Thursday, April 29, 2010

Paralegal Weighs In on the Lighter Side of Murder

I even got my own attention with this headline.

But seriously, for those of you who live in Los Angeles and are fans of corporate paralegal and mystery writer, Sue Ann Jaffarian, she's going to be at the Grant Brimhall/Thousand Oaks Library on Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 2 p.m. with Sisters in Crime (this sounds like a group well-worth checking out).

The theme is “Cozies and Comedies: The Lighter Side of Murder.” The public can meet authors who treat murder with respect, but with a funnier approach.

Jaffarian's latest book in the Odelia Grey Mystery Series, Corpse on The Cob, is available now.

Amazon shares the following review of the novel from Booklist:

Jaffarian returns to her Odelia Grey series following the release of her first Granny Apples mystery (Ghost รก la Mode, 2009). In this fifth novel featuring the plump California paralegal with one of the sharpest minds around, the mystery is a personal one, as Odelia tracks down her mother, Grace, who disappeared from her life 34 years ago. Odelia discovers that Grace is living in the small town of Holmsbury, Massachusetts, and, with great misgivings, decides she must confront her. Odelia travels alone to Massachusetts and accidentally reunites with her mother in a corn maze at an autumn fair. Unfortunately, she comes upon Grace crouched beside a bloody corpse. The surprises continue as Odelia discovers siblings she never knew she had and feels obligated to help them prove their mother innocent of murder. For much of the story, Odelia is on her own, working without the assistance of her various friends and husband Greg. The personal story makes this among the most satisfying novels in the series, but even so, readers will look forward to finding Odelia back in California, solving crimes that arise from her paralegal work. -- Judy Coon

I'm a little jealous of Odelia. The only crime I solved arising out of my paralegal work today was locating a "missing file" for an attorney - in the attorney's office.

Source: Agoura Hills Acorn

Related Post: Paralegal Profile ~ Sue Ann Jaffarian, Mystery Writer

Today's Quote: Here's Why Paralegals Have Trouble Making Friends on Facebook

"Then, I noticed that Facebook was suggesting people for me to 'friend'. People like my divorce lawyer's paralegal... and my plumber. I couldn't figure out where it was getting these people from, until I realized that Facebook had gone into my contact list in my email account. It was serving up every email address of every person that had a Facebook account. Not that I don't want to be friends with my lawyer's paralegal... but, seriously?" ~ Freelance writer Deb Manzella explains why she thinks Facebook is "sucking her identity."

Seriously, some of my best Facebook friends are paralegals.

(I wish I was friends with a plumber...)


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So You're Thinking About Starting a Blog for Paralegals?

My friend, Harold Weaver, who wrote a great guest post for Practical Paralegalism about landing his first paralegal job, is going to be speaking with Jeannie Johnston of at the Georgia Association of Paralegals (GAP) Paralegal Career Workshop on Saturday, May 15, 2010. Their topic is "So You Want to Be a Paralegal Blogger/Writer" and they will be sharing tips for better writing and how to get published.

A former journalist, Harold sent me some questions about blogging and writing for paralegals, and kindly allowed me to share the answers:

How you deal with ethical issues in running your blog (like avoiding UPL and ticking off clients)?
First, I don't practice law at Practical Paralegalism (or anywhere else). I don't hold myself out as a lawyer, give legal advice or offer to help anyone with legal issues. The few times I've been contacted by people wanting advice because of my blog, I always say, "I am not a lawyer. The best advice I can give you is to contact a local attorney who specializes in your type of legal issue ASAP."

Second, as tempting as it is to tell war stories every day - I don't. The same confidentiality rules apply to paralegals blogging - and posting anything online anywhere - that apply to our daily live interactions. I don't ever want to commit a breach of confidentiality, so I don't talk about our clients, which is different than discussing a task or event that happened during the day - in a professional manner. If I ever did write about a client for any publication, and sometimes you need to for a good cause, such as pending legislation which could impact victims' rights, I'd get my supervising attorney and the client's permission first. Lawyers sometimes share client stories in publications - with that client's permission, preferably via a signed release.

Third, never use your blog to complain about work. Never, ever publish negative information or feelings about your employer, a client, co-worker, opposing party, a vendor or any other professional in any social media venue, including Facebook or Twitter.

How do you avoid writing about things that might make your supervising attorney raise his eyebrows? Did you ask his permission or come to some kind of agreement with him before you started the blog?
Did you ask me this question because I've made you raise your eyebrows? You know I'm grinning as I write this, but I think if you don't introduce thought-provoking content, your audience won't remain your audience for long. Readers are not going to spend their valuable time at your blog, among the many thousands available to them, if they are not entertained, engaged and/or informed. But I don't say anything in my blog that I wouldn't say in front of a live audience, hopefully as a teachable moment. Plus, after 15 years of working together, my bosses know who I am - and what you read is what you get.

I don't think I talked to my supervising attorneys much about starting a blog, more because I didn't have enough knowledge or experience to do more than brightly (and naively) announce, "Hey, I'm thinking about starting a blog for paralegals! Is that okay with you?" None of us knew much about blogging at the time. We all likely thought, "Er, okay, good luck with that!" and promptly forgot about it. In retrospect, I'd recommend researching blogging, having a game plan for your place in the blawgosphere, and talking to your employer about your proposed content. Many firms now have social media policies, so if your firm has one in writing, review it carefully.

Keep in mind that our firm is very small and definitely on the open-minded side. I was so new to blogging that I viewed it more as a minor writing outlet for a teeny audience, say 27 like-minded paralegals. I probably mentioned after the first two posts that I was really doing it as more than a lark, and sent them the link. But when I started, I didn't know what I was doing - and you sure can tell in some of my early posts. I never thought about Practical Paralegalism having a significant future.

I knew that my blog would have to remain professional at all times, and would not be an appropriate venue to share overly personal information or vent about a bad day in a non-constructive way (if my readers can learn something from my mistakes, that's different). When I post content, I'm aware that it's out there forever, and I'm aware that my point of view and writing style may be off-putting to some people who don't share my particular sense of humor. I'd tell any paralegal thinking about starting a blog that you have to keep your career goals in mind at all times when you publish online content - about anything.

Where do you get most of your ideas for posts?
If I tell you, I'll have to kill you. Seriously, I write about what engages me, and I tend to gravitate towards social media and technology, current events, paralegals doing good (and a few paralegals doing bad) - and things that make me laugh out loud.

What was the process you used to land your textbook deal? Did you have a solid outline that you shopped around to publishers?
The editor with the idea for the first national workers' compensation textbook for paralegals called my supervising attorney, at the recommendation of an attorney friend. My boss (who hates it when I call him that), J. Griffin Morgan, is a N.C. board-certified workers' compensation specialist and teaches the workers' compensation class at the local law school. But he said he wasn't writing a workers' compensation textbook for paralegals without me - because he didn't exactly know what I do! He wrote the first two chapters with the overview of the law, and I wrote the remaining eight chapters about the practical and case management skills, with his insightful editing. But even if the publisher calls you, you still have to submit a lengthy book proposal with a draft table of contents. (This process makes preparing a tax return for an international corporation look simple.)

For those of you who live in the Atlanta area, GPA's Paralegal Career Workshop workshop is a great deal at $15 for members and $25 for non-members, and has informative concurrent sessions for traditional paralegals and those interested in alternative paralegal careers, as well as a general ethics session.

Today's Quote: When Scarlett Johansson Plays a Paralegal, We've Made the Big Time

"Proceedings kick off on a slashing note, with the introduction of some great new characters (including Mickey Rourke as a rogue Russian physicist and Scarlett Johansson as a butt-kicking paralegal) culminating in a spectacular extended stunt sequence staged during the Monaco Grand Prix." ~ From the Herald Sun's review of Iron Man 2

In the real world, we're all butt-kicking paralegals, but to be honest, I've never seen a real one that looks like Tony Stark's new paralegal, Natalie Rushman.

I'm pretty sure that outfit won't be making Corporette's recommended office wear any time soon, although it looks like it could be pretty practical if you had to crawl around on the floor to look through boxes of old documents in a warehouse.

Source: Herald Sun

Monday, April 26, 2010

Paralegal for Sheriff's Office Charged with Grand Theft

A sheriff's office is probably the last place you'd think someone would steal from - but that's what Florida paralegal Pamela Foxx, a long-time employee of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) in Lake City has been accused of - stealing $100,000 from her employer over a three-year period.

According to multiple media reports, Foxx was arrested at her home on Saturday, April 24, 2010, and charged with first degree grand theft. WJXT Jacksonville reported:

Detectives said that Foxx has admitted to taking money and depositing it into her personal bank account. They said the theft started in 2007 and totaled more than $100,000.

Foxx has been placed on administrative leave without pay, and on Saturday was being held on a $30,000 bond.

The CCSO press release about this incident states that Foxx became a legal assistant for the agency in 2003 and then became a paralegal in 2005. The release adds:

“The charge against Pamela Foxx is not a reflection of the employees of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, says Sheriff Mark Hunter. “This was an isolated incident. The public can be assured that their Sheriff’s Office is staffed by the highest caliber of people who do a great job day in and day out."

The same is true of paralegals, legal assistants and other legal professionals who do a great job day in and day out in positions where they are trusted with both money and client confidences. I hate to see anyone, much less another paralegal, accused of theft, but when I see a case confirmed with a guilty plea or a conviction, I can't help but wonder if any amount of money is worth the potential loss of not only a salaried job with benefits, an established career, and your integrity - but also your freedom.

Sources: WJXT Jacksonville; First Coast News; CCSO Press Release

Sunday, April 25, 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. (There are a few more links this week since I took a lovely, lovely self-imposed two-day beach hiatus from all things electronic last weekend.)

Here's this week's list:

"10 Legal Writing Tips From Bryan Garner" ( ~ Frame this.

"Does Your Office Equipment Tell Secrets?" (Oregon Law Practice Management) ~ File under "Rat Fink Copier."

"Calling the IT Department! Oh Wait...That's Me!" (Sonoma Freelance) ~ If you haven't already added freelance paralegal Daphne Drescher's well-written blog to your RSS reader, now is as good a time as any. In this post, she shares her home office set-up.

"An e-discovery primer: just what is ESI, information and digital data?" (The Electronic Discovery Reading Room) ~ This is a great overview for newbies, paralegal students and people pretending that e-discovery isn't coming to all law firms, regardless of size. If you're really interested in e-discovery, check out "7 e-Discovery Groups or Communities You Should Consider Joining" (TERIS).

"How to Turn Procrastination into Productivity" (Business Hacks) ~ I like it, "Choose to get something done."

"Lawsuit Alleges Failure to Supervise Gophers" (Lowering the Bar) ~ I like gophers, but then I don't have a yard. Click on the link for a (mythical) "Gopher Whisperer" t-shirt.

Favorite Practical Paralegalism post from this week last year: "Beware of Online Sample Paralegal Resumes"

Paralegal Association Hosts Wine Tasting & Silent Auction

For those of you who live near Ventura, California, the Ventura County Paralegal Association (VCPA), an affiliate of the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), is hosting what sounds like a really lovely evening event to raise money for good causes, its Fourteenth Annual Wine Tasting/Silent Auction on Thursday, May 6, 2010 at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel at the Ventura Harbor.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door, and the price includes a commemorative wine glass and hors d'oeuvres.

Auction items include restaurant certificates, event tickets, business services, wine and jewelry.

Proceeds will benefit the association’s scholarship fund and also helps those who cannot afford legal services.

For more information about this event, as well as scholarships available annually, visit VCPA's website at

Legal Assistant Helps Couple Find a New Home

This is a wonderful story about Jack Sharp, 77, and his wife, Fran, 64 and wheelchair bound - and the legal assistant who helped them find a new home.

A columnist for The Oregonian, Steve Duin, initially shared the Sharps' story of pending homelessness in his April 10, 2010 column. Together for 27 years, many of them marked by hardship, they were living off $961 in Social Security benefits, renting a home for $325 a month, including utilities - and driving a '79 Dodge van.

But Sharp doesn't focus on their problems, which include serious health conditions and trying to live on a fixed income. Instead, he spends time helping to feed impoverished individuals, earning the nickname the "Bread Man."

Jack is what the folks at Portland Rescue Mission and Blanchet House call a gleaner. When those urban ministries have excess donations, Jack loads them into his van and delivers it to the hungry and homeless in east Multnomah County.

"He serves a wonderful purpose," says Patrick Daley at Blanchet House, "helping us get rid of a product we can't use in a timely manner, and helping people who can't get downtown. Jack is the only independent out there, taking food to the people out in the woods."

But their kindly landlord died, and time ran out. The Sharps had to move by April 23 - and they had no place to go.

Now they have at least a long-term temporary home, thanks to legal assistant Maureen Alford, employed by Garvey Schubert Barer in Portland, who saw the article and brought the Sharps' plight to the attention of one of the firm's attorneys, Rick Baroway. Baroway does pro bono work for Community Vision, "a Portland non-profit that specializes in providing employment and home ownership for Oregonians with disabilities." He contacted Community Vision on behalf of the Sharps, and the organization has a house available.

Thanks to Alford, Baroway, Community Vision and Portland Rescue Mission, the Sharps have a place to go, as well as help getting moved. Alford represents the legal assistant ideal - caring, resourceful and ready to help others in need.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Today's Quote: If I Can't Be a Mascot, I'll Settle for Being a Paralegal or a Lawyer

“If that doesn’t work out, I will continue to look out for other mascot jobs while pursuing a job as a paralegal, or maybe go on to law school." ~ Jerrod Leftwich, Sam Houston State University's mascot Sammy Bearkat - and a graduating senior.

Leftwich recently won first place in the National Cheerleading Association's Mascot Nationals competition in Florida and has his eye on the St. Louis Rams' mascot position.

But if that doesn't work out, he's open to using his criminal justice degree for a job in the legal profession.

Oh, what's a bearkat? According to Wikipedia, some say it is supposed to be a kinkajou, "a small, golden, carnivous mammal that resides in the jungles of South America" or more likely came from a local saying, "Tough as a Bearkat!"

Whatever. It beats the former varsity sports team nickname, "The Normals."

(Incidentally, Leftwich's first mascot role was as "Tony the Tiger" in high school, which makes his five-year stint as Sammy look like pure destiny.)

Source: Huntsville Item

Saturday Laugh Out Loud: Even a Corgi Can Use an iPad

I love this encounter between dog and "Devil Machine", and not just because it features a Corgi named Chloe who looks and acts a lot like my personal assistant, Phoebe.

I'm jealous of Chloe. Darn skippy I want to touch it and play Words With Friends.

Related Posts: Introducing the Staff of Practical Paralegalism; Why Every Legal Professional Needs a Dog

Thursday, April 22, 2010

U.S. Attorney's Office Participates in Take Children to Work Day

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of West Virginia participated in "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" in a big way:

Acting United States Attorney Betsy C. Jividen announced that the United States Attorney's Office will once again participate in this event. A total of 15 students will report to work for an educational experience with a parent or mentor, and they include: Elizabeth Brann "Libby" Altmeyer, who will accompany her mother, Assistant United States Attorney Helen Campbell Altmeyer; Clayton and Kent Bee, who will accompany their mother, Legal Assistant Laurel Bee McGill; Daniel and Dennis Bird, who will accompany their mother, Legal Assistant Victoria E. Ford; Alyssa and Logan Latimer, who will accompany their mentor, Legal Assistant Janet K. Evick; Jacob Lewellen, who will accompany his mother, Legal Assistant Lisa S. Lewellen; Luke and Rachel Morgan, who will accompany their mother, Assistant United States Attorney Shawn Angus Morgan; Hannah and Nathaneal Murray, who will accompany their mother, Legal Assistant Leanna B. Murray; Jack Reisenweber, who will accompany his mother, Assistant United States Attorney Erin K. Reisenweber; and Slater and Emma Shelek, who will accompany their father, Health Care Fraud Auditor Donald W. Shelek.

Plans for "Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day" include participation in a staff meeting with students in Wheeling, Clarksburg, and Martinsburg. Other educational plans include participating in a Mock Grand Jury session for the students in the Wheeling Office and visits with various law enforcement agencies for the students in Clarksburg and Martinsburg, as well as working with their parent/mentor.

This sounds like an incredible opportunity for these legal professionals' children to not only see their parents in action at work, but to explore a variety of law enforcement careers as well. Kudos to the U.S. Attorney's Office for sharing its career resources with the children of its employees.

"Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" is a great idea - for school age children.

Paralegal is United Way Volunteer of the Day

There are so many national events going on this week that I'm starting to get a bit addled, including (but quite possibly not limited to): Administrative Professionals Week, Take Your Child to Work Day, Earth Day and National Volunteer Week. But I couldn't let one paralegal's recognition go unrecognized here, even while wondering if her office is filled with balloons and flowers from The United Way and her appreciative boss.

Kentucky paralegal Jayme Brockman, employed by Washburn, Key & Lowrey, is the United Way of Paducah-McCracken County's Volunteer of the Day.

Jayme Brockman is involved in several volunteer efforts around our community. Jayme is the Vice President of Rotaract, a Rotary Group Study Exchange Program Member, she serves on the Kids Committee and Worship Committee at her church Reidland United Methodist, and she has organized several group volunteer projects for Rotaract including, collecting food donations for Family Service Society at Christmas in the Park and she has organized donations and completed yard work projects for Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center.
Congratulations to Jayme Brockman, an incredible role model for the paralegal profession and an outstanding community organizer.

Source: SurfPaduca

Another Earth Day Post - Except This One Has an Attitude

"Take Your Child to Work Day 2010 is an invaluable opportunity for your child or children to see you in action. When I was a paralegal, I brought my almost two-year old son to Take Your Child To Work Day. A childless female attorney with little patience copped an attitude and he told her off...letting her know not to be rude to his mommy! (I learned something from HIM that day.)" ~ Stacey *Mamasaid* D. discusses Earth Day activities to occupy your children on Take Your Child to Work Day (whether your employer wants them there or not).

I had an almost two-year old once upon a time. Maximum coloring time: 87 seconds.

Okay, I'm confused. What exactly did we learn?


The Grass Is Greener in a Green Law Firm

Inspired by Google's beautiful Earth Day logo today, I'm sharing some links for ways that your law firm can go green and leave a smaller - but better - footprint.

You can save money, reduce trash and help our planet by:

  • Turning off your PC and printer at night - and setting them to enter standby mode when not in use
  • Turning off the lights when you leave
  • Replacing CRT monitors with LCD monitors
  • Avoiding printing when possible - save documents electronically
  • If you have to print, previewing your documents to avoid mistakes
  • Adopting a double-sided printing policy when you do print
  • Reducing photocopying by scanning documents
  • Recycling paper - and using recycled paper products when necessary
  • Using a real coffee mug instead of a disposable one. You can wash it - and the spoon.
  • Using environmentally friendly cleaning products
  • Not using bottled water
  • Replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones
  • Carpooling, taking the bus - or cycling or walking to work


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is Administrative Professionals Day an Urban Myth at Your Firm?

I heard from a few of my readers that Administrative Professionals Day is an urban myth in their firms. And then I heard from a few more who reiterated their desire not to be acknowledged on what some people still refer to as "National Secretaries Day".

So I thought some of you, especially if you were forgotten (or are still mad that you were included) might need a good belly laugh to get through the rest of the week, and found these funny Administrative Professional Week links just for you:

TV's Top 15 Administrative Professionals, (I think Betty White's brief but memorable turn as Alan Shore's legal secretary should have been included.) I still love this scene where Catherine Piper, as played by White, tells Shore that she understands him completely in the initial interview:

Administrative Professionals Day 2010: Tales from a Former Secretary,

Local men find their feminine sides for beauty pageant, (I love that county attorney Jim Hicks of New Bern, North Carolina, was willing to dress as a woman to entertain 300 administrative assistants, but anybody else got a yen for a Krispy Kreme donut?)

Related Post: Are We Happy Administrative Professionals?

Today's Quote: Get Your Writing Out of the Closet

“If you write in a closet, it may be clear to you but you have no idea how it’s going to be perceived when you read it to 20 people. Getting together with other poets helps you edit and understand your voice. The feedback aspect is priceless.” ~ Eileen D'Angelo, "a paralegal by day and a mad poet by night" and the director of the Mad Poets Society in Media, Pennsylvania.

D'Angelo's biography at the Mad Poets Society website reveals an accomplished artist who has been nominated for a Governor's Award in the Arts and a Pushcart Prize in Poetry. A full-time paralegal employed by Harris and Smith, she is a graduate of Main Line Paralegal Institute. She is also a passionate advocate for domestic abuse awareness.

Source: Delco News Network

Bar Finds "Aspiring Lawyer" Exceeded Reach - and Then Some

On April 12, 2010, I blogged about North Carolina self-described legal assistant and "aspiring lawyer" Darius Little, one week newly appointed to the Durham Planning Commission, and then the next week scheduled for scrutiny for alleged unauthorized practice of law (UPL) by the N.C. State Bar's Authorized Practice Committee.

According to local media reports, the bar review did not go well for Little. First, he did not show up for the hearing, although at least one of his alleged victims, Richard Carew, did. After reviewing the evidence, the committee voted unanimously to seek a court injunction to prevent Little from engaging in UPL.

But the committee did not stop there; it also voted unanimously to assist the Durham County District Attorney's Office in its criminal prosecution of Little for allegedly misrepresenting himself as a lawyer. Per The Herald-Sun, this investigation is "likely to produce further legal troubles for Little, an ex-convict who served 9 1/2 months in prison last decade." One warrant against Little for the felony charge of obtaining property by false pretense has already been issued.

Carew, a 62-year old wheelchair-bound man, seems to have been a compelling witness in the UPL complaint against Little. His complaint that Little purported to negotiate a $750,000 settlement of a malpractice claim on his behalf against Duke University deeply disturbed the bar committee. The committee reviewed a mediator's report on an official state Administrative Office of the Courts form that was allegedly fabricated by Little.

Little's appointment to the Durham County Planning Commission was also rescinded, with the commissioners who supported the appointment taking some heat over it.

As if these events alone weren't enough to put the kibosh on this "aspiring attorney's" dreams, a misdemeanor summons has been issued against Little for the alleged failure to return a $1,200 LCD television to a local rental center.

It sounds like Little needs to hire a real lawyer of his own.

Sources:; The Herald-Sun

Related Post: Legal Assistant to Face NC State Bar for Alleged UPL

How Professional Association Membership Will Advance Your Paralegal Career

The latest episode of The Paralegal Voice, “How Professional Association Membership Will Advance Your Paralegal Career”, co-hosted by Lynne DeVenny and Vicki Voisin , is now available at Legal Talk Network.

Patricia E. Infanti, PP, PLS, President of NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals, and Kathleen R. Amirante, PP, PLS, the association’s President Elect, are the featured guests. They join Vicki and Lynne to discuss the opportunities provided by membership in a professional association.

In this episode:

  • The history and mission of NALS
  • What NALS is doing to attract a diverse membership
  • How NALS is educating attorneys regarding qualifications for using the title ‘paralegal’
  • Continuing education programs offered by NALS
  • The new NALS Docket and Think Big Program
  • The goal of NALS new ‘Future Leaders Development’ committee
  • How association membership impacts a paralegal’s career
  • Practice and social media tips from Vicki and Lynne

Page URL:


Internet resources included in the podcast:

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

If you enjoyed The Paralegal Voice, please 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 us? Send those to

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Are We Happy Administrative Professionals?

Most of you likely know this is Administrative Professionals Week (even if your boss does not). Elie Mystal blogged about it in "Happy Administrative Professionals Week!" at Above the Law on Monday. It's a pretty good post to send to your boss if you think he still doesn't have a clue and time is running out (the official day this year is Wednesday, April 21, 2010). Elie closes his post with this advice:

So, take a moment for your secretary and the other law firm staffers that you interact with this week. Say hello, strike up a conversation, say thank you.

And, at the very least, put a Benjamin in a card. It’s just good manners.
I've been working in the legal field for a long time, and over the years, I've heard some paralegals and legal assistants say they don't want any recognition during Administrative Professionals Week, considering it demeaning to be lumped in with secretaries, administrative assistants and receptionists.

Others, like me, don't mind being included in the celebrations at all, especially when it involves lunch at a fancy restaurant or fresh flowers. Even though my bosses are nice all year round, getting recognized with all of the other valued staff members who make our firm successful, regardless of job title, is special - and fun.

What about you? Does your firm recognize you during Administrative Professionals Week - and are you cool with that?

And have any of you ever gotten a Benjamin in a card during this week?

Paralegal Gateway Is BACK!

I was very pleased to receive Paralegal Gateway's April 20, 2010 press release, announcing that the long-awaited new website at is up and running, after a brief hiatus.

Founded in 2001 by Jeannie S. Johnston, ParalegalGateway and its sister site, MyParalegalSpace, offer a large and lively virtual community for paralegals, with a strong presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo! Groups. The press release discusses the website's many offerings:

Known as "the" site for Paralegals, the new site features integrated social networking allowing the users to create their own profiles and find other members who work within the same area of practice and user groups. Additionally, the site includes proprietary applications including a deadline and filing calculator allowing paralegals to easily calendar necessary time sensitive documents and a handy in-browser toolbar that is available free for download.

Members may also search for legal services via the Legal Vendor Directory and look for available positions via the updated Career Center. Freelance Paralegals were not left out and attorneys may search for quality assistance via the new Freelance Paralegal Directory. Members can post their service listings for free.

Other new features include a section for Canadian Paralegals, Paralegal Students, Military Paralegals, an Association and Schools listing, legal information available by State and much more!

Welcome back, Jeannie Johnston and Paralegal Gateway. We missed you!

Monday, April 19, 2010

NWFPA Supports Paralegals & Community Service in a Big Way

by Judy Williamson

The Northwest Florida Paralegal Association is a group of Escambia and Santa Rosa County professional paralegals who meet monthly on the last Tuesday of each month. Our organization provides continuing legal education and support for our members, and conducts many community charity events. We also offer student memberships to paralegal studies students in the local college and university paralegal studies programs, provide guest speakers to those programs, and conduct an annual scholarship essay contest.

Every fall we assist in the collection of food for the Manna Food Drive with collection points at various law firms. We also collect and deliver school supplies for the local “Cram the Van” charity drive. We have a Salvation Army Stockings collection drive among all the legal community to stuff “Christmas Stockings” for the needy children in our community. The stockings collected are stuffed and grouped in age groups for girls and boys, making it easier for distribution by the Salvation Army when they are delivered to the children.

One of our most popular activities is our “Christmas Auction.” We ask local merchants and service businesses to donate an item or items, or a service to our auction. We have had some wonderful items from fabulous restaurants; big ticket jewelry stores; massages, spas, pedicures and other spa activities; stitchery gifts; hair cuts and tinting; special wines; tickets to local events; specialty gift stores; bakeries; and the list goes on. The auction is held during an extended lunch hour by our association with invites to the local legal community, and it is conducted by a professional auctioneer. We have a lot of fun while we raise a lot of money that we donate to the Children’s Services Center.

The Children’s Services Center is an important charity in our community. They offer services to both parents and children. Because of donations like ours to the Children’s Services Center, they are able to assist parents so they can build the kinds of caring and nurturing environments children need. The Parent Place offers gently used books and toys to be provided to the children. The Milton Child Care Center offers high quality child care so even the lowest wage-working parent can continue to work. They teach survival skills for women; classes to parents for budgeting, employability, parenting; and, healthy living skills. Through the Swan Home, young men with severe behavioral concerns are being taught new behaviors and to grow in new ways. These services are not providing a handout, but help the children and their families lead more productive and nurturing lives. The more that we can help the Children’s Services Center, the more they continue with their important work. We are proud that we can assist them.

Lynne, we would love to have you come to one of our meetings. We meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Just let us know when you can come.

Practical Paralegalism is proud to share NWFPA's activities, and is working hard to convince her spouse that beautiful Pensacola, famous for its mild winter, is in our vacation budget - but that we have to be there on a fourth Tuesday (preferably in January or February). After I blogged about NWFPA's nomination for a 2009 Children's Award by the Children's Champions of Northwest Florida, I asked the group's president, Lydia Herrera Brackett, ACP, FRP, if they would be willing to contribute a guest post about their significant commitment to community service. (Ms. Brackett also responded to Robert Mongue's request for additional information at The Empowered Paralegal.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I Smell a Rat

"Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I will nip him in the bud." ~ Boyle Roche (1736-1807), Irish politician

It's not every day that I see two different paralegals featured in news stories involving millions of dollars - unfortunately not for assisting in jury trials resulting in significant verdicts. In one story, a thieving paralegal's supervising attorney should have smelled a rat, and in the other story, a paralegal sued NBC (a long time ago) because he could not stomach the sight of real people eating dead rats, albeit ones pureed in a blender.

Nipping a Rat in the Bud

First, the Hamilton Spectator is reporting that Canadian paralegal Shellee Spinks entered guilty pleas to 16 criminal charges arising out of the theft of $2.6 million dollars "from unsuspecting clients, while masquerading as a bone fide lawyer."

The details of Spinks' misdeeds are rather horrendous, including leaving an elderly woman destitute after using a power of attorney to steal all of her assets, and cheating a deceased man's sisters out of their entire (and substantial) inheritance.

Spinks attributes the thefts to gambling addiction - and lost most of the stolen funds gambling. It sounds like she ran amok in attorney Michael Puskas' law firm trust account for a six-year period while assisting with clients' real estate transactions, transferring almost a million dollars from that account to her personal account at the same bank. Could more careful review of his own trust account by Puskas (I love Roche's hilarious mixed metaphor) have nipped this rat in the bud?

An Old Rats Tale

The Post Chronicle reported in a recent "Entertainment News" article that Ohio paralegal Austin Aitkin sued NBC, after seeing dead rats consumed by contestants on Fear Factor:

In a handwritten four-page lawsuit filed in federal court in Cleveland on Tuesday, paralegal Austin Aitken said, "To have the individuals on the show eat (yes) and drink dead rats was crazy and from a viewer's point of view made me throw-up as well an another (sic sic) in the house at the same time."

American poet Henry David Thoreau wrote, "I was never unusually squeamish; I could sometimes eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it was necessary." Aitken is clearly much more squeamish than Thoreau, with or without the relish.

Even though this sensational rat tale showed up in a Google search as being posted a day ago, after a little further digging, the then part-time paralegal filed the lawsuit in 2005, when it was promptly dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Wells for being frivolous (although certainly not in an amusing sort of way). Judge Wells "warned him against appealing."

A lot of offerings on television make my stomach lurch, including any of the Real Housewives reality shows. But I never thought of suing Bravo TV, finding it easier just to change the channel.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

San Francisco Public Defender's Office May Have a Paralegal Opening Soon

I've blogged about San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi's requests for additional legal staffers before, but this time his request to add a paralegal and a senior legal processing clerk is being taken very seriously by the mayor's office.

The Associated Press is reporting that Adachi has requested the new legal staffers "to help review an estimated 30,000 cases dating back to 2005 possibly tainted by former lab technician Deborah Madden."

The request for additional staff comes after interview transcripts obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press show that Madden had acknowledged in a police interview that she used cocaine found at work.

Madden told investigators in February that she started using drugs from her job last fall to mask a drinking problem, according to the transcript. Madden, 60, said she used cocaine that spilled at her work station after she was done testing it as evidence.

"If some of it, you know, fell on the counter after I put the stuff away rather than just throw it in the garbage, which is what I normally did, yeah I did take a little bit of that," Madden said.

Madden helpfully told police that the crime lab's work left a lot to be desired, "I think you're gonna see discrepancies all along throughout the years."

When asked about the likelihood of Adachi getting those staff positions this time, the Magic 8-Ball said, "Signs point to yes."

Paralegal to Swim Longest Open-Water Race in America

"The Big 5-0" is a milestone for anybody, but this weekend, Philadelphia paralegal Jacqueline Eastridge, who specializes in corporate and securities law at Pepper Hamilton LLP, is celebrating hers by swimming - for 12 hours straight.

Eastridge normally runs in endurance races but has decided to "rest her feet" and instead swim in the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, "the longest sanctioned open-water race in America."

Eating during a 12-hour swim is a must:

"We're going to have cubed, bite-sized pieces of peanut butter and jelly pancake sandwiches, so that they can just throw two cubes in a plastic bag."

Another goal of the swim is to raise money for the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Association youth team; the news article includes the law firm's address to send donations. It's wonderful to see Pepper Hamilton celebrating Eastridge's achievements, featuring her in an April 12, 2010 news release:

“I’m very lucky to work in such a supportive environment at Pepper Hamilton,” said Eastridge. “My colleagues encourage me to pursue my athletic challenges, while also pushing me to work just as hard in the workplace.”
In 2006, Eastridge participated in The Sahara Race, "a 150-mile, weeklong test of endurance," and shared her experience at her blog, Desert Endurance: One Woman's Challenge. In 2007, she took on the Gobi in China, and in 2008, she raced across the Atacama Desert in Chile. She's planning to participate in another 150-mile race later this year - in Antarctica.

Happy Birthday to Eastridge - and happy racing across the world as well!

Paralegal Named All-Army Coach

Paralegals are patient, as evidenced by Army paralegal Sgt. Corey Shaffer, who works with the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He has waited nine years to participate in All-Army volleyball, "but because of training and other assignments, he wasn't able to."

He has been selected to be the head coach of the women's camp and All-Army Team.
“This is a dream for me,” he said. “This is something I have always wanted to do —coach a high level of volleyball.”

Congratulations to Shaffer for achieving his long-awaited dream, and best wishes to his team, which will compete in the Armed Forces Championship in May, with hopes of bringing "home the gold medal for the army."

Source: The Bayonet

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

5 Ways to Tame an Out-of-Control Office

by Judd Kessler, Esq.

The paralegal’s role requires you to be extremely organized, allocate your time wisely, plan ahead, and pay attention to details. Are you scheduling calendar dates by counting on your fingers? Updating multiple calendars for everyone in the office? Drafting documents by re-using previously created ones? If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions, you're risking errors and losing valuable time.

Here are five ways practice management software can help you tame an out-of-control office:
  1. Keep your office calendar accurate and complete.
    Stop fumbling through multiple paper calendars, wondering if an attorney's briefcase calendar is different than the one you maintain. Practice management software allows you keep one master calendar with all events, deadlines and appointments for everyone in the office. You can print or email individual calendars in the format each attorney wants. For cases demanding scheduling based on court rules, your software can automatically create dates for multiple, related events. If a trial or other date is moved, you can easily reset the entire sequence of events.
  2. Start new cases quickly and accurately.
    Practice management software allows you to customize intake forms to conveniently enter critical information based on case type. You can then create contact and matter records automatically from these intake forms, saving time and reducing the chance for manual errors. You can also quickly, accurately and completely perform conflict of interest checks.
  3. Avoid entering the same information over and over.
    Using practice management software, you can start documents and forms directly from your records. Document templates make merging data easy and error-free. Auto-filling court forms from your database will also save you time and reduce errors. AbacusLaw works with Word, WordPerfect and PDF forms, and links all documents to the matter for easy retrieval, making it easy for you to update or revise them when necessary.
  4. Provide excellent client service.
    With all the address book information entered into your practice management system, clients, opposing attorneys, witnesses and other important contacts are always at your fingertips. When a client calls asking about the status of their case and their attorney is in a meeting, you can quickly search their name, pull up their case file and give them a status report, with just a few clicks of the mouse.
  5. Reduce paper.
    All law firms are extremely paper intensive, with record requests, court forms, questionnaires, complaints etc. It's easy for mountains of paper to pile up, making it hard, if not impossible, to search for what you need. Using practice management software will enable your firm to reduce paper by scanning all incoming documents, emails etc., linking them (with just a click) to client and case files, and making them available for everyone to easily access.


Judd Kessler, Esq., is the president of Abacus Data Systems, Inc., which exclusively serves the legal community with its flagship product, AbacusLaw. It's an all-in-one program that helps legal professionals simplify, organize and control their law offices. To see a free, no obligation demo, visit Mr. Kessler also provides frequent law office practice advice at his blog, PracticeSmarter, where I recently shared a guest post, "How to Hire a Great Paralegal".

I'm a huge fan of practice or case management software, and have relied on it in my own job since the early 90s. Once you've used a great case management software system, you'll wonder how you ever did your job without it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Today's Quote: A Paralegal After My Own Heart

Mamma Nell was a paralegal who could spot a misspelled word or a punctuation error 10 miles away. It’s questionable whether this innate talent was passed along to her singular sons. ~ Dwight Dana, reporting for South Carolina Now.

You guys, I love a good obituary, and I don't think that you can say anything nicer about a person than that she can zero in on a grammatical error in a different zip code.

A paralegal for many years, Nell Breeden Early not only "earned her keep in life by having four boys" but "leaves behind, in deepest mourning, her best friend and loving companion, Henry, a yellow Labrador retriever."

I think you can tell a lot about a person by the survivors listed in his or her obituary. I'll leave you with another quote from an unknown author, "My goal in life is to be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am."

Sources: The State; South Carolina Now

Monday, April 12, 2010

Legal Assistant to Face NC State Bar for Alleged UPL

The Herald-Sun is reporting that complaints alleging the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) by self-described legal assistant and business consultant, Darius Little, will be reviewed by the N.C. State Bar's Authorized Practice Committee this week.

The article discusses in detail Little's alleged UPL activities, some of which I'm listing here as examples of things not to do - if you are a self-employed legal professional who is not licensed to practice law or provide these services in your state:
  • Negotiate a contract agreement
  • Advise an individual on options for pursuing a restraining order
  • List an affiliation with a non-existent law firm
  • Pursue a malpractice claim against a hospital, including preparing settlement documents
Of note, the article says that Little's LinkedIn profile is part of the bar investigative file, which he addressed in his responses to the complaints:

He also said most of his friends on the LinkedIn networking site know he's not an attorney, and that he's used the site to signal that he's "always in the market, as an aspiring attorney, to be in a law office helping out and learning as much as possible."

Just a word to the wise self-employed legal assistants out there, but most of your LinkedIn friends knowing that you're not an attorney may not quite satisfy the ethical requirements for not holding yourself out as an attorney.

You can view Little's current public LinkedIn profile here and see his legal aspirations for yourself. Last week, he was appointed to the Durham Planning Commission. This week, the N.C. State Bar will decide if he's exceeded his reach as an "aspiring attorney."

Source: The Herald-Sun;

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Legal Assistant Had a Zest for Life

I'm sharing an excerpt from a short, but wonderful and warm obituary for Florida legal assistant Brooke Robertson, who died suddenly on March 31, 2010:

Tiring of the cold winters, she moved to Miami eight years ago.

At the time of her death, Brooke was a legal assistant with the law firm of Broad and Cassel.

Lady Brooke had a zest for life, loved to travel, and was a loyal friend. She was involved with the Tower Club and was crowned Miss Tall Philadelphia in 1986.

Brooke is survived by her brother, Harold Robertson (Cynthia); nephew, Gregg Robertson; grandniece, Alexzandra Robertson; and her beloved dogs, Tiny and Sassy.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

People wishing to make a donation in memory of Brooke may do so to the animal shelter of their choice.
Tall Clubs International is not only a social organization for tall people, but also works hard "to send a tall message to a world dominated by goods and services designed for the, well basically, less vertically gifted" - including awarding college scholarships to tall students. The photo is from the Miss Tall Clubs International archives and identifies the gorgeous 6'3" Robertson as the 1986 Miss Tower Club of Philadelphia.

Her friend, Donna-Louise Brookes, added this tribute to the Guest Book at, "Brooke will be so missed as she was a very bright light in this dark world..."

Today's Quote: Senior Paralegals May Beg to Differ

Meet the Omega Male, a man in masculinity crisis, a product of our generation as he fears to compete with power women. The Omega Male has been misinformed his entire life. His mother always told him he would do great in the future. However, now that the future is here, he finds himself a failure. Not capable of keeping a job, let alone a relationship. Laid back, but with the back bone of a garden hose. You will not be crossing any stormy weather with this leaking basket. Think senior paralegal or Zoolander. ~ ZoZuidas (described as three Dutch city girls who are M&A lawyers and bankers) writing for Here Is The City declare that senior paralegals are losers and have the "back bone of a garden hose."

Maybe ZoZuidas is also Dutch slang for "mean girls"?

This is pretty mean, especially coming from a group of women that purports to include lawyers, albeit ones whose billables are "declining" and who indulge in "all day Facebook marathons" in order to appear busy. (It sounds like their forthcoming book, How to Survive the Zuidas, might be a must-read for anyone working for them.)

Plus, they got it all wrong. A great senior paralegal would be their fourth male prototype, the one who "will go out of his way to meet his responsibilities."

Source: Here Is The City

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:

Top 10 Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life, 2010 Edition (Lifehacker) ~ Using the great tips in this post, you can give your digital life a good spring cleaning, along with your house. One additional way I've been de-cluttering my own digital life in recent weeks is by hitting the unsubscribe button from a number of email lists, as well as from some of my daily LinkedIn Group updates.

A Checklist for Cloud Computing Deals ( ~ Save this article. With cloud computing on the rise, due to the rising availability of economical practice management and business applications which are especially attractive to solo and small law firms, these are issues you may be dealing with yourself in the very near future (if you aren't already).

LinkedIn is More Than Just Your Profile (Lawyerist) ~ I'm still surprised by the number of legal support staffers who do not have complete and well-developed LinkedIn profiles. LinkedIn is one of the first places many employers look to vet potential employees, and it is a critical site to help virtually build your professional network. You never know when you may need these invaluable contacts, whether it's to contribute an article or quote for a publication, ask a question about a highly specialized issue, be introduced to another professional - or look for a job. Speaking of looking for jobs, will a one-page paper resume become obsolete someday? See Snag an Interview with a Visual Resume (Business Hacks)

Controlling the Scream I & II (The Empowered Paralegal) ~ The initial post contains excellent advice from Kelly Corbin, a Texas paralegal, for those ultimate stress days when you have the power to decide whether a situation will make you unleash a cleansing primal scream - or not. The follow-up post provides sound advice for how to handle situations that we ultimately do not control, but still may need to document for future reference.

And finally, College Humor has a terribly funny video explaining why I think I need an iPad - and "need one ba-ba-ba-ba-BAD" - because "it revolutionizes IT," whatever IT is...

Thanks, Mashable, I knew it wasn't just the unrelenting blitz of the words "Apple" and "iPad" in my RSS feed that has brainwashed me into constantly fantasizing about and avidly following all news about a shiny, sparkly, cool (did I say shiny?), and weirdly desirable it-gadget that, um, I don't actually need.

Favorite Practical Paralegalism post from this week last year: Paralegal Students "Using LinkedIn: It's a No Brainer"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Laugh Out Loud: We Also Fight for Good Grammar

Just a few weeks ago I wrote, "One way to keep your grammar skills razor sharp (even if your motivation is to never be the butt of one of their glaring grammatical error posts) is to subscribe to several 'grammar police' blogs."

Because they are vigilant in the fight for good grammar and will issue you a very public citation, as Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald, a New York law firm found out this week.

Apostrophe Abuse shared an excerpt from the firm's lead-poisoning advertisement below, spotted by a viewer during the Judge Mathis show:

I'd like to say that the kids have been taken care of, but as of this posting, the absolutely unnecessary apostrophe piercing them is still in the lead poisoning video at the firm's site.

In other legal-related grammar news, a Nova Scotia court ruled that when you spectacularly fail in your attempt to write down an over-used pop song lyric, and end up with "You're so beatiful" - to be inked onto your body forever - the tattoo artist is under no obligation to correct your spelling.

To paraphrase the court, "You're, like, the author of your own misfortune, dude."

Sources: Legal Blog Watch; Apostrophe Abuse

Last Saturday's Laugh Out Loud: Anybody Can Be A "Single Lady"

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Take Two Lawyers (and a Paralegal) and Call in the Morning

I'm already a huge fan of Legal Aid, but as the mother of a child with a serious chronic illness who has spent plenty of time in the local children's hospital, I am excited about The Child Health-Law Partnership (Child HeLP) at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio, a collaboration between the hospital and the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati "in which a lawyer and a paralegal are on hand to offer assistance with any legal issue that may affect a child's health or their family's."

One of the most heartbreaking situations I saw during one of my daughter's hospitalizations was a single mother getting the news, via cell phone, that she had been terminated from her job. Her supervisor told her that she missed too much work to be with her child, who was fighting the sudden onset of an aggressive cancer. Even though I was right there, a paralegal for a law firm that specializes in workers' rights, ready to let her call my supervising attorney to discuss the situation at no charge, what she really needed me to do was listen and hold her while she cried over her child's serious health issues and the loss of her income.

For families trying to care for children with life-threatening illnesses, often far away from the homes they are in danger of losing due to sudden termination and sky-rocketing medical expenses, and sometimes unable to leave the hospital for even short periods, having access to a medico-legal team will give them some much-needed support during a difficult period in their lives.

Pediatrician Dr. Melissa Klein with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center says many of the causes of poor child health are social in origin, so by maximizing the resources of two professions, they can get to the root of what is really going on.

"Perhaps one of the best prescriptions we as doctors can give is to say 'take two lawyers and call in the morning' - working together, we can get to the underlying causes of the poor health and really help the family as a whole."

This is good work for a good cause. I hope to see more of these programs become available across the country.

Sources: Cincinnati Children's Hospital; Public News Service