Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Today's Quote: I Have a "Paraprofessional" Headache

“Paraprofessional is a generic term and may refer to any and many professions, such as paraprofessional legal assistant. We lose the sense of the profession when we shorten it. By using paralibrarian, the profession is clearly explained.” ~ Allison Sloan, LJ Paraprofessional of the Year, as reported by Library Journal's editorial "Not Yet Equal"

Paraprofessional legal assistant? Please say it ain't so.

As if there are not enough difficulties already trying to figure out the differences, if any, between the terms legal assistant and paralegal, now we have to deal with the word paraprofessional, which according to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary means "a trained aide who assists a professional person."

Does this definition bother anyone else? I consider myself to be a professional person, too.

What about "a trained professional person who assists and is supervised by another professional person with a more advanced degree in a specialty area?"

Seriously, how do you feel about paralibrarian? Do you want to be called a paralawyer?

Source: Library Journal

SEALA Elects 2010-2012 Officers

The Southeastern Association of Legal Assistants, in Savannah, Georgia has elected the following paralegals as officers for 2010-2012:

  • Mary Jo Stottlemire (Lasky Law Group) - President

  • Crystal Nichols, CP (Oliver Maner) - Vice President

  • Lisa Shinaberry, CP (Harris Penn & Lowry LLP) - Secretary

  • Donna Gilliland, CP (Oliver Maner) - Treasurer

  • Eunice Bolen (Bart Meyer and Company) - NALA liaison

Congratulations to these dedicated individuals for their commitment to the paralegal profession.

Sources:; Savannah Morning News

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Using Social Media - Without Letting It Take Over Your Life

Most legal professionals are aware that social media is changing the way we learn and communicate, but I still hear too many of them say they are reluctant to use it.

When I ask colleagues why they aren't using social media, some respond that that they fear becoming overwhelmed by the potential distractions and a seemingly unlimited information stream. Others worry that they're already investing too many hours in their professional lives and wonder how they can add social media – without sacrificing quality time, both at work and at home.

Using social media doesn't have to become a second job or a digital addiction, like video gaming or Farmville. Social media includes professional networking sites and law blogs (or "blawgs") which provide the latest legal news, technology and practice tips. But too many legal professionals still aren't using these invaluable interactive Internet resources.

It’s almost impossible to keep up with the rapid-fire changes in the way that we learn, practice law and network without using social media. But you can effectively manage your usage to keep up with the latest trends in your specialty areas and the ever-evolving technology that makes practicing law more efficient and economical - as well as to market your own expertise within the legal and wider community.

Here are a few ways that you can start using social media for career development, and have it add to the quality of your professional life:

  • Limit the time that you use it. Set aside specific times for social media activities, such as catching up on your favorite professional blogs and checking in on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. A quiet hour on a weekend is a great time to catch up on your blog reading and to get inspiration from some of the greatest legal minds in the country. Taking a mid-morning and mid-afternoon break at work to quickly review your Twitter stream can be as stimulating and enjoyable for your mind as getting out of the office and taking a quick walk around the block is for your body.

  • Use an RSS reader. Set up an RSS feed reader to subscribe to your favorite professional blogs, but limit your subscriptions to start with, to no more than a dozen blogs. An RSS ("Really Simple Syndication") feed reader is news aggregation software that publishes updates from websites that you designate, including blogs and news headlines, in an easy-to-read format. Using an RSS feed, such as one of the most popular and easy-to-use feeds, Google Reader, will insure that you don't miss any blog posts. You can read them at your convenience, as well as tag and label your favorites for future reference.

  • Comment on blog posts. If you find that you enjoy legal blogs, but don’t want to make the time commitment required to maintain a blog of your own, you can still be a part of the blogging community. Develop your professional network and share your expertise by leaving comments at others' blog posts that interest you. If you have information that you want to share, without committing to a weekly writing schedule, offer to do a guest post for a blog that matches your professional expertise. Most bloggers love to have other talented professionals that they can count on for occasional guest posts.

  • Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. Check your LinkedIn account at least once a week. Post an updated status report about a professional activity you're involved in, and contribute to a group discussion if you have information that is helpful. Extend contact invitations to other LinkedIn users that you’ve met during the week, physically or virtually, and consider extending invitations to people you may not have met, but whose work you admire, such as authoring an article you found helpful. (But state the reason for the invitation when you send it.)

  • Maintain a professional Facebook presence. Set up a professional profile on Facebook (or use your personal profile professionally, although this is trickier), and let your friends and colleagues know about it. Check on it at least once a week, and provide an update regarding your professional activities, or a link to a news article related to your specialty area. You never know when someone in your Facebook network will need legal services and be reminded by your professional page that your firm provides them.

  • Use Twitter as a news feed. Twitter offers extensive networking and learning opportunities for legal professionals. Even if you don’t have time to use it as a conversational or networking tool and don’t want to acquire many followers of your own, you can still use it as a learning tool. Limit the professionals that you follow on Twitter to a manageable number who tweet the information most helpful to you and your specialty areas. Use Twitter applications like TweetDeck or HootSuite (or mobile Twitter apps if you have a smartphone) to make Twitter usage more efficient, to easily follow the fast-moving Twitter stream and to set up multiple search columns for the topics that most interest you.

Social media used effectively won’t take over your life or chain you to your laptop an extra 30 hours per week, but it can enrich your professional life in ways that you never imagined. Don’t be afraid of it, and make a place for it in your life.

Today's Quote: Can You Get a Fair Trial If You're Sittin' on a Pew?

"I didn't want to be judged in a courtroom representing a specific religion. I felt they may be biased against me because I'm not part of the (Christian) group. I don't want to be found guilty in a prejudiced courtroom." ~ Carrol Roberson, a paralegal student at the University of Mississippi charged with disorderly conduct tells why he has filed a motion in city court to have former church pews removed from Southhaven Municipal Court.

I know you're not supposed to discuss religion or politics in a professional blog, but this whole thing started at Walmart, so this is an exception to the rules.

Source: Eyewitness News Memphis

See, Ma, Someone Besides You Does Read My Blog

This might be the best tweet I've ever gotten. Kevin O'Keefe is the CEO and Publisher of LexBlog, and tells the rest of us blawgers how to do it right at his blawg, Real Lawyers Have Blogs.

Real paralegals have blogs, too, even if their puzzled moms don't stop asking them why they don't just "write something real, like John Grisham."

But I know my mom's proud of me. She does keep the textbook I co-authored with my boss, Griff Morgan, Workers' Compensation Practice for Paralegals (Carolina Academic Press, 2008) on her coffee table, where I'm sure it makes a delightful conversation piece. Those dread Medicare Set-Asides can be quite the source of engaging repartee. (Not.)

I'm definitely putting this tweet on the shelf with my Medal of Awesomeness from Social Media Law Student.

Related Post: Using LinkedIn: It's a No Brainer (Inspired, not stolen from Mr. O'Keefe)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Today's Quote: It's a Zoo Out There

She misses the challenges her paralegal work provided but said she would enjoy the public interaction at the zoo. ~ Nebraska paralegal Billie Mattern, as reported by the Omaha World-Herald.

There are days when I can see how my 20-plus years of paralegal experience would make me well-qualified to work at a zoo, maybe in the bears' den...

Is a Secretary Gonna Get Blamed for This, Too?

When I saw this caption at Above the Law in the post "Unclassy Action Lawsuit?" I couldn't help but wonder if some poor legal secretary got blamed for this, er, typo - or misspelling the plural of a word that Urban Dictionary says is a synonym for "Hoochie Mama"...

Moral of this Story: Beware of using your spelling and grammar check only when proofreading, because the computer thinks it's okay to leave a garden tool or some alleged Hootchie Mamas in your legal document.

Related Post: Secretary's Mistake Blamed for $1.26 Billion Dollar Judgment

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Practical Paralegalism's Recommended Reading This Week

One of the many reasons I blog for paralegals is to share information they may find helpful for professional development (or a much needed laugh during a hectic week working with lawyers). Once a week I share links to a half dozen or so articles focusing on legal news, practice tips and technology - plus a good laugh or two.

Here's this week's recommended reading:

"Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny E-Discovery" ( - There are many helpful links in this article about the need for smaller law firms to master e-discovery issues.

"Free Online Law Review Research" (Adjunct Law Prof Blog)

"Basic Etiquette for Email Lists and Forums" (Lifehacker) - I love listservs for legal professionals, when people play nice and remember that thousands of other users may be the recipients of their posts.

"Using LinkedIn to Help You Find Work as a Lawyer" (Small Firm Business) - Many of the recommendations apply to paralegals and legal assistants, too. I firmly believe that all of you should have an up-to-date, fully completed LinkedIn profile.

"Conviction Upheld Despite Judge's Exit Due to Secretary's Canasta Game" (ABA Journal) - C'mon, guys, it only took him six minutes to get his own letters out.

If you've seen an article or post that you think is helpful to other paralegals, I'm happy to share the link - just email me at

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bankruptcy and Litigation Still Hot Legal Specialty Areas

Robert Half Legal has issued a press release with the results of its latest specialty area survey question answered by 300 attorneys from large Canadian and U.S. law firms and corporations.

In response to the question, "In your opinion, which one of the following areas of law will experience the most growth in the next three months?" 32% of the respondents said bankruptcy and foreclosure, and 22% said litigation.

"Economic conditions continue to fuel demand for specialists in bankruptcy and litigation," said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal. "These specialties are broad in scope, since they are not restricted to specific industries or client types. Their wide reach, combined with the complex financial issues that individuals and businesses face, may result in ongoing demand in this area."

Volkert added that the need for legal professionals is especially strong within small-to-midsize firms. "The uptick in litigation for insurance defense, personal injury, labor and employment, medical malpractice, and foreclosure is driving the need for experienced professionals in these areas," he said.

Robert Half Legal offers a Salary Calculator at its website, which I tested by checking the salary of a senior level paralegal working for a law firm of 10 or fewer attorneys in my zip code, and the salary range, $43,750 - $55,500, was accurate. I recommend trying it yourself for your demographic area, level of experience, and law firm size.

Charles Volkert was also the guest expert on The Paralegal Voice at Legal Talk Network's first monthly podcast, "New Hiring Trends in the Paralegal World." He was very generous with his experience and provided a great deal of helpful information about the specialty areas and skills in the greatest demand. I recommend that you check out the free podcast, if you haven't already.

Source: PR Newswire

Paralegal Hooked on Competitive Cooking

It's no secret that the Editor-in-Chief and Head Bottle Washer at Practical Paralegalism is an uninspired cook who is very lucky to be married to a man who loves to try new recipes. Otherwise, our family would have cereal or Happy Meals every night for dinner.

So I was really impressed (and maybe a little jealous) of paralegal Laureen Pittman, employed by The Teresa Rhyne Law Group in Riverside, California, who is a regular on the national cooking contest scene, including the 44th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off to be held in Florida this spring. Her recipe for Herb Chicken Sliders with Raspberry Mustard is among the 100 finalists competing.

The grand prize for the winning recipe? $1,000,000. (I think I got the right number of zeros.)

The 46-year-old mother of two reports her love of cooking began with her dad and now has blossomed into "real food."

"I love comfort foods. I like to cook everyday dishes and add something to make them stand out. For instance, I make a killer meatloaf that has carrots in it (it's a great way to keep the meatloaf moist and get the kids to eat veggies!)."

Pittman's dream is to meet Emeril. She has competed in Good Morning America/Emeril's Comfort Food for the Coast, Good Morning America/Emeril's Best Burger Ever Challenge, and the Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Showdown.

The names of the recipes Pittman has submitted for national contests are mouth-watering, including Upside Down Apple Caramel Biscuits, Orange Chipotle Cream Sauce, and Honey Peppered Pork Burger with Fresh Peach Relish. (I need to find these recipes for my husband.)

Practical Paralegalism commends Laureen Pittman on her successful competitive cooking and wishes her the best of success at this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Paralegal and Gates Millennium Scholarship Winner Pursues Education Despite Obstacles

California paralegal Maria Ruiz has not had an easy life. As a child born to an impoverished family, she was picking and carrying 80-pound sacks of citrus fruit at 11 years of age. But she set her goals high and in high school won a Gates Millennium Scholarship, which is awarded based on financial need, academic achievement, community service, and leadership potential.

In 2006, Ruiz graduated with a degree in paralegal studies from the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California. She "is finishing up her last general-education courses before transferring to Fresno Pacific University to pursue her bachelor's degree." Then she hopes to attend law school.

I hope you'll read the inspiring feature story at the Visalia Times-Delta about this amazing and hard-working paralegal who continues to pursue advanced education, even while caring for a young son with a serious chronic illness.

Practical Paralegalism wishes Maria Ruiz the very best for her future success in her continued studies and academic achievements. She's an excellent role model not only for the paralegal profession, but also for working mothers raising their families while going to school.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Word to the Wise about Online "Legal Assistant Certification"

Who can resist an article entitled "Become a Legal Assistant and Never Worry About Job Security Again"?

Not me. The article shows up in a Google news search for "legal assistant." Some readers might think this is real news.

But I'm going to encourage newbies thinking about getting a paralegal degree to take Joel McLaughlin's article with a big grain of salt. And not only because it's essentially an advertisement for one online degree program.

In the first paragraph, McLaughlin repeats, "As a legal assistant, you will never worry about employment again." In a down economy, we're all concerned about employment if we have any sense, and if McLaughlin has kept up with legal news over the past few years, he'll know that many lawyers and legal staffers have lost their jobs. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does project growth for the paralegal profession, these jobs are not easy pickings, like ripe fruit from low-hanging branches. There is stiff competition for every legal support staff position advertised.

But the statement that bothers me the most - because it is misleading to the uninformed - is "by obtaining certification online, you can be ready to go in to the job field in as little as eight months." He refers to "legal assistant certification" again later in the article.

Sure, you can get a paralegal or legal assistant degree or certificate online, with a value very much dependent on the reputation of the program and the quality of the training - but you can't become a certified paralegal or legal assistant without passing one of the voluntary national exams offered by organizations such as NALA, NFPA or NALS, or meeting the requirements in states that offer voluntary certification for paralegals.

Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, has a fantastic post "Why Should You Be Certified" at her blog which explains the enormous difference between having a paralegal certificate and being a certified paralegal. Be sure that you know the difference, not only when you're researching paralegal education, but when you're describing your own credentials.

Sources:; The Paralegal Mentor

Jury Decides Paralegal Had Fee-Sharing Contract with Attorney

Earlier this week I blogged about Florida paralegal Patricia Patterson's lengthy litigation against her former employer, attorney Laurie Goldstein, over whether she had an unethical oral contract to receive 10% of the legal fees from any cases she resolved.

According to, yesterday the jury came back with a decision at least partially in favor of Patterson. They found that she did have an oral contract for 2004 - but not for 2005.

Despite the jury's decision, Goldstein denies the existence of an agreement to share fees with a paralegal. How much is owed is an issue for another jury, but I'm assuming that Goldstein, who is adamant that she did not violate Florida Bar ethics rules, will appeal and continue to fight these allegations.

See also attorney and author Robert Mongue's excellent post about this case at The Empowered Paralegal blog.

Related Post: Paralegal Litigates Payment of Bonuses Per Alleged Oral Contract


Today's Quote: Can You Make Borsch?

When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, I decided it was time to open my own office in Moscow. In the beginning, my “firm” consisted of myself, a Russian lawyer, a paralegal (who cooked lunch) and a Panasonic fax/telephone with terrible service, The office was the quintessence of shabby, although I couldn’t complain: The rent was only $7 a month. ~ Peter Pettibone, The Moscow Times

In 1991, I thought I had it rough if I had to pick up lunch for everybody in the office from the corner deli.

This is a photo of a popular Russian dish, borsch, i.e. beet soup. The only way I would have been able to handle this recipe is if it had come in a can...

Addendum: Sometimes paralegal news has an odd karmic twist. Ohio legal assistant Suzanne Domer's black bean soup recipe is featured as "Soup of the week" at the Canton Repository.

Beans = good.

Beets = ugh.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Today's Quote: Model Says Paralegal Career Fattening

Or, It Pays a Whole Lot Better to Pick Up Men

"After majoring in theater in college, Eve worked as a paralegal, but the position drained her creativity and added the pounds." ~ "All about Amazon Eve," San Francisco Bay Guardian Online
So the 6'8" model ditched the desk job, got buff and now picks up men at the rate of $400 per hour.

Get your mind out of the gutter. She literally picks them up - and wrestles, boxes and otherwise physically dominates short executive-types who have a thing for getting their butts kicked by an Amazon woman.

Hmmm, something to think about while you're sitting at your desk, steaming mad because an attorney just asked you (again) at 4:55 p.m. to stay late and copy several hundred pages of exhibits he forgot he needs for a hearing tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Paralegal Litigates Payment of Bonuses Per Alleged Oral Contract

How would you like to receive a 10% bonus from all the legal fees that your firm earned from cases that you worked on? It'd be a sweet deal if you could get it (especially in writing), albeit unethical. But Florida paralegal Patricia Patterson claims she had such a deal. reports that Patterson sued her former employer, personal injury attorney, Lauri Goldstein, over nonpayment of over $87,000 in bonuses that she contends are owed pursuant to an oral contract. The parties are in court again, having litigated this issue for the past four years. A judge initially found in favor of Goldstein, ruling that such an agreement would not be enforceable because it violates ethics rules regarding fee-sharing with nonlawyers. However, Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal overturned the summary judgment, stating that if such a bonus arrangement existed it would be enforceable, even if it violated fee-sharing rules.

This litigation over unpaid wages is particularly notable in that Patterson alleges she had a compensation agreement based on a percentage of legal fees earned and is trying to recover a significant amount of money, while at the same time implicating Goldstein in a payment scheme that violates ethics rules prohibiting lawyers from sharing legal fees with a nonlawyer. An agreement to compensate a paralegal with a percentage of legal fees earned from specific cases would not only be unusual, but unethical.

But I'd think if there is little evidence of an oral contract, and this comes down to mainly a "she said she said" scenario that Patterson's credibility may be a problem, since she admitted falsifying her application to get the job.

He also noted that on her resume, Patterson lied when she wrote she held a Bachelor of Science degree and had completed the Fort Pierce Police Academy.

Patterson admitted to adding the fabricated information to “beef up” her application.

“I should not have done that,” she said.

I've enjoyed a long career working for plaintiffs' attorneys who handle civil injury cases, and have been fortunate to receive bonuses in the past, but I've never been promised payment of a bonus in advance, not on any basis.

What about you? Does your employer have a set bonus arrangement, based on other factors, such as years of service or a percentage of your annual salary? Or like Goldstein's attorney contends is the case for her firm, does your firm have a written policy that states any bonuses will be paid at its discretion?

Sources:; ABA Model Rule 5.4

Monday, February 15, 2010

What If Your Attorney Got Down in the Trenches with the Staff for a Week?

Mark A. Cohen, attorney and editor-in-chief of Minnesota Lawyer, poses an interesting hypothetical in this week's commentary for Finance & Commerce, "What if your boss spent a week back on the bottom rung?" After viewing the first episode of "Undercover Boss," the latest reality offering from CBS, Cohen wonders what would happen if a managing partner tried to sneak in among the rank and file.

In any case, the show got me wondering what would happen if we could apply the “Undercover Boss” concept to local law firms. It would, of course, never work in real life because even the biggest firms are small enough where the managing partner would be recognized by the rank and file. But what if it could be done?

Can you imagine the managing partner of a big, buttoned-down firm taking on the role of an anonymous entry-level associate? A paralegal? A legal secretary?

What would the managing partner learn about how these people are treated within the culture of the firm?

I’d tune in to see that.

I'd tune in to see that, too. What do you think the managing partner would learn?

And more important, even if you recognized the managing partner posing as the mail room clerk, would you share half of your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with him in the lunch room?

Source: Finance & Commerce

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Practical Paralegalism's Recommended Reading This Week

One of the many reasons I blog for paralegals is to share information they may find helpful for professional development (or a much needed laugh during a hectic week working with lawyers). Once a week I share links to a half dozen or so articles focusing on legal news, practice tips and technology - plus a good laugh or two.

Here's this week's recommended reading:

"IP Boutique Faces Suit Alleging Wage-and-Hour Violations" ( - 40 legal secretaries have filed a class action against Ohio law firm Turocy & Watson, alleging they were not paid overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to labor law attorney, Mark Tabakman, it's not an uncommon situation for law firms not to pay overtime. Know your rights under the FLSA. Here's the link to Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor.

"Trial PowerPoint Presentation Slides: How to Match How You Look with What You Say" (The Rung) - This post has very helpful tips for using PowerPoint at trial. This would probably be a good time to admit that my 13-year old daughter has been working with PowerPoint since the third grade, and can do things with it that I can only dream about...

"Search Tools" (Social Media Law Student) - Helpful sites for legal searches.

"No Talking, No Texting, No Tweeting" (The BLT) - The Committee on Court Administration and Case Management for the Judicial Conference of the United States "has endorsed a set of model jury instructions for district judges to help deter jurors from using cell phones, computer or other electronic technologies during their jury service."

"Crafting, writing and drafting a settlement demand" (The Namby Pamby, Attorney-at-Law) - Uh, paralegal students, don't really use this as a go-by for homework in your civil injuries class.

"Pick Up Public Speaking Tips From Your Dog" (Small Firm Business) - I have a number of CLE presentations over the next few months. Possessing more than my fair share of stage fright, sometimes the first five minutes of any speech I give are a bit harrowing. So I'm just going to pretend I'm my Welsh Corgi (and personal assistant), Phoebe - although her version of good eye contact is usually geared toward brainwashing us to feed her (again). If my future audience members start throwing breakfast bagels at me, I'll know I've mastered her powerful and compelling gaze.

If you've seen an article or post that you think is helpful to other paralegals, I'm happy to share the link - just email me at

Today's Quote: A Paralegal and Her Paper

The work never seems to end for Kathy Ralph. As a paralegal for Culpepper Law Offices, her days are filled with papers, boxes, and a whole lot of files. ~ KIMA CBS 29

Although this news story at KIMA CBS 29 is about the "Big Demand for Paralegals" and the new paralegal program at Perry Technical Institute in Yakima, Washington, it also reminds people thinking about a paralegal career that they better love paper - or make sure they get hired by a paperless office.

Source: KIMA CBS 29

Michiana Paralegal Association's 2009 Paralegal of the Year

Indiana paralegal Kim Muske-Lynch, employed by Indiana Legal Services in South Bend, has been named The Michiana Paralegal Association's 2009 Paralegal of the Year.

At its site, the association describes Muske-Lynch's outstanding contributions to the paralegal profession and to her community:

She was nominated by both a fellow paralegal and attorneys at Indiana Legal Services who describe her as a paralegal who “has exhibited unparalleled professionalism and initiative,” and who “works tirelessly and seemingly effortlessly to help ensure that all clients receive the high-quality legal representation that they deserve and desperately need.” Ms. Muske-Lynch is also described as a “crusader for the less fortunate in our community.” She has been a member of Michiana Paralegal Association for two years and currently serves as Secretary and newsletter editor.

The association also announced its 2010 board of directors as follows:

  • Kathy Rubio-Hudgins, Hammerschmidt, Amaral & Jonas, South Bend, President

  • Pam Paluszewski, city of South Bend, NFPA Primary

  • Marilyn Yoder, Warrick & Boyn, Elkhart, Treasurer

  • Kim Muske-Lynch, Indiana Legal Services, South Bend, Secretary

  • Susan Seagrove, Pfeifer, Morgan & Stesiak, South Bend, Harriett King, and Debra Miller, Standing Chapter 13 trustee, South Bend, Voting Directors

  • Howard Whetstone, Indiana Legal Services, South Bend, Associate Director

  • Vicki Caturla, Law Office of Morris Rosen, South Bend, Student Director

  • Wanda Miedema, Elkhart, Past President/Board Adviser

Congratulations to all of these individuals for their appointments to the board.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lawyer Gives Legal Secretary's Son a Kidney

And she isn't even his legal secretary. She works for another lawyer in the firm.

Several major blawgs carried this story last week, but I want to bring it to your attention in case you missed it. In part, because lawyers get enough bad press as it is, as well as to show that there are many amazing lawyers out there who care about their colleagues - and are much more generous than those many commenters at ATL's annual holiday open thread, who groused about giving their secretaries gift cards.

But I don't know if any lawyer could top this gift.

Attorney Matthew Deffebach, a partner at Haynes and Boone in Houston, Texas, donated a kidney to legal secretary Iva York's son, Mitch. Other attorneys in the firm also underwent testing to see if they were a match.

Elie Mystal over at Above the Law did such a great job covering this story, that I recommend you read his post in full.

Sometimes employers try to sell themselves to prospective employees by saying, "We'll treat you like family here." But Haynes and Boone has raised the bar on treating employees like family.

Sources: Above the Law; Texas Lawyer

Paralegal Supervisor Wins Gates Cambridge Scholarship

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship allows outstanding students from outside the United Kingdom to further their studies at the University of Cambridge. The competition for both admission to the university and the award itself, which includes the full cost of study, air fare and a living allowance, is fierce.

But one of our own, Emily Gladden, a Paralegal Supervisor employed by Federal Defenders of New York - Southern & Eastern Districts, is among the 29 Americans selected to receive the prestigious scholarship.

Gladden, who is from Princeton, N.J., plans to pursue an M.Phil. degree in criminology at Cambridge University’s Clare College. She is particularly interested in young and first-time offenders, reducing recidivism and improving rehabilitation efforts.

For more information, see Gladden's "New Scholar 2010" profile.

Congratulations to Emily Gladden for her outstanding academic achievements to date and receipt of this distinguished award from Cambridge University.

She is an excellent role model for our profession, and an inspiration to anyone seeking higher education. To paraphrase Dr. Suess, "Oh, the places this paralegal will go!"

The Paralegal Voice: The Power of Paralegal Education

The latest episode of The Paralegal Voice, “The Power of Paralegal Education”, is now available at Legal Talk Network.

Education is vital to a successful paralegal career. On this edition of The Paralegal Voice, co-host Vicki Voisin welcomed Linda J. Wolf, ACP, the current President of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and Attorney Elizabeth Mann, Department Head of the Paralegal Program at Greenville Technical College, to focus on the importance of paralegal education. Discussion also focused on entering and growing in the career field, as well as what employers look for when hiring paralegals.

In this episode:

  • Why a paralegal career is still a good choice, even in a tough economy

  • Proficiencies and personal qualities necessary for career success

  • Trends in employer expectations re: education and certification

  • How to position yourself to enter higher-paying specialty areas

  • Why the paralegal field is an excellent choice for a second (or third) career

  • Where to locate information about paralegal salaries and trends

  • NALA’s Breaking News about its certification program

The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Teris, West Deposition Services, Clio and NALA, The Association for Legal Assistants/Paralegals.

To listen to this episode, follow this link.

To download this episode to your MP3 player, follow this link.

Here are a few links to additional paralegal career resources:

If you like The Paralegal Voice, please share the link with your friends and colleagues.

Do you have a request for a future show topic or a question for the hosts? Please send it to

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Else Can You Do With a Paralegal Degree? Be a Risk Management Technician

In response to my post "What Else Can You Do With a Paralegal Degree?" I had several readers submit additional job titles, including Gary Smalling who graciously agreed to tell us about his job.

Name: Garald "Gary" Smalling

Job Title: Risk Management Technician

Employer: City of Tigard, Oregon

Degrees: Working on Paralegal degree from Penn Foster College (1/2 way finished)

Prior Work Experience: 20 years, US Navy Occupational Health & Safety Officer

Job Duties: Research laws, federal and state OSHA regulations; manage the safety program; investigate incidents; prepare and file auto, property, liability and workers' compensation claims; prepare materials for insurance adjusters and attorneys; respond to discovery; prepare case notebooks; file for restitution from the court and from persons who damage City property.

What do you like best about your job?
Always something new to learn and do. (I have been here for 12 years)

Do you have any tips for legal professionals interested in getting into risk management?
Be familiar with health & safety, know the insurance and tort requirements where you will work.

For those interested in learning more about risk management, do you have any recommended websites?
Insurance Institute of America, PRIMA and many more.
Do you have a related job that utilizes your paralegal training and/or experience that you'd like added to the list, or that you'd be willing to share with Practical Paralegalism readers? If so, please email me at

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is "Paralegaling" a Verb?

This quote in a query, "Am I being too honest in my job applications?" to a British career advice column at Legal Week caught my eye:

I am due to start my training contract in September with a medium-sized City firm. Up until last year I had been paralegaling for 14 months, but had to resign due to the bereavement of my parents who were retired in Australia.

I don't get out much. I've never heard of anyone paralegaling before.

So I did a quick Google search, and while I didn't find it in a dictionary, I did find several British quotes using the word, such as:

"After a year or so of paralegaling, some traveling, and other adventures, I decided on the Peace Corps."

"Sometimes, people view paralegaling as an alternate way into the legal profession."

"Paralegaling is fine providing it is related to your pupillage." (Uh, righto.)

Also, apparently "there's no crying in paralegaling!" (If you need to be reminded, click on the photo to order the mousepad.)

Today's Quote: Writing Briefs Pays Better Than Robbing Banks

His boss at Cockle, Trish Billotte, said she had some misgivings about hiring Mr. Hopwood. It was hard to believe his story, for starters, and it struck her as curious that an aspiring paralegal was driving around in a Mercedes. ~ "A Mediocre Criminal, but an Unmatched Jailhouse Lawyer," The New York Times.

I understand that writing briefs can be lucrative but I've never been offered a car, much less a Mercedes.

This story is a great read. Omaha paralegal and aspiring law student Shon Hopwood was a bust at robbing banks but discovered an extraordinary talent for writing briefs while serving time in federal prison.

Source: The New York Times

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Resourceful Paralegal Can Handle Any Sticky Situation

Stephanie Elliott-Park, a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal employed by Gray, Layton, Kersh, Solomon, Furr & Smith, P.A. in Gastonia, NC, generously shared this funny photo of her helping out her supervising attorney, Bill Moore, before a trial.

Stephanie said, "This falls under the 1001 things I've done as a paralegal, including picking gum off my boss' pants!"

I know this wasn't an easy job, especially when you're in a hurry and changing clothes isn't an option. All of the gum removal tips I found on the Internet involved ice cubes (or conversely, boiling water), egg whites, peanut butter and dull knives - none of which are usually included in my trial supplies.

What's the funniest thing you've ever had to do as a paralegal?

Related Post: Paralegal Profile: Stephanie Elliott-Park, NCCP & Instructor at UNCC

Tulsa County Bar Association Offers Associate Membership to Paralegals

The Tulsa County Bar Association has officially recognized the importance of its area paralegals and legal assistants. Effective January 1, 2010, they can apply for associate membership, a non-voting status that allows them to participate in continuing legal education seminars offered by the group.

Per the TCBA Paralegal Membership Form available online, applicants must meet the following requirements:

A legal assistant or paralegal who meets the Oklahoma Bar Association's Minimum Qualification Standards for Legal Assistant/Paralegal dated 9/15/2000 (as it may hereinafter be amended) may become a legal assistant/paralegal member of the Corporation (TCBA) upon filing an application with the Board of Directors, together with evidence that the applicant meets at least one of the Oklahoma Bar Association's Qualification Standards, and paying the applicable dues. A legal assistant/paralegal member may not vote or hold office of the corporation.

This is a great opportunity for Tulsa paralegals and legal assistants to expand their professional network and educational opportunities.

In addition to joining active paralegal associations, paralegals and legal assistants should strongly consider joining their local and state bar associations, if they are eligible for associate membership. Working with attorneys on committees and attending some of the same CLEs gives paralegals a chance to interact with attorneys outside their own firms more frequently and to become a more visible part of their legal community, as well as market themselves and their firms.

Plus, the new attorney relationships that paralegals make can become invaluable if they are seeking work in the future, either with a new employer or as a self-employed independent paralegal.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Judge Says Disabled Legal Assistant Can Use Aids During Bar Exam

California legal assistant, Stephanie Enyart, employed at Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, is legally blind due to macular degeneration, but that has not stopped her from pursuing a successful career in the legal field, including graduating from law school last year.

But she had to resort to litigation to get the National Conference of Bar Examiners to allow her to use assistive technology to take the bar exam. The conference offered a human reader and a scribe instead. reports that U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer granted her an injunction, which will allow her to use "a combination of magnified text and a software program that reads portions of the text aloud" during part of the exam. She uses this technology in her work as a legal assistant.

Judge Breyer said, "A disability should not prevent an individual from pursuing their dream, if that's what it is of practicing law."

Enyart talks about the necessity of doing things differently when you "have a different set of abilities" and the need for other legal professional mentors with disabilities in this short video:

The American Bar Association spotlighted Enyart in February 2008 with a terrific article about her law school career, which included helping establish the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities.

Enyart takes the bar exam on February 23, and I am wishing her the best of success on the exam and in her career. She sounds like she would make a tremendously compassionate, resourceful and determined lawyer.

Sources:; The Los Angeles Times

FBI Hiring Thousands, Including Paralegals

The St. Louis American has published a detailed article about the FBI's hiring plans for 2010, including 2,000 professional support staff positions nationwide. Paralegals - and other positions that people with paralegal backgrounds and education may qualify for - are listed.

Why is the FBI hiring so many people?

To fill vacancies left by people who retire.

The article provides detailed information as to how to apply, including links.

But don't just focus on support staff positions. Those of you with bachelor's degrees, who are between 23 and 36 years of age and have legal, accounting, foreign language and technology backgrounds might be interested in applying for one of the 900 Special Agent positions available.

Source: The St. Louis American

Friday, February 5, 2010

How to Describe a Paralegal

Philadelphia paralegal Mary L. Creekmore has written an excellent article for, entitled "Top Essential Skills and Assets for Paralegals." This is a must-read, especially for anyone thinking about embarking on a paralegal career.

It takes a special person to meet the demands of a paralegal career, and Creekmore describes some of the traits that person must have to succeed in detail, including:
  • The ability to set priorities and multi-task
  • The ability to anticipate what needs to be done next
  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Flexibility
  • Resourcefulness
  • An aptitude for technology

A copy of this article should be given to every brand new paralegal student.


Parish Paralegal Supervisor Loses Job

This is an update to my January 23, 2010 post, "Parish Paralegal Supervisor's Qualifications Questioned."

Apparently her qualifications and her job duties were questioned and found wanting.

FOX 8 News and several other local media sources are reporting that Karen Parker has been fired from her job as a Paralegal Supervisor for Jefferson Parrish in New Orleans. She earned a generous $64,000 per year for the position, although FOX 8 reports that she actually worked in a different department "doing clerical work and taking pictures of new employees."

But she wasn't the only one fired. For a puzzling account of several other employees who also held the job title "paralegal" and were paid out of the parish attorney's budget - but worked for other departments - see the full story at FOX 8 News.

One employee told FOX 8 he had no idea he was a "paralegal" - he thought he was employed as a sports commentator.

Source: FOX 8 News

Practical Paralegalism Survey: Finding a New Job Is a Popular Resolution

At least among the 74 readers who kindly answered the survey.

There are all kinds of reasons to look for a new job, including career advancement, better pay and benefits, a more amenable working environment and/or relocation. With layoffs in the legal sector slowing down, this is not a bad time to keep an eye on the paralegal want ads, if you think you need a change.

I'm happy to see that the second most popular response is getting more involved in paralegal associations. They provide excellent opportunities for networking and continuing legal education, but they need the support of their members, not just via membership renewals - but by active participation on the various committees that provide leadership, education and community service.

What's my 2010 resolution? To acquire new technology skills.

What's yours?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

N.C. Bar Association Seeks Social Media Director

I know some of you are a little skeptical about social media and its place in the professional world.

Tell the truth.

You think it's a fad, although you agree there may be real need for intervention for Facebook users who spend more time with their Mafia Wars families than their real families. My own mom nearly fainted from shock when she found out Senator John McCain twittered.

But social media is real. And people get paid to do it.

So you'll understand why I can't wait to tell my mom that the North Carolina Bar Association is looking for a "new assistant director of communications for community outreach and social media" (per the bar's weekly e-bar).

Here's the social media part:

As a manager of social media, with external and internal responsibilities, the job also includes: (1) identifying influential opportunities; (2) engaging audiences online; (3) helping develop a social media strategy anticipating the evolution of social media; (4) helping to set the tone, philosophy and strategy for Web 2.0 activities across departments; (5) focusing on connecting results to association objectives; (6) tracking results of digital media engagement; and (7) assuming responsibility for social networking web sites for members.

Sometimes it feels good to say "I told you so" - again.

Paralegal Loves Coming to Work at MedStar Health

With so much bad news about layoffs and hiring freezes, including in the legal sector, it's a real pleasure to read Baltimore Magazine's article "Best Places to Work 2010," especially paralegal Mary Cierkowski's story about how her employer, Medstar Health, helped her move up the corporate ladder.

Eight years after joining the company, Cierkowski became a student, using MedStar's tuition reimbursement program to pay for studies toward an AA degree, and later earned paralegal certification. "I couldn't have done it if it weren't for them," says Cierkowski, who is now a legal department manager. She says the work she does today is "something I never dreamed I'd ever be capable of doing 20 years ago."

In addition to educational assistance, it looks like this company has some killer health insurance benefits, a key benefit to take into consideration when paralegals are evaluating job offers.


Paralegal Profile: Bonnie Ruffin, NCCP, Business Owner & Gardener

Job Title: President

Employer: Ruffin Consulting, Inc., Wilson, NC

Years of Paralegal Experience: 20

Specialty Areas: Personal Injury, Worker’s Compensation

Career Highlight: Working as a senior litigation paralegal for a large law firm in downtown Dallas, Texas

Paralegal Practice Tip: Learning to manage deadlines is essential!

As a successful business owner, what advice do you have for paralegals interested in starting their own businesses providing legal support services?
Set clear goals as to what type of service(s) you want to provide and then research and investigate to ensure there is a market for what you are offering. Additionally, be sure you have a source of income while building your business as it does not happen overnight.

Favorite Internet Resource:

Favorite Legal Software: LexisNexis people search for locating witnesses. Once you have learned how to utilize this tool you can locate almost anyone or their parents.

Fun Fact: I love gardening. My greenhouse is a wonderful addition to my backyard for preparing plants for my garden.

Do you Twitter? Not very often.

Favorite Quote: “Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Social Media 101: A Bit of Fun with a Meme

No, That's Not a Typo, and This Is Not About Me. Well, Maybe a Little...

This is a post for silly people who need a wee mental health break while working for lawyers.

Why is it in a paralegal blog? Because Susana (@madeinkowloon on Twitter), a paralegal, tweeted this fun diversion or "meme", which is how I found out about it. (I understand it's circulating like wildfire on Facebook, too.)

This post also includes a dictionary. You know I'm all about some good grammar.

And here's the educational social media part for those of you thinking, "Get to the point. What in the Sam Hill is a 'meme'?"

According to Wikipedia's free encyclopedia, a meme is "a phrase used to describe a catchphrase or concept that spreads quickly from person to person via the Internet, much like an esoteric inside joke."

Example: The Urban Dictionary Meme.

It's simple. Just go to and type in your first name, and see what comes up.

For example, when I typed in Lynne, I learned that I am a freakin' "goddess of attractiveness and super intelligence" and that I have "super cute feet."

Sometimes a paralegal needs to hear that she's the "most lovable type of girl in the whole world" (even if it's not strictly true) when she's having a high stress day at work.

You know you can get a custom Urban Dictionary mug with your favorite slang term and definition on it. I'm thinking about getting one with the other definition of Lynne, i.e. "that dark mysterious thing that flys past yu...yup its a shadow ninja..."

Example of usage:

hey! wheres my cheese?
Shadow ninja lynne took it =D

"Shadow ninja Lynne" - I like it. It'll go great with my "You're a Lawyer, Not A Deity." mug.

What's your fave Urban Dictionary definition for your name?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Toronto Paralegal Accused of Scandalous Conduct in Litigation

A recent Law Times story "Judge tosses 'scurrilous' claims against lawyer" makes a thought-provoking (if somewhat complicated) read, especially since the "scurrilous" claims were made by lawyer's former paralegal and law clerk, Domenic Rosso.

Superior Court Justice Helen Pierce, in a decision awarding costs last month, specifically condemned Rosso’s pleadings and an affidavit that exceeded 40 pages and was teeming with allegations about his former boss’ professional behaviour and personal life.

“A lawyer’s reputation is delicate. He or she works a lifetime to establish it. It can be shattered in a moment by careless or vengeful pleading, as was attempted in this case,” Pierce wrote in 1013952 Ont. Inc. et al v. Sakinofsky et al.

Gavin Tighe, counsel for one of the parties, describes the multi-claim litigation as "like a Russian doll" but I'll try to summarize it briefly. (See also the October 9, 2009 "Reasons on Motion to Dismiss Third Party Claim" in this case, which contains a thorough discussion of the reasons the case was initiated - and the limitations of the applicable malpractice insurance coverage.)

Silverado Restaurant and Nightclub sued its insurance company, when questions arose about a fire.

Over a year later, Silverado's suit was dropped due to "delays."

Displeased with that outcome, Silverado sued its own counsel, Julian Sakinofsky of Lende Sakinofsky & Associates, for professional malpractice.

Julian Sakinofsky turned around and filed a third party claim against his paralegal/law clerk, Rosso, "blaming him for dropping the ball on the file."

(Remember, this is Canada, and in this particular instance, the malpractice policy did not cover law clerks, paralegals or legal assistants. If you're a U.S. paralegal, you can't be sued for legal malpractice - as opposed to practicing law without a license. But your supervising attorney can do other unpleasant things, like fire you or blame you publicly.)

Rosso responded by filing counterclaims against Sakinofsky and his former junior associate, Joseph Gouveia, plus Sakinofsky's new firm and his malpractice carrier, Lawyers' Professional Indemnity Company (commonly known as "LawPro").

But the court focused its ire on Rosso's behavior during the course of litigation, including finding that the junior associate was not responsible for supervising his boss - and granted him "substantial indemnity costs based on Rosso's conduct."

In a nutshell, Judge Pierce dismissed a number of claims against parties sued by Rosso, and issued a blistering condemnation of the inappropriate personal nature of many of the allegations against Sakinofsky contained in Rosso's pleadings.

According to the article, Rosso has counsel, Hartley Isenberg, and has appealed the decision.

I haven't seen the pleadings, but when a judge uses the words "scurrilous" and "vengeful" to describe them, they sound like a lesson in what not to do when drafting allegations in a lawsuit.

But who was responsible for the offensive, and per the court's view, unnecessary personal attack in the pleadings? Will Rosso will sue Isenberg next?

Sources: Law Times; Canadian Insurance Law Blog