Thursday, June 30, 2011

Paralegal Profile: Kirsten Carlos, CLA, NCCP

Job Title: Intellectual Property Law Paralegal

Employer:  Myers Bigel Sibley & Sajovec, P.A., Raleigh, NC

Years of Paralegal Experience: 7

Education/Degrees:  BA - Journalism/Indiana University; Certificate from Meredith College Paralegal Program

Specialty Areas:  Intellectual Property Law; Patents, Trademarks; Litigation

Career Highlights:  Nominated to be President of the Research Triangle Paralegal Association (RTPA); Teacher at Meredith College Paralegal Program; Helped plan the first ever NC Bar/RTPA Career Fair at the NC Bar Center

Future Professional Goal:  Continue to learn more aspects of Intellectual Property Law, and continue to spread the word about RTPA.

Paralegal Practice Tip:  Stay ahead of your deadlines! Trying to Find a Job Tip: Network, network, network!

Cool Gadget: Cardboard Flash Drives Coming Soon

As an example of how fast technology is changing, I use a picture of Russian design company Art Lebedev's Flashkus, a disposable paper USB drive not yet on the market, in my PowerPoint presentation for my ethics CLE, "Old-Fashioned Ethics in a Newfangled World." I use rarely use flash drives anymore, preferring cloud solutions for files on the go, but sometimes you just need a flash drive (like to take your PowerPoint to the actual conference).

These are ideal for creative types.

I like these because you can write on them, which will be great for people who use tons of inexpensive thumb drives, but don't have a clue as to what's on them.

Source:  ecowizer

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Top 11 Things to Do if You're Sexually Harassed at Work

I've worked for a firm that specializes in employment law and civil rights for many years, and assisted on a number of sexual harassment cases involving egregious and utterly indefensible conduct, but before I proceed further, I want to remind readers that I'm not a lawyer, and I don't give legal advice.

But there are practical steps you should take immediately if you become the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. A recent article at Aol Jobs, "Top 10 Things You Need to Know if You're Sexually Harassed at Work" does a great job of discussing them.

Read the article in full, but in summary, here are 11 steps you should take (or not take) if you are sexually harassed (I added one I think is needed for clarification):

  1. Don't walk off the job.
  2. Review your employer's sexual harassment policies (if any). Follow them.
  3. Report the harassment immediately to the appropriate management employee.
  4. Document the incidents of sexual harassment in writing.
  5. Being treated differently because of your gender may also be sexual harassment.
  6. A single incident may not be grounds for a lawsuit, but you should still report it.
  7. A report of harassment may not result in the harasser's termination.
  8. Your report should result in an employer investigation, which may be uncomfortable, but is necessary.
  9. Immediately report continued acts of sexual harassment or retaliation.
  10. Remember your willingness to step forward may help other victims of the harasser.
  11. While you should do your best not to quit, if your mental or physical health is at risk, it may be appropriate.
If you are a victim of sexual harassment, it is also a very good idea to schedule a consultation as soon as possible with an attorney in your area that specializes in employment law to discuss your rights and remedies.

For more information about sexual harassment, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission site.

Source:  Aol Jobs

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Legal Assistant Uses Accelerometer for Herself, Not for Law Firm Prize Drawing

Most of us know how hard it is to include regular exercise in a sedentary profession that often requires longer than normal work days, parked in front of a computer screen. So kudos to Stamford, Connecticut law firm Fox Rothschild LLP which sponsors a monthly drawing for a $200 gift card for employees who walk at least 4,000 steps a day.

Carole Lang, a legal assistant for the firm, was interviewed for a recent feature article in The Boston Globe, "Healthy Steps." But she doesn't walk just for a chance to win a sizable gift card:

Carole Lang, 66, a legal assistant at the Fox Rothschild law firm in Stamford, Conn., has been using an accelerometer provided by GlobalFit since March and says that while her firm provides a monthly drawing for a $200 gift card for those who meet the 4,000-step-a-day challenge, the prizes aren’t what motivate her to walk more. “I’m competitive with myself and can see how much I’ve walked today compared to what I walked in the past. I want to walk more each day because of who I am.’’
Silva Accelerometer Hiker via Amazon

For those of you, like me, that aren't afraid to ask the newbie techie question, "What IS an accelerometer?", one fitness blogger describes it as a "pedometer on steroids."  A bit pricier than a pedometer, basic models start at $30 but you can spend a lot more.

Walking on your lunch hour, and at any other opportunity you get, is a free (unless you buy an accelerometer) and easy way to get away from your desk for a quick respite, relieve work-related stress inherent to the legal profession - and burn off some of that secret chocolate stash.

Source: The Boston Globe

Octogenarian Lawyer Inspires Receptionist to Go to College

Becky Pennington, a receptionist for 80-year old lawyer Ruth Sullivan, a sole practitioner in Dadeville, Alabama, has some unusual legal support staff duties. She drives her boss to and from work from the assisted living facility where Sullivan lives, and takes her to a wellness center to exercise.

But Pennington, a self-described "legal assistant in waiting" hoping to become Sullivan's "official" legal assistant, describes Sullivan as a "wonderful lady," and has established long-term legal career goals thanks to her boss. Pennington told the Montgomery Advertiser:

"She's the reason I'm in school," said Pennington, who is enrolled at Faulkner University in Montgomery. "She told me to get off my butt and get to work because she wouldn't be around forever."

Faulkner University offers an ABA-approved Legal Studies Program.

I like Sullivan's advice; it's direct and to the point. Getting off their butt and getting to work has led more than one person to a successful career in the legal field.

Source: Montgomery Advertiser

Monday, June 27, 2011

Can Getting More Responsibility Without Pay Actually Benefit You?

It can if you are able to negotiate other benefits in lieu of increased compensation, and it can beef up your resume, according to one career management expert. Keeping your job, even without raises, during a down economy isn't a bad thing, either.

Tanya Lannon, a paralegal and administrative assistant for a small law firm in Kansas City, was interviewed for a recent feature story at Fox 4, "Promotions Without Raises Becoming More Common."

Lannon did not get a bigger paycheck in exchange for taking on more responsibilities, but she is very pleased with the other benefits she negotiated instead:

"When I was asked to take on more tasks or do something different, it wasn't much of a problem for me. In the end I have flexible hours which I enjoy because I have two small children, and I thought it was just sort of a tossup, tradeout type of thing."
This economy has been tough on the practice of law, and I know more than a few paralegals and other legal support staffers that haven't received raises, in well, a long time. Have any Practical Paralegalism readers negotiated other valuable benefits, including flexible hours, in lieu of a bigger paycheck?


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stuff You Wish You Could Say in a Meeting - But Never Can

The following phrases actually came from "Some Useful Condescending Phrases" intended for Evil Overlords, but who hasn't had the following thought bubbles over their heads during unending, unproductive, doughnut-free meetings:

  1. Really, thanks. We're all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.
  2. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.
  3. I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.
  4. It's a thankless job, but I've got a lot of Karma to burn off.
  5. No, my powers can only be used for good.
  6. How about never? Is never good for you?
  7. I don't work here. I'm a consultant.
  8. It might look like I'm doing nothing, but at the cellular level I'm really quite busy.
  9. Someday, we'll look back on this, laugh nervously, and change the subject.
Remember, people, thought bubbles only.

* * *

Also, remember Practical Paralegalism is on vacay this week, and couldn't find any suckers guest bloggers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reader Question: Journalism Major Considering Paralegal Career

One of my friends is considering the paralegal profession. He is just out of college with a history/journalism degree. He is interested in becoming a paralegal. He has a great GPA, and is very intellectually and analytically oriented, in addition to being widely read and legally/politically aware. I am wondering what would be your advice to him with respect to the following :

1) Should he start off with an internship in a paralegal firm, and move on to getting a degree in paralegal studies?

2) What is the nature of work and gamut of opportunities, for recent college grads with no legal experience, but yet want to work their way up in a paralegal firm?

Ohio Graduate Student

Practical Paralegalism's Response

As you and your friend probably already know, the job market is tough for everyone right now, no matter what their major. There is a lot of competition for every paralegal job posted, but it can be interesting and rewarding work. Many firms want that four-year degree, but sometimes they also want a paralegal certificate from a reputable, usually ABA-approved, program.

Without knowing your friend's current employment situation, I would say that interning for a law firm, if his schedule permits, is a good way to see if he likes the work. If he does, then he could look into the preferred paralegal programs for the area of the country where he resides or plans to settle.

Friday, June 17, 2011

TGIF: The Impression of Clean

This YouTube video, "bubbles perv," is probably BVAH (better viewed at home), but it's funny. I hate cleaning my bathroom, but I've always been a huge fan of the scrubbing bubbles because you can spray 'em and walk away.

But maybe not so much....

I hope you have a great weekend and don't have to clean the shower.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Paralegal Career Dressing: Mad for the Mad Men Look

I'm mad for the women's career wear on Mad Men, maybe because I was influenced by a grandmother who made her own exquisitely tailored clothes in the 50s and 60s. As the full-circle skirts and well-tailored dresses inspired by that period slowly make their way into local stores in this area, I find myself trying on these retro fashions and thinking the clean lines and solid construction really flatter a middle-aged figure, and suit a conservative law office environment.

That same grandmother taught me to sew, and I'm thinking about making some vintage-inspired full skirts, but in the meantime I'll drool over these custom clothes made by someone who sews like a dream at the Etsy shop, Heartmycloset:

A Drop Down Menu a Paralegal Can Really Use

I know this is the vision of a paralegal, I just know it:

Brilliant, just brilliant.
Source:  Al Lowe's Humor Site

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Paralegal Career Dressing: Office Supplies & One for the Guys

You know I love a good office supply picture, and a well-turned out paralegal. Hey, and girls can wear French cuff shirts and cuff links, too.

Man, these chrome binder clips are sharp.
Source:  6 Life-Changing Uses for Binder Clips (That You Could've Easily Thought Of)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reader Question: Advertising Grad Interested in Paralegal Career

I graduated five years ago with a BS degree with a concentration in advertisement.  I'm very interested in taking the correct steps to become a paralegal, but I am unsure of where to begin due to the fact I have already gone to college. I currently have a full time job as well. I would really appreciate any assistance you could provide me with.  I have started listening to your podcast with Vicki Voisin and I'm hooked. ~ NC Paralegal Wannabe

Practical Paralegalism's Response:

I'm glad to hear from you - and thanks for the positive feedback regarding the podcast. I've been awed by some of our guests myself! :)

I think the first step someone in your position has to take is to evaluate your current employment. If you need to work full-time, then any paralegal education of course will have to be scheduled around that. I think most NC legal employers welcome four-year degrees - but they also want a certificate from a reputable paralegal program and the NCCP certification. You'd probably only have to take paralegal courses in the community college program, because most of your general education credits should transfer.

Also, there's the issue of the job market for legal professionals right now; it's especially tough in rural areas. If you want to stay in NC, there are more opportunities in larger cities like Charlotte and Raleigh, but you'll hear a lot of new graduates of various paralegal programs lament the difficulty landing entry-level employment. I'd keep an eye on the paralegal want ads in the areas where you'd like to work, and see what specialty areas are most in demand and what qualifications employers want.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Today's Quote: Who's My Paralegal?

Suddenly, every time an attorney or paralegal quits the job, the client's case is shuttled off to a new attorney or paralegal in the office that the client has never met. The new attorney is not familiar with the case, and has no relationship with the client. The client becomes rightfully frustrated, but cannot get adequate assurance from the law firm's management that his case will be handled competently. Sometimes, the client cannot even get a return telephone call from the "senior partner." ~ Excerpt from "Who's My Lawyer?" (U.S. Politics Today)

The biggest complaint from most legal consumers is the inability to get a timely return phone call from their lawyer. This is one area that a well-trained paralegal can really help with client satisfaction, by handling calls when the attorney isn't available, and helping to keep clients up-to-date regarding their cases.  Some clients, especially if they're being billed by the hour, purposely talk to paralegals when they can.

But it can be just as hard on the paralegals and other legal support staffers left at a firm where the turnover rate is high. A regular exodus of staff is usually not indicative of a terrific work environment. No matter how many good questions you ask during an interview, or how observant you are the few times you visit a firm as a job applicant, sometimes employee dissatisfaction and high turnover are not going to be readily apparent.

Welcome to Monday

When I get home from work today, I'm looking forward to being greeted by some of the sunny perennials I planted this weekend - even if the day hasn't been so sunny.

I gave this picture, taken with my smart phone at the nursery as I happily hauled my new babies around in a little red wagon, the oil paint effect at, because I haven't had time to paint in way too long.

Digging in the dirt helps reduce my work stress.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Paralegal's Purse: Reader, I Bought It

So that's what they did with all those extra Tribbles.

Huge Star Trek fan here, but even I can't countenance turning a Tribble into a purse, faux or otherwise. But this one made me laugh when it turned up in my Shop It To Me personal shopper recommendation this week.

Really? Ya think it's perfect for moi? 'Cause incredible homeliness aside, this bag costs $1,816.50 (originally $2,595.00).

Today's Quote: Cutback in Legal Staffing Affects Market for "Calfburgers"

"We used to get lots of secretaries and paralegals but we just don't get them in anymore. I think a lot of the law firms have cut back and, with the economy the way it is, a lot of our customers don't eat at restaurants anymore." ~ Kathleen Portman, co-owner of The Fatted Calf in St. Louis, Missouri explains why the restaurant's doors might close after 45 years in business (

Aw, man, we get blamed for everything, even the decline of the hamburger trade.

But honestly, did secretaries and paralegals account for the missing 100 customers a day?

Source:  STLtoday

New Robert Half Legal Survey Says Hiring Prospects Improved for Skilled Paralegals

Robert Half Legal's latest survey of legal hiring trends,, indicates that one-third of the lawyers interviewed plan to add legal staff in the next three months. But the survey indicates the improved hiring trends are mainly for legal professionals with experience:

Positions in Demand

While the job market remains competitive, 51 percent of lawyers report difficulty recruiting skilled legal professionals. When asked what type of positions will be added in the third quarter, respondents indicated they most likely will hire lawyers (93 percent), followed by legal secretaries/assistants (32 percent), paralegals (20 percent), law clerks (19 percent) and legal administrators (12 percent). "Law firms are rebuilding their support teams, and they are hiring experienced legal assistants and paralegals who are able to add immediate value and perform multiple job functions," [Charles] Volkert [executive director of Robert Half Legal] said. The most marketable support professionals have backgrounds in litigation and e-discovery, as well as experience in document management, he noted.

This is good news for those paralegals with experience that are considering a job change in the near future, but not as encouraging for new paralegal graduates. I know many of them are struggling to find that first entry-level job that will set them on the path to gaining the intermediate to advanced practice skills many hiring lawyers desire.

Source:  PR Newswire

Drowning in Debt: Kaplan Paralegal Graduate Testifies Before U.S. Senate

Eric Schmitt at the June 7 hearing.
Last week Eric Schmitt, an Iowa resident and holder of both associate and bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies from Kaplan University, testified as part of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions hearing on "Drowning in Debt:  Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges."

I've blogged about for-profit paralegal programs before, and strongly urge anyone considering any paralegal program to thoroughly vet it before enrolling. Schmitt's story, as told to the U.S. Senate, is similar to experiences shared by other for-profit paralegal graduates in online forums and in the news.

Schmitt incurred $45k in student debt, and has spent years unsuccessfully trying to find a job in the legal field, even doing a stint as a janitor. He chose a non-traditional educational route because he was supporting a family and needed to work while he earned a college degree. He doesn't seem to have had unrealistic earnings expectations, testifying he was told paralegals in his area make about $36k a year.

Unfortunately, it has been Eric Schmitt's personal experience that a legal studies degree from Kaplan University does not carry a great deal of weight with many legal employers:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Today's Quote: Now Paralegals Are "Mostly Drifters"

(As Compared to Motherly Whack Jobs Earlier this Week)

If you do eventually become a career paralegal, you’ll find yourself at the low end of law firm pecking order, somewhere above inter-office mail people but below the visiting Hong Kong tailor. Paralegals are mostly drifters who are doing time before law school or saving money to do something better (which is fine), but when they discover that you actually went to school for this s**t, you’ll be shunned by your own people. And when the attorneys find out… I mean, have you seen the ATL comment boards? You may want to pre-order some self-help tapes. ~ Excerpt from "Pls Handle Thx: A Degree More Useless Than a J.D.?" (Above the Law)

I've had issues with Marin's condescending advice before when it comes to legal support staffers. (See "What Secretaries Really, Really Want.") 

But honestly, what did paralegals ever do to her to deserve the slam the profession received in her latest column?

Hey, wait. I actually went to school for this sh**t. Are you people shunning me?

Don't worry, I'm not going to rattle on during your coffee break, because according to Marin, you could be using this valuable time to flex your mad Gchatting and Minesweeper skills.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Nicest Thing That's Happened to Me Since I Started Blogging

Odelia #6 is here!
I didn't even know what blogging was when I started blogging, so I certainly didn't anticipate any of the wonderful opportunities that being the chief volunteer bottle washer at Practical Paralegalism would make possible, including speaking at numerous CLEs about newfangled topics like social media and mobile technology; co-hosting a monthly podcast with Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor; or meeting so many incredible legal support staffers across the country, personally and virtually.

Sue Ann Jaffarian, full-time paralegal and successful author of several popular mystery series, including The Odelia Grey Mysteries, featuring the world's most fabulous, sassy and smart fictional paralegal, is one of the people I would have never met except for this blog.

First, Sue Ann graciously did a profile for me, then she even more graciously let me pester her to death interview her for a full-length feature article for Paralegal Today (Oct/Dec 2010), and then she was an informative and engaging guest on an episode of The Paralegal Voice.

And of course, Sue Ann provided hours of entertainment (as well as a new imaginary best friend, Odelia) as I devoured the first five books of The Odelia Grey Mysteries, one right after the other, like a box of really fabo chocolates. (Godiva raspberry truffles, if you must know what kind.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Today's Quote: Would You Rather Be Motherly or a Whack Job?

Two affable, good-looking guys does not a good show always make. Jared Franklin and Peter Bash play by their own set of rules, they’ve got a offbeat, whack job legal assistant (Kumail Nanjiani) and a motherly paralegal (Dana Davis) that keeps the boys in check and on task. ~ Excerpt from "TNT's 'Franklin & Bash' crash the courtroom" (The Washington Times)

TV's idea of the motherly type.
That's how I've always hoped paralegals and legal assistants would be portrayed on TV, as motherly types who keep the boys in check and on task.

Not really.


Hmmm, is being the offbeat, whack job cooler?

I dunno, I think I'd rather be the "badass" described in the trailer for the series I shared with you guys last week.

Did any of you watch the premiere of Franklin & Bash? Make it or break it?

Source:  The Washington Times

Paralegal Graduate Featured in Great Jobs Project

 Hanes says knowledge is key.
Florida paralegal graduate Jennifer Hanes has the unique legal experience of saving her own home from foreclosure, an accomplishment she hopes will help her stand out from other entry-level job seekers.

But as it is in much of the rest of the country, the competition for jobs in Fort Myers is fierce, and Hanes has not been able to locate her first job since graduating in December 2010 from the ABA-approved paralegal studies program at Edison State College.

Hanes is the latest job seeker featured in "The Great Jobs Project," a series created by The News-Press to highlight the resumes of southwest Floridians looking for work.

Hanes' willingness to learn and determination to understand the legal system are definitely highlights of her resume. After she and her husband experienced employment setbacks, they would have lost their home to foreclosure except for Hanes' efforts:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Paralegal's Business Account Jacked for $14k Tip

Steve says buy this with a credit card.
I'm probably guilty of over-tipping when I dine out, mostly because I've waited tables before, but also because I think paralegals and waitresses sometimes have similar job challenges.

But even in my most generous, post lottery winnings mood, I wouldn't think a $14,938 tip on a $53.97 Sizzler bill was reasonable. (Even a whopping 20% tip only comes to $10.79, but Steve, the Get Out of Debt Guy, reports the tip victim only intended to leave $5).

LA Weekly is reporting that California paralegal and business owner Brenda Mason's bank account was drained by almost $15,000 after dining at a Sizzler on May 25.  (I know you're not supposed to use text abbreviations in formal writing, but somehow nothing other than WTF OMG!!!!! seems to fit this situation.)

Paralegal Profile: Sara A. Youngers, CCST, ACP

Sara Youngers
Job Title:  Litigation Paralegal

Employer:  Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak, LLP,; Escondido, CA

Years of Paralegal Experience:  6

Education/Degrees:  B.A. in Political Science from UC, Santa Barbara; Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego; Concordance Certified Trainer (CCST) from LexisNexis; Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) in Trial Practice from National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)

Specialty Areas:  Civil Litigation; Billing Fee Analysis (i.e. we perform audits of billing invoices from law firms)

Career Highlight:  Getting asked to train a Montana firm's paralegals in Concordance, which led to starting my side business, Spectrum Consultants,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Low Cost Paralegal Services Are Not a Hit in Rhode Island

Sometimes I like to boil a rather dry news story about a court ruling down to a more simple (and enjoyable) recitation of the facts that Enquiring Minds Want to Know, or even just a list of probing questions that keep me company when I have insomnia.

For example:

Is Low Cost Paralegal Services really a good name for your own business?

Sure, it's easy to remember, and those are pretty search-engine friendly terms, but are you sacrificing an inference of quality here? Never mind, I did a quick Google search, and not surprisingly, there is more than one business with this name.

If you're a non-lawyer living in Texas, should you be offering low-cost legal services in Rhode Island? 

A Giggle for the Grammar Police

Source:  observando