Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Working Girl Wednesday: I'm Every Paralegal

It's spring break, and the best part is that I have the car all to myself this week, even if the teens are eating me out of house and home. This means I get to listen to the oldies station, where I sing along to every song. Because I'm an oldie and I get caught up in the joy of remembering all the words.

So I'm singing off key as loud as I can to Chaka Khan belting "I'm Every Woman" and then it hits me. This is our song (stay with me, this is like our holiday I didn't know about). Seriously it's about us, if we just change the title to "I'm Every Paralegal" (and sing the extra two syllables really fast).

Just follow along with the slightly edited lyrics - and a few explanatory asides:

I'm Every Paralegal

I'm every paralegal, it's all in me [because I do everything around here]
Anything you want done, lawyer
I'll do it naturally [because I do everything around here]
I can read your thoughts right now [you want me to stay late and copy exhibits]
Every one from A to Z.

I can cast a spell [over the jammed copier]
With secrets I can't tell [maintaining client confidentiality]
Mix a special brew [our sixth pot of coffee]
Put fire inside of you [by reminding you the SoL expires in two hours]
But anytime you feel
Danger or fear
Instantly I will appear, 'cause [you called me into your office to add to my to-do list]

CHORUS

I can sense your needs [with our great case management software]
Like rain on to the seeds [of your to-do list]
I can make a rhyme
Of confusion in your mind [oops, sorry about that typo]
And when it comes down to old fashioned love [of my mad skills and the legal field]
That's what I've got plenty of, 'cause

CHORUS (Sing it, my sistas & brothas!)

I ain't braggin' 'cause I'm the one [I am, a little]
You just ask me ooh and it shall be done
And don't bother to compare
'Cause I've got it
I've got it, I've got it, yeah

I'm every paralegal (repeat and fade)

Whew, dontcha feel good? No? Mebbe you need to go get in your car, play this song so loud that the windows shake, and work it out Chaka style.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Everything's Better with Wings


Relax, it's just in the concept phase. But it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Source: Mashable

Sock It To Me

Send out a plea for socks for soldiers and what do you get?

Over 1,900 pairs.

Lauren Koster and Lauren Keating, two New Jersey attorneys and law clerks (for the Cumberland and Salem County Courthouses respectively), have far exceeded their "modest" goal of collecting 500 pairs of new tube socks. (I think 500 is a lot of socks. I speak from personal experience because I have at least 500 in my house, sans mates.) Jeannette Pace, a paralegal employed by Russell & Russell in Millville, offered the law office as a local collection center. They're still accepting socks.

A quick Google search revealed several programs knitting or collecting socks for soldiers, but if you'd like to simply purchase new socks and have them sent directly to soldiers in Afghanistan, check out Fox Rivers Socks for Soldiers program. They carry specialized socks, including military boot socks, and have a wish list for soldiers. You buy the socks and Fox River pays the shipping.

I know I've had days when a clean pair of socks made all the difference in the world (and I have easy access to a washing machine).




Monday, March 29, 2010

Video: Another Paralegal Saving the World

Although this video about paralegal Susan Hu's work for the Center of Constitutional Rights was made by MTV in October 2007, it's still a must-see for legal professionals interested in civil rights work and Guantanamo Bay in particular.





Today, there are lawyers all over the country still performing extensive pro bono representation on behalf of the remaining detainees.

Attorney General Eric Holder praised the lawyers representing the detainees during a March 19, 2010 speech before the Pro Bono Institute, including the following excerpt:


"As you all know, advancing the cause of justice sometimes means working for the sake of the fairness and integrity of our system of justice. This is why lawyers who accept our professional responsibility to protect the rule of law, the right to counsel, and access to our courts -- even when this requires defending unpopular positions or clients -- deserve the praise and gratitude of all Americans. They also deserve respect. Those who reaffirm our nation's most essential and enduring values do not deserve to have their own values questioned. Let me be clear about this: Lawyers who provide counsel for the unpopular are, and should be treated as what they are -- patriots."


I'm proud to work for two of those attorneys, Robert "Hoppy" Elliot and J. Griffin Morgan.


Sources: YouTube; NPR

The Importance of a Paralegal's Writing Skills

The latest episode of The Paralegal Voice, "The Importance of a Paralegal's Writing Skills", co-hosted by Vicki Voisin and me, is now available at Legal Talk Network.

Sally Kane, Editor-in-Chief of Paralegal Today (formerly Legal Assistant Today) and Editor of Litigation Support Today, is the featured guest. An experienced legal professional and freelance writer who has published hundreds of articles in print and web-based media, Kane discusses the importance of writing to a paralegal's career.

In this episode:

  • Paralegal Today's mission to provide career, technology and news to paralegals

  • Why it is beneficial to paralegals to get their writing published

  • How paralegals can get published, including the different venues available today

  • How to submit an article proposal to Paralegal Today

  • Writing problems common to paralegals - and how to fix them

  • Practice and social media tips from Vicki and Lynne

The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Teris, West Deposition Services, Clio and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).


Here are the links mentioned in this podcast:


If you enjoyed The Paralegal Voice, we would appreciate it very much if you would share the link to the podcast with your friends and colleagues.

Do you have a request for a future show topic or a question for Vicki and me? We welcome your email at TheParalegalVoice@gmail.com.

Note: If you are actively employed in a litigation support and/or litigation support management position, you can get a free one-year subscription to Litigation Support Today.

Today's Quote: This Is Way Worse Than A Wedgie

"It was going fine until the snake decided he didn't want to play with me and climbed down my pants. I was doing stomach undulations and it decided to go south. I ended up having to leave the stage." ~ Debbie Scheel, a Houston legal assistant and belly dance instructor, describes a "technical difficulty" associated with a belly-dancing incident.




I really enjoyed reading this article about Scheel's passion for belly-dancing. I've gotten to do a few belly-dancing moves in Zumba classes, and they're a lot of fun.

But while I'm not afraid to hold a snake, I'm afraid I'd fall off the stage and into the orchestra pit if a live snake went south.

Compared to that, I bet nothing rattles Scheel in a fast-paced law office.

Source: Ultimate Woodlands

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Practical Paralegalism's Recommended Reading This Week

I blog for paralegals to share information they might 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 and humor, practice tips and technology.

Here's this week's list:


"Facebook Friending Around the Office" (Lawyerist) - I'm friends with my boss on Facebook (but it poses little risk as he rarely uses it). Once I congratulated another one of the partners on his daughter's brand new engagement over the weekend, and he asked me how I knew. "I saw the ring and status update on Facebook." Duh.




"There's an app for that..." (Frugal Paralegal) Margaret avoids monthly data plan fees by using an iPod touch to run those cool free iPhone apps.

"15 Deadly But Often-Made Resume Blunders to Avoid" (ResumeBear) - So you think nobody in the legal profession would make these mistakes? I see piles of resumes every year. Think again.

Favorite Practical Paralegalism post from this time last year: TwitterBox Update: Show Your Mama Raised You Right by Completing Your Profile

The Perfect Paralegal Tool

You know how a paralegal, like MacGyver, is supposed to be able to fix anything, anywhere - whether it be the office copier, the Power Point projector, or the gum on your supervising attorney's pants - even if he or she only has a rusty paper clip?

Well, Victorinox knew there was a market for The Perfect Paralegal Tool and created a USB/Army knife (I know that phrase looks wrong but it's right).




Tucked away with insane precision are a removable 32GB USB drive with fingerprint authentication, laser pointer, and Bluetooth remote control for your Windows-only PC or laptop presentations. Yep, key ring and scissors too. It even features a blade to fight off your enemies and a file to scrape away any fingerprints after the deed is done.


I'ma be mad if one of these isn't in my Christmas stocking.



Sources: Engadget

Friday, March 26, 2010

Will These Guys Cut Your Grass or Your Legal Fees?

One way to keep your grammar skills razor sharp (even if your motivation is never to be the butt of one of their glaring grammatical error posts) is to subscribe to several "grammar police" blogs. Two of my favorites are The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks and Apostrophe Catastrophes.

Occasionally, you even get a legal gem delivered right to your RSS reader, like Apostrophe Abuse's March 25, 2010 post "Attorney's At Lawn".
Whew, I'm pretty sure that no legal secretaries were involved in this typo or personal branding.

On Meeting The Paralegal Mentor

I don't think I adequately conveyed in my blog post about attending the North Carolina Paralegal Association's wonderful annual conference last weekend how seriously excited I was about finally meeting Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, even though I've known her virtually since October 8, 2008.

That's right, I know the exact date, same as I know the exact date I met my husband.

While we were both posting on a national paralegal listserv, Vicki noticed my professional signature which includes the book I co-authored, Workers' Compensation Practice for Paralegals (Carolina Academic Press, 2008) and sent me an email to say she owned a copy.

As she was one of exactly two people that I knew who had bought it, I promptly visited her website, The Paralegal Mentor, and then emailed her back with an agenda, because I was the desperate publications co-chair for a state legal assistant division at the time. Vicki's site looked like a gold mine to someone always begging paralegals to write for the newsletter. I asked her if we could re-print one of her articles, and she said "yes."

Inspired by Christine Parizo's former blog, A Paralegal's Blog, and Jeannie Johnston at ParalegalGateway, I had started this blog, but had not opened it for public viewing yet. Meeting Vicki online and seeing her website, as well as her prolific writing, offerings for paralegal education, and tremendous advocacy for the paralegal profession, gave me the courage to hit the "publish" button and join the blawgosphere.

And Vicki is the inspiration and the driving force behind Legal Talk Network's first monthly podcast for paralegals, The Paralegal Voice. She kindly invited me to participate in one of her Mastermind calls in early 2009, and after the call, said, "We should do a podcast together." I'm not even going to pretend that I knew how to do a Mastermind call, a teleclass or a podcast at that time. But Vicki dreams big, as she urged us to do in her keynote address to NCPA, and made it happen.

So, if I look a little overly excited in this picture, I was literally meeting my paralegal mentor for the first time (I think of her as my personal mentor, just as all of you likely think of her as your personal mentor :) Vicki Voisin has opened so many doors for other paralegals, and continues to inspire us every day with her big dreams.

First Post: Why Another Paralegal Weblog?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Legal Secretary Files Wrongful Termination Suit, Alleging Work-Related Panic Attacks

Many legal professionals are suffering under the weight of crushing workloads, especially after layoffs and hiring freezes. Some people manage, with complaints that the quality of the final work product is not as good, while others slowly decompensate, dreading work every day, but are stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to function effectively but unable to afford the loss of a paycheck. Others quit under the stress - or get fired.

Law.com is reporting that Nancy Topolski, a former legal secretary at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, based in Seattle, Washington, filed a wrongful termination suit against the BigLaw firm after she was fired in November 2009 - allegedly because she suffered panic attacks after she was assigned to support a fourth attorney, Greg Chaimov.

The suit includes an allegation that Chaimov "had a tendency to wait until the last minute to give assignments to Plaintiff, which ended up causing projects to be rushed and completed to standards lower than Plaintiff desired."

I bet I'm not the only legal professional with an over-flowing in-box and 500 unanswered emails, thinking that you'd like to have that statement cross-stitched, framed and hung over your desk.

The article includes input from Patricia Infanti, the new president of NALS, who discusses the affect of layoffs on remaining staff and truthfully says that some people handle the increased workloads better than others.

As a long-time employee of a SmallLaw firm that specializes in labor and employment law, representing the worker or the "little guy," I see many employers try to defend these actions by alleging just cause as a legal basis for termination. But Topolski was valued enough to survive the earlier layoffs, so it might be hard to prove that her work performance was not satisfactory up until the point that a fourth lawyer was added to her load. She says she became completely overwhelmed and reached out for help, and instead of support, experienced a mental health crisis and got fired.

Sure, I've seen some of the unsympathetic opinions denigrating her ability to handle the last-minute deadlines common to law firms. But I suspect there are plenty of legal professionals out there, suffering severe anxiety or panic attacks in response to rapidly mounting caseloads with no end in sight - who can relate to and sympathize with Nancy Topolski.

Source: Law.com

Today's Quote: I Find My Legal Staff Want Ad Soul-Sister

Help wanted: Careless, unprofessional legal secretary with sloppy appearance to work for grumpy, hack lawyer in third-rate firm. No need for good communication skills or ability to work well under pressure. No one here talks to anyone else, and we work at a snail's pace.

Finally, someone is telling The Truth in a want ad about life in his or her law firm.

Not. This is an excerpt from The Assistant-at-Law's March 25, 2010 article for Texas Lawyer, "What Job Postings for Legal Staff Often Lack."

I sort of have a girl-crush on The Assistant-in-Law, and am thrilled that she has an email address so I can cyber-stalk her, or maybe just send her a LinkedIn invite...

Another favorite quote from this article:

The cardinal sin of legal-assistant recruiting is listing the faults of the employee who previously held the position. A recent posting admonished: "Do not bring drama to the office. Do not ask attorneys in the firm to help with your legal issues. Do not gossip. Bring a good work ethic."


She's right. Veteran legal support professionals aren't impressed by hyperbole, and using the word drama from the get-go is usually a deal-breaker. But darn if those cardinal sins don't contribute to one of my favorite hobbies, reading hilarious Craigslist ads for legal staff.

Know someone responsible for writing the job postings for your firm - who could use a bit of guidance? Leave a copy of The Assistant-at-Law's article (anonymously, of course) in his or her chair.

For a list of Practical Paralegalism's posts about some awesome want ads gone awry, enter "Craigslist want ads" in the blog search box at the right. I get many of them from readers, so if you run across one that makes you laugh so hard you pee a little in your pants, then I'm your girl ;)

Another Post about The Assistant-at-Law: "Dealing with Micromanagement: Don't Become a Zombie"

Paralegal Association of New Hampshire Announces 2010 Board Members

The Paralegal Association of New Hampshire (PANH), a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), has announced its new Board of Directors:

  • President: Aniko Bouley, CP

  • Past President: Stacey Peters

  • Vice President: Jennifer Emery

  • Secretary: Sharon Willier

  • Treasurer: Catherine Allard

Bouley received the New Hampshire Bar Association's 2008 Paralegal Professionalism Award. Follow this link to see PANH's full slate of officers and committee chairpersons.

I am including the following excerpt from Bouley's President's Message posted at PANH, because it's a great message for all of us:

...No matter what you do, where you work, or where your journey takes you, the choice is yours to make it better. Look beyond the negatives and look for opportunities that can change you! You are the only one who can make a difference in your own life and by doing so, the rewards will follow.

Consider “paying it forward” by mentoring a paralegal student, or take the CP or ACP examination, or even better, join the Board of PANH to promote the paralegal profession and share your ideas. Whatever you decide, wherever your journey takes you, I believe that you will be pleased.


Congratulations to PANH's new board members and committee leaders. As a member of several executive boards myself, I know that this kind of service demonstrates a serious commitment to the paralegal profession and the legal community - and also, as Bouley's message emphasizes, that those committees need and welcome helping hands from members. Service on executive boards and committees is a wonderful way to get to know other paralegals and to contribute to your paralegal association.

Sources: Nashua Telegraph; PANH

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Metadata 101: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

By Beverly Michaelis, J.D.

Metadata is data about the data, or as forensic expert Craig Ball once called it, “the electronic equivalent of DNA.” It describes attributes and characteristics of the information contained in electronic files. It can be relatively benign: file name, date stamp, time stamp, size, or type of file created. Or it can reveal potentially compromising details, such as revisions, embedded comments, and where the file is stored on your computer.

What Does it Look Like?

To see metadata firsthand, right click on any file in your computer and choose “Properties.”

In this example, I altered the properties image to redact the file location. Normally, the document name and file path would be visible. This view illustrates what can be seen under the “General” properties tab in a Microsoft Word document. More metadata waits under the “Custom” and “Summary” tabs.

While all electronic files contain metadata, word processing documents represent the greatest area of concern for most law offices. It’s easy to see how a Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect file might contain sensitive, confidential, or even privileged metadata. And what can’t be seen under properties is easily revealed using a metadata viewer.

Ethical Considerations

Only 12 professional responsibility committees in the United States have taken a position on metadata, and the reviews are mixed:

What is the Sender’s Duty When Transmitting Metadata?
All 12 jurisdictions require attorneys to use reasonable care to “avoid providing electronic documents that inadvertently contain accessible information that is either confidential or privileged, and to employ reasonable means to remove such metadata before sending the document.” The American Bar Association takes the same position.

May the Recipient Review Metadata?
Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Washington D.C., and West Virginia restrict or prohibit the use of metadata by the recipient. Pennsylvania approaches the issue on a case-by-case basis. Colorado, Maryland, and Vermont permit data mining or review.

Must the Recipient Notify the Sender if Metadata is Found?
Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington D.C., and West Virginia require notification (under varying circumstances). Maryland does not. Alabama and Maine have not addressed the issue.

What Should I Do?
  • Know the rules that apply to you. If your firm practices in a jurisdiction that has issued a metadata opinion, follow the requirements of your jurisdiction. A detailed chart is available from the American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center.
  • Encourage your firm to establish a metadata scrubbing policy. Even if not required, best practices dictate that metadata be removed from documents prior to transmission. This is the best way to protect sensitive, confidential, or privileged information.
  • Master document revisioning tools. Nothing is more embarrassing than e-mailing a document you believe to be in “final” form only to find out from the recipient that redlining or track changes are still on and all your edits or comments are visible. Read more here about how to tackle this in Word.
  • Learn how metadata is handled by your word processing application. To save a document without metadata in WordPerfect X4, choose File, Save without metadata. When the “Save Without Metadata” dialog box appears, select the metadata to remove. In Word 2007, click on the Office Button, select Prepare, then Inspect Document. Always make a copy of your document first, as using Word’s document inspector can produce unintended results (like deleting all your headers and footers). If you are a Word 2003 user, download the free “Remove Hidden Data” add-in from Microsoft’s Web site.
  • Do not rely exclusively on your word processing application as a cure-all. Neither WordPerfect nor Word scrubs all metadata away. Try this test: publish or save a “metadata-free” document to PDF, then open it in Acrobat Standard or Professional, version 8 or higher. Select Document, Examine Document…Oops! Acrobat just found more metadata. If you are tempted to click “Remove all checked items” in Acrobat, stop! Click the “Learn more” button first, or you may be in for more unintended results.
  • Consider commercially available metadata scrubbers, such as Javacool’s Doc Scrubber or Payne Consulting’s Metadata Assistant (my personal favorite).
  • If all else fails, remember you can always print, then scan your document. The scanned version can be safely transmitted without metadata. This may not be the most sustainable solution, but it works well if you don’t have access to other tools.


_____________________

Beverly Michaelis is a lawyer and practice management advisor with the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund. You may follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/OreLawPracMgmt. Her blog is http://oregonlawpracticemanagement.wordpress.com/

**Beverly recently was a terrific and informative guest on an episode of the monthly podcast, The Paralegal Voice, at Legal Talk Network. She discusses practice management, technology and current ethics issues for paralegals in "Practice Management and Ethics Issues, Plus Choosing a Litigation Support Vendor."**

Vanity Fair Re-Writes Erin Brockovich with Universal Health Care

Vanity Fair wryly poses the theory that universal health care would have ruined the plot lines of several well-loved movies, including Erin Brockovich, in "Why Health Care Reform is Bad for Movies."


And what about Steven Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed Erin Brockovich, which gave Julia Roberts her long-coveted Oscar? Sure, Roberts’s plucky paralegal could still have discovered the massive industrial cover-up of a poisoned water supply. But universal health care would have quickly and efficiently treated the community's afflicted inhabitants, after which point they would gently scold the captains of industry not to do that again over hugs and cupcakes. Then, three leaky nuclear reactors would’ve been built 50 feet from a kindergarten—but who cares! Chemo’s free, kids!

I think we're still a long way from free chemo.


Source: Vanity Fair


Paralegal Profile: Daphne Drescher, Freelancer & Blogger

Job Title: Freelance Litigation Paralegal

Employer: Drescher ProParalegal (Self-employed), Sonoma, CA

Years of Paralegal Experience: 20+

Specialty Areas: I’ve worked in most areas of litigation at one time or another, with recent emphases in complex litigation, intellectual property, and securities.

Career Highlight: Starting my own freelance business has to come first. In addition, I’ve had several opportunities to facilitate training seminars and assist in presenting MCLEs, primarily in discovery matters. I really enjoy teaching and mentoring others in the profession.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Never stop learning!

What made you decide to go out on your own as a freelance paralegal?
For me, there were two primary factors: professional development and growth, and a lifestyle change. First, I felt the rate of growth I was able to achieve as a senior paralegal in large law firms was slowing down, whereas becoming a business owner/entrepreneur would open up a whole new world of things to learn. I find this quite exhilarating! And second, I wanted more autonomy, more control over my schedule, and the ability to explore my other interests – not just as hobbies, but as possible additional business avenues as well.

Do you have any suggestions for other paralegals thinking about freelancing?
Do some soul searching, and be quite certain that you need to be in business for yourself in order to be happy, or fulfill your career goals, because it’s tough getting a new business going! Then do as much research as you can, and go for it!

What do you like best about being a freelance paralegal – and least?
I love the variety of people and variety of cases I encounter, as well as the greater flexibility in my work life. And I enjoy having to flex new muscles -- having to network, market and sell my business. Least favorite things are the anxiety that accompanies those slow periods, and that same marketing and selling – I admit I have a love/hate relationship with all of that!

Favorite Internet Resource: The sites I use most are Google, Google Reader for my RSS feeds, and Twitter, for all the useful information people share on it. I also do a lot of research on FindLaw and PLoL.

Do you use social media resources, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, for career and/or case development?
I have a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account, and I write a blog about my experiences as a new business owner. I’m really enjoying the professional connections I am making through each of those channels. I have a Facebook account as well, but use that for family and close friends, rather than business.

Fun Fact: I have a passion for all things wine and food related. I write another blog related to cooking, wine and entertaining. (http://sonomasip.blogspot.com/) I’m hoping to develop these interests into another small business in the near future.

Favorite Quote: Rather than a quote, it’s a Seth Godin blog post called You Matter: I hung it on my office wall, and read it almost every day.

Professional Links:
Website: http://www.proparalegal.com/
LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/daphnedrescher
Freelance blog: http://sonomafreelance.blogspot.com/
Twitter handle: @DaphneDrescher
_____________________________
I can't tell you how much I appreciate Daphne and all of the other paralegals who have taken the time to complete Practical Paralegalism's profile questionnaires and share not only their wide-ranging specialty areas and diverse backgrounds with us, but also their practice tips, advice and favorite Internet resources. But I would love to have profiles from more of you. If you're interested in sharing a little about yourself, your job and your experiences with the many legal professionals and students who read this blog, please email me at lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Wee Ethics Tweet: Talk to the Hand



I know my paralegal peeps (marshmallow and otherwise) can relate. I should probably schedule this tweet to pop up every four hours via HootSuite...

Related Post: Twitter: It's NOT About What I'm Doing Right Now;

Monday, March 22, 2010

Today's Quote: I Don't Do Windows...Yet

"One surprise about my new job is: I'm expected to vacuum." ~ Michigan legal assistant Ivy Jiggens talks about starting over in the legal field and taking a $20,000 a year pay cut, after accepting a buyout from her former newspaper employer.


Jiggens gives insightful answers to Michigan State University visiting journalist Joe Grimm's career questions, and talks about the reality of starting over in the paralegal field as a second career. She's working on a second bachelor's degree in Eastern Michigan University's ABA-approved paralegal studies program at night, while working full-time as a legal assistant.

Are any of you expected to vacuum - or do windows?

Source: PoynterOnline

Related Post: Stuff They Never Told Us We'd Have to Do in Paralegal School

Practical Paralegalism Goes to NCPA's 30th Annual Meeting & Seminar

I'm still energized from spending the last weekend with an amazing and dedicated group of paralegals, members of the North Carolina Paralegal Association, Inc. They celebrated the organization's 30th anniversary with an outstanding continuing education conference from March 18 - 20, 2010, held at the beautiful Holiday Inn Resort in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. I was fortunate enough to both present "Preparing for Workers' Compensation Mediations and Hearings" (including how to present value lifetime disability claims) and attend for CLE credit.

I'm not going to re-cap the entire conference, although I tried to share highlights of the excellent information presented via my Twitter feed @ExpertParalegal. (You can click on the RSS button and add me to your RSS reader if you don't want to actively tweet). You can also search the hashtag #NCPA10 in Twitter for tweets about the conference. NCPA has a Facebook group as well.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from some of the conference presenters:

"I appreciate all that you do and your talents," said Judge Ola Lewis, who presented "An Ethical View from the Bench."

"When I see a piece of paper, it doesn't mean anything to me - I want to see where it came from," said Giovanni Masucci of National Digital Forensics during his presentation, "Digital Evidence Is Involved In Your Case: So What's the Next Step?"

"You need other paralegals; you need those friendships to succeed," Vicki Voisin The Paralegal Mentor emphasized during her keynote speech. Although we've worked together on various projects over the last year, including our monthly podcast, The Paralegal Voice , at Legal Talk Network, this was actually the first time I'd met her.

"Networking is not about keeping score - it's about helping people out," said Debbie Lawrence of Huseby, Inc. Litigation Support during the presentation she gave with Camille Stell of Lawyers Mutual, titled "Trends Affecting the Paralegal Profession: A Discussion of Challenges and Solutions."

"I don't know why ya'll invited lawyers to talk to you; you should be inviting YOU to talk to you," said attorney David Parker during his HIPAA presentation (with attorney Leighton Roper), after he consulted with his paralegal, Jenny, who was in the audience.

"You are a hero if you pull someone's mobile phone out of the toilet and dry it out," said attorney Lee Rosen during his "60 Technology Tips in 60 Minutes" presentation with attorney Scott Allen.

Of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't share a picture of the awesome chocolate mousse pie we had for dinner on Friday night.


I know that times are tight and many of us are trying to economize on CLE by going virtual, but sometimes you need the positive energy generated by a large and lively group of other enthusiastic paralegals, and a major annual paralegal conference is just the place to get it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today's Quote: I'd Rather Be Eaten by a Dinosaur Than Be a Paralegal

"I hate my job. More specifically, I hate being a 24-year-old paralegal. I took this job almost two years ago as a precursor to law school and a career as a public defender, or at least that lawyer that gets eaten on the toilet in Jurassic Park. " ~ An excerpt from "Desperate in DC's" plea for advice from True/Slant's Ken Layne.




Layne's advice starts out as kind of a downer for would-be writers. I want to write, too. As a job! Already an insomniac, now I can worry myself awake into the wee hours wondering if I'm a blogging, Panera-eating, sad cliche, or a solitude-wasting Twitterer.

Nah.

I'm sorry that "Desperate" would rather be eaten by dinos than work in the legal field, but for me, I think I was born to be a paralegal, therefore I am. I write for work, and I write for pleasure, and I write about what I know, even if it's nothing fancy, just letters, motions and briefs that help injured people get what they need - and practical advice and news for those paralegals who like what they do (most of the time).

Maybe "Desperate" should apply his or her writing skills to an updated resume and cover letter, and see if a more satisfying line of work can be found.

Source: True/Slant

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 try to share links to a half dozen or so articles focusing on legal news, practice tips and technology - plus a good laugh or two. I know it's been a few weeks since my last "Recommended Reading," so this week's list is a little longer with much much shorter (or no) comments:

"Break the law and your new 'friend' may be the FBI" (Associated Press) This is a must-read for all legal professionals and their clients.

"Social Media: Access to job opportunities" (Alexandria Times)

"Six Tips to Get Past Job Search Rejection" (Monster)

"How the iPad will change the world" (Practicing Law in the 21st Century-A Law & Technology Blog) Want to win an iPad? See Alison Doyle's post "Win an Ipad: SimplyHired What's Your Dream Job? Contest" but the deadline's this Friday.

Check out this highly quotable Apple iPad commercial spoof. "HOT TUB!"



"Crunch and Share Your Numbers Online for Free with Cloud-Based Spreadsheets" (Business Hacks)

"Coming Soon to a Computer Near You: More Free PACER Documents" (Legal Blog Watch)

"Quick Tips to Help Your Law Office Run More Smoothly" (PracticeSmarter)

"Clown Shoes Were Defective, Woman Claims" (Lowering the Bar) I knew there was a reason why I don't own any clown shoes.

Favorite Practical Paralegalism post from this week last year: "Resume Objectives Which Make You Go Hmmm"

Texas Program Adds National Paralegal Honor Society Chapter

"Without good paralegals, our legal system cannot function." ~ Dr. Allatia Harris, President of San Jacinto College - North


San Jacinto College (SJC) in Houston, Texas held its first induction ceremony for its new campus chapter of the paralegal honor society Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX), which is founded by the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE).


“The creation of the San Jacinto College LEX chapter will help employers identify our truly outstanding students,” commented Ernest Davila, director of the SJC paralegal program. “Our program has been nationally recognized by the American Bar Association and statewide by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Recognition of our program by LEX as a national paralegal honor society further advances our national reputation.”


The admission requirements to LEX require a stellar academic record (3.50 GPA), but Ernest Davila, the director of SJC's paralegal program said that membership in the honor society can enhance students' careers.

LEX also offers annual competitive scholarships; applicants must submit a 500-word essay on a subject chosen by the scholarship committee. The deadline for this year's scholarship application has passed, but the 2010 scholarship essay question required applicants to analyze the legal and public policy aspects of a scenario involving same-sex marriage.

Congratulations to SJC for completing the charter requirements to add a LEX chapter to its program, as well as to all new LEX inductees this year. If you're a member of LEX or a LEX scholarship winner, Practical Paralegalism would love to hear from you.



Sources: Deer Park Broadcaster; AAfPE

College of the Canyons Paralegal Program Receives ABA Approval

Congratulations to College of the Canyons (COC) Paralegal Studies program in Santa Clarita, California, for its recent accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA) - becoming "the only ABA approved program of its kind in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys - and one of approximately 30 such programs in the state."

COC instructor Nicole Lucy discusses why the ABA certification benefits both the program and the legal community:



Lucy, the chair of the Paralegal Studies program, and Los Angeles attorney Gary Collis, are presenting a free academic overview and discussion "'Til Death Do Us Part: A Legal Perspective of Same Sex Marriage in the Golden State" at COC on April 21, 2010. Click on this link for more information. This is an excellent learning and networking opportunity, especially for area legal students and professionals.

Click on this link for a Directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs and this link for the General Approval Process Information.


Sources: The Signal; American Bar Association Standing Committee on Paralegals; Cougar News; COC News Release

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paralegal Profile: Jennifer Taylor Will Cook for Shoes

Paralegal Profile: Jennifer Taylor

Job Title: Senior Paralegal

Employer: Texas Regional Entity, Austin TX

Years of Paralegal Experience: 15

Specialty Areas: Commercial litigation, class actions & multi-district litigation

Career Highlight: Assisted on two cases argued before the Ohio Supreme Court

Paralegal Practice Tip: Always look at your calendar for the week ahead to keep on top of deadlines. Also, I’ve been called a good “nag” by the attorneys I’ve worked with.

Favorite Internet Resource: http://www.practicalparalegalism.com/ of course!! And I’m constantly amazed at the power of Google.

Favorite Legal Software: Summation

Fun Fact: I love to cook and started a cooking blog last year: http://jenniferwillcookforshoes.blogspot.com/

Do you Twitter? Yes
Twitter handle: @JenTaylor1015

Professional Link: http://www.linkedin.com/profile?viewProfile=&key=49259678&trk=tab_pro

_________________
Jennifer was one of the first paralegals I met on Twitter, and even though we've never actually met in person, through the power of social media, we've had some great virtual conversations. Please check out her blog, Will Cook for Shoes, including her recipe for Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes that seriously has me drooling - and jealous 'cause I'd never stumble upon high grade French chocolate in my pantry.

Also, earlier this year, Jennifer generously shared her job search experience with Practical Paralegalism in a helpful guest post, "A Relocating Paralegal Shares Some Tips for the Job Search".

Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me St. Patrick Is the Patron Saint of Paralegals?

I feel like such a fool. Here I am, descended from a long line of red-headed Irish Catholics (lapsed), running around in my green dress all day (which really complements my Red-Straight-from-a-Bottle-Because-I-Got-Cheated-in-the-Genetic-Lottery hair) - and not afraid to use my big old black metal Bates stapler in case someone tried to pinch me.

But I didn't know it was our day. Sure, earlier this week, I saw a tantalizing tidbit in "The Tech of the Irish" about IPhone apps that said, "There is also a live Twitter feed integrated as well as a newsfeed so you can see how everyone else is celebrating the patron saint of paralegals and engineers." I laughed it off until I kept seeing tweets referencing "our" patron saint.

So I looked it up on Wikipedia and boy, did my mouth hang open when I read:

American paralegals are also traditionally honored on St. Patrick's Day, and many employers give paralegals and legal assistants an exemption from work on March 17 so that they can celebrate the day of their patron saint.
Really? Did you get an "exemption from work" today? I didn't.

I didn't even get a bouquet of four-leaf clovers or a coupon for a free green beer.

Ah, well, then. Let's raise a figurative glass, and toast to our day:

May your glass be ever full,
May the roof over your head be always strong,
And may you be in heaven
Half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.


Best Reader Comment: "I wish I had known - I would have taken yesterday off as a religious holiday!" ~ HDK

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Maximizing Medical Summaries: Simultaneously Build a Patient Dossier

In any kind of litigation involving injuries, you have to get to know the patient or injured party very well, regardless of what side of the fence you are working on. Reviewing medical records is an excellent way to do that.

Do more than merely summarize and review medical records for causation, treatment and prognosis issues related to the injured party's current case. Make the most of your valuable review time to simultaneously create a dossier with key background information to fully flesh out the injured party's history, and to assist in litigation-related activities, including answering discovery, preparing for depositions and trial, valuing the case and drafting settlement proposals.

Medical records usually provide a wealth of detailed personal information about the injured party, including:
  • Marital and family status
  • Vocational history
  • Pre-existing conditions, including substance abuse and mental health status
  • Current and prior medications
  • Prior surgeries, significant injuries and serious illnesses
  • Life expectancy factors, including smoking, alcohol intake, weight and congenital conditions


As you are reviewing records for medical issues directly related to the case you are working on, keep an eye out for important background information. Include any facts that you learn about the injured party's background at the beginning of your medical summary, where anyone working on the case in your office can easily review them.

For example, the beginning of a medical summary which includes background information obtained from medical records could look like this:


Not only will you get to know the injured party very well, but your supervising attorney will be impressed with both your attention to detail and creation of a highly informative dossier that can be useful throughout litigation.

___________________________

If you would like to read more about how I review and summarize medical records for civil litigation purposes, including workers' compensation cases, my supervising attorney, J. Griffin Morgan, and I wrote a book, Workers' Compensation Practice for Paralegals (Carolina Academic Press, 2008), which includes an entire chapter explaining how to summarize medical records. There is an extensive discussion of the relation of medical records to the key issues of causation, treatment, diagnosis, prognosis, permanent impairment, ability to work and future medical needs relevant to any kind of civil injury claim, including personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice and nursing home negligence.

Related Posts: Legal Assistant Today's "The Bigger Picture" Legal Team Column; Paralegal Practice Tips: Evaluation & Acceptance of Workers' Compensation Cases

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Just Preparing Documents" Results in Felony Charges

"Just preparing documents" or engaging in the crime of impersonating a lawyer?

Nebraskan M.A. Yah, owner of Parental Rights in Omaha, has been charged this week with three counts of felony criminal impersonation, with more charges possible. Douglas County Judge Lyn White was not impressed with Yah's perhaps ill-advised statement in open court that his company "just prepares documents."

After telling Yah that he's not authorized to prepare legal documents (for which he charged clients $1,450), Judge White ordered him jailed, pending payment of bail in the amount of $40,000.

It's difficult to tell from online news articles exactly what kind of professional Yah is claiming to be. I can't locate a professional website for Parental Rights, and the titles paralegal or legal assistant - and most important, lawyer - don't show up in association with the name M.A. Yah. A county prosecutor told the court Yah has multiple aliases, but no evidence of a law license to date.

Already the recipient of a cease-and-desist letter from the Nebraska State Bar Association, Yah will be assigned a public defender to plead his case. That lawyer not only has to deal with Yah's statement that his company prepared documents in litigation matters, but also with Yah's previous run-ins with the law. According to Omaha.com, he's currently on parole for bank fraud.


Paralegal Named to State Board of Medical Practice

Congratulations to paralegal Debbie J. Boe, who has been appointed by Minnesota's governor to a four-year term as a public member of the state Board of Medical Practice (BMP).

Boe has a bachelor's degree from Mankato State University, where she double-majored in paralegal studies and law enforcement, and over 25 years of paralegal experience. She is employed by Gislason & Hunter LLP in its Minneapolis office. She also owns Debbie's Legal and Genealogical Services.

According to an excellent article, "A Guide to Disciplinary Proceedings before the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice," by Gregory Merz, J.D. for Minnesota Medicine, the BMP has 16 members, including 10 medical doctors and 5 non-physician public members and is "complaint-driven, meaning that the board undertakes enforcement activity in response to a complaint of specific misconduct...The BMP is required to investigate all timely complaints alleging a violation of the Medical Practice Act."

Boe's service on the BMP is both a great honor and a public service. With her extensive legal and investigative background, I have no doubt that she will be a valued addition to the board.




Today's Quote: March Madness or Morale-Building?



"It's probably a drain on things. But I think you make up for it with morale and people liking each other." ~ Sean Doran, a paralegal who has worked for several firms in Washington, tells FOXNews why he thinks office pools are still a good thing. But several other employees mentioned in the article were either issued warnings or fired for their participation in office pools.

Any March Madness circulating (quietly) around your office?

Source: FOXNews

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Peeps Make You Fart

For the second year in a row, the ABA Journal is hosting a really fun event for legal professionals with too much time on their hands and an insane love of dioramas: Peeps in Law Part Deux.

Really. Fun.

Like you should have seen how obsessively crazed I looked last year, up into the wee hours, trying to get my dioramas done by the deadline, running all over town to toy stores, constantly editing my drafts, and absent-mindedly munching on the exhibits until I suddenly realized they were all missing, er, just like working in a real law office...


This is serious journalism, folks. I can say that my writing has appeared in the ABA Journal.

Well, okay, at least my partially eaten Peep has.

Sometimes, when peeps (real ones) call me and invite me to speak at professional conferences (which just happened again on Friday) I'm like, "Uh, you did see the Peep thang, right? You still want me?"

Hope to see some of you in this year's Peeps in Law Gallery. I'll even share a practice tip: buy extra.

Paralegal to Speak at 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication

I believe it is critical for experienced paralegals to speak at educational conferences and share their knowledge, not only within the legal community but within the broader professional community as well. Paralegals often have advanced education and training, as well as strong oral and written communication skills, and they make excellent speakers.

Fellow North Carolinian Deborah "Debi" Welsh is a great example of a paralegal who gives generously of her time and knowledge. Welsh, currently serving on the North Carolina Advocates for Justice Legal Assistant Division Executive Committee as its Vice Chair, is speaking next week at the 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Louisville, Kentucky.



Welsh, who has a master’s degree in public administration and also is a doctoral student in technical and professional discourse at East Carolina University, will be presenting during the “Sites of Advocacy” session. Her presentation is titled “Using civic rhetoric and Foucault’s systems of discourse to advocate for elderly infirm victims of nursing home abuse.”

Welsh specializes in civil litigation at Lawyers East in Greenville, North Carolina, and is a passionate advocate for paralegals and education. Because written advocacy for seriously injured individuals is one of my primary job duties, I'd be very interested to hear the presentation myself.

For more information about Welsh, see her well done LinkedIn profile, and follow her on Twitter: @dparalegal1.



Paralegal to Appear on Law & Order: SVU

A Law & Order: SVU marathon is like television crack for me; I can sit in the recliner from sun-up to sun-down watching my favorite episodes - even if I've seen them six times before.

So it's pretty durned exciting to get to merge two hobbies, recognizing paralegals and watching Law & Order: SVU in the same blog post.

New York paralegal and former lawyer Jonathan Goldstein (stage name: Jonathan Miles) is making a brief appearance (10 words - he counted) on the show this week, playing an I.C.E. Agent.

Goldstein stopped working as a lawyer, even giving up his license, to focus on his acting career. He works as a paralegal because the career "pays decently, but it’s not going to tempt me to quit acting.”

At least he's not waiting tables while pursuing his dream. I know many paralegals who enjoy the stability of a regular paycheck and benefits while pursuing other passions, including advanced education and creative interests.


Source: The Birmingham News

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Paralegal Goes to Capital Hill and Meets Nancy Pelosi

Joan Russell, a paralegal employed by the Clayton County Public Defender's Office office in Jonesboro, Georgia, did not know that her 2009 bachelor's degree in Legal Studies from Herzing University would not only lead to a great job - but also to a personal meeting this month with one of her heroes, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

One of five Herzing University students and alumni selected to participate in the university's annual "Herzing on the Hill" trip to discuss "the merits of career education with members of Congress on Capital Hill," Russell unexpectedly ran into Pelosi and was so obviously excited to meet her that she was invited to ride with Pelosi in a service elevator for a longer conversation.

"I went to Washington D.C. in support of career colleges," Russell stated. "Career colleges, such as Herzing University, have played a major role in my life as well as my daughter's life. As a result of the education I received at Herzing, I am now working in my field with an excellent salary."
Russell's big smile, contagious enthusiasm and career success make her a great role model for the paralegal profession, and a terrific advocate for pursuing advanced career education.

Source: PR Newswire


Friday, March 12, 2010

Legal Assistant Happily Bitten by Vampire Fiction

Like those adults in the Frosted Flakes commercials, sheepishly admitting their love of the cereal well past childhood, I'm gonna 'fess up and admit that I read all of the Twilight books. It was hard not to after my daughters bought them the second they hit the stores, waxed poetic about that very polite vampire heart-throb, Edward, endlessly for months - and then left the books on the coffee table.

But Canadian legal assistant Tammy Turcotte not only admits to reading all the Twilight books, but also to writing interactive fan fiction for twilight.net. The site allows members to read existing chapters, and then add their own. (I'm happy to see they "edit posts for spelling, grammar, and clarity.")



Turcotte was initially a little embarrassed to fess up to her intrigue, but meeting others online quickly dispersed it. The genre attracts much more than so-called desperate housewives anxious to fill dreary lives with romance, but also brings into the fold the alter egos of many professionals.

"It really is incredible," said Turcotte, who is involved in judging online writing contests, as well doing some editorial work on the website. "Some are professional writers, there's also doctors, lawyers and psychologists, most are over 30, too.


One top-rated chapter at twilight.net "Alright, Who's Got the Dead Fish?" features an underwear-only clad protagonist examining a dead body and "what looks like a drying, or very near dry, trail of water, leading from near the corpse's feet to the closed door of the small room, and presumably beyond."

I have to sheepishly confess that I thought about adding a chapter instead of finishing this post.