Thursday, September 30, 2010

TGIF: That Hair is Fierce

Fellow Gleeks, I dunno who this guy is - but he's channeling his inner Rachel, and it's pretty funny.

Hope you're havin' a fierce hair day, and that your weekend rocks.

Today's Quote: What's in a Name?

“There’s plenty of denial out here. The playing field is not level. If you have a ‘black sounding’ name, it's a lot harder. A lot of civil rights era kids who were taught to be proud of our roots are now scrubbing out anything that can identify you by race.” ~ California paralegal Kamika Caitlan Frank used her middle name only and removed 'black-sounding' names from her resume to land a job. (Black Voice News)

Applicants and academic researchers have discovered that "African American job applicants still face major obstacles compared to their white counterparts," and that applicants with "black-sounding names received 50 percent fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names."

No matter what you call it, it's race discrimination, and it's wrong. Whether your name is Latrelle or Emily, your resume should be evaluated on your qualifications - but the current reality is that a disturbing number of employers are sorting resumes by name.

If any of my readers have made name adjustments to their own resumes just to get a fair shot at an interview, I hope you'll share your insight and your experience.

Source: Black Voice News

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Take a Mid-Week Break with a Panda

I read all the paralegal blogs, paralegal listserv discussions, paralegal tweets, and emails to Practical Paralegalism that indicate some of us have more difficult [fill in the blank] supervising attorneys, co-workers, clients, office equipment, hair, and/or children than others.

While I know ya'll are too professional to pull a Jack Bauer on said supervising attorneys, co-workers, clients, office equipment, hair, and/or children, we all have vivid imaginations and may spend a few seconds (or more) a day fantasizing about what it would be like to just stand up and scream, I mean, let everyone know in no uncertain terms that we will not take another minute of it. (Which is really quite ridiculous when ya think about it, 'cause what are ya gonna do about bad hair?)

Anyway, for those days, this Panda's for you:

Just try sayin' no to the Paralegal.

P.S. That is the most wonderful Panda suit ever. It's so FLUUFFFFFFFEEEEEEEEEE!!!

Meet the 21st Century Paralegal

While working on another post, I came across a very well done feature article, "The 21st-century paralegal: from interviewing prospective clients to managing documents at trial, today's paralegal participates in every aspect of an attorney's practice, bringing organization and perspective to complex legal tasks," that appeared in the January 2008 TRIAL trade journal, which was before I started Practical Paralegalism.

The article is so good that I highly recommend you read for yourself, but I'm going to highlight the essential paralegal job duties described in the article, as well as some of the best quotes about today's paralegals.

There's No Legal Team without Paralegals
  • "My attorney introduces me as his right hand and his left brain." ~ Paralegal Regina Valenti, who kept her firm's New Orleans office running after Hurricane Katrina
  • "A paralegal is a lawyer's right arm." ~ Attorney David Landay, a Pittsburgh sole practitioner
  • "We give our paralegals much of the work that attorneys do." ~ Attorney David Lansner of New York City
  • "A good paralegal can do the work of newer attorneys in our scheme of operations." ~ Attorney Ed Lau, San Francisco
  • "The attorney I'm working with, to the best of my knowledge, has never set foot in a trial without me." ~ Paralegal Julie Hunt (2006 AAJ Paralegal of the Year), Paducah, Kentucky
  • "As paralegals, our main job is to anticipate what [the attorneys] are going to need before they need it." ~ Paralegal Natalie Andrus (2007 AAJ Paralegal of the Year), Spring Lake, Michigan

Working under Lawyer Supervision, Paralegals Get the Job Done

The wide variety of substantive paralegal job duties discussed in this article include:
  • Interview clients
  • Speak to adversaries
  • Draft many legal documents
  • Docket all key dates, and follow up on deadlines
  • Prepare for trials and assist in the courtroom
  • Help prepare opening and closing arguments
  • Attend depositions
  • Coordinate exhibits
  • Analyze and digest records and transcripts
  • Contact witnesses
  • Take assigned tasks and run with them
  • Implement work with their own ideas
  • Investigate cases
  • Facilitate focus groups
  • Use case management software
  • Perform legal research
  • Function as the firm's network administrator
For highly-organized people with terrific communication and people skills, as well as the ability to multi-task, the paralegal profession offers the opportunity to be an invaluable part of today's legal team.

Sources: Goliath; American Association for Justice Paralegal Affiliates

Paralegal Profile: Dennyce Korb, CP

Job Title: Paralegal

Employer: Johnson Eiesland Law Offices, P.C., Rapid City, South Dakota

Years of Paralegal Experience: 24 years

Education/Degrees: AA degree in liberal arts

Specialty Areas: Nursing home litigation, medical negligence, defective products, plaintiffs’ personal injury; we concentrate on catastrophic injury cases.

Career Highlight: Yet to come I hope! From the standpoint of cases I’ve worked on, I think the two that stand out the most are cases many might think weren’t worth much because the people involved (one a profoundly mentally handicapped woman who drowned in a bathtub at a group home and the other a 100-year old woman who died after being dropped by a CNA in a nursing home) had very little, if any, pecuniary value under the law. Fortunately, we were able to convey to a jury that both of these people had value far beyond what money could measure and obtained substantial verdicts and some measure of justice for the families of these two remarkable people.

Paralegal Practice Tip: You have a brain and a voice—use them both. You shortchange yourself and the attorney you are working with if you keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself.

Favorite Internet Resource: Oh, I truly wish I had something more brilliant and innovative to offer here, but I must confess my favorite resource is Google. How boring, right?

Favorite Legal Software: Summation and Trial Director

Do you use social media resources, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, for career and/or case development?
I use Facebook personally but frequently post information meant to educate those in my social network about civil justice issues, trying to correct some of the misinformation that has been put out there about trial lawyers and the justice system by various groups and individuals over the past many years.

Fun Fact: I recently added “Learn to play steel drums” to my Bucket List, and I think I need to move that particular item closer to the top!

One Gadget You Can’t Live Without: VZ-Navigator on my cell phone—I am eternally directionally challenged!!

Favorite Quote: Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it...

~Winifred Peterson

Paralegal/Legal Association Memberships: South Dakota Paralegal Association, Paralegal Affiliate of the American Association for Justice
I love hearing from readers and was thrilled when Dennyce contacted me and volunteered to do a profile. She was very modest and implied she might not be that interesting, but then she sends me her terrific profile, and I Google (my fave, too!) her and discover that she's really very modest. She is a NALA Certified Paralegal (and you know I think all of you guys are geniuses), and she was the 2008-2009 American Association for Justice Paralegal Affiliates Chair. Then I find her Twitter profile (@DennySD) and learn that she's a "sometimes actress and singer," who got fabulous reviews as the star of "Everybody Loves Opal," a February 2009 Black Hills Community Theatre production.

It has always been my hope and intention to feature real working legal support staffers from all over the country to show the diversity in our profession, in education, experience, specialty areas, cultural backgrounds, gender, age - everything. So even if you try to tell me you're not interesting, I bet you are, and I'd love to have you do a profile.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Today's Quote: Contracts vs. Skinny Shoes

"Tina Chai originally intended to be a lawyer. But after slogging through an uninspiring stint as a paralegal, she traded contract filing for photo shoots, landing a job at Glamour, which paved the way to Vogue's hallowed halls, where she worked for nearly five years." ~ Excerpt from "Stylist Tina Chai Believes in 'Skinny' Shoes (New York Magazine)


Someone would pick green Prada Mary Janes over boilerplate provisions?

So, it's not like I've ever worn, or even touched, Prada, and I feel like I haven't done my duty as a citizen journalist if I don't find a picture of a pair of Prada Mary Janes for us to covet, and then the ones pictured come up right at the top in a Google image search, straight from the 2008 spring collection. (The Shoewawa copy itself is pretty darned priceless.)

And all I can think is that anyone who would wear these out in public really could say, "The Devil made me wear Prada."

Or, "Yup, somebody really stepped in it this time..."

P.S. If anybody spit out their morning coffee when they laid eyes on these shoes, my work here is so done.

Paralegal Instrumental in Wrongful Conviction Case

It's a big day for any attorney who has proven that his client was wrongfully convicted and has secured that client's release from prison. You can definitely excuse a lawyer for feeling a little smug and self-satisfied under those circumstances.

But it's an even bigger day when that attorney publicly gives props to his paralegal, as Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins did this week, while waiting on the release of his newly exonerated client, Stephen Brodie, who was cleared of the 1990 sexual assault on a 5-year old girl.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins...chatted with Brodie's dad and the exonerees.

Brodie's father put his arm around Watkins and said, "I tell you what, God bless you. You really started something here."

Watkins said he couldn't take credit and told Brodie's father that Jena Parker, the paralegal in his conviction integrity unit is the person who brought the case to his attention.

"She's the one you really need to thank," Watkins said. "She read your letter and got all this going."

According to Investigation Discovery's website, Parker has been the certified paralegal in the Conviction Integrity Unit for the Dallas County District Attorney's office since 2007. She received the Exceptional Pro Bono Award-Paralegal Division State Bar of Texas in 2007.

Congratulations to Brodie and his legal team, especially Parker, who clearly has an appreciative boss.

The photo at the top of this post is of the conviction integrity unit established by Watkins in 2007 and includes paralegal Jena Parker, prosecutor Mike Ware, prosecutor Cynthia R. Graza and investigator James Hammond.

Monday, September 27, 2010

From Bank Robber to Supreme Court Brief-Writing Paralegal

"In 2000, I couldn't have named a right in the Bill of Rights" ~ Shon Hopwood

How do you go from a convicted, incompetent bank robber with only a semester of college under your belt, to an extraordinarily talented legal writer who has had two cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court?

You start by choosing to work in the prison law library because it pays more than the prison kitchen, and then you read over 10,000 court opinions and help your fellow inmates file numerous legal documents, many of which resulted in sentence reductions or new looks at their cases.

Shon Hopwood, a Nebraska paralegal, now works for Precedential Paralegal and Cockle Law Brief Printing Company - and also has an agent and a book deal. He blogs about filing Supreme Court briefs at Cockle Blog (a great addition to a brief-writer's RSS feed reader).

The Peoria Journal Star neatly summarizes Hopkins' made-for-the-movies life story in a single paragraph:
Convicted bank robber gets 13-year prison sentence. Old high school crush happens to visit while he's incarcerated. After he gets out, they marry, have a baby on Christmas Day. He's invited to Harvard University to talk to undergraduates. There, in March, he finally meets the man who became something of a mentor while he was in prison. Seth Waxman, a former U.S. solicitor general now with a prestigious partnership at a prestigious law firm, also gave him an enthusiastic reference for his current job at - where else? - a major company that specializes in helping lawyers prepare Supreme Court briefs.

How far has Hopwood come?

[Earler this year], the solicitor general’s office, led by Elena Kagan, a former dean of the Harvard Law School, asked for and received an extra month to try to rebut the arguments of the paralegal from Omaha.

Hmmm, I'm likin' John Cusack, Tobey Maguire, or Jake Gyllenhall to play Hopwood in the movie. Since we're playin' casting director here, what are your thoughts?

Sources: The New York Times; Peoria Journal Star; LinkedIn

Paralegal Turns Layoff into Positive Change

Sometimes it's hard to feel positive about anything after the shock of losing your job, but a Memphis paralegal has turned a layoff into a journey of self-discovery and a brand new outlook on life.

Missy Ingram told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that she mostly embraced her inner couch potato and felt sorry for herself during the six-month period after she lost her job.

Then she decided to make a big change and joined a running group, Memphis in Motion. For someone who never saw herself as a runner, she's lost 10 pounds since she started running two months ago, and is preparing for her first 5k in October.

Most important, she's discovered that running has given her newfound confidence.

"I'd like to lose maybe five more pounds, but I like the shape I'm in. What's important for me is being happy with the body I have. That's most important because I've never been comfortable in my own skin," she said.

Practical Paralegalism wishes Ingram the best of success with her goal of running a half-marathon in the spring. And, if a feel-good story can pay it forward, her success reminds this paralegal how much she loves to run, and that it's time to get moving again, after a recent bout with some health issues.

Thanks, Missy.

Today's Quote: Legal Assistant Is Key Part of Lohan Lawyer's Team

[Shawn Chapman Holley] dispatches a long list of incoming calls, briefings, legal motions and other mini-crises over the speaker phone with her legal assistant, Jentry Collins. They've worked together 12 years and have an easy, bantering rapport.

"You're my best friend," Collins coos as they sign off.

~ Excerpt from "Lindsay's lawyer is living La Vida Lohan" (CNN)

This week CNN is covering the world of high profile lawyers to the stars. In its first profile of Shawn Holley, Lohan's current counsel for her criminal matters, it's nice to see her long-time legal assistant recognized as a key member of her team.

Source: CNN

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday LOL: Glee Inspires Car Karaoke

It's no secret that I will not answer any of the phones at my house on Tuesday nights from 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. because: I. Am. Seriously. Really. Really. Busy.

No, not studying for the NALA CLA/CP exam.

Watching Glee, reveling in my Gleekiness, and shushing The Teens, and their talkative friends whose TVs don't work at their house, when they try to talk at the same time Sue is talking.

So when I saw this little darling giving her all to lip-sync the refrain from my favorite song from the first season, Rachel and Kurt singing "Defying Gravity," I was like, yup, been there and done that, even if I did sound and look like a cat with its tail slammed in a door.

Sing it loud and proud, girl. Our cars are our stage. And that's probably a good thing.

P.S. This number is best done when someone else is driving, so you can close your eyes to hit the high notes...

Paralegal's Interview with Juror Gives Subaru Case New Life

One of the many critical duties performed by experienced litigation paralegals is the polling or interviewing of jurors after a trial. Talking to the jurors gives the trial attorneys insight into the jurors' thought processes, as well as crucial feedback on the reasons they were successful - as well as unsuccessful. In a New Mexico civil injury case against Subaru's seat belt manufacturer, where the jury found that a seat belt design defect did not cause a plaintiff's catastrophic injuries, a paralegal's post-trial work has re-opened the case for an evidentiary hearing based on whether a juror's outside influence was prejudicial to her decision. Kilgore v. Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. et al (Op. No. 2010-NMSC-040)

In 2006, after the jury took just two hours to return a verdict in favor of Subaru's seat belt manufacturer, paralegal Gregory Scott, who worked for the plaintiffs' counsel, asked juror Marie Millie Valdivia about her decision-making process. Valdivia told Scott there was not enough evidence to prove that the seat belt buckle design was defective and could be easily opened just by contact with various body parts. In an affidavit later filed with the court, Scott said she was reluctant to say more.

But Scott later learned that Valdivia's brother worked at Mike's Garage and that she'd spoken to [Michael] Griego, the Subaru repair shop's owner. Scott never talked to Valdivia again but did get an affidavit from Griego, who said that before he saw a newspaper article about the Kilgores' case, he spoke to Valdivia. She told him she was a juror "on the Subaru trial."

"I told her that I had never heard of any incident where a Subaru seat belt buckle had come open accidentally. I told her that I had never heard of that happening," Griego's statement says.

He added: "During the conversation, she said to me, at least twice, that she was not supposed to be talking to me about the case."

After learning about Valdivia's discussion of the case with Griego during the trial, plaintiffs' counsel moved for a new trial. The trial judge and the New Mexico Court of Appeals denied plaintiffs' request, but the New Mexico Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing based on the juror's conversation with Griego, who was "in a unique position to acquire information and experience regarding defects in Subaru vehicles."

This case demonstrates how invaluable a well-trained and insightful paralegal is to a trial team. The ability to hear what is said - as well as what is not said - is a people skill that is absolutely necessary to jury pool research and polling. Scott's work ultimately gave his firm another chance to pursue their quadriplegic client's claim against Subaru.

Source: ABQ Journal

Related Posts: The Paralegal Voice: "Attorneys Tap Paralegal Talent for Jury Selection"; Paralegal's Facebook Research Aids in Dismissal of Juror; How Paralegals Can Assist with Jury Selection

Paralegal Starts Community Pet Food Pantry

Who hasn't seen too many sad stories in the news where victims of America's down economy have not only lost their jobs, their health insurance, and their homes - but also their beloved family pets because they could not afford to feed them?

Illinois paralegal Gerri Vaughn, employed by Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti, saw the desperate need in her own hard-hit community, and after adopting her dog, Bruno, from the local animal shelter two years ago, decided to do something about it.

She told the Chicago Daily Herald:

I saw how many animals were in the shelter, and I had been hearing in the news about so many voluntary surrenders of pets because people couldn't afford to keep them. I was hearing stories about people using food stamps to buy tuna and hot dogs for their animals, and that's not getting the proper nutrition, and it's not good for the family.
Together with her daughter Devin, in January 2010, Vaughn founded Bruno's Pro Bone O Pet Pantry, located in Geneva, Illinois. Per the non-profit organization's website:

Bruno's Pro Bone O Pet Pantry, NFP is dedicated to providing free pet food for the dogs and cats of low-income, elderly and disabled people. We are able to accomplish this goal by soliciting and collecting pet food through a network of agencies, programs and the generosity of the community we serve. It is our mission to ensure that pets are not forgotten or abandoned during financial hardship and can remain in their home and with their family thereby improving the quality of life for both pets and their owners.
Vaughn says getting the word out about the pet food pantry has been a challenge, and the local Petco store has been a tremendous help, setting up an in-store donation program. Eventually, she hopes to expand her efforts to help families with veterinary services.

I love reading articles about legal professionals' pro bono, or in this case, pro bone-o, activities in their communities. Kudos to Vaughn for using her talents as a paralegal to take on such a worthy cause. Keeping a beloved family pet, during the worst period of your life, can mean the difference between finding a reason to keep going until a better day, or giving up.

For more information on how to donate to Vaughn's pet food pantry, click here.

Today's Quote: No More Paralegals with Blue Fingers

Rainey has seen a myriad of changes to the law field since his 1960s beginning. Doctors no longer make house calls. Mediation is now a large part of the legal field. Paralegals' fingertips are no longer stained blue from using carbon paper. Court reporters use electronic recording devices to take notes instead of shorthand, and many women have moved from typing forms for male attorneys to battling against them in courtrooms. ~ Excerpt from "Rainey marks 50 years" (Jackson Sun)

This article is a good read about Tennessee attorney Tom Rainey's long and successful career. Becky Moore has been his paralegal for 31 years. She told the Jackson Sun, "His honesty and integrity are evident in every part of his life. He has always approached every case with the same enthusiasm to give the best representation to his clients.

Those are words to live by for all legal professionals.

(I have to confess I'm old enough to remember using ornery, messy, and unforgiving carbon paper, so this quote really resonated with me. Oh, happy day when I inserted my last sheet of carbon paper into an equally ornery, messy, and unforgiving electric typewriter!)

Source: Jackson Sun

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who Can Help You Escape from that Hellhole You Call Marriage?

Is this family lawyer brilliant or insane? Maybe it doesn't matter. His 2008 online commercial has recently gone viral.

I could live without the reference to the "paper-pusher paralegal type." As I recall, when I worked in family law, I drafted about 95% of the documents needed to get our clients out of those hellholes they called marriages.

Source: BNET

TGIF & Happy National Punctuation Day

I saw this t-shirt at the National Punctuation Day website, and immediately thought of you guys:

There's nothing wrong with a person whose attention to detail becomes an annoyance to others - is there? One of my former supervising attorneys used to call me "PH," for "Perfectionist from Hell." I think he meant it as a compliment - but now I'm not sure...

Happy National Punctuation Day anyway, my fellow grammar geeks and anal-retentive types.

Here are some of my favorite Practical Paralegalism posts about grammar:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Paralegal Cautionary Tales: Oh No You Di'int

Sometimes there are so many paralegal cautionary tales in the news, that if I covered each and every one in post after post, we'd all want to go drown ourselves in a pot of three-day old coffee.

So once in a while, look for Practical Paralegalism to briefly mention the latest escapades in a short, bullet list column called "Oh No You Di'int" (add rolling your neck and pointing your index finger in the air at the same time, with an extra long emphasis on the final syllable "iiiiiinnnnt"). Instead of rubbing salt in the wound, it'll be like ripping off a band aid. Fast. Almost painless.

With no further warning (just close your eyes, it won't hurt a bit), here's this week's Oh No You Di'int:
  • If you're going to pose as a paralegal, it's best not to allegedly libel local police officers on your website at the same time. (Calgary Herald)

  • Do not try to hide $170,000 in earnings to avoid restitution from your prior conviction in a land flipping scheme, by claiming it was payment for your paralegal work. You know any paralegals that make that kind of money? (The Florida Times-Union)

  • If you're an attorney, and your paralegal is running his own employment discrimination practice out of your office, with a fee split of two-thirds going to the paralegal, the court will not buy your lame excuse that you did not intend to facilitate the unauthorized practice of law. (

  • What a pair: a judge kicked off the bench for discussing a female intern's "knockers" and his former paralegal, who has been convicted of stealing $300,000 from at least 50 illegal immigrants trying to get their green cards. (

  • It seems wrong to still be called a paralegal if you've already been convicted of monetary thefts from two different attorneys, and are now indicted for eight criminal charges arising out of allegedly stealing your own daughter's identity to apply for five credit cards. (

  • It does not look good if you are a school system paralegal about to be charged with allegedly selling drugs to an undercover officer three times. It looks worse if your street name is "Teach." (The Seattle Times)


When I couldn't find a suitable free image, I remembered my youngest, a/k/a "The Teen" in my Twitter postings, does "Oh No You Di'int" face better than anyone I know, and takes about 500 pictures of herself a month with her digital camera. That's actually not a bad idea, especially if you're trying to take your own headshot for your LinkedIn profile.

Happily Ever After with Evernote

by Jay Moore, NALS Communications Manager

Once upon a time there was a compulsive notetaker who carried with him scratch pads of various sizes and colors to keep things organized. His briefcase was cluttered with these note pads to a point where he could only try to figure out what note went with what client or what project. His organized world was, in reality, only organized chaos.

I was this notetaker living in a world of sticky notes, legal pads, and even a few napkins here and there. One day a friend of mine asked me if I used a program called Evernote. Of course the name alone peaked my interest since I was using pretty much every other form of reminder. His excitement drove me to check out the website, and I was immediately downloading the program to my desktop, iPad, and iPhone. Evernote became a staple of my work life instantly and continues to help me keep things straight across many different tasks and obligations.

I work as the communications and marketing director for NALS...the association for legal professionals, a professional association for paralegals and legal assistants. My job requires me to work on graphic design projects, public relations efforts, website maintenance, strategic planning, and pretty much anything technical that walks through our office. You can imagine the number of tasks that come along with the many hats I have to wear.

To take things to another level, I also own a freelance graphic design and marketing consultation company, Letter 10 Productions. With Letter 10 I work with about 20 clients in 10 states regularly and have projects of all sorts to keep up with. Evernote allows me to create a notebook for each client and notes for each project to keep things all in one location. That is location.

Evernote automatically syncs my notebooks and notes across all technologies. So if I get an email on my desktop I can save it to a note, and it will sync to Evernote on my iPhone and iPad so I can access the information anywhere I need to. You can also set it up to store websites and pages as notes, in case you need to follow up on the information. I use this feature to flag information I might want to use in articles, blog posts, or presentations. You can tag notes to help keep them organized in case you need to search for something. Every note is searchable, and you can even save your searches to keep from repeating work.

Another great tool is the ability to send notes directly to my contacts' email so that they can see my ideas. I can attach images if needed and even make video notes using the iSight camera on my desktop. I haven’t tried that mainly because I think it would be creepy to watch myself giving me a video message...feels like something out of one of those movies where you find yourself in the future. I do however see the benefit of video messages if you decide to purchase the premium version of Evernote. The greatest benefit that I see in the paid version is that you can share notebooks with others that are using the paid version. So you could leave video notes for other clients using Evernote or collaborators on a project. While I have only been using Evernote for a relatively short amount of time, I have certainly become a power user of the free version and will be purchasing the premium version shortly.

I was told once that DVR would change my life, and it certainly did. I have to say that Evernote has done the same for my work life. My briefcase contains zero notepads or sticky notes, thanks to technology and Evernote. This is no fairy tale, but if you are a compulsive notetaker or just someone that can not turn down work, then I think you will live happily ever after with Evernote - just like I am.

Legal Assistant Featured in Cook's Corner

This week the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette features Indiana legal assistant Meredith Palmison and several of her favorite recipes in its "Cook's Corner", including Eastwood Salad, Pasta Pep-Up, Slow Cooker Chili, and Ranch Potatoes. Not only do they look yummy, but they look like something I could whip up without injuring anybody in the kitchen.

But what really caught my eye in the feature article is the description of Palmison's dependents:

A resident of Fort Wayne, Palmison says that she and her husband, Andy, do not have any children.

“Just the furry ones,” the 28-year-old legal assistant says, referring to the couple’s two Welsh Corgis, Hank and Tinker Bell.

As a paralegal owned by a bossy and beautiful Welsh Corgi, I am kind of disappointed there is not a picture of the Corgis.

Also, speaking of wonderful recipes that the less talented cooks among us have a prayer of executing without loss of life or limb, one of my Twitter buddies, librarian Amy (@amylibrarian), has launched a new cooking blog with her friend, Kelley: My Kitchen, My Sanctuary. I don't know why I love it so much when their posts pop up in my Google Reader, except that they seem to cook a lot of my favorite comfort foods. Well, Blueberry Vodka Drink isn't my favorite comfort food yet, but I could see it making the list...

From File Clerk to Paralegal in Six Months

Sometimes taking an entry-level job with a reputable law firm is the best way to obtain on-the-job training and show an employer that you are talented, dependable - and a quick study. In "How to switch careers and become a paralegal" (San Diego News Network), California paralegal Kristine Custodio, currently employed as a paralegal at Butterfield Schechter LLP in San Diego, shares how she turned an entry-level job into a paralegal position very quickly:

Custodio, who received her paralegal certificate from UCSD Extension in 2004, began her career at Butterfield Schechter as a file clerk, and within six months she was promoted to a paralegal. During her time as a file clerk, she says she developed a thorough understanding of the firm’s clients and practice areas.

“I familiarized myself with the various forms and documents created for certain issues, which in turn benefitted me when I became a paralegal for the firm. I was able to quickly brief the attorneys on the various cases,” she says.

SDNN's feature article about Custodio's success as a paralegal is a great read. According to her public LinkedIn profile, Custodio has also achieved the Advanced Certified Paralegal designation through NALA, is a member of the San Diego Paralegal Association, currently serving as the group's NALA Liaison, and was a runner-up in Legal Assistant Today's 2008 Paralegal of the Year contest.

Custodio's success illustrates that you never know where that first entry level legal job, such as a receptionist, word processor, administrative assistant or file clerk, will lead you.

Source: San Diego News Network

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dancing with the Paralegals

I mainly did this post for shock value, because sometimes it's hard to wake up on weekday mornings. I figured this picture of Margaret Cho, a contestant on this season's Dancing with the Stars, was at least as effective as a third cup of coffee.

Cho plays fictional legal assistant Terri on the TV series Drop Dead Diva. Normally, I'm a huge fan of ballroom dancing and the over-the-top sexy gowns, but this, er, full-length body leotard? bat cape? LSD-induced hallucination? almost gave me a drop dead heart attack.

What do you think? Will her wing span be enough to support both of them?

And where is Tim Gunn when you really, really need him?

Source: Zimbio

Related Post: Margaret Cho Plays "Necessary" Legal Assistant

Today's Quote: I Heart Boobies! But Hate the Bracelets

"What bothers me is that it is used as a fad and as fashion. I think there are more productive ways to encourage donations and awareness of breast cancer." ~ Barbara Wilder, Dallas legal assistant and eight-year breast cancer survivor (33 KDAF-TV)

What do you think? Are the bracelets a great way for the Keep-A-Breast Foundation to raise awareness about breast cancer, or a distracting teenage fashion craze that should be banned from schools?

Source: 33 KDAF-TV

Paralegal Profile: LaChauna A. Johnson

Job Title: Legal Assistant

Employer: Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, Inc., Raleigh, NC

Years of Paralegal Experience: 5

Education/Degrees: B.S. Communications

Specialty Areas: Corporate/Contracts

Career Highlight: In 2005, when I was introduced to the legal field.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Learn as much as you can, attend CLEs, join paralegal associations in your area, and NETWORK!

Favorite Internet Resources:
Job Source,
Lawyers Newswire,

Favorite Legal Software:
Corporate Legal Desktop (CLD),

Do you use social media resources, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, for career and/or case development?
I definitely love using LinkedIn as a way to network and keep in touch with past employers and colleagues. I use Facebook more for personal relationships, and Twitter for fun and to keep up with trending topics and blogs.

Fun Fact: I love to sing. Hand me a karaoke machine, and I'm good to go!

One Gadget You Can't Live Without: My Sony Ericsson smart phone

Favorite Quote: Love is Life!

Paralegal Association Memberships: Research Triangle Paralegal Association (RTPA), (currently serving as Treasurer); North Carolina Bar Association Paralegal Division,

Professional Links:
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.,
Cary Alumni chapter,
Many thanks to LaChauna, who was featured in a Q&A by Carolina Paralegal News (February 2010), for taking the time to share a little about herself and her career with Practical Paralegalism's readers. With over 300,000 legal support staffers working in the United States, I'd love to share more reader profiles and help celebrate the diversity - in age, cultural background, experience, job titles, job duties, and specialty areas - that represents the paralegal profession today. If you're willing to do a profile, please contact me at In a way, you'd be helping me prepare for the NALA CLA/CP exam - because with a profile to post, I can take Tuesday nights off...and watch Glee :)

Statsky's Corner: Paralegal Duties in Bankruptcy

by Bill Statsky

Paralegals have major roles in many areas of the law. For example, here is an overview of tasks many paralegals perform in bankruptcy law.

I. Interviewing/Data Collection
A. Help client fill out an extensive questionnaire on assets and liabilities. May visit client’s place of business to determine the kinds of records kept there.
B. Help client assemble documents:
1. Loan agreements
2. Deeds of trust
3. Security agreements
4. Creditor lists
5. Payables lists
6. Employment contracts
7. Financial statements
8. Leases

II. Investigation
A. Confirm amounts of indebtedness.
B. Identify secured and unsecured claims of creditors.
C. Check UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) filings at the
secretary of state’s office and at the county clerk’s office.
D. Check real property records in the clerk’s office in the
county where the property is located.
E. Verify taxes owed; identify tax liens.
F. Identify exempt property.

III. Asset Control
A. Open bankruptcy file.
B. Prepare inventories of assets and liabilities.
C. Arrange for valuation of assets.

IV. Creditor Contact
A. Answer inquiries of creditors on the status of the case.
B. Request documentation from creditors on claims.

V. Drafting
A. Original bankruptcy petition.
B. Schedule of liabilities.
C. Statement of affairs.
D. Status reports.
E. Final account.

VI. Coordination
A. Serve as liaison with trustee in bankruptcy.
B. Coordinate meeting of creditors.
C. Prepare calendar of filing and other deadlines.

Additional Online Checklists of Paralegal Duties:
Bill was a featured guest on a recent episode of The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast for paralegals hosted by Legal Talk Network. You can check out "Spotlight on William P. Statsky: A True Expert on Paralegals" by clicking here, and you can purchase The California Paralegal by clicking on the image above, or by clicking here. You can also view additional paralegal resources by Bill at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tell the ABA about Your Fave Blawgs by Peeps with No JDs

Okay, I admit I stole the idea for this post from TabletLegal, which is a completely fabo and well-written blog about Precious iPhat, I mean iPad use by legal professionals, but the post "Like TabletLegal? Tell the ABA" made me think for a minute about the unique niche I occupy as a blawger.

Last week, I got an email directly from the ABA Journal asking me, as a respected blawger, or some such salutation that made me feel like I am a card-carrying member of the blawger-hood (as well as all tingly and validated inside), to fill out a form and tell them about my favorite blawgs - for consideration to be included in the ABA Journal's 2010 Blawg 100 Amici (fancy talk for its annual 100 best legal blogs list). I was like, "Oh, yay, maybe Practical Paralegalism's a contender," until I read the part where it says "that you read regularly and think other lawyers should know about." [emphasis added] I immediately felt a little less tingly and not quite as validated at that point.

Well, clearly I am not a lawyer and don't even aspire to play one on TV, but I am a blawger, and the ABA Journal wants my opinion, and some lawyers and many other kinds of legal professionals (plus a few stalkers and some people that just got out of jail) DO read Practical Paralegalism, so why shouldn't it get at least a shoutout from somebody for inclusion in the 100 best legal blogs this year? You know, just to mix things up?

Anyhoo, they were pretty darned clear that it is incredibly tacky to nominate your own blawg. And I'm not so much asking even one of my lovely, loyal readers (just one!) to nominate Practical Paralegalism for inclusion, as I am asking you to think about your favorite blawgs (a/k/a law blogs) written by people who do not have JD behind their names, but who spend as much, if not more time, with actual JDs than their own spouses do.

Stand up for the little people, or in this case, the little blawgers who aren't JDs but make JDs look good every day, and fill out the short and sweet nomination form and tell the ABA Journal why you like those blawgs a whole lot and read them every day.

Because we are blawgers, too. Hear us roar.

P.S. What I like best about the above image is you can't tell if the lion is roaring or yawning - and if you click on it, it takes you straight to the ABA nomination form.

The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client

The Empowered Paralegal: Working With the Elder Client by Robert E. Mongue is an insightful guide that any legal professional who works with an older population will find extremely useful. The book addresses practical concerns such as accommodating elderly clients, evaluating competency, and understanding estate tools. Sensitive issues such as end-of-life planning, differing cultural perspectives on aging, and elder abuse are covered as well.

Mongue brings his extensive expertise both as a practicing lawyer and a paralegal instructor to the table, and illustrates his points with interesting examples. He discusses the complexities of the law in regard to aging in a clear, direct style that readers of all experience levels will appreciate. This book is a must-read and a valuable desk reference for anyone who interacts with elder clients.

Click on the picture to read more about this new resource for paralegals and to order the book from Carolina Academic Press. If you're not already a subscriber to The Empowered Paralegal blog, I recommend that you add it to your RSS feed reader.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Practical Paralegalism's Recommended Reading This Week

I blog for paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, paralegal students, paralegal educators, and all the other legal professionals essential to the practice of law - as well as the attorneys who want to get to know us better. Once a week (or every other week when I get behind), 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:

When we talk about paralegals needing to get a little nerdy to keep up with today's legal technology, we probably didn't mean this nerdy. I can say this since I once had my matrimonial sights set on Mr. Spock. (Thanks,!)

I am officially going to law school (A Paralegal's Journey to Lawyerhood) ~ Even if you normally lurk at your favorite blogs, please comment on this post and congratulate this paralegal on a job well done - and an extraordinary surprise. Look for a future Practical Paralegalism post, "Why I am never going to law school" (people ask all the time, it's time to answer).

Working Overtime: Is it the best use of your time? (The Paralegal Mentor) ~ For those of us who embrace the label workaholic, is it necessarily a good thing?

Most of the time we know the answer...but is it ethical? (The Paralegal) ~ Ana Pierro thoughtfully analyzes a situation that many of us face every day.

Open Source Tools for the Day-to-Day ( ~ Open source is a fancy way of saying free stuff. Law librarian Nicole Engard shares great tools for everything from web browsing to desktop publishing.

The Power of Having Twitter Conversations Off of Twitter (twitip) ~ Some of the best professional relationships I've had since joining Twitter, started on Twitter and then went elsewhere, including e-mail, telephone and face-to-face.

A Cover Letter Is Not a Tweet (Alison's Job Searching Blog) ~ Learning to express yourself in 140 characters or less can be good for your writing, unless it's your cover letter. Short and sweet is the kiss of death in this setting. "My brilliant resume says it all; you should definitely hire me," will likely send your resume airborne, before it takes a nosedive into the closest trashcan. Alison Doyle reviews what employers expect to see in a well-written cover letter.

Nightmares About Your Job May Suggest You Need a New One, Says ABA (Lowering the Bar) ~ Yes, this would seem to belabor an obvious point, but you don't need to read the actual article, thanks to this short and funny summary.

Bedbugs Invade Winston & Strawn (Above the Law) ~ Speaking of nightmares at work, this would be mine. Special thanks to Lifehacker for the tip, Leave Luggage in a Hot Car to Minimize Risk of Bed Bugs.

Favorite Practical Paralegalism post from this time last year: Is It Okay to Dump Business Lunch Leftovers into Your Purse?

Paralegal Specialist Is Proud To Be the Biggest Loser

There aren't many times when you want to brag about being a loser. One of those times is when you beat 300 of your co-workers in a weight loss challenge.

NewsBlaze reports that Spc. Tim Gallups, an Alabama native and Army paralegal specialist currently stationed in Iraq, won his unit's 10-week weight loss competition. He lost nine pounds during the contest, but has lost 24 pounds overall since March 2010, when he arrived in Iraq.

"I did it for my Family," said Gallups. "I'm engaged now, and when I have a Family, I want to be able to run round the yard with my kids and not worry about my health."

Gallups wants to lose 20 more pounds before he returns to Ft. Riley, Kansas. With the unit's competition focusing on nutritional training and physical fitness, he should have no trouble reaching that goal.

Congrats to Gallups for earning the bragging rights as the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division's Biggest Loser.

Source: NewsBlaze

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Legal Secretary Turns Typewriter Keys into Stunning Jewelry

Or, Suddenly I Find Typewriters Beautiful

Anne Jansen, a legal secretary at Armstrong Teasdale LLP in Clayton, Missouri, turns typewriter keys into unique jewelry that anyone would be proud to wear, even if you don't miss your crotchety old Royal or Remington.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that four years ago, Jansen saw a woman at a Chicago flea market wearing a bracelet made of typewriter keys. Inspired, she made her own bracelets out of an old Underwood, and immediately sold all of them at work.

Now she sells jewelry made from typewriter, cash register and skeleton keys, as well as other found objects, through her business, The Key of A ( The jewelry is so lovely, it was hard to choose a piece to share in this post. I went with "P" for paralegal, but purchased an authentic black typewriter key (initial D) pendant necklace on square filigree through Jansen's Etsy site (

At her website, Jansen explains her connection to typewriter and skeleton keys in particular:

Overall, the mystery of the keys is in itself a constant inspiration for me and I hope that translates into excitement for you, my customers, when you make a purchase of our one of a kind creations. Who knows what inspiring words may have been written and locked doors opened using these very keys??!!

Who knows, indeed. Jansen's site reminds me that even though my mother's old electric typewriter came with a poltergeist, I also spent many creative and enjoyable hours writing essays and poetry that I still have today.

Looking for a good home for an old typewriter? Contact Jansen via her website, and see if she can give it new life by turning it into wearable - and memorable - jewelry.

Sources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch; The Key of A

Saturday LOL: What Do Paralegals Have in Common with Cookie Monster?

Besides an insane love of cookies, of course.

I'm posting another music video today, not only because sometimes a catchy, upbeat, positive tune can bring me out of a funk. And it's not just because I think and Sesame Street are brilliant.

It's because this song is about a lot of the personality traits that successful paralegals have. (I knew Cookie Monster and I had much more in common than an inability to stop at just three Chips Ahoys.)

Pretty good career advice, huh? "Be the best me I can be."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TGIF: Paralegals Just Want to Have Fun

Earlier this week I did a post, perhaps sniping a bit, about a cute fictional legal assistant who looks 12. Maybe I'm a little jealous because I haven't seen 12 in a long time.

Just how far away from 12 am I?

My entire wardrobe from 1983 is in this video.

Even though I ditched the big hair, I still love Cyndi Lauper.

Have a great weekend!

Paralegal Creates Website for the Things You Would Have Said

"If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?" ~ Stephen Levine

And if you can't find that person you want to make amends to before you die, what would you do?

Maybe you'd express your regrets at the website The Things You Would Have Said ( The site simply offers users an opportunity to publish an acknowledgment or apology:
Whether the person has passed away, contact was lost, or the strength needed at the time was lacking, this is a chance to say what you have always wanted them to know.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the unusual website is the brainchild of a paralegal:

A year-and-a-half ago, Jackie Hooper, 24, of Portland, Ore., was shocked at the sudden skiing-related death of actress Natasha Richardson, and, yes, you do need to hang on to see how all of this connects. Hooper, a paralegal, said Richardson's untimely death "reminded me about how quickly things can change." Too quickly, perhaps, for those who suddenly wake up with regret to try to do right by those they've hurt.

She created, and began traveling to schools, jails, rehabilitation facilities and retirement homes, inviting people from ages 9 to 89 to write that long-stored mea culpa.

"People got it right away," Hooper said.

In addition to speaking to groups in person, Hooper has created a Twitter feed @wouldhavesaid and a Facebook page to get the word out about the site.

There are a wide range of sentiments included in recent posts to the website. Some of the posts by people expressing their love and longing for deceased partners, or apologizing for not being part of their children's lives due to addiction issues, brought tears to my eyes, and reminded me how lucky I am to have love in my life. A post by a woman forgiving her rapist, and another by a woman forgiving her abusive ex-husband, made me marvel at the power of human resilience. And I had to smile at a post from a 9-year old boy, who asks a dog for forgiveness after tormenting him and taking his bone - and acknowledges that a dog has "strong feelings."

Whether mostly anonymous mea culpas are your cup of tea or not, there's no doubt that the site provides some thought-provoking content. It made me stop and think about a few apologies of my own I'd like to make. I'll try to track those people down personally, but if I can't, I'll know The Things You Would Have Said is there for me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Proof I Wasn't at the Mall Today

Today I got to do something I hardly ever get to do (outside of the office). In the words of one of my paralegal homies, I got to "school" an auditorium full of brand new attorneys at the North Carolina Bar Association's Practical Skills Course 2010.

But I get "schooled" too when I speak to large groups, and today was no exception. My topic was "Social Media 101 for Lawyers," and as those of you who love your social media know, that's a topic that should be covered over several days - and not in one hour. My main goal was to introduce basic social media venues, as I do in my presentations to paralegals, including but not limited to (don't you just love legalese), LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blogging, and to encourage the attendees to use the resources that best suit their practices and personalities. Because none of it works if you don't enjoy it.

Anyway, I learned that Above the Law is the social media prom king and queen (big show of hands when I asked if they read it), and Twitter is still a foreign country that most people think they don't want to visit because the water might not be safe to drink (pretty sure it was less than five hands when I asked who was using it). I tried to encourage them by telling them that my boss has just joined Twitter, but likely didn't help my cause when I also had to admit he hasn't actually tweeted yet. (That's on my Top 10 Social Media Tips, "NOW TWEET SOMETHING!")

I encouraged the attendees who want to know more about social media for legal professionals to read Nicole Black and Carolyn Elefant's extraordinary resource, Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier (American Bar Association, 2010), and to play to their own strengths.

I also told them to read every single post that North Carolina family lawyer, Lee Rosen, has ever written at Divorce Discourse, and to grab him on Saturday and pick his brain after he presents his very popular session, "60 Web Sites in 60 Minutes," with Stephanie Kimbro and Erik Mazzone. (Sorry, Lee. Er, for telling them to grab you, not for telling them to read your blog.)

I was really thrilled to discover my blue sweater matched the blue podium banner, making me look like Smurfette from certain angles. Then toward the end, I lost my voice and had to gasp for water, not the smoothest public-speaking moment ever. I wanted to tell them I'm much funnier in writing than in person.

Anyway, here's proof that I wasn't at the mall in Raleigh all day:

I also welcomed them to the wonderful world of the law. I hope it's good to them. It's sure been good to me.

Related Post: The Truth About Social Media Experts

Today's Quote: Seriously, Why You Gotta Bring a Paralegal Into This?

Look, this isn't a paralegal getting slapped on the butt in the midst of a deposition at a Fifth Avenue law firm. This is an incredibly hot woman in a steamy room with a bunch of naked or nearly naked professional athletes. Under the circumstances, there ought to be a little flexibility in the definition of sexual harassment. Or to look at it another way, do we have to take EVERYTHING so damned seriously? ~ Benjamin Wendell discusses a woman's place in the locker room (Technorati).

The pros, and protection against sexual harassment, take a giant step backwards.

Source: Technorati

Clients Can Shell Out $300 Per Hour for a Legal Secretary in the Land Down Under

If this revenue-generating practice is not unusual in Australia, as alleged by Brian Bartley, chairman of the Queensland Law Society, then some law firms have found a way to turn $20 per hour legal secretaries into outrageously successful rainmakers who, with $300 per hour billing rates and earnings as high as $500,000 per year, would be more than welcome at many American firms, even in a down economy.

The Australian reports that Bartley says this abusive practice allows law firms to turn their legal secretaries into lean, mean money-making machines by "morning tea time" every Monday:

He said the charge-out rates of up to $300 an hour for these staff made it possible for them to earn their weekly wage before 11am on a Monday, meaning the remaining 35 hours of the week for each secretary was immensely profitable for the law firm.

Bartley is pushing for the practice to end, after his own experience "prosecuting solicitors for unprofessional conduct."

One of the few cases prosecuted for gross overcharging led to the senior partner of law firm Shine Roche McGowan (now Shine Lawyers) being suspended for 12 months for ripping off a vulnerable client who was billed $300 an hour for work done by secretaries. The tasks included arranging to buy and wrap a "box of chocolates and a thank you card" for the secretary of a doctor whose medical report was needed.

The then Solicitors' Complaints Tribunal ruled: "No fair-minded practitioner would be justified in charging his or her client at what the tribunal regards as an unusually high rate across the large number of hours involved including the significant time on the mundane matters of the kind described."

When they say "arranging to buy and wrap" do they mean the secretary was billed at $300 per hour for getting someone else to obtain the bonbons? Good grief, that's jaw-dropping, bloody brilliant, albeit a pretty crappy to treat your clients, if you get away with it.

In America, cash-strapped clients beg for paralegals to do as much work as possible at lower hourly rates. In Australia, clients should insist on typing their own documents and writing their own thank you notes before agreeing to pay a legal secretary's billing rate.

Bartley is not alleging that the practice is widespread, but wants all law firms to treat clerical staff performing tasks that "involve no legal skill" as an overhead expense - and not an overboard source of revenue.

Source: The Australian