03/28/09

Paralegals use the Internet for their job search (viewing the newspaper classifieds as obsolete but hopefully not discarding newspapers in their entirety), and a paralegal student with access to campus wireless searches for answers to his professors’ questions online. Paralegals discuss the recession from their point of view, as one laid off paralegal counsels job seekers, and another paralegal who quit his job for love now wonders about the wisdom of his decision. Even paralegal students are closely watching their pennies. A paralegal who became a Teen Court coordinator finds her extra duties surprisingly rewarding. Finally, a paralegal loses her beloved dog to area coyotes.

"I don't think anyone reads the paper anymore. Anyone I know who's looking for a job uses online tools." ~ Canadian paralegal Jennifer Trevett discussed her search for a paralegal job in Vancouver. She found work as a supervisor of investment relations through Bcjobs.ca (and as a supervisor hired three more employees through the same site). (CBSNews.ca)

"Sometimes the professor asks a question and I'll type it into Google and get the answer." ~ Win Lam, a paralegal studies student at Pasedana City College, which now has wireless Internet available campus wide. (PCC Courier) (Wow, I'd have looked really smart back in the "Stone Age" if I'd had access to a smartphone or laptop in class.)

"I can relate to the people I see come in here every day. They're angry and in tears. They need jobs." ~ Georgia legal assistant Patricia Whisenhut, who was laid off from her job last July but obtained a part-time job two months ago at Augusta’s One-Stop Career Center as a customer service representative. (Augusta Chronicle)

Last September, with $10k in the bank, I quit my stressful-but-profitable paralegal job, moved out of my parents' house in Connecticut (the poor half) for the third time and got an apartment in New Hampshire, to be closer to my girlfriend. I spent three months being mostly unemployed, tutoring a few kids for $15 a week, and sending out resumes for office positions. I even got a few interviews, but nothing panned out. For Christmas, I got a seasonal retail job, where I still am today, at federal minimum wage and 20 hours a week.

My savings are gone. Of all the things I lost in this not-too-smart move, I miss my health coverage the most; my year-old eyeglasses are pretty much useless, and since running out of Lipitor in October, I get weekly angina attacks.

~ An anonymous unemployed paralegal posted this comment in response to “The View from Your Recession”. (The Atlantic) (There’s a conundrum: love or health insurance? I can relate to the useless glasses, and wish him the best of luck in locating a job with benefits.)

“I think the food is expensive. I spend about $20 on food each week.” ~ California paralegal student, Sandra Mayoral, a student at Cerritos College, comments on living within a tight student budget, and brings her own food to school to save money. (TalonMarks.com) (I bring my own lunch to work, too.)

“One of the teen court defendants came up to me and thanked me for allowing him to participate in Teen Court. He said that the experience made him learn the value of making the right choices in life. He expressed a desire to join Teen Court as a student volunteer because he was impressed at the ability of the volunteers and felt that they had treated him fairly.” ~ Jennifer Webb, Kentucky 25th Judicial District paralegal and Madison County’s Teen Court and Youth In Action coordinator, discussing her change of heart about the value of the program, after her initial reservations about working with adolescents. (The Richmond Register)

"That was just probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me so far." ~ Florida paralegal Danielle Kelly, after finding the remains of her Pomeranian, Foxy Lady, in January 2009, a victim of the increasingly aggressive coyote population in North Pinellas. (St. Petersburg Times) (After just doing a post about how much our pets give back to us, my heart goes out to you, Ms. Kelly.)

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

Florida full-time legal assistant and student Scarlett Martinez was recently was named a recipient of one of the Tributo a Sus Logros or Tribute to Her Achievements awards given by the American InterContinental University in Weston at its fifth annual International Women's Day awards ceremony. Ms. Martinez also served in Iraq and has been awarded a Purple Heart. (Miami Herald)

Indiana paralegal studies student at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, Samantha Friedman, was recognized as one of the top state interns for 2008 by Indiana INTERNet. She served as a Senate Democrat intern during the 2008 session of the 115th Indiana Annual Assembly. Ms. Friedman has demonstrated outstanding leadership, obtained experience working in a law office, and has been recognized for legal research while being a full-time student. I recommend reading the article in its entirety. (Trib-Star.com)

Massachusetts paralegal Thomas Sullivan, Jr. assisted the Middlesex District Attorney’s office in its successful prosecution of Ahmed “Apples” Bright, who was found guilty of the March 2006 murder of 19-year old Boston native Corey Davis, and sentenced to life in prison. (WickedLocal.com)

New York paralegal student Katelin Foley is being inducted into the Omicron Sigma Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at Naussau Community College. (The Garden City News)

New York City Tech law and paralegal studies student Judy Stoves assisted Nursing Professor Kathleen Falk to launch the New York City College of Technology Mentor Program for Children of Promise, which “aims to help children of incarcerated parents in Brooklyn achieve better outcomes: to progress scholastically and develop emotionally.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Fraud Section Paralegal Specialists Crystal Curry and Sarah Marberg assisted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio in its successful prosecution of former National Century Financial Enterprises (NCFE) executives Lance Paulson and Rebecca Grant for “their roles in a scheme to defraud investors about the financial health of NCFE.” (Four other executives were previously convicted). (FoxBusiness.com)

Pennsylvania office manager and legal assistant Heather L. Trainer, employed by Goldsmith & Ogrodowski LLC, was elected secretary-elect of the Pittsburgh Legal Administrators Association. (The Pittsburgh Trainer-Review)

Pennsylvania self-employed notary and paralegal Kim L. Bagenstose has entered the race for the six-year term as district judge for the Hamburg Area. (ReadingEagle.com)

Washington resident, Rich Zwicker, a paralegal with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and a member of the Renton City Council, received his two-year Associate Degree in Applied Sciences (legal secretary/legal assistant) from Renton Community College. (Renton Reporter.com)

Congratulations to all of the above individuals for their achievements in the areas of education, professional accomplishments and community service. If you have good news to share, please e-mail me at lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why Every Legal Professional Needs a Dog (or a Cat or an Iguana): A Slice O’ Life with “The Tomato Whisperer”

GizMo, the Cairn Terrier of unknown age and origin who agreed to take up residence in our home in 2005, is the Woody Allen of dogs. Unlike Woody, he’s cute enough to pose for a free poster in a teen magazine. Like Woody, he nurtures his neuroses and expects us to as well. The females in our house ignore his borderline psychoses and are willing enablers. We giddily indulge his idiosyncrasies, competing for his entirely arbitrary affections with little delicacies like hot peanut butter and salted cashews.

We don’t know where he lived before. I found him while doing some volunteer work in “th Hood,” as my youngest daughter calls the area. (It’s okay when she calls it “th’ Hood” because she grew up there). He was racing neck in neck with the giant wheels of a city bus.

Against my better judgment, but unable to resist a single-minded ball of mud trying to sink his teeth into a gargantuan city bus, I got out of my car, despite having been repeatedly warned to stay in it with the doors locked. I squatted down, thinking “he’ll never come to me and I’ll get mugged and I’ll be in the evening news for being an idiot.” But he did come, instantly, and exposed his filthy, matted belly for a rub. The mud ball turned out to be a purebred Cairn, with no microchip and no missing reports.

He got his name because he has ears like the movie gremlin, Gizmo. His greatest psychosis evidenced itself during the next thunder storm. He morphed into the Tasmanian Devil, spinning madly in endless crazy circles, bumping into walls and furniture, all the while barking hysterically and growling at operatic pitches…for hours.

The Tasmanian Devil is hilarious on The Cartoon Network, but not in your actual house. Hence, the nicknames, “GizManiac” and “GizMoronic.” Nothing calmed him. Our vet prescribed Valium which had no effect on him whatsoever. I, on the other hand, experienced some angst. I wondered if it was okay for me to take it instead. Did I have an addictive personality? Did the vet really mean for me to have it during thunder storms and not the dog? Would the vet give me more Valium?

This brings me to his latest psychosis, “barking down” tomatoes. Last summer, I was a proud city farmer with five big pots of tomato plants on the patio. ("Pseudo-farming" is a relaxing activity for high strung paralegals.) GizMo stood in front of them for hours, barking incessantly, maybe at the scent of the chipmunks that dug in the soil. Judging by the evil looks my neighbors gave me, there may have been a HOA plot afoot to poison him. I wondered if it was too soon to call for a refill on the Valium.

Then came the day when I got home after a 10-hour workday and settled bleary-eyed in my recliner. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed him playing with a cute little red ball. I started my pre-dinner nap. Then I remembered he didn’t have any red balls. He was playing with one of my precious newly-ripened tomatoes. To give him credit, it did look like a chipmunk had gnawed on it. I regretfully threw it away. A few minutes later, I found him playing with my only other viable tomato. GizMo,“The Tomato Whisperer,” was the only successful harvester of fruit from my patio last summer.

Every legal professional needs a dog (or a cat or a Vietnamese pig or an iguana) to love us unconditionally when we come home from a tough day at the office (where we aren’t loved unconditionally). I recently did a “Twittervey” via Twitter, asking legal professionals how their pets helped them relieve stress, and got the following great responses:

@iolanthrosa: I knew I made the right decision to start a home-based paralegal business the first day I did my job with my cat on my lap!

@KeransVA: Putting your trust in your horse while riding is a fun, demanding way to reduce stress as little else occupies your mind.

@MyLawNetwork: All they want is love and attention, whenever you want to give it.

@Rosebay: lil dog is so silly he makes me laugh http://twitpic.com/2d3zu (I responded that he makes me smile, too!)

@carolynelefant: You can tell from my twitter photo, that my puppy makes me happy. Plus added excuse to go out & walk.

@gretajean: Taking care of the dogs enables me to get my mind off of objections or exhibit lists or whatever is due. For a moment. I work at home and the dogs hang out with me all day (and night). Having them forces me to get away from the computer some. (Here's the link to her Twitter profile picture, which is her beautiful greyhound http://twitpic.com/2jvaf).

@ymfbrooks: Dogs don't give deadlines!

@LindsayGriffith: RE dogs & stress - my dog reminds me of the simple things: 1) remember to eat; 2) take breaks; 3) get fresh air every day; and 4) always take time to hug your loved ones - those things are great to keep stress low (esp. taking breaks!)

@lindastuder: Sofie & Winston can make me laugh even on the hardest longest days & take me outside everyday for fresh air & meeting neighbors! I love 'em!

@VBalasubramani: a droopy, crinkled forehead, "the outing will be over in a flash" look always reminds me that there's more to life than law

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ability to Read Small Print Essential Function of Paralegal Job

I should have had a clue when I bought a new wristwatch last week with a face bigger than my wrist. Because my wrists are the size of a second grader’s, I normally spend a little extra money for delicate Seiko watches with minuscule hands and no numerals. This time I spent less than $20.00 on a watch which looks like a classroom clock with a plastic strap. What was the appeal of this ugly accessory? I could see it.

So why was I surprised when I got to work this morning and could not read print? I mean, I read my morning newspaper, right? (I don’t want to talk about my “double-glasses” look just for hanging around the house – you know, reading glasses over your regular glasses, and your loving family laughing at you constantly and threatening to post your “double-glasses” picture on Facebook? If you’re really young, and don’t know, you might want to stop reading here.)

Once I realized my e-mails were blurry and all the medical records on my desk were indecipherable, it hit me that my main job duty as a paralegal is to read all day. Not only am I supposed to read well and quickly, I have to regurgitate what I read in a direct and meaningful way that convinces other people with monetary authority to give our clients important benefits, like medical treatment and weekly disability checks.

I called my eye doctor of 22 years in a panic. His wife manages his office and knows that I am so legally blind without corrective lenses, that 1-800-Contacts doesn’t stock my toric contact lens prescription. Once she ruled out the symptoms for alarming brain and cardiologic conditions, she cheerfully announced, “One day you don’t need bifocals, and the next day you DO!” As she made me an appointment for an eye exam, I stammered, “You really think it’s time for bifocals?” She said, “You’re 46. It’s time.”

My eyes burning (and maybe tearing a little after the “bifocals” word), I went home, thinking about how I’m going to have to introduce my co-workers to the ultimate in Steve Urkel chic, reading glasses over regular glasses, until my new bifocal glasses and contacts arrive. If you’re really only as young as you feel, today I feel like Grandma Moses. (With her amazing prolific painting, I bet she could see better at age 101 than I can now.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Top 10 Jobs for College Graduates Includes Paralegal

Career information expert Dr. Lawrence Shatkin and job search expert Michael Farr, authors of the updated 200 Best Jobs for College Graduates (JIST Works, January 2009), include paralegal in their Top 10 best-paying and “readily available” jobs.

The authors went through the 2008-2009 edition of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' report titled "Occupational Projections and Training Data" to determine the number of projected openings in various jobs. They then got earnings information for those from the bureau's Occupational Employment Statistics program. The bureau classifies 500 jobs, and the authors ranked them according to entry-level pay. Finally, they singled out occupations that would have both a number of openings and relatively high pay.

But paralegal wasn’t number one. The top job is network systems and data communications analyst.

This book is selling for $13.22 at Amazon.com. In these tough economic times, it might be worth the price of the entire book, just for the page that lists “paralegal” in the Top 10. We could frame the page, hang it over our computers and look to it for reassurance when the layoff news becomes overwhelming.

See Alibaba.com.

Utah Paralegal Program Approved by ABA

Salt Lake City Community College’s Paralegal Studies program has been approved by the ABA, effective February 2009, and has celebrated with a series of open houses this week.

Paralegal Instructor and local attorney L. Monte Sleight said, "Like any accreditation, it's been a long drawn out process. We've had to meet certain qualifications." He added, “At the end of the day, it means that our students become more marketable. Not only locally, but everywhere."

The college’s administration and faculty have been working for five years to attain the ABA approval.

See SLCGlobe.com.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

California legal assistant student Angelica Avalos has received the 2009 Dwight Byrdie Scholarship to use toward her associate degree studies at Oxnard College. What makes this recognition even more notable is that she dropped out of high school two years ago to help support her family. A year later, she joined the Youth Empowerment Program at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme, and earned her GED. She is now employed there as an administrative assistant.

The $1,000 scholarship is awarded to responsible youths who want to make better lives for themselves, demonstrate leadership potential, show the ability to make good choices, and have the desire to improve their skills to succeed in the workplace.

New Jersey paralegal student Kristen Venabe has been named to the fall semester Dean’s List at Gloucester County College. GCC's paralegal program recently celebrated 10 years of ABA approval. (New Jersey.com)

Chris McCallum, a paralegal at Legal Aid of North Carolina in Fayetteville, is the author of a book YES to the Troops - NO to the Wars (Quaker House, 2009). The book is part of Quaker House’s celebration of its founding in 1969. (Fayetteville Observer)

I’d love to have enough daily good paralegal news to post a “shoutout” every day. It is a real pleasure to recognize paralegal professionals and students all over the country for their achievements and contributions.

If you or your association has good news to share, please e-mail me at lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Attorney Suspended for Alleged Theft of Client Funds

Florida Attorney A. Clark Cone has been temporarily suspended from the practice of law by the Florida State Supreme Court, due to allegations that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients. He faces the possible loss of his license, as well as criminal actions. Bar investigators say that they discovered that Mr. Cone kept $500,000.00 in insurance proceeds from a Massachusetts couple’s 2005 personal injury settlement, and that he filed a lawsuit for slip and fall damages in South Carolina, where he is not licensed to practice, and pocketed the plaintiff’s $38,000.00 monetary recovery.

Melody Ashling, a former paralegal for Cone, told Bar investigators she fears dozens of clients lost their chance to recover money because Cone failed to file court documents on time.
Mr. Cone has previously been recognized by the Florida Justice Association for his outstanding leadership and is the son of a well-known attorney, Al Cone, who died in September. His defense attorney, David Roth, says that he has suffered “devastating personal problems” in the last few years.

See PalmBeachPost.com.

Abraham Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.” To paraphrase him, “When legal professionals do good, I feel good; when they do bad, I feel bad. That’s my profession’s obligation – to do good.”

UPDATE: Disbarred West Palm Beach attorney arrested for insurance fraud

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Primer for Supervision of Paralegals

Attorneys Constance Rudnick and Ursula Furi-Perry, faculty members at the Massachusetts School of Law, published an article that all legal professionals should read, “You Are Your Paralegal’s Keeper: Ethical Considerations about the Supervision of Non-lawyers at Your Firm” in the school’s Winter 2009 edition of The Reformer. The importance of supervising non-lawyers in all firm functions, including ethical conduct, client fund accounts, work product, internal procedures, and proper training are discussed, with an emphasis on lawyers’ responsibility to oversee the actions of their staff. The authors remind us that actual knowledge of a staff member’s wrongdoing is not necessary to expose an attorney to disciplinary actions, and cite several cases where attorneys were disciplined for exercising minimal or no care over their own firm’s bank accounts – after employees embezzled funds from both operating and trust accounts.

The article lists “fundamental ethical and operational issues likely to arise in the everyday practice of law” which attorneys should review with new non-lawyer hires, including:

  • Adequately investigate prospective employees’ backgrounds. “Minimize the chances for [employee misconduct] by adequately vetting the candidate.”
  • Communicate “the basic duties of a lawyer: Confidentiality, loyalty, competence, diligence.” Have the employee sign a confidentiality agreement.
  • Report “actual or possible conflicts." Have employees inform the attorney if they have worked on matters involving current clients.
  • Employees should not establish client relationships or fee agreements, and should not conduct initial interviews without an attorney.
  • Employees cannot give legal advice.
  • Employees must promptly tell the attorney about all client communications and messages, “oral or written (e-mail or snail mail).” The attorney must be copied on all employee correspondence to clients.
  • Train and supervise employees to track and calendar dates for “filing documents, court appearances, or other events.”
  • Employees may not communicate directly with opposing parties who are represented by counsel.
  • Non-lawyers should not sign the lawyers’ names to official documents and correspondence (some states, such as North Carolina, may have special exceptions to this rule). Having an attorney signature stamp is not recommended. The attorney must review all documents.
  • “Do not give the employee authority to manage client fund accounts – just don’t!” (Based on recent news accounts of employee theft from law firms, employees should administer bank accounts under the attorney’s adequate and close supervision.)
  • Hold regular meetings with employees to review work, training and ethical conduct.
  • Train employees to handle mail properly, including obtaining attorney approval of correspondence sent outside the firm and confidentiality issues.
  • Emphasize that employees should not have [improper] personal relationships with clients, “including lending or advancing money."

“You Are Your Paralegal’s Keeper” is a great article to provide to all staff members, lawyer and non-lawyer, to review and keep on hand for future reference. It is also a terrific educational reference for law and paralegal instructors and students. The original article is available in pdf format at http://www.mslaw.edu/News/Reformer/winter09.pdf


Thanks to Massachusetts School of Law faculty and authors Constance Rudnick and Ursula Furi-Perry for giving me permission to review and share excerpts from this terrific article.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paralegal Student Uses Twitter for Class Assignment

Natalie Rutledge, a first year paralegal student in the ABA-approved four-year program at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, completed one of her assignments in her PARA 1101 class - to interview a paralegal, by finding one via Twitter, a great networking tool. She's @jellilorum (I'm a HUGE fan of Cats) and I'm @ExpertParalegal (but now I'm liking "rumtumtugger"). Last week, she tweeted a request for a paralegal to interview for a school assignment, and I sent her a direct message that I’d be glad to participate, if she’d e-mail me the interview questions. I think that she sent great questions, and with her permission, am posting Natalie’s homework.

1. What's your professional background? How did you end up working as a paralegal?
I have an associate degree in Paralegal Technology from Davidson County Community College and a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Salem College. (See also my LinkedIn profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/lynnedevenny). But I ended up in the paralegal profession the way many legal staffers did in the mid-'80s, by starting out as a legal secretary. At the time, I was a single mom. I had not quite finished my B.A. and needed a good job with health insurance benefits. I had a fast typing speed from all of those last-minute English papers, and legal secretaries earned higher salaries than regular secretaries, so I went that route to support my household. Within a few months, I was drafting correspondence, documents and pleadings, and found the legal field was a natural fit for my writing and communication skills. While working full-time as a legal secretary, I started the local community college paralegal program.

2. Which areas of the law do you work in?
While I specialize in workers' compensation and civil injury cases, I have also worked on employment (sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, wage and hour cases), medical malpractice and civil litigation cases. Last year, my supervising attorney, J. Griffin Morgan, and I published a national workers' compensation textbook, Workers' Compensation Practice for Paralegals (Carolina Academic Press, 2008). I also assist with many of the marketing activities for our small civil rights firm.

3. What's a typical workday like for you? Specifically, what general job functions do you perform?
A typical work day for me involves a great deal of client assistance via telephone, helping injured workers obtain medical care and workers' compensation benefits. I also correspond directly with opposing counsel, adjusters and clients, and love it when people give me their e-mail addresses, because I find it faster than playing telephone tag. I write a lot -- letters, motions, fact summaries and other legal documents. Some days I might summarize medical records, value cases or write demand letters for most of the day. Other days, I might be trying to obtain medication or medical referrals for clients with emergent needs. Sometimes, I go with the attorney to depositions or hearings. In the 14 years I have worked here, I have never caught up!

4. Please give some examples of the kinds of cases you work on. Perhaps you could mention a couple of cases (attorney-client privilege is respected so I don't expect names or anything too specific)?
Currently, I work mostly on workers' compensation and personal injury cases. Most of the people I work with are seriously injured and going through some of the worst periods of their lives, physically, mentally and financially. One client was non-ambulatory for several months after he was struck by an elderly driver, while the client was riding his beloved motorcycle (he says he's not buying another one). Another client sustained serious head injuries and had the worst week of his life after being struck by TWO drunk drivers on the same night, the first time totaling his car and resulting in severe injuries, and the second time while the police were investigating the accident scene (luckily, the second time only his car was involved). Some of the most memorable workers' compensation cases I have worked on included getting a myoelectric prosthesis for a young forearm amputee and a standing electric wheelchair for a paraplegic. I really enjoy the advocacy, as well as the medical and legal research, and obtaining benefits that injured workers are unable to get without legal representation.

5. What do you wish you had known about working in the legal profession before entering the field? What do you really like about the profession?
Since I entered the field accidentally, I'm not sure that hindsight is "20/20" in my case! As a former paralegal instructor and an ongoing paralegal educator, I found many of my students in my introductory classes were somewhat clueless as to what a paralegal actually does and what skills they need to have. I recommend doing as much research as possible before entering a paralegal program. I don't think many new paralegal students realize how strong your analytical, communication and computer skills have to be to succeed in this profession. But these are the same reasons I love being a paralegal: the intellectual challenges, the opportunity to write, the variety of tasks I perform during the day, and the opportunity to advocate for those who need assistance navigating the legal system.

I think Natalie should get an A+ on this assignment for innovative networking via Twitter!

Happy Anniversary to the Florida Registered Paralegal Program

March 1, 2009 was the first year anniversary of the Florida Registered Paralegal Program (FRP), which has over 3,000 paralegals registered. “The interest in the program has far exceeded our expectations,” said Lori Holcomb, Florida Registered Paralegal Counsel at the Florida Bar.

The program certification and registration is voluntary. Applicants can qualify for the FRP designation in three ways: 1) various combinations of work experience or education, 2) NALA or NFPA certification, or 3) verification of eight prior years of paralegal work experience. To maintain these credentials, Florida Registered Paralegals must provide evidence of 30 hours of continuing legal education credits, including 5 hours of professionalism or ethics, over a three-year period.

See Daily Record.

Real Life “Paralegal” Sherlocke Holmes Ordered to Avoid UPL

Virginia investigator, business consultant, and owner of E! Advantage Marketing Consultants, Sherlocke Evan Francis Holmes, has been ordered by a Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge to refrain from “any unauthorized practice of law”, after being accused of improperly representing himself as a paralegal, writing court pleadings, negotiating an attorney fee for a client, and trying to get an arrest warrant recalled. Paralegal or not, any violation of the order could result in the revocation of his probation for prior criminal convictions, which have resulted in him serving over 20 years in Virginia prisons. Mr. Holmes signed the court order but denies clear violations, while helpfully offering, "I was like straddling the fence and could have fallen either way."

Moral of this story? Don’t “straddle the fence” in regard to the unauthorized practice of law. In regard to this case of possible paralegal identity, the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes might have observed, “It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.” (The Man with the Twisted Lip). The real Mr. Holmes has gotten the message that the court system does not consider even the slightest appearance of the unauthorized practice of law a “trifle”.

See PilotOnline.com.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Contract Paralegal Accused of Theft from Law Firm

An unidentified Utah paralegal has been charged with multiple felonies by the state prosecutor’s office, including deception and forgery, due to allegedly using illegitimate pay slips to steal over $35,000.00 from Salt Lake City law firm Dunn & Dunn during a 16-month period. The law firm had subcontracted paralegal work to her over a 10-year period. She allegedly tried to delete computer files after being confronted about the funds.

See Deseret News.

English author and moralist Samuel Johnson said, "Whoever commits a fraud is guilty not only of the particular injury to him who he deceives, but of the diminution of that confidence which constitutes not only the ease but the existence of society." If this paralegal contractor is found guilty of deception or theft, she has not only injured the law firm. She’s injured other honest and hard-working independent paralegals that are trusted by many law firms to perform quality work and submit legitimate invoices, and are held to a higher level of trust because they often do much of the contract work off premises. Trust is key to building a successful independent paralegal business. After a 10-year relationship, this situation must be viewed by these lawyers as a shock and a betrayal.

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

Illinois family law certified paralegal Marcy Marzuki is a candidate for Monee Township Trustee. She is also a freelance writer of History Channel documentaries, and during the last election, was a member of the Obama for America Fraud Task Force. (eNews Park Forest)

Michigan paralegal Melissa Gritter has been hired by Grand Rapids law firm Bleakley, Cypher, Parent, Warren & Quinn, P.C. (mlive.com)

Texas legal assistant Vicki Sisco is one of four out 16 candidates interviewed for the currently vacant Justice of the Peace position in Precinct 2 in Ector County. Ector County commissioners will discuss the candidates’ qualifications in a closed meeting on Monday. (Odessa American)

These shoutouts are among my favorite blog entries, because they allow Practical Paralegalism to publicize the achievements of paralegals nationwide. Successful paralegals are smart, detail-oriented, problem-solving individuals. It’s an honor to recognize their contributions to the profession and to their communities.

Got good news? Paralegals and associations, please share it! You can email me directly at lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Paralegal Picture: Best Internet Quotes for the Week Ending 03/21/09

This week paralegals are struggling to keep their homes and families intact. The AIG bonus scandal is fodder for comment by paralegals. A paralegal student takes advantage of a unique opportunity to learn fencing. Finally, Saudi women remind us that we sometimes take for granted the many opportunities we have to work in the legal field and to even become lawyers if we choose.

“It’s a top priority with me to hold on to this little house.” ~ Nebraska paralegal Ellen Braech is unemployed for the first time in her life and is missing her first mortgage payment ever. She is having difficulty getting her mortgage company to grant her a forebearance in a timely manner to prevent the start of foreclosure proceedings. (KETV.com)

"Right now, bankruptcies are going up for me. This economy is very good for my business." ~ California paralegal Angelia Polk, who recently got an apartment after being homeless. She's grateful for her new home and that her home-based paralegal business is growing. (DailyBreeze.com)

"Why is it that first-time homebuyers get this huge credit ... when the prices of homes are extremely low anyway? Meanwhile, people like us who would like to get a bigger home, or refinance our current home, can't because the market is such that our home wouldn't be valued what it should be ..." ~ Minnesota paralegal Jen Bauer reflects that the stimulus bill will likely not benefit her middle-class family before Vice-President Joe Biden’s town hall meeting in St. Cloud last week. (SCtimes.com)

“They should subscribe to the Thomas Friedman idea and be like those teachers in Maryland who gave back their annual bonuses voluntarily.” ~ New York paralegal James Coppinger comments on the AIG bonus scandal. (The Epoch Times)

"I think it's a downright insult to the American people. It's laughing in our face. It's a disgrace. I'm a taxpayer. I don't need to work my backside off to fill their pockets. I can barely make ends meet." ~ New York legal assistant Elizabeth Papadatos also comments on the AIG bonus scandal. (Brisbane Times)

“I’d always been interested in fencing as a kid. You see it in pirate and samurai movies. I’ve seen it on TV, and I thought it was really cool. So far I like it a lot. Last week we practiced with the foil. Everyone had a sword. We were working on our footwork and sword movements. Today, we’re going to do some pairing up, since we just got all our equipment.” ~ Tennessee paralegal student Destiny Miller discusses her participation in Pellissippi State Community College’s new fencing club. (BlountToday.com)

“Why are they letting us study law courses in college when we are not allowed to practice what we have learned and be lawyers in the real world. I am glad that we can work in law firms, but we want more than that; for instance, I want to have my own law office.” ~ Saudi law school student Sarah Ali comments on Saudi law firms starting to let women work as paralegals. However, women currently cannot obtain licenses to practice law. (Saudi Gazette)

I agree with Mr. Coppinger that the AIG executives who received bonuses from bailout funds should return them voluntarily. I would not want to be on the published list of executives who received a bonus.

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

New Jersey legal secretary, Patricia E. Infanti, PP, employed by Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLC in Philadelphia, is the 2009-2010 President-Elect of NALS. (Courier Post-Online)

New York litigation paralegal Stephen Krasner is running for Newburgh town supervisor and has been endorsed by The Town of Newburgh Democratic Committee. (MidHudsonNews.com)

Pennsylvania foreclosure paralegal Heidi Kelly and attorney Holly Thurman, of Weltman, Weinburg & Reis Co., a Pittsburgh law firm, spearheaded a food drive by their firm from November 2008 through March 2009, collecting approximately 50 cans per week for local food banks. (InsideARM.com)

Amongst the "gloom and doom" headlines everywhere, I'd love to share your good individual or association news; please e-mail me at lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Paralegal and Her Employer Sued by Title Company for Theft

Illinois paralegal Catherine Weaver and her former employer, Picklin and Lake, a Rolling Meadows law firm, are the defendants in a lawsuit filed today by Republic Title Company in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging that Ms. Weaver used the law firm’s escrow account to steal in excess of one million dollars and that her employers were negligent in failing to detect the fraudulent conduct.
“This is a simple case of greed by the employee and negligence on the part of the leadership at the law firm,” said Mark D. Belongia of Belongia, Shapiro & Hynes, LLP, one of the attorneys for Republic Title Company. “Republic Title Company and their customers were completely deceived and have been taken advantage of by someone who was in a position of trust.”

Ms. Weaver is accused of transferring money from real estate closings held by Republic Title Company since December 2007. She allegedly demanded that the title company send mortgage loan payoffs to the firm’s escrow account, and then wrote checks to herself, supposedly signed by a firm partner, using several different banks to cash them. She was exposed in January 2009 when she asked the title company to issue a check in excess of $300,000.00 – for a closing that never took place.

See The Earth Times.

There’s not much information available as of today on the Internet, other than Republic Title Company’s press release. This will be an interesting case to follow, due to the amount of funds allegedly stolen, the possibility that mortgage payoffs did not reach their intended destinations, and the paralegal’s supervising attorneys being named as defendants in a civil suit. But on its face, this sounds like another unsupervised paralegal grossly abusing a firm’s trust account – in a best case scenario, due to the firm’s insufficient checks and balances system for its own finances.

Book Review: The Everything Guide to Being a Paralegal

The main goal of The Everything Guide to Being a Paralegal (Adams Media, 2006) by attorney and paralegal instructor Steven W. Schneider is to educate students who enter paralegal programs “with only a vague idea of what a paralegal does.” His writing is very clear and tailored to readers with no prior knowledge of the paralegal profession.

Mr. Schneider is “dead on” about the requisite skills and traits that a successful paralegal will utilize, ranging from consistent professionalism to strong analytical, communication and computer skills. Each chapter of the book contains “Essential” facts, alerts and highlights which emphasize his key points. The following “E Alert” and “E Fact” about obtaining more responsibility once you have a job are good examples of the author’s practical advice:
Expanding your career opportunities does not require a long, serious conversation with your supervising attorney. Chances for expanded responsibility occur every day; there is always more work to be done on a client matter. Suggest a course of action or offer to handle a task; most lawyers respond positively to paralegals who are genuinely interested in the cases they are assigned. (Chapter 3, p. 42).

Suggestions for follow-up should be a part of your response to every assignment. There is always more to do. In the typical law office, assignments go to people willing to do them. If you express an interest in continuing to work on a client matter, you are at the top of the list for the next assignment. Even if your suggestions are not followed, the explanation about why they were not followed is an excellent learning opportunity. (Chapter 18, p. 236).
Note the emphasis on there always being more work to do in a typical law practice. In my experience, attorneys are more than willing to delegate more substantive work to a paralegal that is pro-active, engaged and demonstrates a high level of problem-solving skills.

For readers thinking about becoming a paralegal or just starting their paralegal education, this book provides a very basic overview of relevant topics (written in plain English for readers with no legal background), including the kinds of educational programs available, employment opportunities, internal law firm practices and functions, and the American legal and court systems. If you’re trying to select your first “what is a paralegal?” book but are confused by the many available titles in this subject area, The Everything Guide to Being a Paralegal is a good inexpensive choice and an easy read to more or less “get your feet wet”. Read it carefully, and then pass it on to a fellow “newbie”, while continuing your ongoing research and education.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Laurie Mapp, Virtual Paralegal, and Blogger at Halo Secretarial

Job Title: Virtual Legal Assistant/Paralegal

Employer: Self employed (Halo Secretarial Services), Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada

Years of Paralegal Experience: 10

Specialty Areas: Civil litigation, family law, tax law

Career Highlight: Starting my own paralegal practice from home of course!

Paralegal Practice Tip: Be organized – having a good feel for what needs to get accomplished every day can make your life so much easier. I've always used daily and weekly to-do lists to keep me on target.

How did you get started as a virtual paralegal?
I loved being a paralegal, but after my third child was born I knew things needed to change. I needed more control than was available in my job, more flexibility. So I did a ton of research and realized that there was a way to do the work I loved from my home, by being my own boss!

Do you have any tips for people thinking about starting a virtual paralegal business?
The biggest thing to know is that it isn't going to be enough to be a great paralegal. Suddenly you will be the paralegal, the accounting department, the marketing department and more. You have to be committed to owning a business and finding clients, which can be really challenging. Like any business it can take months or years to develop a substantial client base. So if you really want to try being a virtual paralegal, you will want to find a good support network to mentor you through the process, and you will need to have real faith in yourself!

Favorite Internet Resource: Home Office Warrior (http://www.homeofficewarrior.com/) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/)!

Fun Fact: I LOVE games – from board games like scrabble to Zelda or MarioKart on the Wii. Games allow me to enjoy my competitive side in a fun way!

Professional Bio Link: http://halosecretarialservices.com/about-laurie/

Readers may be wondering, "How the heck did you meet a Canadian paralegal?" Via Twitter, of course, which makes the big world suddenly seem very small and cozy! Also, check out Laurie’s well-done blog, Halo Secretarial Services, at http://halosecretarialservices.com/blog/

Scholarship Opportunity for NC Paralegal Students

This morning members of the North Carolina State Bar Paralegal Division received the following e-mail from the Scholarship Committee Chair, Teresa K. Aull, CLA, NCCP:

The North Carolina Bar Association Paralegal Division (PD) is very pleased to announce a student scholarship available to students...We are very excited to be able to assist a deserving student in his/her studies in the paralegal profession.

The application forms that set forth the criteria of eligibility for applicants can be obtained at the PD home page at
http://legalassistantsdivision.ncbar.org/. Photocopies of the application will be accepted. Please note the April 17, 2009 deadline for submission of applications.

North Carolina paralegal students, don't miss this opportunity to apply for financial assistance. If you're getting ready to graduate, or already working in the field, please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues who are still working on their paralegal degrees.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I’m Afraid I’m Going to Have to Kick You

I did say that to my supervising attorney this morning, in front of a live and web cast audience, while presenting our topic “Preparing for Workers’ Compensation Mediations and Hearings” to a spring paralegal conference. In my defense, it was the only real moment of hilarity in a lecture which focuses mostly on not waiting until the day before to plan a settlement and hearing strategy, as well as other lively issues, such as calculating the present value of lifetime disability cases, and obtaining your own client’s criminal and employment records to avoid unpleasant surprises at mediation and trial.

I did have an epiphany on the drive back after our presentation. I am a total control freak, which can be an asset for a paralegal in a litigation practice, but elsewhere is just plain irritating. My control issues may have accounted for me telling my boss at least eight times on the way over to the conference that we only had an hour to present, or approximately six minutes each per PowerPoint slide (we were taking turns). I know he got it, because when we started our presentation, he told the audience that he couldn’t stand too close to me, in case I kicked him if he exceeded his time limit.

I should have enjoyed the presentation, especially the parts where my boss told the attendees how great I am at my job. (When I asked him a couple of weeks ago if he’d recommend me on LinkedIn, he told me to draft my own recommendation. I jokingly responded that it would say, “Lynne is brilliant, indispensable and my law practice would collapse without her.” I could tell he wasn’t listening when he said, “That sounds good, send it to me and I’ll post it.”) I tried (unsuccessfully) staring laser beams into the back of his head when he was developing great points while going way over his time limit. I became obsessed with the rapidly waning time, and was only briefly distracted when my supposedly fully charged laptop announced it was taking a nap. My boss snuck in a few extra minutes while I whipped out the power cord.

Finally, with 15 minutes left to go, and less than halfway through the lecture, I waited until he took a breath, and turned to him and announced, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to kick you.” He took it really well, even taking on the role of Vanna White and beautifully displaying the present value calculator we use from Lawyers & Judges Publishing Company. I delivered the remaining half of the lecture in rapid-fire auctioneer-style, which probably explained the lack of questions from the stunned audience at the end. I don’t think my boss really feared for his physical well-being, but he did ask me on the drive back if I enjoyed speaking engagements. Well, sure, if I can hold the stop-watch.

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

California legal assistant Lisa Kjenstad, who is attending UCR Extension to obtain a paralegal certificate, received a GoGirl!Grant from The Girlfriend Factor. (The Desert Sun)

Michigan resident Demetrius Smith, a graduate of Eastern Michigan University’s paralegal program, has been hired as a paralegal/legal assistant by Assets International LLC, an assets location company. (dBusinessNews)

Oregon legal assistant Kellie Weber, inspired by NBC’s show “The Biggest Loser”, lost 13.8 pounds in 30 days – by exiling her cooperative family from her home temporarily, and concentrating on eating right and exercising. (OregonLive.com)

South Carolina legal assistant Betsy Bryant Atkinson, who works for the Gardner Law Firm in Marion, announced her candidacy for a seat on the City of Marion’s City Council. (SCNow.com)

Wisconsin legal assistants, Kollin G. Petrie and Morgan Anderson, have been hired by The Gauthier Law Group, LLC, a Milwaukee corporate law firm. (Journal Sentinel)

Good news is great news. Celebrate the paralegal profession by sharing yours. Please e-mail your good news to lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Resume Objectives Which Make You Go Hmmm

Resumes are supposed to be informative, but sometimes they are just plain puzzling to the reviewer. For example, take these excerpts from real resume objectives I've seen recently (some people like to collect shells. I like to collect grammar bloopers):

“I will bring…value added vision to your office.” (I’m stumped. I don’t know what “value added vision” is, or if I need to get a better optometrist.)

“…in response to your advertisement for an ‘Administrative Assistant’” (Okay, the unnecessary quotation marks just make the available job with our firm sound suspect, like we might really be seeking a lingerie model instead.)

“Objective: Interact with people on a daily basis.” (Well, sure, that is a plus of being gainfully employed at most jobs.)

“I wish to utilize my knowledge and experience to further a firm’s goals, as well as my own.” (Oh, so you do have a personal agenda, other than earning a paycheck?)

For a quick and down-to-earth discussion of resume faux pas, see “Resume Tips for Everyone” at WZZM13.com. While some of the resume tips seem obvious, I’ve screened enough resumes in the last 20 years to know they aren’t obvious to everyone. I’ve actually seen a resume which listed “stay-at-home” housewife, including the dates of “incarceration in the home” (from an applicant with a sense of humor albeit a lack of discretion). If you have been in that situation (incarcerated at home), the article suggests putting a positive spin on the experience in your cover letter, such as: “You could say that for three years you used time management, care-giving and financial skills by maintaining the family budget and caring for your child at home.” (I like it.)

Three key words not to include in your resume: “hate”, “fired” and “failed”. (Don’t use these words in the interview, either.) And don’t “fudge” on your employment dates. This article recommends not listing your GPA unless you’re a recent college graduate, but I think that many potential paralegal employers do give applicants points for excelling in a rigorous paralegal studies program, especially if you have less work experience than other applicants.

“Yes” or “No” survey at the sidebar: Do you include your GPA on your resume for legal employment?

See WZZM13.com.


By the way, Urban Dictionary says “hmmm” is a “sound made when one is attempting to sound reassuring yet non-committal.”

Paralegal Donates Business Wardrobe Via Craigslist

Arizona paralegal Bonny Sue Robbins responded to Jill Gardner’s recent Craigslist request which stated: "I'm in need of women's clothing for a size 10/12. Have job interviews, no good clothes. Please help if you can." Ms. Gardner admits it was not easy to place the ad, but she is seeking work in the hotel industry and did not have any suitable clothes from her previous employment in an oil refinery.

In addition to business clothes, Ms. Robbins also provided encouragement to Ms. Gardner, saying, “we'll keep in touch so that I can go out and celebrate when you get your new job."

See KOLD News 13.

If you have good business clothes that you are no longer wearing, this is an especially good time to donate them to organizations that help low-income and unemployed individuals assemble an interview outfit or work wardrobe, such as Dress for Success.

Monday, March 16, 2009

E-mail Sent to Legal Assistant Results in Missed Appeal Deadline

Charlotte workers’ compensation attorney Bob Bollinger successfully litigated a missed appeal deadline before the North Carolina Court of Appeals, after the North Carolina Industrial Commission e-mailed his legal assistant a document which had a 15-day appeal deadline – which Mr. Bollinger missed because he did not know about it.

On April 26, 2007, Deputy Commissioner Myra L. Griffin issued her opinion and award in Egen v. Excalibar Resort Professional, ___ N.C. App. ___, 663 S.E.2d 914 (2008), denying plaintiff’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits. She sent it to the parties via e-mail only, directly to defendant’s counsel, Samuel Barker, but not directly to plaintiff’s counsel, Bob Bollinger. Instead, the plaintiff’s e-mail notice was sent care of Janice Craig, a legal assistant in Mr. Bollinger’s office.

When Mr. Bollinger discovered that the opinion and award had been issued, the deadline to timely appeal it had expired. He wrote the Commission on May 16, 2007, stating:

Please note that I did not personally see the Opinion and Award until May 14, although it was apparently served exclusively by email…However, that email was not sent directly to me, but rather to a clerical employee who did not understand the significance of the email. I believe that the email to the Plaintiff should have been sent directly to me, rather than to a clerical employee, as the rules generally prevailing as to service of process require service on the attorney of record, not upon his clerical support staff.

Defendants’ counsel argued that plaintiff’s appeal was untimely and moved to dismiss it. Mr. Bollinger responded with a motion for relief due to excusable neglect. On June 7, 2007, Chairman Buck Lattimore granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Mr. Bollinger filed a motion for reconsideration on June 18, 2007, which included an affidavit signed by his legal assistant, Janice Craig. The affidavit stated that she thought the e-mail had also been sent to Mr. Bollinger and that she was simply “blind-copied” on it. To add to the confusion, the “To” line contained the names of both Mr. Barker and Mr. Bollinger. Ms. Craig’s affidavit also stated that the e-mail did not contain the Commission’s usual notice of appeal deadlines sent with mailed opinion and awards, and that in her decade of employment with Mr. Bollinger’s firm, she had never before received an opinion and award via e-mail. Ms. Craig did acknowledge receipt of the e-mail by replying to the Commission.

Chairman Buck Lattimore denied plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration on June 23, 2007. Mr. Bollinger appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, arguing that “the Commission erred in the manner in which it served notice upon him, specifically by (1) notifying the plaintiff’s attorney’s employee, rather than plaintiff’s attorney directly and (2) using email as the means of providing notice.” Egen.

On August 5, 2008, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued a decision which reversed the granting of defendants’ motion to dismiss, although the court did not find that the Commission erred by serving notice on the attorney’s agent via e-mail. Rather the court concluded that “the Commission erred in not finding excusable neglect on the part of plaintiff’s attorney.” Egen.

Regardless of the court's finding that serving an agent via e-mail was not incorrect, the Commission “clarified” its “practice and procedure with respect to service of documents by e-mail in light of Egen” and published Minutes on February 17, 2009, which state in part: “The Industrial Commission shall not use e-mail for the purpose of notification or service upon a party of time sensitive documents where appeal rights are affected…[emphasis added]

On February 26, 2009, Mr. Bollinger wryly observed on the North Carolina Advocates for Justice workers’ compensation section listserv that: “I fell on my sword for this, guys. I will forever be in the Court of Appeals reporter as the lawyer who committed ‘excusable neglect’ in Egen because they mailed an O&A to my assistant, instead of mailing it to me….and I missed the appeal deadline because I didn’t know it had arrived.”

As a legal assistant who also might have thought that my supervising attorney had received the e-mail if his name had been included in the “To” line, I am extremely grateful for Mr. Bollinger’s sacrifice and the resulting clarification of the Commission’s service of time sensitive documents.
Special thanks to attorney Bob Bollinger for allowing me to re-print his listserv post.