Monday, November 29, 2010

Ethics Corner: Do You Know Where Your Mobile Devices Are Right Now?

If you’re using handheld or mobile electronic devices including (but not limited to) laptops, netbooks, tablets, MP3 players, USB drives and/or smart phones for work, consider whether you have adequately secured these devices from possible confidentiality breaches.

These handy digital devices are easy to lose, steal, or even access remotely without authorization - with the potential loss of confidential and sensitive information, which in turn could expose your firm’s attorneys to disciplinary action or malpractice claims.

Protect confidential information transmitted or stored on these devices by:

  • Restricting use of devices

  • Knowing the location of devices at all times

  • Never leaving devices unattended

  • Using strong password protection at start up (at minimum)

  • Using authentication tools, encryption software, individual passwords and/or view blockers to limit access to devices or documents

  • Wiping/deleting the hard drive before donating or selling

  • Installing anti-virus software and keeping it up-to-date

  • Using caution when opening e-mail or downloading software

  • Developing a firm policy for electronic device security

Stay up-to-date on digital security by subscribing to legal technology blogs and reviewing websites like the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Section (http://www.abanet.org/lpm) and Legal Technology Resource Center (http://www.lawtechnology.org/).
_______________________________

This article originally appeared in the North Carolina State Bar Association Paralegal Division's November 2010 newsletter, Paralegal Perspectives. Got an idea for a short ethics tip for the Ethics Corner? I'd love to hear it (lynne.devenny@gmail.com).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Welcome to Monday!

I hate people that are all chirpy on Monday morning, especially after a delightful long holiday weekend filled with turkey leftovers, long naps, and no one asking where those past due answers to interrogatories are.

Raise your hand if you looked a little like this getting to your desk this morning:




Happy Monday! (Anyhoo.)

If you're up to it, let's start an Open Thread in the comments to this post. What was the most awesome-est dish you consumed for Thanksgiving? Mine's a tie between my Double Chocolate Bundt Cake and my husband's fabo cornbread stuffing with apples and grapes.

How to Abuse a Notary Commission

How many of my readers are commissioned notary publics, i.e. effectively officers of the state they live in? While the public may view the business of notarizing signatures as the simple wielding of a rubber stamp, those who have earned their notary commissions know the standards are much higher. Misuse of a notary stamp, depending on the circumstances, can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the jurisdiction. In Florida, “state law makes it a third-degree felony to falsely notarize a document.”

The findings by Florida authorities reviewing the thousands of mortgage documents notarized by employees of David J. Stern’s law offices, often referred to as a “foreclosure mill,” reveal shocking allegations regarding abuses of notary powers. “Shortcuts on the foreclosure paper trail,” an article which appeared in the November 28, 2010 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune contains allegations of almost every notary no-no ever taught in a notary class, including:


  • Employee notarization of documents, “swearing they were accurate when they were not.”

  • Notarization of signatures on dates when the signers could not have been present.

  • Notarization of “lost” mortgage assignments - months after the date they were signed.

  • Notarizing documents with signatures and dates to be filled in later – sometimes after final judgment was entered in the case.

  • Notarizing signatures before the notary’s commission was effective – in some cases as much as a year before the notary actually received her stamp.

  • Team or group use of notary stamps not belonging to the actual persons notarizing the documents.

You couldn’t ask for a clearer list of violations to review with notary students taking the required class hours to sit for the state notary public exam. Unintentional mistakes by ill-trained employees, or grounds for criminal actions against the notaries involved? What do you think?



Source: Sarasota Herald Tribune

Paralegal Volunteers for School on Wheels

There are all kinds of opportunities for legal professionals to volunteer in their communities, but School on Wheels (http://www.schoolonwheels.org/), a non-profit organization in Glendale, California offers Roberta Lara, a paralegal employed by Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, the chance to tutor children staying at PATH Achieve, a local homeless shelter, helping them achieve academic success, despite hard times and the stigma of homelessness.

…School on Wheels provides a variety of services, including free school supplies, uniforms, school enrollment and parent counseling.

Its primary mission, however, is to foster academic success with one-on-one tutoring. Hundreds of School on Wheels volunteers work at sites across Southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Looking for a local volunteer opportunity in Southern California? There are 35,000 homeless youth enrolled in Los Angeles County schools. Not only do they need basic school supplies, but they need tutors and mentors committed to helping them meet not just the minimum school requirements, but to help them be the best students they can be, so that they can gain the emotional and academic tools they need for better lives.

For more information on volunteering for School on Wheels, here is the link: http://www.schoolonwheels.org/pages/837/. The program also needs donations to supply tutors, backpacks, books, school supplies and uniforms; raising funds would be a great project for a paralegal association.

Source: Glendale News-Press

Friday, November 26, 2010

TGIF: For Everyone Working on Papers for Paralegal Classes over the Holidays

I just discovered the VeryMaryKate channel on Youtube, and may be watching it for the remainder of the day in my pjs, while eating ginormous turkey sandwiches and chocolate cake. As a student for many years (two-year paralegal technology program and four-year bachelor degree earned in bits and pieces at three different universities) I had classmates like Very Mary Kate. As a paralegal instructor in the same paralegal technology program years later, I had at least one Very Mary Kate in my classes. They weren't funny then, but this is very funny now.



She did have three papers to write...

Career Dressing 101: Black Friday Shopping from Afar

No, you wouldn't catch me anywhere near a retail store today. In fact, the plan is not to change out of my pjs at all (the neighbors are used to seeing me walking the Corgi and the Cairn in my 25-year old Kmart bathrobe). But I did enjoy receiving my Black Friday VIP Pass from Shop It To Me. While I may not actually buy anything, I noted some great career dressing ideas for paralegals - at greatly reduced prices for today only.

I'm a big fan of cardigans for the office. They are less expensive than blazers, and you can do a lot with them, especially if you can pick up - or already own - some great sleeveless embellished or print tanks for under $10 (easy to find at local T.J. Maxx or Marshall's clearance racks) and have several neutral skinny and wide belts you can add to create a variety of looks.

* * *
This classic Open Cardigan from Ann Taylor in a flattering seal grey heather color can be worn a number of ways over slacks or skirts. Normally $58, today you can score it for $34.80 (use special code THANKS). I love the brownish-bronze belt and the single chunky bracelet.

* * *
You may already own a long buttoned cardigan similar to this Ann Taylor light heather grey Merino V-Neck Cardigan. Worn over a print tank and paired with a pretty studded skinny belt, as well as a great statement necklace and chunky bracelet, it goes from blah to beautiful but still conservative enough for the office, and is a terrific way to liven up basic black slacks. Normally $59.99 (it was $78), today it's on sale for $35.99 (use special code THANKS).

Sometimes just looking at the way the models are styled at some of the better retailers like Ann Taylor, J. Crew and Nordstroms can give you new ideas that you can apply to your existing wardrobe. I'm doing a lot more with dressy tank tops that I used to think were only for summer, sweaters that I assumed could only be worn one uninspiring way, jewelry that I never realized looked great in combination with other jewelry, and belts that sat unused in a bag in my closet, simply because I've gotten a lot of great ideas from websites like Shop It to Me. Combining my existing clothes with different belts and accessories, plus a few inexpensive tanks, has been almost the same as getting a new and more modern wardrobe.

Have you seen a great piece of office wear that you'd recommend for paralegals? Shoot me an email and a link to lynne.devenny@gmail.com, with a few sentences about why it's a great piece for the office, and voila, we have a guest post!

Related Reading: I loved this recent Corporette post, "My Visit to TJ Maxx HQ," since I am definitely a Maxxinista.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Practical Paralegalism's Recommended Reading this Week

I blog for paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, paralegal students, paralegal educators, and all of 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-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.

Practical Paralegalism is also taking next week off for the Thanksgiving holidays (there's the official pre-turkey day panic as I scramble to come up with an edible contribution to the family feast that relatives won't be telling jokes about for years to come, and then the obligatory three day post-turkey stupor).

Of the many things I'm grateful for this year, including the new dual monitors on my desk at work, my youngest daughter's amazing rebound from a serious sickle cell related illness this summer, and precious iPhat (a/k/a iPad), I'm grateful for you guys, the readers who have encouraged and supported me in this two-year blogging effort. Thank you so much for reading - and for your participation. I can't do this without you. Without your profiles, guest posts, comments, post re-prints, emails, and sharing of post links with your colleagues, I'd still be writing a blog read only by my mama.

Here's this week's links:

Oh, and one more thing to be very, very thankful for, the new choral (and acapella!) competition on Glee, The Dalton Academy Warblers. (I am responsible for 2,862,316 of the YouTube viewings to date...) Enjoy:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday LOL: I Am Your Only Client

All rightee then, this hilarious video is full o' off-color language and rated NSFW (NOT suitable/safe for work, but those are always the best). Saturday before a short holiday week seems like a pretty good day to post it. Even though this video is about a poor down-on-her-luck "mother" (these quotation marks are necessary) seeking a family lawyer to reunite her with her children, anybody who has ever worked in a law firm will be able to relate to the wannabe client's demands.



Thanks to Divorce Discourse for sharing this gem.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

TGIF: Litigation would be a nicer place if everyone brought their dog to work.

You can get that on a Practical Paralegalism coffee mug. But now what I really want on a coffee mug is my new hero, Simple Dog.



This is a picture of Simple Dog, but you should read "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving" at Hyperbole and a Half, and laugh your, er, tushie off for a minute. If your stomach easily whoopsies, skip it, because it's really not food or magical...

For those of you who are clearly thinking, "What in the Sam Hill does this have to do with the paralegal field?" - attorneys don't understand basic concepts like moving either. Ever been responsible for a law office move? 'Nuff said.

Addendum: I woke up in the middle of the night last Thursday and had this epiphany, "Darn, I'm a paralegal - which makes ME a Helper Dog!"

Paralegal Cautionary Tales, Or, Oh, No, They Di'INT

Here's the latest round of stuff that we wish hadn't happened in the paralegal world - but allegedly did. (I used The Corginator's pic with this post, because her oh-no-I-di'INT face is pretty good.)

Embezzling $100k Gets You a Destination Prison Stint

Sometimes I wonder what legal staffers convicted of theft from their employers did with the money. For example, did they take a dream destination vacation? And was it worth the final destination of prison? Anna Jolene Chesnut of Oklahoma, a former legal assistant, will be able to tell us. Her conviction on wire fraud has earned her a two-year stint in a federal prison. The kicker? She still has criminal charges pending for embezzling $30,000 from her former employer’s trust account. (Durant Daily Democrat)

Who Can Blame ‘Em? County Employees Sue Over Moldy Workplace

The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office in California had to evacuate its employees from the Annex Building on West Gabilan Street in June 2008, due to mold issues. Now nine employees are suing the building’s owners and a cleanup company for alleged health issues caused by the mold. (Lean back in your chair and inhale deeply. Don’t smell bat poo or a musty smell so strong you have to burn scented candles? Suddenly, work life, or at least your office, smells a little sweeter.) (Monteray Herald)

Is $500 Worth the Loss of Your Job?

A court clerk for the City of Woodburn Municipal Court in Oregon has been arrested on multiple criminal charges arising out of the alleged theft of $500. This princely sum was allegedly taken by altering parking citations. The clerk is on paid administrative leave pending departmental investigation. (I hope these allegations aren’t true; it ain’t worth $500 to lose your job and benefits, your credibility – and your ability to pass a future background check.) (Woodburn Independent)

If the Sign Fits, Wear It

Is justice wearing a sign that reads “I stole from disabled American Veterans” in front of a VA hospital? A Texas attorney and his legal assistant wife are accused of driving a Lexus and racking up gambling debts with funds he held in trust for veterans. The total sum allegedly stolen from at least 28 Texas veterans is over $2 million, but somehow it sounds worse when a veteran’s mom says she couldn’t get the couple to give her son $250 for his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. (khou.com)

Fighting Insurance Fraud - Paralegal Style

By Jennifer Guppy

Recently the Seattle Post Intelligencer ran a story about a woman who pled guilty to three insurance fraud charges stemming from a minor accident in a parking lot in November 2004. She filed suit against the party that hit her, alleging serious back injuries, and ultimately settled her claim directly with the couple for $800,000. The settlement allowed the woman to file suit against the couple’s insurance carriers. One was the primary auto carrier and the other was the umbrella carrier, RLI Insurance Company. What the news story does not tell you is the involvement of paralegals in the process, and the significance of their role in helping to bring about this guilty plea.

Because RLI was the umbrella carrier, the potential claim payment was over $500,000. As part of the investigation into the loss, the claim counsel for RLI obtained medical records from the woman directly. In addition, claim counsel ordered medical records directly from the woman’s medical providers. That is when the paralegal stepped in and abstracted the medical records.

What the paralegal noticed was that the woman had replaced the word “back” with “knee” on medical records showing the prior medical history she provided directly. The medical records from the medical provider and the primary auto carrier both reflected “back.” In other words, the woman had suffered from back pain since 2000, but was trying to present contrary information to support her claim. RLI’s claim counsel made the claim personnel aware of this discovery, and they began to take steps to deny the claim.

In the meantime, the RLI claim personnel, recognizing the potential insurance fraud, sent the claim information to RLI’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU). Insurance regulations require insurance companies to maintain these SIUs to assist in the detection and prevention of insurance fraud. Insurance fraud laws state that knowingly presenting false information with the intent to deceive is considered a crime. Insurance companies through their SIUs have an obligation, then, to report any instances of insurance fraud. This time, another paralegal stepped in to this matter. I know this because I am that paralegal.

I took the information from the first paralegal and did another analysis from an insurance fraud perspective. My review consisted of a forgery analysis as well as a determination if certain “red flag” indicators pointed to insurance fraud. This information was then presented to our SIU and it was agreed that this matter should be referred to the Washington Department of Insurance. I made the referral in the early part of 2009, using much of the information obtained from claim counsel’s paralegal. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Without the initial investigation and discovery of the claim counsel’s paralegal, it is doubtful that this fraud would have been uncovered. Her diligence in meticulously reviewing every medical record, including duplicates, was key. It is not always exciting to read the same exact medical record over and over again – especially a hand-written doctor’s note which is sometimes hard to decipher. My job of putting the case together to present to the Department of Insurance was made much easier because of the detailed notes from the first paralegal. And the end result was denial of a fraudulent claim, a guilty plea to three counts of insurance fraud from the woman, and one less person committing insurance fraud. Around here, that is a success!

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Jen is the Senior Paralegal at RLI Corp. in the Law Department and also serves as the Director of the Special Investigation Unit. Currently, she also teaches legal research at Illinois Central College in the ABA-Approved Paralegal Program. She has been working as a paralegal for over 15 years and wouldn’t change one year of her career (a day or month, yes – but not the entire career!).

Jen was recently profiled at Practical Paralegalism; you can read her profile here. If you are a paralegal or student who thinks you'd like to try your hand at blogging - without starting a blog - guest-posting is the perfect way to start. Completing a paralegal profile or submitting a short article of 500-750 words about recent paralegal news, a how-to or list of resources, or even an opinion or humor essay allows you to dip a toe into the blawgosphere without getting soaked, or making a long term commitment to regular blogging. It's also a nice reflection of your commitment to the paralegal profession and your career success to have a well-written blog post or newsletter article show up in a Google search of your name. So if you've got a guest post in you, I'd love it if you'd shoot me the idea at lynne.devenny@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Legal Secretary Files Discrimination Lawsuit against Jones Day

A legal secretary’s civil complaint against her former employer that includes allegations that associates treat legal staffers like servants might not raise any eyebrows – at least among legal staffers – but one alleging attorneys and management used racial slurs and the workplace is a hotbed of sexual scandal certainly will.

In September 2010, legal secretary Jaki Nelson filed suit in the County of Los Angeles Superior Court against Jones Day, alleging she is the victim of racial discrimination and retaliation, after she was laid off with about 30 other employees in June 2010, during a staff reduction. An African-American woman and a Jones Day employee for almost 18 years, she alleges the staff reduction was merely a pretext to rid the firm of minorities and problematic individuals who complained about the work environment and unfair treatment.

It’s not the standard allegations of discrimination, retaliation and emotional distress that are making national headlines. It’s the insider allegations of extremely inappropriate and offensive conduct by the firm’s attorneys and supervisors that make the complaint a shocker.

What likely won't shock my legal staff readers are Nelson’s allegations regarding a typical work day for her, although she says in her case it was due to her race and her complaints about unfair treatment, including:
  • Attorneys made her work on their personal correspondence.
  • She was often asked fill in a month’s work on incomplete time sheets the day they were due.
  • She was paired with new associates who did not generate much clerical work, which did not allow her to improve her skills.
  • Supervising attorneys slammed doors in her face and papers on her desk, and engaged in passive-aggressive behavior.
  • Other employees were not chastised when they used the Internet for personal reasons during the day, came in late, or took long lunches.


If even a few of Nelson’s allegations regarding the firm’s treatment of her and other minority employees are true, she was a victim in an intolerable work environment. Based on her own allegations in the complaint, it looks like her counsel anticipates the defendants will allege that Nelson was a problem employee. Since the initial report of the lawsuit, Above the Law has published a supplemental post about the other side of the story, i.e. that Nelson had personal issues at work, and that some of the attorneys mentioned in the complaint would not likely have engaged in the alleged behavior.

But I know some of you will read the allegations regarding the day-to-day experience of working with difficult attorneys, and completely identify with the same kind of childish and/or unacceptable behaviors Nelson describes – except in your own experience, it had, or has, nothing to do with race.

PDF of Nelson’s Complaint: http://blog.ebosswatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Nelson-v-Jones-Day.pdf


Sources: eBossWatch; Above the Law

My Office Door Is "Closed" to You

Oh, Wait, My Cubicle Doesn't Have One

But if it did, it would so be closed.

You guys know I strongly encourage paralegals to add some grammar police blog subscriptions to their RSS feed readers. Not only are they educational, but they're great sources of belly laughs, at least for the grammar geeks amongst us.

When I saw this sign at the "blog" of "unncessary" quotation marks, I thought, "We've all had those days when anyone with a lick of sense and a love of living would not set foot in our office space. It's not like we can close our doors literally on our supervising attorneys, but who hasn't had that look on her face that said 'closed' anyway?" (Maybe those quotation marks would be necessary if we just move them over to the word "sorry"? And this could so be an office in a paper-full law firm with no practice management software.)



P.S. I don't think you can ever close your door if your office has a drive-thru window...

Paralegal Profile: Lanice V. Heidbrink

Job Title: Assistant to Alice Mine, Assistant Executive Director, North Carolina State Bar

Employer: North Carolina State Bar, Raleigh, NC

Years of Paralegal Experience: 5

Education/Degrees: Bachelors in Business Administration - Columbia College, Columbia, MO; Paralegal Certificate from Meredith College, Raleigh, NC

Specialty Areas: Administration

Career Highlight: Being the Raleigh-Wake Paralegal Association's Student Chair for two years always makes me proud. I love talking with students and promoting the paralegal profession. I remember how excited I was as a student and how much fun I had, but I also remember the worries and self-doubt that came. I feel it’s really important for established paralegals to reassure and be mentors to students to help them be the best they can be.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Don’t stop learning, take in as much as knowledge as you can. Don’t ever miss any opportunity to say a kind word to someone every day. You never know what that person is going through, and what you say can be the light that helps them get through.

Favorite Internet Resource: North Carolina State Bar http://www.ncbar.gov/ of course!

Do you use social media resources, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, for career and/or case development?
I’m still joining the social media age….sad but true. I’m on LinkedIn (still working on “perfecting” that) which I like because it’s a like a resume of your work. I’m also on Facebook which is a great way to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues. Lynne encouraged me at the last RWPA seminar to even give tweeting a try.

Fun Fact: I’m a major scrapbooking geek. I do it the old school way on paper, not on a computer. It’s like therapy for me, and I love the results.

One Gadget You Can’t Live Without: My HTC-Eris Smartphone, my life is on there!!

Favorite Quote: "Be yourself; everyone else is taken." –Oscar Wilde

Paralegal/Legal Association Memberships: Raleigh-Wake Paralegal Association, North Carolina Bar Association-Paralegal Division

Professional Links: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/lanice-heidbrink/18/1/596
___________________

I had a chance to work with Lanice this year while she was the CLE chair for RWPA. She invited me to speak at the association's October conference. She was really lovely to work with and did a great job both planning and coordinating this terrific educational event. She's one of the many dedicated legal professionals I've met this year who donate hours of their time to paralegal associations and make those CLE/CPE seminars and networking opportunities happen. Thank them next time you see them!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good Things: Law Technology News and iPads

You guys know you can get Law Technology News (LTN), which is free, digitally delivered (save the trees!) to you each month, right? If you're not currently subscribed, click here.

The November issue has an especially interesting article by Wisconsin attorney Ross Kodner, “Independence Daze: The iPad is changing the terrain of remote practice.” As a new iPad owner, I'm still very much learning all of its tricks and business applications (and would probably learn them much faster if I’d stop playing Plants vs. Zombies - you can check your email on this giant gaming tablet? Shut. Up!). I even started a new Practical Paralegalism page, “Paralegal iPad” (see the page tabs at the top of this blog) to share information for legal iPad users.

Kodner’s article summarizes the many, many ways legal professionals can utilize an iPad, especially when working on electronic (and not, ugh, paper) case files. From remotely accessing office practice management systems to reviewing and annotating documents to performing legal research (you get a free account with the iPad Fastcase app), the iPad is a technological boon to legal professionals on the go. Sure, you can use your smart phone, laptop or netbook, but the instant start up, tactile interface and great big beautiful screen will spoil you for anything else right quick.

Some of the apps I’ve already downloaded to my iPad (many free), including Evernote and Dropbox, are discussed in the article, as well as the benefits of buying an external keyboard (I’ve got one).

If an iPad isn’t in your budget right now, LTN certainly is, and there are other great technology articles in this issue. Even if you’re not a “techhie,” you’d be surprised how much you can learn by regularly reading a few legal technology blogs and publications, as well as getting a subscription to PCWorld – or Macworld if you’re all Apple all the time.

Source: LTN

There's a Vicious Rumor Going 'round...

...that It's National Clean Out Your Fridge Day

This is the last thing that any bona fide paralegal wants to learn at the end of a Monday spent answering The Interrogatories That Wouldn't Quit (like the drafter thought there was going to be some kind of prize given for most subparts ever. Separate post coming on how I deal with those puppies, especially when they get into the double letters).

But the national fridge freak out was yesterday, I think. (There seems to be some dispute amongst various websites as to whether this horrible event was yesterday or today.) As a paralegal, I'm obsessive about not missing dates, but this one? I'm good with failing to calendar it.

Actually, it's the fridge at work that probably needs to celebrate, because when 17 people who have no regard for expiration dates or mold classifications share an older model cold storage unit, sometimes there are things that look like this in it:


Hehe. I can't stop laughing at this picture either, but some of the other ones at the Cake Wrecks post made my stomach kinda whoopsie.

Maybe our firm will celebrate next year by expunging the Rubbermaid-turned-Petri-dishes. Everyone should clean out the fridge once a year - whether it needs it or not.

Related Posts: Say It With a Bouquet You Can Eat; Mercy, an Email Exchange between Legal Secretaries Made Snopes.com

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Career Dressing 101: Budget Suit of the Week

After Huma Rashid, law student and rockin' fashion stylist/blogger, recommended Shop It To Me, a site that acts as your "personal online shopper" by sending you email alerts when your favorite designer duds are on sale, I signed up.

I admit I may have to adjust my settings after getting an email alert that a Michael Kors Satin Sheath Dress is on sale for $1,000 (Wut, are you peeps NUTZ?!? It's PANK and looks like something a Real Housewife would wear to the grocery store!!!) but have no complaints at all about this great-looking Tahari ASL "Jodi Ann" jacket and "Cameron" skirt set, normally almost $300, on sale at Bloomies for $78.40 and currently available in sizes 4, 6, 10, 12 and 14 - using the promotional code FFSAVE at checkout. The jacket alone is worth the price.

Some of you have already told me that you don't like the monochrome look, but I think black tights and black shoes or boots worn with black skirts is a classic and sophisticated look for the colder months. I hate pantyhose but love, love, love tights in the winter.

Another Reason to Reconsider an Online Paralegal Education

Sometimes I get email from readers asking if I recommend online paralegal training programs, Kaplan in particular. I personally don’t know any Kaplan-trained paralegals, certainly not locally. Occasionally, I see posts by alleged Kaplan students on the national paralegal listservs, complaining about their inability to get hired, posts that would give me serious pause if I were considering an online paralegal education. To be absolutely fair, a lot of new graduates are having difficulty getting hired these days.

Seeking Desperate Students

I always suggest that potential students do their homework before making a commitment and signing a tuition payment plan for any program. However, a recent in-depth feature article published by the Gainesville Sun, which explores Kaplan’s legal troubles in detail, does not make me want to recommend Kaplan’s online program. It makes me want to say, “RUN, don’t walk, AWAY from Kaplan.”

A major cause of concern is a 2009 Department of Education finding that “only 28 percent of Kaplan’s students were repaying their student loans.” The school is also one of eight for-profit colleges under investigation by the Florida Attorney General’s office “for alleged misrepresentation of financial aid and deceptive practices regarding recruitment, enrollment, accreditation, placement and graduation rates.” Former recruiters allege that at one time a Kaplan training manual profiled ideal prospective students as being low in self-esteem, dependent on welfare, fired or laid off – or abused.

Seriously. Yikes.

But when a former dean of a Kaplan paralegal studies program, Ben Wilcox, is a plaintiff in a whistle blower lawsuit “that accuses Kaplan of defrauding taxpayers of hundreds of millions in student financial aid,” prospective students need to be concerned. Although Kaplan has accused Wilcox of hacking into its computer system and those criminal charges are pending, his take on the school’s educational priorities seems consistent with what other employees and students interviewed for the article said:


“They’ll tell you all sorts of terrible things about me,” Mr. Wilcox said, adding that Kaplan is intent on discrediting him because of his access to incriminating evidence. “But the bottom line is that Kaplan is a cold-hearted scam to make money by taking student loans from the government, and leaving students with debt that they’ll never be able to pay off.”


Even stranger, despite the bitter conflict between Wilcox and Kaplan, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Kaplan continued to use a four-year old “welcome video” featuring Wilcox on a company website until June of this year.

Are Local Employers Hiring from Online Programs?

The shocking media exposes of for-profit online colleges I've read in the last year or so are one of the many reasons I've never turned on the advertising feature for this blogging platform. I will not support banner ads or any other type of advertising for educational programs that I can't 100% in good conscience recommend to Practical Paralegalism readers.

My advice to prospective paralegal students who want to get their education online? Take another look at your local paralegal programs. Talk to area attorneys and members of your closest paralegal associations about the educational programs local employers prefer.

In this economy, no paralegal graduate is guaranteed a job, but to graduate from a program that local employers won't hire from and don't hold in high regard is going to dramatically increase your chances of being one of those online paralegal program graduates who can't get a decent job in the legal field - or repay their staggering student loan debts.

Sources: The Chronicle of Higher Education; universitybusiness.com; The Gainesville Sun

Related Posts: Do Your Homework Before Enrolling in a For-Profit Paralegal Program; Fear of an Overpriced Paralegal Degree; Using Social Media; Today It Takes a Village to Succeed in the Paralegal Profession

Legal Assistant Bikes to Work for Fun

It’s challenging enough for me to commute to work – and get there wearing matching shoes and a hairstyle that doesn’t make my co-workers ask if I lost my hairbrush - driving a car, even though it’s less than five miles from my house. I can hardly imagine trying to do it riding a bide.

But Vermont legal assistant, Hanna Thurber, a legal assistant at Fisher & Fisher Law Office in Brattleboro, rode her bike to work, a five mile commute one way, for 80 days last year, and met her goal of commuting to work on her bike for 100 days this year.

She’s not even a competitive cyclist; she does it because it’s fun.

The Brattleboro Reformer describes her bike-commuting days:

Each morning, she packed up her work clothes, water bottle and tire repair kit, hopped on her Cannondale Cyclocross and coasted into town.

At the law office, she carried her bike up a flight of stairs and tucked it in a storage closet for the day.

"My co-workers were very supportive and enthusiastic. I feel lucky about that. They knew I was going for 100 days and would ask, ‘How many do you have left?,'" she says.

Thurber’s story makes me remember how much I loved riding my bike as a kid, and how much I’ve felt like a carefree kid the few times I’ve ridden a bike as an adult.

But I’m not coordinated enough to try cycling to work, especially with a travel mug full of coffee in one hand - and my teenage daughter catching a ride to school on the handlebars.

Are any Practical Paralegalism readers commuting to work via bike, full or part-time?

First Legal Assistant to Join ABA Dies

Linda DeLange Bennett died of breast cancer on November 3, 2010, but not without leaving an impressive mark on the legal system.

In 1983, Bennett was a major contributor to the Texas probate law guidelines, which were published by the State Bar of Texas to help non-lawyers navigate the probate system.

Bennett was the first legal assistant member of the American Bar Association in 1983, given the honor by her supervising attorney, James E. Brill, then the chair of the Law Practice Management Section.

Bennett started her career in 1969, as an inexperienced office assistant and word processor, who learned quickly and gained her impressive knowledge of the Texas probate system.

Bennett's obituary reveals more about this talented and upbeat woman:
Linda knew her time was short here on this earth and said "I win either way. I will either have more time to spend with the love of my life here or spend eternity with my loving heavenly father." Linda was a gifted artist and seamstress, had a great sense of humor, and was a loving friend. She had a wonderful spirit and open heart and leaves a legacy of unconditional love and acceptance of family in every form.
She retired, after almost 30 years of service to the James E. Brill P.C. law firm, to care for her husband, Gary, who was seriously injured in a work accident, and described their relationship so beautifully to the Houston Chronicle that it's hard to read without both smiling and tearing up:
I was always her hero, and she was always mine. It was just like you only find one soulmate in your life, and we both found each other.
Linda, you were a bright light in the world. Thank you for opening so many doors for other legal staffers, as well as to the public to have access to the legal system.
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Legal educators, paralegals, legal assistants, law office administrators and law librarians can join the ABA as Associate members, but the dues are $175 per year, with an additional $60 for each ABA Section joined. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but the ABA does not have a Paralegal Division at this time.

Wisconsin Law Journal’s 2010 Unsung Legal Staff Heroes

I blog about so many legal staffers here at Practical Paralegalism because I strongly feel they are the unsung heroes of the legal profession. I loved reading that last week almost 300 people attended Wisconsin Law Journal’s 2010 Unsung Heroes celebration in Milwaukee, honoring 50 people in 10 different categories, including Legal Secretary of the Year, Heidi Buttchen, and Paralegal of the Year, Carolyn Simpson. All of the honorees are the wonderful and indispensable people who provide crucial support to attorneys, including court clerks, IT specialists, law librarians, and firm administrators.

One of the best parts about the WLJ awards is that each and every legal staffer is featured at the website with a photo and an appreciative quote from their nominating attorneys. I encourage you to read all the terrific honoree profiles and enjoy this recognition of the key contributions legal staffers make to the practice of law every day.

Paralegal Category

Carolyn Simpson, a prosecution specialist/paralegal at Foley & Lardner LLP since 2003, is an expert in IP filings with the USPTO and “is trusted and valued by colleagues throughout the intellectual property department.” Paralegal honorees are Kimberly Finnigan, Rachelle Hocking, Theresa Lenz, Renee Nehring, Lisa Stewart-Boettcher, Chantelle Stocco, and Beth Zimmermann.

My favorite quote from the Paralegal Honorees’ section is from Stocco’s supervising attorneys, David DeBruin and Paul Benson:

Client service and zealous representation are attributes sought in attorneys. But when these attributes are found in a paralegal who combines them with superior administrative skills, a work ethic that does not quit until the job is done right and a pleasant attitude, it makes our job as attorneys easy. Chantelle Stocco chose to focus her work on complex litigation matters such as
patent litigation, professional liability and product liability litigation. This kind of commitment is not often found and when it is, it deserves recognition. She is the definition of reliability and dependability. It is this always willing to step up to the plate, can-do approach to her work that makes us proud to nominate Chantelle Stocco.

Legal Secretary Category

Heidi Buttchen, employed for 12 years at Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP, has a remarkable distinction: she has never taken a sick day. Her supervising attorney, Jordan Loeb, nominated her for the award and describes her as “work personified.” Legal secretary honorees are Jane Ames, Tami Burdick, Mary Burks, Brenda Champan, Lori Czarnecki, Emily Igl, Bernice Kukral, Mary McGivern, Deb Morgan, Sharon Nelson, Katie Roubik, Karen Schultz, Joanne Stone, Lindsay Van De Hei, Aileen Vargo, Jane Wiese, and Rosemary Haas (in memoriam).

My favorite quote from the Legal Secretary Honoree’s section is attorney Earl Munson’s description of Jane Ames:

…She corrects my errors, makes sure that briefs are in proper form, suggests changes in my letters, and is sought out by other lawyers and secretaries for help. I often receive comments from other lawyers in the office that “she is awesome.”

Congratulations to all of the honorees for this year’s Unsung Heroes, and many, many thanks to WLJ for singing their praises and highlighting their dedication, professionalism, and critical roles on the legal team.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Case of the Soggy Ballots

Tonight there's a City College of San Francisco paralegal student sitting in jail, charged with three felonies and unable to make his $100,000 bail.

You probably think he's accused of a major bank heist to get that kind of bail - and that was reduced from the $150,000 prosecutors originally requested. Practical Paralegalism has posted stories about actual working paralegals accused of stealing major bucks who weren't even jailed upon arrest (and a few who were.)

The catch here is there's no money involved, not even any hinky sex stuff like Above the Law gets to write about all the time.

But 75 ballots, a voting machine memory card, the voter roster, and an election worker's cell phone did go missing from a residential polling place on November 2.

The Bay Citizen is reporting that paralegal student Karl Nicholas, who was working as an election worker for a pittance that day, and who allegedly went AWOL from his post at the same time the polling site materials (and co-worker's cell phone) went missing, has been charged with "tampering with election equipment, stealing election materials and disrupting a government computer system."

The public defender says the evidence against Nicholas is sketchy. Neither the ballots, nor any of the other items, were found at his residence or on his person, and the police report said there were no witnesses who saw him tampering with the broken voting machine. The soggy ballots were found the next day, contained in a plastic bag, floating in a nearby pond.

The stolen ballots had no impact whatsoever on the election results in a supervisorial race in a district where the current supervisor was not even up for re-election this year.

I'm not even sure where to go with the rest of this post. I hope Nicholas is able to make his bail, because his next court date isn't until November 19. Prison seems kind of harsh for wet ballots and a violated voting machine.

And now we know that stealing election ballots is really, really, really bad, as bad as stealing actual money - even if they do turn up in a pond, wet but still kinda legible.

What we don't know is who stole this bizarre collection of items from a local polling place (where I have never in my life seen anything remotely shiny or tempting enough to want to take with me when I leave, not even an "I Voted" sticker) - or why.

Why, why, why, why? (Notice the time of this post? This is why I have insomnia.)

Source: The Bay Citizen

For Everyone Who Has Ever Taught a Paralegal Class

Or Been Driven 'round the Bend by Online Content Theft

Language alert here, but this xtranormal video, "One Professor's Fantasy" (brought to my attention by my husband the college professor), to quote Vivian from Pretty Woman, is "so good, I almost peed my pants!"

I taught paralegal classes for five years - and I loved it. But no lie, there is always that one student in every single class - the special one. The one who asked me if reports had to be written in complete sentences. The one who turned in a report with no complete sentences. The one who had seven grandmothers die in one semester. The one who couldn't take the exam with the rest of the class because Aunt Flo was visiting. The one who lied to the entire faculty about undergoing chemotherapy - and provided forged doctors' notes - to get extensions for projects. The one who came to class twice and still maintained a D average, but filed a formal complaint with the dean because her final grade wasn't an A. You know - that one.



There's so much good stuff in this video about proofreading, plagiarism and procrastination, that transcribing the instructor's very pointed questions to that student would make a great blog post for paralegal students, paralegals and bloggers - about how not to succeed in academia or the professional world.

Paralegal Profile: Nikki L. Campos, CP

Job Title: Certified Paralegal (NALA)

Employer: Self-employed virtual paralegal

Years of Paralegal Experience: 10

Education/Degrees: AAS in Paralegal Studies; BS in Business Management

Specialty Areas: Real Estate, Estate Planning, Probate, Bankruptcy and Entities

Career Highlight: Convincing my boss to transition my position to my home office. It has opened a door in the paralegal profession that I never thought possible. I started my own business providing paralegal services virtually.

Paralegal Practice Tip: Take advantage of technology advances because it will make your job easier!

Favorite Internet Resource: http://www.nebraska.gov/. As a Justice subscriber you can search cases and view pleadings, or any documents, that have been filed of record in any Court across the State of Nebraska. This has eliminated my trips to the courthouse :)

Favorite Legal Software: Adobe Acrobat Professional--I wouldn’t be able to do my job without it!

Fun Fact: I ran my first 10k this summer and am addicted to BodyPump by LesMills. It’s a great way to relieve stress!

One Gadget You Can’t Live Without: My good ole’ laptop and wireless Internet

Favorite Quote: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” ~ Randy Pausch

Paralegal/Legal Association Membership: Central Nebraska Legal Professionals http://www.orgsites.com/ne/centralnebraskalegalprofessionalsassociation/index.html

Professional Links: TruE-Paralegal; LinkedIn Profile
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Thanks, Nikki, for the great profile, and congratulations on making the transition to virtual paralegal. I'll add you to the list of experienced virtual paralegals I can contact for support when my turn comes!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jury Awards Paralegal 160k for Battery by Police Officer

If your job as a paralegal includes repossessing cars for your employer, no doubt it's a challenge under normal circumstances. But if you get pulled over by an LAPD officer while driving a lawfully repossessed vehicle, wrongfully reported as stolen, and then when you offer to get the paperwork out of your briefcase to show you're not a car thief, the officer grabs you and handcuffs your wrists so tightly that you sustain nerve damage, those circumstances are inexcusable.

That's what a federal jury said in Taylor-Ewing v. City of Los Angeles et al, CV 07-5556 GHK - that Tesha Taylor-Ewing's constitutional and civil rights were violated in April 2006, when Officer Jose Castaneda clamped on the cuffs "in an improper and excessively tight manner" despite her cries of pain - which he ignored for half an hour. In an unanimous verdict, the jury awarded Taylor-Ewing $160,000 in compensatory damages.

One of Taylor-Ewing's attorneys, V. James DeSimone, said, “The jury’s verdict restored my client's faith in the system after the officer ignored her cries of pain for thirty minutes and the LAPD investigation concluded the incident never happened. The system worked and justice prevailed!”

The jury was clearly convinced the incident did happen, and the verdict will hopefully send a strong message to the law enforcement community that this kind of treatment is beyond unacceptable. Of course, I do not know what evidence was presented at trial. Still, I can't help but wonder if Taylor-Ewing, a legal professional, would have been treated so roughly over a stolen vehicle check had she not been an African-American female.
_________________
Taylor-Ewing is pictured with her attorneys, V. James DeSimone and Genie Harrison.

Paralegal Is Finalist for White House Save Award

The 18,000 ideas submitted by federal workers for the second annual President's Save Award have been whittled down to four finalists, and in a contest for cost-cutting solutions, it's no surprise that one of those finalists is a paralegal.

The Washington Post reports:


Paul Behe, a Cleveland paralegal specialist, suggested the Department of Homeland Security should advertise property seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection online instead of in newspapers, saving the agency both time and money. Behe's office has more than 900 cases of seized property waiting in storage to be processed and advertised, he said.

The competition is tight; other suggestions include ending the mailing of thousands of federal registers to employees, and stopping the pricey express delivery of empty containers (I'm sure you're shocked by this cockamamy use of your federal tax dollars). The winner gets to meet the President to discuss his or her idea.

If you're a federal worker and want to show your support for a fellow paralegal, voting starts Monday at http://www.saveaward.gov/.

Source: The Washington Post

Today's Quote: Paralegals, the Hidden Arteries of the Legal System

Another class offered at North, that is more underrated but perhaps more essential to society, is paralegal. This is the hidden arteries of the legal system, being able to sort through useless information to pick out the gems that can either save an innocent person or convict the guilty party. Unlike the lawyers who put the pieces together and argue their views, paralegals find those pieces and clean them up for the lawyer to put together later. It might sound like clerical work, but it's more important and complicated than one might think. ~ Excerpt from San Jacinto Times, student newspaper of San Jacinto College.

Okay, I admit it, I was shocked to learn you can also major in journalism at San Jacinto College.

For those of you studying for NALA's CLA/CP exam, I invite you to circle all the grammatical and punctuation errors (or stuff that is just plain wrong but you can't figure out why) as a study exercise for the written communications section.

For those of you who just sat down at your desk and haven't had a single chug of your coffee, please don't cry. There are gems hidden on your desk. Also, you're way more important than one might think.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Must-Have USB Drive & Fashion Accessory for Men

Add men's cufflinks to the list of sneaky places to hide a USB flash drive. While many men don't wear them anymore, if you're looking for a clever (and expensive) present for that sharp-dressed, technologically-advanced male legal professional in your life (or to be PC, female - I had a pair I bought in a vintage store that I wore with French cuff shirts), try these 4GB USB Flash Drive Cufflinks, also available in gunmetal and gold finishes at only $195 a pair.








"Functional fashion," who'da thunk it?

You can even have them engraved for an additional charge.

Thanks, Mashable.

Related Posts: With this USB Drive, I Thee Wed; The Search for Hidden USB Drives Gets More Interesting; The Perfect Paralegal Tool

Paralegals Get Crocking #1

Brrrr, it's gotten cold, and now thanks to "Daylight Savings Time" (I added the quotation marks, because I fail to see how dark setting in at 4:47 p.m. is saving anyone any time), coming home to a house full of warm, welcoming dinner smells after a long day at the law office or legal department is a relief. The crock pot is on, and dinner is ready. Now you can feel less guilty about going to bed at 8:00 p.m. until your body adjusts to the time change.

Here's the first round of crock pot recipes from Practical Paralegalism readers:

That Ham and Potato Thing ~ from Jen Guppy, Senior Paralegal, Illinois

6 medium potatoes, peeled & sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
Chopped ham (there is no need to chop it yourself. This comes already chopped in packages at the store.)
Cheddar cheese, 1 package or 2 cups
Cream of _____ (insert your favorite cream of something soup here).

Place ½ of the potatoes, onions, cheddar (in that order). Repeat for a second layer. Place the soup on top. Cover. Cook on High 4-6 hours or low 8-10 hours. Stir it up when you want to serve.

I usually prepare this in the crock pot the night before and place it in the refrigerator (my crock pot is the kind where you can take the bowl out). Then I just place it in the cooker in the morning and turn it on. Easy! And coming home to the delightful smells of dinner ready is worth it.

* * * * * *
Crock Pot Apple Crisp ~ from Nikki Campos, Certified Paralegal, Nebraska

Here is recipe I found at the blog Family Food and even tried it this weekend for our Halloween party---it turned out so good, and my house smelled wonderful.

8 cups peeled, sliced apple
½ cup flour
½ cup quick oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup butter softened

Put sliced apples evenly spread in crock-pot on high. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over top of apples. DO NOT STIR. (the top will get ‘crispy’ when it’s done, I even cooked mine a little longer because I love the ‘crunchies’) Cover and cook on LOW about 6 hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Who knew I could make apple crisp :)

* * * * *
Chicken and Dumplings (Courtesy of Crock-Pot.com with a few substitutions) ~ Amanda Hazel, Paralegal, Texas

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch slices (I used a bag of frozen veggies with carrots)
2 celery ribs, sliced (I did not slice celery, but used McCormick’s Celery Seed for flavoring)
10 3/4 ounces condensed cream of mushroom soup
10 3/4 ounces condensed cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
16 ounces refrigerated buttermilk biscuits, canned
1/2 cup frozen green peas (The peas were in the frozen mixed veggies)

Place the chicken pieces, carrots, celery, soups, broth, garlic powder, thyme, salt and pepper in the Crock-Pot® slow cooker and mix to combine thoroughly.

Cut five of the buttermilk biscuits into quarters. Add to the chicken mixture and lightly combine.

Cover; Cook on Low 6 to 8 hours (or on High 3 to 4 hours).

Fifteen minutes prior to serving, bake the remaining biscuits as directed.

Add the peas to the chicken and dumplings about two minutes before serving, or until warmed through.

To serve, spoon the chicken and dumplings into individual bowls and top each serving with a warm biscuit. Ladle additional sauce over the top, if desired.

It turned out AWESOME in my crock-pot and was a great confidence booster in my quest to become a cook :)

* * * * *
Thanks to Jen, Nikki and Amanda for the great recipes and links. Crock-Pot.com allows users to input courses and ingredients, and then provides the recipes. I added the Family Food blog to my RSS feed reader because some of her recipes look so user-friendly!

I hope you'll keep your fave crock pot recipes coming; I can already tell my family is going be eating a lot better this winter.

Related Post: The Post In Which I Impart My Best "Cooking" Advice

Saturday, November 6, 2010

National UnFriend Day: Cut Some of that Fat Out of Your Life

Jimmy Kimmel has proclaimed November 17 as National UnFriend Day (NUD). That's the day you're supposed to take a look at your 673 Facebook friends, and then unfriend all of them you wouldn't recognize on the street, have absolutely no clue as to who they are, or most important, wouldn't help you move this weekend.

Jimmy's got a point, actually a pretty good one, and I agree that all of Gina-Robin-Thicke-and-Mashed-Potatoes-HOOLLERRR!!!'s Facebook friends should think about whether they can stand another one of her random and unfortunately up-to-the-minute updates appearing in their news feeds.



Even before Jimmy announced NUD, I'd been thinking about this issue a lot. On the one hand, I don't believe in Internet privacy, so I don't post anything on Facebook that I wouldn't care if my mother, my boss, and 150 attendees at a CLE saw. Plus, I've made a lot of paralegal friends across the country via Facebook, and LinkedIn, and Twitter. I also really enjoy many of my friends' status updates.

On the other hand, I confess I honestly don't know some of my Facebook "friends," and maybe Jimmy's right, maybe we are "cheapening" friendship via Facebook. But I'd still call some of the new friendships I've made via Facebook infinitely precious and without price. So, maybe on November 17, I'll just do a quick stalker check of my Facebook friend list, and then try to friend William Shatner.
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Language Warning: By the way, if you didn't get to see Bill's hilarious take on Cee-Lo Green's "F**ck You" on Lopez Tonight, you can see how far we've come from 1969 when poor Brute Force, who worked as a paralegal for a while, couldn't get the "King of Fuh" played on the radio, even with support from The Beatles.

Source: Mashable

How Paralegals Help Create Exceptional Client Experiences

Taking good care of our firm's clients is important to me. They've come to us during some of the worst periods of their lives, trusting us to help them, and give them guidance until they can get to better days. I can also vouch for the fact that our firm gets many word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients who have told their friends and family that we take good care of them. That kind of marketing is priceless.

Today's post from Lawyerist.com, "Creating an Exceptional Client Experience," shares ways that not only the lawyers, but the entire legal team can provide the highest quality customer care. Some of the ways paralegals and other legal staffers can be essential to providing an exceptional client experience include:


  1. Keeping clients informed, even if we have to talk to our supervising attorneys, and then get back to a client after he or she has asked a question we don't have the answer to. Also, calling back when we say we will, even if it's just to say we don't have an answer but are working on it, means much more to clients than not calling back at all.

  2. Asking clients frequently how they prefer to be contacted by the firm, and keeping this information up-to-date and noted where everyone can see it, preferably in a firm practice management system. Some of our clients don't have computers, while others prefer email exclusively. Remembering how they prefer to be contacted makes them feel like you know them well, that you keep track of key details about them, and that you believe their needs are important.

  3. Helping gather information for the attorney to provide the services needed. Sometimes legal staffers are able to relate to clients in a different way, and get information clients may feel uncomfortable or uncertain about providing to an attorney. To be honest, some of our clients are a little intimidated by any lawyer, no matter how nice that lawyer is to them. They'll ask for a paralegal, knowing that we will relay the information to the attorney, but perhaps feeling more comfortable chatting with a staffer. (In cases where they are being billed by the hour, many of them simply are being budget-conscious.)

  4. Drafting forms that explain common legal processes to clients. Because paralegals and other legal staffers may interact with clients more frequently on a day-to-day basis, they often know the typical questions that clients ask. For example, drafting a standard letter or form that the firm can send to clients, explaining the mediation process, is a great project for a paralegal. Also, patiently answering the same questions via telephone, even if the firm did provide a written FAQ to the client, is all part of the client care process. Sometimes people are anxious, and it's not that they don't really know the answers - they just want reassurance.

Although I'm human and have bad days like everyone else, I try hard to treat our clients like I'd want to be treated if the situation were reversed. And clients appreciate that. Sometimes new referrals even call me directly, saying, "My neighbor Mr. Jones said to call you about my work injury, because you were so nice to him when he was injured on the job." I'll say, "You know I'm not the lawyer, right?" And the caller will respond, "I know you're the paralegal, but Mr. Jones said to call you." Telling their friends to call me is one of the highest compliments I can receive from a client.

Paralegals and legal staffers are an important part of an exceptional client experience - and they help create that excellent word-of-mouth marketing that every firm needs.

Source: Lawyerist.com