Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Pipl.com Didn't "Scare My Pants Off"

This weekend on Twitter, @People_Searcher tweeted “People Search Website [Pipl.com] Will Scare Your Pants Off http://tinyurl.com/c46a4f”. For me, that kind of statement is like waving a red flag at a bull, or placing Havarti cheese in a mousetrap; I'm going to go for it. Plus, Pipl.com (which calls itself “the most comprehensive people search on the web”) always seems to come up in conversations about free people search sites. So, I decided to “Pipl” myself and hope that I didn’t lose my britches. (Regular readers know I'm already flipping the waistband of my new suit slacks.)

You can look up people on Pipl.com by name, email, username or phone. I started with my name, and within seconds, Pipl.com informed me that I am @ExpertParalegal on Twitter and a senior legal assistant with Elliot Pishko Morgan P.A. Pipl.com provided the link to my Facebook public profile, and well as my personal email address for Practical Paralegalism, lynne.devenny@gmail.com. So far, so good – nothing came up that wouldn’t show up in a Google search. Many links with my name did not show up which have shown up in past Google searches. (Google yourself regularly to monitor your online presence.)

Pipl.com also showed multiple websites for me, including the Amazon link and the Carolina Academic Press link for the book I co-authored with my supervising attorney, J. Griffin Morgan, Workers’ Compensation Practice for Paralegals (Carolina Academic Press, 2008). Some websites (but not all) where I had either posted comments, had articles re-printed, or was listed as seminar speaker were listed. Oddly, some of my blog posts were included, but only older “Primo Paralegal Shoutouts”.

Actually, the worst aspect of my Pipl.com search was the poorly digitized professional head shot included in my results. I have no idea where the search engine obtained that version of my picture. I also ran a search on the name on my birth certificate and discovered that Pipl.com thinks I’m related to someone named Rufus. That’s just flat not true.

I searched my work email address, and got no results. I searched my usernameExpertParalegal” and discovered I’m not the only one using it for an email handle. I searched my home telephone number, and the Pipl.com result was 100% wrong.

Pipl.com is a great place to start a preliminary people search, and the results are well-organized. However, it does not replace a thorough Google search (or fee-based people searchers). After checking out Pipl.com, I was more bemused than scared. It was helpful for an overview, but not always accurate. I may search for Rufus next.

I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to search your name on Pipl.com. I’d love to hear from any readers who find any “Pipl.com surprises” about themselves.

For more information about how Pipl.com works, see Roi Carthy’s January 29, 2009 article at TechCrunch, Pipl.com: People Search Engine So Good, It Will Scare Your Pants Off." (I found this link after I'd completed this blog entry, and then wondered if maybe "Gen Y" has more to worry about in a people search. I'm grateful that there was no Internet when I was in college to post those embarrassing party pictures that can annihilate a job interview these days.)

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

Florida paralegal Sharon Foster, employed by Grant, Fridkin, Pearson, Athan & Crown’s trusts and estates group, has been certified by The Florida Bar as a Florida registered paralegal. (Naples News)

Florida Medicaid legal assistant Tricia Winterstein, employed by Osterhout, McKinney & Prather P.A., in Fort Myers, was the subject of The News-Press “In the Trenches” column, which features local professionals.

Illinois paralegal student and fitness instructor, Mary Beth Borre, has won the Student of the Month award given by the Recreational Sports and Services at Southern Illinois University Carbonale. (The Southern Illinoisan)

New York legal assistant Ramona A. Weinstein has joined the law office of Michael L. Pfeifer PC in Garden City. She was formerly a legal assistant for Stephen Bilkis and Associates in Baldwin. (Newsday.com)

North Carolina paralegal Sarah Aman is an employee of the Financial Litigation Unit (FLU), with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which was recognized at the National Crime Victims' Rights Week Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C., for its efforts on behalf of crime victims to help to restore victims' rightful ownership from what has been taken away, lost, or surrendered from federal criminal defendants. (PRNewsWire)

The following Ohio legal professionals have been elected as officers of NALS of Northeast Ohio:

President: Fran McClean, Thompson Hine LLC
President-elect: Judy Pluta, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Secretary: Lola Carr, Cameron B. Pedro law offices
Treasurer: Sue Schaefer of the law offices of Gregory Hube

Cleveland.com


Pennsylvania paralegals Diana M. Roth and Laura M. Leonard both passed the national Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam and attained the Registered Paralegal designation from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations Inc. Roth is vice president of Pittsburgh Paralegal Association and a contract review paralegal with The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Leonard is a member of Pittsburgh Paralegal Association and a litigation paralegal for Crown Castle USA Inc. (PittsburghLive)


Got good news? I'd love to share it. E-mail job, graduation and award announcements to lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Beware of Online Sample Paralegal Resumes

You have to take many of the online sample paralegal resumes with a grain of salt (sometimes with an entire Morton’s Salt container). The quality is not consistent among the many samples I reviewed, and using some of them is a great way to never get an interview.

I'm listing quotes from the worst examples of qualifications and experience I found from googling “sample paralegal resumes” today. I could still be copying and pasting unbelievable quotes hours later, but at some point the exercise stopped being funny and was merely disturbing. I was getting the creepy spinal shivers at the thought that newbie paralegals (or anybody) might be using them as go-bys.

The following is a list of statements not to copy from many different online sample paralegal resumes:
  • “Passionate about research” “Avid investigator and researcher of facts and law” (This sounds like someone’s been reading too many romance novels. Emphasize expertise, not intense emotion.)
  • “High sense of commitment” (Again, this is your resume and not a dating questionnaire.)
  • “Draft appeals for the attorneys to look over” (The problem with using colloquialisms such as “look over” is that it sounds pretty casual and unimportant. An attorney is going to do a great deal more than merely look over an appeal drafted by most non-lawyers.)
  • "Have proven capacity to adopt with the new concepts and measures" (This phrase remains vague and completely uninformative even if you do replace “adopt” with “adapt”. Oh, heck, I'm not going to pretend I have any idea what this means.)
  • “Have over 6 years of experience in common application” (If any of you know what “common application” means in regard to paralegal job duties, I beg you to comment.)
  • "Provide listening mediations as well as appeasements" (Huh?)
  • "Call upon witnesses to testify at hearing" (This sounds a bit Victorian. Does this mean that you make house calls, even to the hostile witnesses, and leave an engraved calling card in the parlor?)
  • “Interacting With Computers” “Interfaced extensively with clients” (Maybe these verbs should be interchanged? Or not used at all?)
  • "Worked as an accountable for providing office help to 48 software engineers" (Even if this wasn’t a completely awkward statement, “accountable” is not a noun.)
  • "Carried out the confirmation of entire manpower hours" (“Carried out” is a colloquial term that offers no clarification at all for this statement. What does this mean you actually did with those manpower hours?)
  • "Capacitated with first-paced functioning and persuasive work environment" "Capacitated in taking heavy workload" (I was almost incapacitated from finishing this blog entry when I read the second definition of "capacitated" is “to cause (spermatozoa) to undergo the physical changes needed to penetrate and fertilize an egg.” Another definition was archaic: to make capable”. Even if you want to give it the benefit of the doubt and say it means “enabled”, it makes absolutely no sense in either of these statements. “First-paced” is the kind of typographical error that sends resumes flying into trashcans faster than the speed of light. If you know what a "persuasive work environment" is, please enlighten me.)
  • "Obtained associate workshops on paralegal studies" (Did you take the workshops home with you? Also, it’s unclear as to exactly what skills, if any, you learned. If you’ve attended workshops relevant to the jobs you are seeking, you can list the titles of the continuing legal education seminars you attended, such as “IPE Civil Litigation Basics (2009)”.)
  • "Conversational in Spanish" (This is the incorrect usage of “conversational”, which isn’t a verb or an adverb. You can speak conversational Spanish.)
  • "Outstanding reputation conducting research" (If you have awards or certificates for research, list them under “Awards” and/or “Education”. This sounds a bit conceited; normally other people talk about your excellent reputation. It’s like I tell my kids, if you are the one saying you’re cool, you’re probably not.)
  • "Interviewed client" (Just the one?)
  • "Proven ability to work with the least amount of supervision" (How do you prove this? Did you know the very definition of a paralegal is someone who performs substantive legal work under the supervision of attorneys?)
  • “Paralegal Certificate - legal concerns in the 20th century - 2001” (First, seminar titles are capitalized. Also, include the seminar provider. (It makes a difference if it was your local library versus your state bar association.) 2001 is also a long time ago, especially for a seminar with a title that sheds no light on what you learned.)

I did not make any of these up, and I didn’t include the links for obvious reasons. Plus, you can easily locate them yourself with a simple Google search, which is scary. Don't look for them! If you see one, look away immediately.

I'm really disappointed that many of the sample paralegal resumes that I reviewed today are more “don’t” than “do”. I did find one that has a nice simple format (although "career" is misspelled) that is good for students and inexperienced job seekers (that may be tearing their hair out with the plethora of sample resumes online). This sample includes paralegal course work, which can be a good idea for new graduates with little to no experience – and a lot of white space to fill on a resume. However, the objective is a little awkward and can be improved. Customize the objective for yourself and be more direct. I’d simply title it “Objective” and change “Qualification Highlights” to “Career and Academic Highlights” (depending on your career and academic experience).

Also, I love the Resume Wizard included in my Microsoft Word package. What did I do several months ago when I was asked to submit a resume to a legal professional association and could not locate my old resume from many computers ago? (Yes, that’s what I meant.) I let my Resume Wizard guide me through the modern functional resume template, which is just as easy as letting TurboTax do my taxes. I love the final resume, which is clean, direct and easy on the eyes. 

The other piece of key advice for new resume writers (or those who aren’t getting responses to their resumes): let someone who either prepares resumes for a living and/or screens them regularly proofread it. And unlike the creative but unpredictable Kenley Collins from Project Runway (remember the “fish tail” dress?), who steadfastly ignored all the good advice that Tim Gunn tried to give her, only to implode on the runway more than once, take the advice from the experienced professionals and apply it to your resume.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Legal Professionals Helping Children

I was thrilled to see that the Children's Law Center in Washington, DC “received the 2009 Mayor's Community Service Award yesterday for its successful use of pro bono attorneys to help the District's at-risk children. The award was presented as part of National Volunteer Week.”

The Children's Law Center helps more than 1,000 children each year. It is the largest legal services provider in the District and the only organization that provides free, comprehensive legal representation specifically on behalf of children. The Children's Law Center envisions a future for the District of Columbia in which every child has a safe home, a meaningful education and a healthy mind and body. We work to achieve this vision by providing legal services to at-risk children and their families and using the knowledge we gain from representing our individual clients to advocate for changes in the law and its implementation. For more information, visit www.childrenslawcenter.org. (PRNewsWire.com)

I’ve always loved volunteering with children, especially those that need an adult advocate in the legal system. For those of us who grew up in stable homes, or have our own close-knit and secure family units, it’s hard to place ourselves in the shoes of children who grow up with little to no family stability, no access to services due to lack of income or informed caregivers, or worse, suddenly find themselves in the foster care system.

When my biological daughter was enrolled in a local performing arts high school and spending long days in rehearsals, I wanted to do something with children that would utilize my paralegal training. I volunteered as a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for our county. My role was to be the objective, fact-finding advocate for the children. I made recommendations regarding their future at scheduled court hearings, including filing regular written reports. This is a serious responsibility, as the court often gives a great deal of weight to the report and testimony of the objective GAL.

Much to my surprise, I learned that many abused children, no matter what a parent had done to them, wanted to be reunited with that parent. I was lucky enough to work with one mother and daughter, who weren’t separated because of abuse, but due to the mother’s lack of parenting skills. She did everything the court asked to learn those skills, and was reunited with her little girl, whom I really loved, despite the instructions not to get attached.

Then when my only child flew out of the nest and left for college, I decided to volunteer with children again, but this time I wanted to be able to build a mentoring relationship directly with a child. I narrowed my options down to the local children’s home or Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), but really liked the idea of spending time every week with a little girl. I remembered the children I worked with as a GAL, and how much they loved simply talking with someone who took an interest in them. BBBS assigned me to the most amazing little girl, but a year after we were matched, unforeseen family issues arose that resulted in the Department of Social Services (DSS) removing her from her caregiver.

Luckily, DSS came to me first. If they’d tried to take her to a licensed foster home, I would have sat on the steps of DSS until they gave her to me. But DSS and the court agreed that I was the best placement for a child who had a life-threatening illness, sickle cell disease, and a deep bond with me. In a wonderful but unusual twist of fate, we ended up adopting each other. I’m quick to remind people that BBBS is an incredible mentoring organization, but definitely not an adoption service. I’m also a huge proponent of at least considering adoption as an option in your family-building plans. I like to say that God is like UPS – sometimes he delivers your children to the wrong address.

I know that foreign adoption by celebrities makes the headlines frequently, but I wish the headlines would focus on the many children here in the United States who can never go back to their birth families, and need steady “forever families” right now. During the course of adopting my youngest daughter, I spent two and a half years experiencing the juvenile court system firsthand. Ironically, my daughter and I had our own wonderful GAL. I used to sit in the lobby at Child Protective Services and watch so many beautiful children experiencing the trauma of the system. No matter how wonderful the social, foster and court workers are, it’s still a brutal experience for a child.

So, yes, it really makes me feel good to know that members of my chosen profession are donating hours of their time to help at-risk children, especially those who find themselves suddenly in the foster care system. I know that adopting an older child, or a child from a different economic or racial background is not for everyone. I know that not everyone can envision themselves mentoring or finding an activity to do with a child once or twice a week – especially when it might take months for that child to “warm up” to them. But I think that many of us have the legal training to work with volunteer organizations that help these children through the court system, even if it's only a couple of hours per month, or helping with an annual fund-raising event. These children need us, with our unique training and legal background.

If you're interested in working as a court advocate for children, go to the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) website under "Volunteer Inquiry" and enter your zip code to find the court volunteer programs closest to you.

The picture is of my daughters. I'd love it if you share pictures of your kids in comments -- kinda like virtual "wallet-whipping-out".

Practical Paralegalism Reader Comments

I love it when you comment, I really do. I value your readership and your opinions. Part of this blog’s purpose is to build a sense of community among paralegals nationwide, so it’s even nicer when the comments turn into a conversation, or a valuable addition to the blog entry. I share my knowledge, because I want to you to share yours. Commenting on legal blogs is a great way to contribute, educate, network, and yes, support our fellows in “thParalegalhood”.

Unfortunately, I had to start moderating comments a month or so ago. I absolutely have no problem with someone having a difference of opinion and take the position, “let’s agree to disagree” – as long as the exchange is civil. But I’m not going to approve comments which are unprofessional or do not reflect well on the commenter, usually “Anonymous”. Maybe I’m old school, but I was always taught that if you have something to say, own it. And if you don't want to sign your real name, Google name or provide any other identifying information, and you want to post negative personal comments about others, leave an e-mail address where you can be contacted if you really want me to respond. That’s what a professional would do.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

LinkedIn: Take the Dread Profile Pic Yourself

I don’t know many adults who love to have their pictures taken. But you need a nice head shot for your LinkedIn profile, so your viewers can put a name with a face (preferably smiling). Without a head shot, your profile looks blank, incomplete and well, to be perfectly honest, not particularly personable. Substituting a picture of your mother’s prized roses or your beautiful Yorkies, Teeny and Bitsy, for a personal profile on Facebook is lovely, but simply won’t do for professional purposes. (Sorry.)

But you don’t have to pay the big bucks for a professional head shot. It’s nice if someone, like your employer, offers to pay for a professional head shot, but if it’s not economically feasible, you can have a friend take your head shot. In fact, with today’s digital cameras, you can take your own head shot. I never understood why my kids took so many pictures of themselves until I recently got an unbeatable deal on a Nikon Coolpix S550 from Adorama.com. Now it’s ridiculously easy to photograph myself in dark restaurants to see if I look 20 years younger. I took the head shot I published with this blog entry and for my blog profile, and I’m using it on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook now. I’m not happy about the bags under my eyes, but that’s how I really look at 7:30 a.m.

The benefit of taking your own head shot is that you can take as much time as you like and as many pictures as you want, without driving a photographer crazy with your nit-pickiness and insistence that he or she hasn’t quite captured “the real you”. Also, you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings if you don’t like the pictures. I didn’t really like the last professional head shot I had taken, but didn’t say anything, because the stylist spent an hour on my hair and make-up. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings after she’d worked so hard to tame my rebellious hair.

Here’s some tips to get a nice head shot of yourself using your own camera:

  1. Dress your top half like you are going to an interview for a legal position. Guys, that’s at least a tie and well-groomed hair. Gals, that’s a conservative blouse, jewelry and hair, and daytime make-up – no cleavage and not the come-hither face and hair you might post on a dating website, or for that Glamour Shot you’re giving to your sweetie for Valentine’s Day.

  2. Use an uncluttered background, although most of it will be cropped out. Light-colored river birch tree branches growing out of your head simply make viewers wonder if you’re related to Rudolph, as in the reindeer.

  3. Lighting is important. Find a well-lit place, even outside, to take your picture so that you don’t have shadows in your photo which suggest that you have something horrible to hide.

  4. Smile. I know, you don’t want to take your picture, and you have a million criticisms of your own face which no one else even notices. (I'm absolutely certain that my nose gets bigger with age.) None of us look like air-brushed magazine covers and that’s a good thing.

  5. Take head shots that fill up the frame, leaving only your head, neck and shoulders showing. Don’t worry, you can crop out your own arms or that tree branch you forgot to move away from.

  6. Don’t rush. Take your time and get several shots that are representative of how you actually look, relaxed and almost glad to be having your picture taken.

  7. Edit the best photo by cropping it so that your face fills most of the frame, and adjusting the lighting if necessary. Try changing color photos to black and white to see if you like the effect. Don’t worry if you don’t have photo-editing software on your computer. There are plenty of free and ridiculously easy programs online for the technologically challenged, including DrPic.com and Picnik.com.

  8. Last, post the picture at your LinkedIn profile. I know you don’t want to, but your profile represents a person, and a person has a face. You show your face everyday. If you get a new haircut, new glasses, a great new suit, find a miracle wrinkle cream (email me!) or cave in to all those endless commercials and whiten your teeth, you can always have another photo session with yourself. After all, the price and convenience are unbeatable.

The Paralegal Picture: Best Internet Quotes for the Week Ending 04/19/09

My heart goes out to a laid-off paralegal who found himself at a “recession fair” which included assistance applying for food stamps and a paralegal seeking work who is being told that she is TOO qualified for jobs. (This puzzles me. The last time we had an opening, I would have shed tears of joy had anyone really over-qualified wanted to come work on our busy legal team.)

An immigration paralegal discusses the pleasure he receives from assisting clients though the citizenship process. Two paralegals discuss the tax day tea parties. Finally, a paralegal turned investigator states that you can’t find everyone using the Internet.

"I'm settled, married, family, kids, and I never thought this is where I'd be at now." ~ Californian Jeremiah Monchak, expresses his feelings about finding himself at the Recession Fair in San Diego last week. He recently lost his paralegal job and has four children. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also made an appearance and discussed the food-stamp program in San Diego County. (KPBS.com)

''The manager kept saying she thought I would get bored. I was honestly upset. I was telling the person I was OK with the position and it fit my lifestyle. I was also a little stressed because I really needed to get back to work.'' ~ Maryland paralegal Bobbie Wilson discusses a recent interview where she was told she was overqualified.


Wilson said it was a frustrating interview, especially since the hiring manager was impressed with her résumé. She earned a paralegal certificate from Howard University and was the class valedictorian. Yet her pleas didn't matter. She didn't get the job.

The Maryland resident said she tried to persuade the hiring manager that she didn't mind taking a pay cut and a step back. The job, an administrative assistant position, wasn't even full time.

MiamiHerald.com

"I want to go along beside them and help them make better lives. They look overwhelmed (at the naturalization process). I'm able to answer their questions and tell them, 'One step at a time,'" ~ Hawaiian Paul Luu (who immigrated from Vietnam and gained U.S. citizenship), employed by the Hawaiian Immigration Justice Center, discusses his choice to become an immigration paralegal. He participated in the 2009 Citizenship Fair at Honolulu Community College on April 18, 2009. (Star Bulletin)

"I feel our government is growing at such a rate that we need to exercise our civil rights. I'm worried about taxes, and freedom of speech because I feel it's something we're losing," ~ Idaho resident Danelle Pence, a laid-off paralegal, describes why she marched in Boise to participate in the national Tax Day Tea Party. (The Olympian)

“Last week, Americans of every demographic type provided an obviously much-needed example of how such a crossing can be accomplished. All it took was a desire to gather and share ideas, an agreement to disagree, and good old American tradition.” ~ Pennsylvania freelance writer and paralegal Carol Wright-Burkett, employed by Silverman, Tokarsky & Forman, LLC., reminds us of our right to speak our minds in her Tribune-Democrat column about the Tax Day Tea Parties held by many Americans on April 15.

"Privacy laws hit us pretty hard when they started restricting access to what we could get. It's a little harder to find those people who don't want to be found anymore. In the past five years, people finding other people on the Internet has ended so many marriages. They go online and create new profiles of themselves, find people across the country, fly out to meet them. We're having to totally adapt to that." ~ Louisiana former paralegal turned private investigator Maria Dugas discusses the misconception that the Internet has made her job easier. (Tri-Parrish Times)

If you weren’t in the news this week, you are welcome to add your “two cents worth” by commenting on this blog entry. Did you attend a tea party on tax day, or sit in front of your computer at 11:55 p.m. hoping your last minute e-filing wouldn’t be rejected?

And I know that many of Practical Paralegalism’s readers hold multiple degrees and know more than I’ve ever forgotten. Have you ever had problems finding a job due to “over-qualification” and if so, how did you resolve the issue?

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

Florida paralegal Judy Maciejewski, employed by Zisser, Robison, Brown, Nowlis, Maciejewski & Cabrey P.A. in Jacksonsville, was named a member of The 2009-10 Cambridge Who's Who registry. (Jacksonville.com)

Florida municipal legal assistant Kerri Miller has been hired to fill Plant City’s city clerk position held by Virginia Helper, who is retiring after 35 years of municipal service. (Tampa Bay Online)

Massachusetts paralegal Michelle Ramasci and victim witness advocate Anne Foley, employees of the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, were part of the trial team that successfully prosecuted Timothy Stryker, a Middlesex doctor who pled guilty to multiple perjury-related charges arising out of the unsolved murder of his girlfriend Dr. Linda Goudey in 1993. (WickedLocal.com)

Michigan resident Kim Dewey of Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP, received certification as a Professional Paralegal from NALS. (mlive.com)

New York resident Cynthia Beckley, a paralegal student at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Ithaca, was awarded the $500 Paralegal Advisory Council scholarship. The award is given to a student in the paralegal program who also has a child. The winner must have completed the course "Legal Research and Drafting" with a grade of "b" or better. (IthacaJournal.com)

North Carolina paralegal Rhonda Brocki and her dance partner, Mitchell Graham, were finalists in the Women’s Center of Fayetteville “Dancing with the Fayetteville Star” gala, held on April 18, 2009 to benefit the Women’s Center Lease to Home Program. The event raised more than $98,000.00 for the program. (FayObserver.com)

Ohio paralegal Sharon Jarosz, formerly with the Cleveland law firm McDonald Hopkins, has joined the estate and planning group at Stark & Knoll Co. LPA in Akron. (Cleveland.com)

The following South Carolina legal professionals have been named as new 2009-10 officers for the Spartanburg County Legal Staff Professionals:

President: Robin Deming, legal assistant with the office of general counsel for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.
President-elect: Roxanne Reynolds, legal assistant at Holcombe Bomar P.A.
Secretary: Rhonda Mitchell, legal assistant at Holcombe Bomar.
Treasurer: Nancy Lemmons
Functional Director of Education: Theresa Sexton, legal assistant at Ford & Harrison LLP.
Functional Director of Membership: Sarah Wallace, regulatory affairs analyst at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.
Chapter Liaison: Kerry Waldrop, legal assistant at Butler, Means, Evins & Browne P.A.

Upstate.com

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Need a Suit -- FAST!

When I got my first paralegal job, I wore suits, pantyhose and heels every day. The office manager wouldn’t even let the staff wear jeans on the day that the firm moved its offices to another building. I had spare pantyhose and clear nail polish in a desk drawer, and my favorite clerk at the local Ann Taylor store called me when they had size 2 styles she thought I’d like on the clearance rack. Combined with my petite frame, the required ‘80s big hair and shoulder pads, and a fondness for Ann Taylor’s snap-crotch body suits, some of my co-workers jokingly (I think) nicknamed me “90210” and “Minus One”.

Then I went to work for one of the few civil rights firms in the state at the time, in a small, informal office where we fought and won cool employment battles, like the one involving a ridiculously successful national corporation that offered a blind man a job and then refused to accommodate him with an inexpensive computer device. A friend once innocently asked, “Hey, don’t you work for, like, tree-hugging hippies?” Uh, no. We are all for trees but don’t hug them. My wardrobe got quite a bit more relaxed, except for court-related activities. I had to go out and buy “work jeans”. (I promise there will be a whole separate future blog entry on this subject.)

So nowadays I rarely wear a suit. Worse, I’ve lost some weight and can’t wear the suits in my closet. (The weight loss is currently a medical mystery. Like a hobbit, I never miss any meals or snacks, including tensies and elevensies). But I have some upcoming professional obligations in the next 30 days that require suiting, including a gig for a state professional association on Saturday. The volunteers received specific instructions to make the paralegal profession look good and NO jeans.

I’ve been suit hunting for a few weeks, but no luck. My 12 year old daughter has been shopping with me and has helpfully informed me that even in the smallest suits I have “baggy butt”. Our local Ann Taylor store closed, so I don’t have any insider leads on sale stuff no one else can wear. This afternoon was it – my last chance to get a suit before Saturday, so that I didn’t make the paralegal profession look like a tree-hugging hippie.

I desperately wandered into the Jones New York section of a major department store and was sticker-shocked down to my toes (and this was after I accidentally admired a pair of of those hip dominatrix-like strappy high-heeled bronze sandals that I knew would go with everything I own until I saw the $300.00 price tag). But I found a black pin-striped suit that was exactly the right balance of conservative and modern (and on sale), and tried it on in the big plush dressing room with the three-way mirror.

The suit looked pretty darn good. My daughter assured me that I didn’t have a completely baggy butt. I rolled the waist band once, and then bent all the way over to see if sitting would undo the temporary fix, which is how the gracious and helpful sales clerk found me – bent all the way over trying to check out my rear-end in the three-way. I immediately stood up and asked, “Can you tell from the back that I rolled the waist band of these pants?”

Her gentle response? “You should go to the Juniors’ Department. They might have your size there.” I was caught off guard and wailed, “The Juniors’ Department? I’m 46 years old! I need a GROWN-UP WOMAN’S suit!”

She agreed that you can’t tell the pants are rolled up at the waist from behind, and helped me get a nice discount on the suit. If you see me, I hope you’ll think I’m a credit to the paralegal profession.

Upcoming Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Call to Feature Jeannie Johnston

The Paralegal Mentor, Vicki Voisin, has announced that Jeannie Johnston, Founder and CEO of ParalegalGateway.com, will be her guest expert on the next "Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Call" this coming Tuesday, April 21, 2009, at 8:00 p.m. EST. For more information and to register, go to http://snipurl.com/egdbv.
There is no charge to participate in the call (except for any long distance charges you may incur) and there will be lots of great information about the paralegal profession. Can't be on the call live? No worries...the call will be recorded and provided to everyone who registers.

Vicki does a great job with her Mastermind Calls, and they are terrific opportunities to listen to experienced paralegals, as well as hear from other paralegals across the country when the call is opened to questions. Jeannie has given tirelessly to the paralegal profession through ParalegalGateway.com. She is so knowledgeable and personable that I know she'll be a great guest. I've already signed up for the call and hope you will, too.

Also, if you have not already done so, Vicki publishes a terrific FREE bi-weekly e-zine full of information that is helpful to both working paralegals and students, which you can sign up to receive at her website, The Paralegal Mentor.

See The Paralegal Mentor.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

LinkedIn: Network by Joining Paralegal Groups

I’ve noticed that some of you have “dipped your toe in the pool”, so to speak, and started a LinkedIn profile, but that many of you haven’t taken advantage of one of LinkedIn’s most powerful networking tools: Groups.

By joining a LinkedIn Group of like-minded professionals, you can increase your networking opportunities, follow the group’s discussions, and even start discussions yourself – a great way to pose questions or seek opportunities.

How do you find LinkedIn Groups which you might like to join? Simply use the search feature, except instead of “People”, click on “Groups”. Start with a simple query like “paralegal” or “legal assistant”, and then if you’re looking for more specialized groups, search applicable terms, such as “virtual assistants” or “e-discovery”. You can even search for Groups which focus on your specialty areas of interest, such as “intellectual property” or “bankruptcy”.

Here are some suggested national paralegal LinkedIn Groups to consider joining, but don’t forget to investigate your state and local professional associations as well.

e-LEGAL
LAT-FORUM
Legal Innovation
Legal IT Professionals
Legal Marketing
Litigation Support Professional Networking
Nals…the association for legal professionals
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
ParalegalGateway
Paralegal Network
ParalegalPipeline.com
Paralegal Services

If you want to recommend a national LinkedIn Group for paralegals, please feel to comment.

Also, starting a LinkedIn Group is an excellent job search project for school paralegal programs, and a great way to make sure that all students are creating LinkedIn profiles and building their initial contacts by connecting with one another on LinkedIn. Student associations or groups could even have a meeting (with everyone contributing edible treats) where they review and critique each other's LinkedIn profiles.

Monday, April 13, 2009

National Be Kind to Lawyers (and Their Staff?) Day

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 350,000 paralegals and legal assistants aid approximately 1,000,000 American lawyers. By the way, April 14, 2009 is National Be Kind to Lawyers Day. One suggestion for participating is to work phrases like “I object!” or “You’re out of order!” into your daily conversation. These phrases should be especially fun for paralegals to say with great enthusiasm (after all, we are celebrating) when responding to their attorneys’ requests. If you’re called on the carpet for insubordination, refer your attorney to the National Be Kind to Lawyers Day website.

Here’s a cool quote from the site, a timely reminder for our sometimes overly litigious society that it’s a good idea to at least try to work out disputes before proceeding to filing a lawsuit.

"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough." ~ Abraham Lincoln

See Fox Business.

The Paralegal Picture: Best Internet Quotes for the Week Ending 04/12/09

This week’s quotes include the ideal attributes for successful paralegals and paralegal students, including a student who shares helpful academic advice via her blog. A student discusses using a paralegal studies program to change careers, and a career advisor suggests relocation as a possibility for job seekers in depressed markets. Finally, a legal assistant has an unusual but self-esteem building fitness routine.

"The quality of Lorraine’s work is always outstanding and she is noted for her professionalism. As a team player, Lorraine is exceptional, and she often takes the initiative to research new and better methods to do her job more efficiently. The tremendous pride that Lorraine takes in her work is always apparent, and her input and in projects has been invaluable." ~ The City of Oxnard praises paralegal Lorraine Ebdon, the First Quarter Employee of 2009. (VenturaCountyStar) (I can’t think of a better description of a successful paralegal and role model.)

“I’m glad I got to be homeless, because you realize what’s important in life. All the nit-picky things that people worry about on a daily basis that complicate and confuse their lives – not a bit of it is important.” ~ North Carolina paralegal student Lorie Pacheco, who has recently received several national awards for outstanding academic achievements, talks about using her life experiences to make a better life for herself and others. (Star-News Online)

“For paralegal students like myself who are uncertain of the area of law in which they would like to work, it might help to begin reading various practice blogs offered on the Web. Depending on the area of law, many subject blogs can be found simply by using various keywords on a search engine such as Google or Yahoo.” ~ Jen Richter, California paralegal student and blogger at Paralegal Student in the Golden State, discusses using the Internet to investigate legal specialty areas. (Paralegal Student in the Golden State). (I recommend adding Jen’s blog to your favorites on your browser. She is a good writer and a thorough researcher, exactly what you’d expect from a librarian utilizing her skills in a paralegal studies program.)

"I saw in the paper, within days of my layoff, that [the community college] was offering free tuition for displaced workers. I thought, here's an opportunity for me to go back and see if I can fashion a new career." ~ Pennsylvanian Rhoda Joseph, who was laid off from her job as a chemist after 20 years, enrolled in a paralegal program. She is hoping transfer her science skills into patent or intellectual property law. (Christian Science Monitor)

"For instance, our paralegal and visual communication majors will find more opportunities in the larger metropolitan areas at this time. So our graduates may have to open up their geographic region to find the job opportunities that they really are seeking." ~ Natalie Brandon, career coordinator at Northwest State Community College in Ohio, recommends that job seekers be open to relocation. (Crescent-News.com)

"I'm a legal assistant by day and a pole hound by night. No, not a stripper! I started pole dancing a year and a half ago and I'm addicted. I don't believe any woman is too old to find her sexy side." ~ Judy Dodd, a Canadian legal assistant shares her fitness secret. (The Toronto Sun)

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

Alaskan Ashton Compton, a student majoring in political science and minoring in paralegal studies, has been appointed by Governor Sarah Palin as the University of Alaska’s student representative on the Board of Regents. (Newsminor.com)

California paralegal Lauri Gomez assisted Richard Cheng, Assistant U.S. Attorney, in the successful prosecution of Michael Daly, the president of Data Resource Group, who pled guilty to “defrauding Cisco Systems, Inc. of computer networking equipment and engaging in money laundering by selling the fraudulently-obtained equipment to other hardware resellers." (Imperial Valley News)

California legal assistant Becky Shevlin is running for a seat on Monrovia’s City Council. She has served for 11 years as a community services commissioner and six years on the Monrovia Chamber of Commerce board. (Pasedena Star-News)

California paralegal Gary Whitehead, owner of Gary Whitehead and Associates in San Diego, a paralegal service and accounting firm, is featured in The Gay & Lesbian Times “Business Spotlight”. (GayLesbianTimes.com) (I love that Mr. Whitehead’s professional photograph includes his beagle.)

California paralegal Lorraine Ebdon, an employee of the Oxnard City Attorney’s office, has been named City of Oxnard Employee of the First Quarter 2009. (Ventura County Star)

Florida paralegal Steven de Santos, legal assistants Linda Savarese and Reva Taylor, and administrative assistant Cynthia Castro have joined the new intellectual property firm Peretz Chesal & Herrmann in Miami. (SunSentinal.com)

Maryland paralegal student Kristina Hartman was named to the Fall 2008 Dean’s List at Stevenson University. (Cantonsville Times)

North Carolinian Lorie Pacheco, a paralegal student at Cape Fear Community College, has won a second prestigious academic award, a Guistwhite Scholarship with a value of $7,500.00. (Lori appeared in my April 6, 2009 “Primo Paralegal Shoutouts for being named to the USA Today’s 2009 All USA Community College Academic Team.) Lorie will travel to Phoenix this week to receive the scholarship from the American Association of Community College convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Local Star-News reporter Chelsea Kellner has done two terrific feature articles about Lorie, which are well worth reading. Lorie is an inspiration for all of us to reach out for help when our obstacles seem insurmountable and to turn adversity into incentive to move forward and follow our dreams. (Star-News Online)

I'm honored to share the achievements of paralegal professionals and paralegal professionals-to-be all over the country. I'd love to share you or your association's good news as well. Please contact me at lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter to Practical Paralegalism Readers!















This is a picture of my Welsh Corgi, Phoebe, doing her best impression of an attorney at last year's AARF Easter Egg Hunt. Finding the pile of plastic eggs (documents) with biscuits (facts) hidden inside a bit daunting, she opened two herself, and then sought the assistance of the closest hot shot paralegal to sort them, pry out the biscuits (facts), give her the important stuff, i.e. the biscuits (facts) - and then clean up.

Happy Easter to All Ya'll Legal Peeps!

Peace & Grace,
Lynne J. DeVenny

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Have Been Published in the ABA Journal - Sort of.

Does inclusion of these three dioramas (Scenes 1, 2 and 3 from My Cousin Peeps) in the ABA Journal's "Peeps in Law Gallery" count? I guess I could have made better use of my time earlier in the week, writing professional articles, preparing a book proposal, studying for a national certification exam, or even applying to grad school. But no, I was in Toys "R" Us trying to find a cheap (cheep?) toy convertible.

Anyway, cheap (cheep?) fart jokes aside, I stumbled across My Cousin Vinny playing on television last night. (It was extra funny after re-enacting it with Peeps.) After it was over, it hit me. Mona Lisa Vito (played by Marisa Tomei who won an Oscar for the role) was Vincent "Vinny" Gambini's (played by Joe Pesci) unofficial paralegal. Of course, the movie was made in 1992, when many paralegals were promoted from legal secretarial positions, and obviously Lisa doesn't have any fancy degrees or certifications.

But Lisa certainly performs substantive work under an attorney's supervision (or maybe more accurately supervises a newbie attorney who's been practicing personal injury law for a whole six weeks.) She's in court with Vinny every day, as Vinny's second pair of eyes (or sometimes the only pair, as he sleeps through the early court scenes). She gives him necessary feedback as to how he's doing in court every day (not so hot). She reads the state rules of criminal procedure and regurgitates the really important parts to Vinny ("it's called disclosure, you [idiot]"!). She photographs the crime scene evidence. She makes sure Vinny is appropriately dressed for court in a suit made out of cloth (maybe that doesn't fall under "substantive" duties but who hasn't had to run a clean tie down to the court house?) Most important to the successful outcome of the case, she provides a key expert witness. (Okay, so maybe using yourself doesn't count, but she definitely qualifies as a "general automotive" expert.)

Lisa has many attributes of a successful paralegal. She is smart, resourceful, and a persistent problem-solver. And she reminds us that successful lawyers need to use and appreciate their staff's contributions when she tells Vinny, "You win all your cases, but with somebody else's help, right? You win case after case, and then afterwards you have to go up to somebody and you have to say, 'thank you.'"



Paralegal Students “Using LinkedIn: It’s a No Brainer”

Kevin O’Keefe, CEO of LexBlog, social media expert and blogger at Real Lawyers Have Blogs has posted a terrific article, “Law students using LinkedIn: It’s a no brainer”. It is a must read for all legal professionals, including paralegals and paralegal students. I’m always surprised when I unsuccessfully try to look up colleagues on LinkedIn, even if it's only to congratulate them for achievements I read about in the news. I wonder why everyone is not using this free and effective form of networking.

I recently blogged about creating your virtual resume on LinkedIn, but I love Mr. O’Keefe’s term “live resume”. It makes me think of a LinkedIn profile as a dynamic, charismatic and intelligent being that invites interaction, second looks, and most important, professional invitations and recommendations.

Like Mr. O’Keefe, I check to see if applicants are using LinkedIn. Not only does it demonstrate the ability to network, but it also demonstrates knowledge of current social media technology, which is crucial to market yourself or your employer. To tell the truth, I look up almost everyone on LinkedIn who contacts me professionally. It’s a quick way to get to know people much better, and in a few cases, has helped me steer clear of individuals with questionable credentials.

It’s a “no brainer” to use LinkedIn because you can:
  • Create an easily updated online resume (include the link on your print resume)
  • Connect with other professionals (and have a convenient online rolodex).
  • Obtain recommendations (get them from instructors before you graduate).
  • Join groups of professionals who can answer questions.
  • Network (and then actually know some people before you go to conferences. Instead of introducing yourself to many strangers, you’re happily greeting some friends.)

Here’s a motivational quote from Mr. O’Keefe to hang over your computer: “I'm looking for innovative go-getters. PhD's as I call them. Folks that are poor, hungry, and driven.”

Paralegals and paralegal students, educate yourself regarding internet networking and use it - starting now.

________________________
Previous Practical Paralegalism posts about Internet networking:
LinkedIn Profile: Maximize Your Virtual Presence and Making the Case for Internet Networking Sites: LinkedIn and Facebook

Job Duties Which Aren't Discussed in Paralegal School

Having been both a paralegal student and a paralegal instructor, there are unique work situations which are not covered in the standard paralegal studies curriculum. For example, this story was recently published in the Arizona Capitol Times about a paralegal, duct tape and $100,000.00 in dirty money (literally and figuratively).
Just days after 17-year-old Karen Ivette Garibaldi-Osequera was indicted on drug smuggling charges, a paralegal for her attorney went to the Fourth Avenue Jail to post her bond using $100,000 in cash wrapped in dirty cellophane and duct tape.

The prosecutor in the case said the wad of small bills meant for Garibaldi-Osequera’s bond “looked like it had been buried.”

The suspicious bond payment was rejected and failed to free the teenage daughter of a suspected Mexican drug lord. It also brought a legal challenge that in late February secured the right of Arizona’s judges to hold so-called Nebbia hearings to determine whether the source of the bond is legitimate.

The paralegal worked for Phoenix, Arizona attorney Glenn Allen, who no longer represents Ms. Garibaldi-Osequera. Mr. Allen, while declining to comment for the news article, according to the prosecutor’s office is denying knowledge or authorization of the transaction. Ouch. So where does that leave the anonymous delivery person?

This article raises more questions than it answers about the paralegal’s role in this matter. Delivering $100,000.00 in dirty, small bills to a bond service is not a typical task in the life of a paralegal. It couldn’t have been a small, innocent-looking package. (If I’m wrong and this is a typical task for you, could you please post a comment?)

How did the paralegal obtain the cash? Was the package dropped off at the law firm, and did the paralegal deliver it because someone (not necessarily Mr. Allen) instructed her to do so? Did the paralegal unwisely show some unwanted initiative by delivering it without instructions to do so? Or, worst case scenario, did the paralegal take on a moonlighting job for someone on behalf of teenage defendant, without the knowledge of her employer?

The prosecutor’s office is taking a dim view of the cash delivery (and of the paralegal's intelligence in a best case scenario). “It could have been made perfectly innocently — to the extent you can carry around $100,000 in duct tape,” said Assistant Attorney General Michael O’Toole. “The paralegal could have been completely clueless if you give the benefit of the doubt. It’s a very large benefit.”

The article raises interesting ethics question as well. If a client delivers obviously suspicious bond payments to a law firm, what are the attorneys’ ethical obligations? What is a paralegal supposed to do if told to deliver a large package of money that obviously looks like it was buried?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Search for Paralegal Jobs at Lawjobs.com

Leave no stone unturned when seeking work, whether it’s networking in person or on the Internet, or using different job search engines to explore job opportunities. Even if you have not graduated yet, you should still regularly research employment opportunities in the area where you plan to search for work. If you live in an area of the country where paralegal jobs are few and far between and are able to consider relocation, research the availability of paralegal jobs all over the country at lawjobs.com.

As of today, there were numerous paralegal and legal assistant jobs listed at lawjobs.com. The listed jobs are in almost every specialty area with private law firms, corporations, non-profit organizations, and the federal government. Membership at the site is free. Benefits of getting an account include the ability to post your resume, job alerts, a Career Center and salary information. Lawjobs.com also has a special report “The Layoff List” which provides up-to-date information regarding “employment shifts” at major firms.

Don’t limit your job search to lawjob.com, but add it to your list of sites to review regularly, especially if you’re researching the possibility of relocating.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

List Post: What Not to Do if You’re Having a Bad Day

I wasn’t going to post at all today, because I directed all of my obsessive compulsive urges and creative energy towards setting up and photographing my entries to the ABA Journal’s “Peeps in Law Gallery”, which I anticipate (and am a bit concerned) may be my greatest contribution to the legal profession.

But I had to post because I am doing Australian blogger Darren Rowse’s (also known as ProBlogger) “31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge”, and Day Two’s homework is to write a “list post”. I thought about making up some lame excuse such as “I ate too many Peeps to blog today” but my inner “Miss Type A” went ballistic at the thought of being a quitter on the blog challenge after just one day. Darren says (in essence) that “list posts” are popular in part because readers want their content delivered really fast.

So here’s my list of things not to do if you’re having a bad day at the law office (which isn’t entirely unheard of in a mostly deadline-oriented, procrastinator-attracting profession):
  1. Don’t quit. Remember who has to bring home the kibble, and keep your dog’s picture right beside your computer monitor.
  2. Don’t vent by drafting an e-mail with what you’d really like to say, because you might accidentally hit send, and everyone knows you really can’t withdraw an e-mail after it’s been “rung”.
  3. Don’t say what you’d really like to say. Just zip it for 24 hours. It won’t seem nearly as witty or profound in the morning.
  4. Don’t shriek and slam your boss’s door so hard that the entire building shakes. It will attract undue interest, and if you aren’t terminated, your co-workers will still be gossiping about the incident five years later.
  5. Don’t forget to breathe. If you didn’t plan to get out of the office for lunch, get out – even if you just go through the Sonic drive-thru. Take a short walk outside and take a few deep breaths. Bring another framed picture of your dog to work tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Primo Paralegal Shoutouts

Californian Laura Alvarez graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies from Kaplan University on March 17, 2009. (She tweeted!)

Michigan paralegal Suzanne Tyria has been hired by Kluczynski, Girtz & Vogelzang in Grand Rapids. (Grand Rapids Press)

NALS of West Michigan elected: Annette Jeltema, of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, president; Lisa Boyd, of Legal Aid of Western Michigan, vice president; Cameo Johnson, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, secretary; Karen Elgersma, of Varnum Riddering Schmidt & Howlett LLP, treasurer; Sherri Bowden, of Clark Hill PLC, governor; Rebecca Quimby, of Warner Norcross & Judd, first alternate governor; and Janette Olexa, of Warner Norcross & Judd, parliamentarian and second alternate governor. (Grand Rapids Press)

Victory Christian Center School in Charlotte, North Carolina, won the 2009 state title in the Wade Edwards High School Mock Trial Competition hosted by the North Carolina Advocates for Justice on April 4, 2009. The 8-member team will compete in the American Mock Trial Invitational in May 2009. (The Charlotte Observer)

North Carolinian Lorie Pacheco, who is working toward a paralegal degree at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, is among 20 community college students nationwide selected for USA Today’s 2009 All-USA Community College Academic Team, which includes a $2,500.00 cash award. Ms. Pacheco lived on the streets for two years, and is now a passionate advocate for the homeless. (USA Today) Star-News Online also did a great feature story about her, "From homeless to top honors, CFCC student shares gift".

Chippewa Valley Technical College paralegal instructor Linda Oliver has been recognized as the Wisconsin Association for Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year. (Leader-Telegram)

Got good news? Please let Practical Paralegalism help you share it! You can e-mail association or individual news to lynne.devenny@gmail.com.