‘Justice Index’ Scores States on Access to Justice

The title of this post is lifted from that of Robert Ambrogi’s on his blog, “LawSites: Tracking New and Intriguing Web Sites for the Legal Profession.” It refers to The Justice Index, a new website that provides “a state-by-state scorecard of resources and initiatives designed to ensure that everyone has equal access to the legal system.” It’s interesting stuff. While every state seems to acknowledge the access to justice problem, many  do comparatively little to address it. Over the next few weeks I hope to do a series of posts about the role paralegals can play, do play, or will be playing is resolving the access to justice problem.

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2014 NFPA/Thomson Reuters Scholarship

Pat Lyons, President-Elect of the American Association for Paralegal Education passed this along on the AAfPE listserv:

NFPA has posted the application for the 2014 NFPA/Thomson Reuters Scholarship.  The deadline to submit the application and required documents is July 1, 2014.
I know many of our programs have had a student win one of the two scholarships over the years and this is another opportunity to have your students apply and win a scholarship to help with their paralegal education!

The scholarships will be awarded at the 2014 NFPA Annual Convention to be held in Dallas, TX.

If you go to the NFPA website www.paralegals.org and click on the link in the middle of the page for the scholarships.
Please share with your students.  What a great Spring Break project!

The Evolving Paralegal

I received an email from Andrew Deen (who I don’t know other than from this email) steering me to an infographic produced by George Washington University. I am familiar with GWU online Masters of Paralegal Studies program and know the Associate Dean in charge of that program. One of the programs graduates contributed an article to The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.” So, I’m pretty confident that the information contained in the infographic is accurate. Certainly its basic premises that the paralegal profession has evolved significantly over the last few decades (although some members of the bar have not evolved in their thinking about the paralegal profession) and continues to evolve. In any case, Andrew says it’s OK to share the infographic with my readers, so I am:

The George Washington University Master’s of Paralegal Studies Online

Trial by Checklist

I’m a big fan of checklists as you can see here, here, here, in other posts, and in all of my books (especially The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.) Fortunately for all of us checklist lovers, Judge Larry Primeaux is not only a fan of checklists, but he creates them and shares them with us. Today in his blog, The Chancery Court Better Practice Blog, he has collected all of his checklist posts and provided the links to them in one place, “Reprise: The Checklist Thing.”  Judge Primeaux presides in the 12 Chancery Court of Mississippi, but the checklist can easily be adjusted to just about any court so that they work for the jurisdiction in which you practice. Here’s his explanation of how they play a role in ensuring successful litigation:

Proving your case by proving certain factors is a fact of legal life in Mississippi.  I’ve referred to it as trial by checklist.  If you’re not putting on proof of the factors when they apply in your case, you are wasting your and the court’s time, as well as your client’s money, and you are committing malpractice to boot.

This fact of legal life is true in every jurisdiction, not just Mississippi, and provides the basis for the soon to be released The Empowered Paralegal Cause of Action Handbook, a work that explains the role of elements (those “certain factors” to which the Judge refers) in litigation from investigation through  closing arguments.

I hope one day to persuade Judge Primeaux to turn his invaluable posts into a book. In the meantime here are the checklists he has available:

ere is an updated list of links to the checklists I’ve posted:

Attorney’s fees.

Attorney’s fees in an estate.

Adverse possession.

Child custody.

Closing an estate.

Doing an accounting in a probate matter.

Grandparent visitation.

Equitable distribution.

Income tax dependency exemption.

Modification of child support.

Periodic and rehabilitative alimony.

Lump sum alimony.

Separate maintenance.

Knowing your judge

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I discuss extensively the need to know your judge, jury, and courtroom as part of preparation for any aspect of litigation. The Researching Paralegal has picked up on an important additional to the “knowing your judge” litany and provides a link to an article that explains why we should even know what kind of technological device the judge uses: “Writing a Brief for the iPad Judge,” by Daniel Sockwell, Columbia Business Law Review. Here are a few other comments of a more basic sort from The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional:

Your legal team should be prepared in a way that leaves as little as possible to chance. The team should know not only the case, but also the judge, the jury, the courtroom, the witnesses and the parties.

The Judge. Is the judge conservative or liberal on issues affecting the admissibility of evidence? What are the judge’s expectations regarding pre-trial briefs, draft jury instructions, making a record, managing time, managing witnesses and the other details of trial management? If you or your attorney have not appeared before the judge before, take the time to watch the judge in action a week or so before your trial. If this can’t be done, use your network to find out as much as possible about the judge before your attorney enters the courtroom.

The Jury. Different jurisdictions have different rules and procedures regarding the information provided about jurors. The legal team must know those rules and procedures and use them. In addition, the team will have many opportunities to observe the jurors both before and after the selection of your jury. Since you and the attorney both have other responsibilities, you should share this one. Often you can be the attorney’s eyes and ears, watching the body language of the potential jurors while she is conducting voir dire of a particular juror. How are they reacting to the questions? How do they look at your client? How do they react to the other attorney? How interested do they appear? The more that is known about the jury, the more the presentation can be keyed to that jury.

The Witnesses and the Parties. Frequently trial preparations focus on what the witnesses or parties are going to say. The well-prepared legal team will also consider everything they can about the witnesses themselves. Include a short biography of the witness or party and notes about impressions obtained by the attorney, you or investigators during interviews or depositions, in the witness section of the trial notebook. Again, much additional information can be obtained during the trial through observation. This is another opportunity for you to be the attorney’s second set of eyes and ears.

The Courtroom. Check out the courtroom in advance. Where can the flip chart stands be placed to maximize visibility by witnesses, the judge and the jury at the same time? Where can you plug in the projector? How much room and light are available? Will you need an additional table? How can you leave the counsel table to contact the next witness with the least distraction? Where will the witnesses sit while waiting their turn to testify?
Your goal is a professional presentation. The power of the PowerPoint presentation on damages during closing argument is greatly diminished if you and the attorney find there is no way to position the equipment so that it can be plugged in, even if the court allows time so an extension cord can be found.

Estrin Report: The Future of Paralegals

The January 28, 2014, post on The Estrin Report is a guest post by Terese Cannon, J.D., entitled, “The Future of Paralegals: Why Waiting for the Future to Arrive is a Career Buster.” It is a very good post that summarizes the current state of flux for the legal profession in general and paralegals in particular, including synopsis of recent publications on the topic. This is of particular interest to me as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for Paralegal Education. At our meeting later this week I plan to propose creation of an AAfPE task force on this topic. Here’s the first couple of paragraphs which set the matter up quite well:

We are entering a era of major, perhaps even revolutionary, shifts in law practice, legal education, and the role of both lawyers and nonlawyers who deliver legal services.  Already in motion but accelerated by the economic meltdown five years ago, these shifts have already resulted in significant downsizing and reorganization in large law firms, decreased demand for legal services affecting large and small firms alike, and high under- and unemployment of lawyers.

Roles for paralegals are changing, requiring a re-envisioning of what paralegals can and should do and a concomitant rethinking of paralegal education.  The idea of nonlawyer practice has reemerged as a compelling subject of discussion within the ABA and the influential State Bar of California, and is ever closer to becoming a reality in the state of Washington. This renewed interest is related to the disruption of models for delivery of legal services and has spurred serious nationwide discussions about how to reform legal education and requirements for entry into the legal profession. This cluster of concerns together with the continuing challenge of providing access to legal services for low- and middle-income Americans has commanded the attention of legal commentators, educators and the bar.

The rest of the post is well worth reading. The remaining posts in the series will, I suspect, also be.

In general, the winds of change for the paralegal profession and the paralegal education profession are blowing hard. If these professions do not catch that wind they will find themselves blown about or left adrift in the horse latitudes. As a member of one of those professions I intend to do what I can to see that it takes the right tact.


Celia Cites Citation Blog

Celia C. Elwell blogs as The Researching Paralegal ~ Articles and Research for Legal Professionals, one of the most useful blogs for and by legal professionals these days. She frequently provides links to other helpful blogs and sites. Here, for example, is today’s:

Citing Legally Blog, by Peter W. Martin and Jane M.G. Foster, Professor of Law, Emeritus Cornell

If you have any interest in the fine points of legal citation and legal writing, this is the blog for you. Citation masters and Professors Emeritus Peter Martin and Jane Foster have created a forum to discuss and elaborate on citations as they are used by counsel and the court.

This is a “must bookmark” for anyone interested in legal writing, cite-checking, or how to cite properly. Please click on “About – Scope and Purpose” to read more about the authors’ intent for this blog. -CCE

I agree that the Citing Legally Blog is a must for those interested in legal writing, but my point is that Celia’s blog is a “must bookmark” for all of us. If it’s not in your RSS feed, it should be.

An Ode from Jamie

Founder of The Paralegal Society, Savvy Litigation Paralegal, Legal Columnist & Inspired Writer as posted “An Ode to the Paralegal Gladiators, a/k/a, Litigation Paralegals” on the Paralegal Society‘s website. It’s much too long to reprint here, especially since I have not asked permission to do so. Here’s the start and finish. To read the rest, which you really ought to do, just click on the link::

One day about a year ago, I received a call from the courthouse. It was the kind of call a busy Litigation Paralegal looks forward to, but doesn’t receive all too often. One that occurs when other attorneys in your firm outside of your immediate circle call upon you (the reliable, makeshift ninja standing deskside) from the midst of a jury trial to request a piece of critical information or evidence for purposes of impeachment. …

So push that paper, field those calls, put out those fires, scribble down those notes, organize that file, and attempt to save the other half of your sanity, along with his, as you always do. You are a Litigation Paralegal. You are proud. You are prepared. You are ready. REMEMBER the dream.

Take your seat, and live it.

Judging Bonuses

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on managing the paralegal’s relationships with the attorneys with whom they work, although there is a whole category on the topic with more than 90 posts and it comprises an entire chapter of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. This post is prompted by a response to a question posted on the Paralegal Group’s LinkedIn discussion board by Joanna Bila:

Question to all my fellow paralegals. If your firm offers bonuses to paralegals, what structure does your firm use? Do any firm offer bonuses based on billable hours and if so, how do they calculate?

One response indicated that in six years she had never received a bonus, a response that is all two common. I have commented here often criticizing firms who do not recognize the contribution of their legal staff to their firm’s success. But the response that prompted this post was this one:

I’m new at my firm so I didn’t get a bonus this year. From what I understand it’s based on years of service, which is a joke as far as I’m concerned. I am the only paralegal in the firm that supports two attorneys. The other paralegals are one on one and a couple of the attorneys have more than one assistant.

Here is my reply. Let me know what you think:

Judging your firm’s policies this early in your tenure with the firm, especially when naming the firm on a public board, does not bode well for the future at that firm. At this stage the best policy is to figure out what the bonus structure is for the position you were offered and accepted. Then judge the fairness of the bonus by how well it recognizes your work based on the firm’s standards for that position. Keep in mind that the paralegals with the firm have their own “deal” based on the positions they were offered and accepted and that they apparently have a longer relationship with the firms and the attorneys for whom they work than you do.

Client Communication – It’s an ethical obligation

Matthew Brody posted a poll on The Paralegal Group’s listserv asking how important good client communication is to a law firm, with responses running from “not important whatsoever” to “it’s what keeps my firm running.” The answer should be the latter. However, the importance of client communication lies not just in the fact that effective client communication keeps a firm running smoothly. It is an ethical obligation under the Rules of Professional Conduct in every jurisdiction of which I am aware. (I deal extensively with ways to make communication effective in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.) Here, for example, is ABA Model Rule 1.4:

Rule 1.4: Communications
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Rule 1.4 Communication

(a) A lawyer shall:

(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), is required by these Rules;

(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;

(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;

(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and

(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

If you run “communication” through the search box here, you’ll come across posts on removing barrier to communicating with elder clients, handling the barriers to communications raised by diversity, and other topics.