The Realities of a Career in Law

My last post passed on a “gentle rebuke” from a federal judge that included a video by Scott Greenfield. Today the judge had a new post with a link to an article by Greenfield that elaborates on the point. Greenfield states, “”The primary enablers are academics, who have given away their classrooms to their special little snowflakes.” My undergrads seem to have little problem coping with the studying the realities of life that legal professionals must confront as part of their career. Maybe it’s just that their lives have contained more of those realities than those of students at high end law school?”

What do you practicing paralegals think? Does Greenfield have a point, do the students have the better point, or is the answer somewhere in between?

Here’s a link to Greenfield’s article.

A Judge’s Gentle Rebuke

The judge in question is a federal district court judge whose blog is entitled, “Hercules and the Umpire.” His rebuke was directed at Columbia University law students. The point made by the judge and by Scott Greenfield in the video at the end of the judge’s post is also applicable to paralegals. Law and paralegal students should take the time to read the post and watch the video. Practicing paralegals will appreciate the points made in both and likely recall instances where they had to set aside personal trauma and do their job. The judge starts:

Dear Columbia Law Students,

I mean this in the kindest way possible: If you postponed your exams because the Garner and Brown cases “traumatized” your psyche, there is a distinct possibility that you are unfit to practice law. If you are one of those who claimed “trauma,” and you still want to practice law, you must toughen up before you agree to take on a client. The practice of law is not about you.

The reset, including Greenfield’s video is here. You can go directly to the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FW8D8xIiKBw#t=61

More on Supervision and Embezzlement

In the past when reporting on alleged paralegal embezzlement, I’ve harped on the fact that the paralegal’s attorney has a problem due to having provided inadequate supervision of the paralegal, a duty owed to both the public and the paralegal. Today’s ABAJournal.com feed has a post that supports my thoughts on the topic, although it involves an “office manager” rather than a paralegal. The problem was discovered when a client went to another attorney who discovered that her personal injury case had already been settled. Apparently the office manager had negotiated a settlement and run off with the funds (and her office computer containing records of client settlements.) The Kansas Supreme Court suspended the attorney for three months stating, ““The facts are clear and convincing that respondent did not properly supervise his office manager, he failed to keep a master list of clients, and he failed to keep proper accounting records. ”

Governor Proclamations

Reading through the first issues of Legal Assistant Today, I find that in 1983 the governor of New Jersey proclaimed the entire month of May as “Legal Assistant” month. This is significant because it comes only 16 years after the ABA first started recognizing the role of legal assistants and is less than ten years after the formation of NALA and NFPA. Are any of you aware of an earlier proclamation by a governor?

AAfPE Officers 2014-2015

Well, I for one am excited about the new American Association for Paralegal Education’s officers elected earlier today:

President: Patricia Lyons

President-Elect: Robert Mongue

Treasurer: Wm. Bruce Davis

Secretary: Thomas Pokladowski

AAfPE National Conference

I am heading out today for an American Association for Paralegal Education Board of Directors meeting and the annual National Conference. What do you think should be on the top of the agenda for paralegal educators?

Critical Thinking – An Essential Skill

As so often happens, Marianna Fradman has started an interesting discussion on LinkedIn. This time her post is on The Paralegal Society’s discussion board. Here post consists of a single question and a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal,Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ But What Is It?.” Her question is, “How do paralegals define this skill?” In a later comment she also asks, “Does it mean that ALL paralegals have to possess this skill? How to measure it?” Here are my initial thoughts on the first two questions:

The ability to solve problems and “connect the dots” is a good way of describing the concept of critical thinking, but critical thinking involves a particular approach to problem solving. I like the way that approach is set out in this quote (I can’t remember the source for sure, but I think it’s from S. Contrell’s work:

Critical thinking means “weighing up the arguments and evidence for and against”. It involves:
• Considering an issue carefully and more than once
• Evaluating the evidence put forward in support of the belief or viewpoint
• Considering where the belief or viewpoint leads – what conclusions would follow; are these suitable and rational; and if not, should the belief or viewpoint be reconsidered? Critical thinking goes hand in hand with analytical thinking.

Critical thinking is essential for every good paralegal. It is what separates a paralegal from other support staff in a law office and makes them a member of the legal team. It is the second principle of my first book, The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional:”

The second principle has to do with the way the paralegal approaches any and all aspects of paralegal practice. It is a proactive rather than reactive approach. It seeks to understand and manage even those aspects of practice that the paralegal cannot control. This principle involves taking a rational empowered approach.
While the specifics were different in each of the chapters, in each chapter of this book we identified the areas of concern, analyzed each aspect of that concern, set priorities that addressed those concerns, sought a greater understanding of the area of concern, investigated solutions and barriers to those solution, and established procedures for implementing solutions and removing or overcoming barriers to those solutions. We did so in a direct, rational and professional way. We did so in a way that honored our own need to be efficient, effective and empowered, and honored the interrelationships and responsibilities of the first principle.

Critical thinking can be learned, but only through practice. You can’t just read about it and expect to become proficient at it. Legal professionals have some help in this regard since the methodology of legal reasoning, statutory interpretation, and case analysis all incorporate a critical thinking approach to solving problems. Therefore, we practice critical thinking each time we do one of these tasks. As we do more the task, we become more practiced in the skill. Perhaps more than anything else in our Paralegal Studies Program, the demand that our students engage in critical thinking exercises separates the program and our students from those described in the article:

According to research detailed in those books, students rarely study on their own for more than an hour a day, and most don’t write in-depth papers that require sustained analysis.

For their part, students seem to think they are ready for the office. But their future bosses tend to disagree. A Harris Interactive survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers last fall found that 69% of students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.

Judy Nagengast, CEO of Continental Inc., an Anderson, Ind., staffing firm, says she has come across young graduates who “can memorize and they can regurgitate” but who struggle to turn book learning into problem solving at work.

Students successful in our program can perform well beyond memorization and regurgitation, because they are required to practice critical thinking on a regular basis. This leads to a bit of a paradox: Although they are more prepared for the office than students who can only memorize and regurgitate, they are apt to see themselves less prepared because they know what the expectations are!

It’s a matter of history.

I am engaged in a historical research project tracing the development of paralegal practice and the paralegal profession during the 1950s through the 1990s. (I’m working on a Masters in History. This project will start as a potential journal article, expand into my thesis, and possibly a book.) I am interested in state, local, and national paralegal association newsletters from that period and other documents – news stories, minutes of minutes, letters, etc. – that might provide information on what it was like to be a paralegal or legal assistant (even if you did not have that title) during that time. Early issues of magazines such as “Fact & Findings,” and the like would also be helpful. Contact me here or via email if you have documents or other information that might be helpful and you are willing to share. Ultimately, I’d like to interview some of the paralegals who practiced during that time period, so please let me know if you would be willing to be interviewed regarding your background, how you entered the legal profession, your first jobs, etc.

Should lawyers be nicer to their paralegals?

Above the Law has a nice post by Joe Patrice entitled, “We Should All Be Nicer To Our Paralegals.

Law firms routinely abuse paralegals. You remember the paralegals, right? They’re the fresh-faced youngsters who inexplicably think it might help their future legal career to spend a couple of years compiling binders full of documents that lawyers will look at once and discard. Or most likely forget about and make the paralegal do again four months hence. At least they make overtime when caught in the thresher maw. But other than a slight bump in pay, paralegals don’t get much appreciation for doing all the tasks lawyers would never be caught dead doing at 2:00 a.m.

His comments are followed by a bunch of memes to describe the job of a paralegal compiled by Legal Cheek.

Kudos, Mr. Patrice and Above the Law!

Legal Careers Rx for non-attorneys

Mariana Fradman, MBA Senior Real Estate Paralegal at Kaye Scholer LLP and NYCPA Treasurer, Mentor Program & CLE Chairperson (NYCPA is an exemplar of what paralegal associations can be. An excellent set of officers! Check it out even if you are not a New York City paralegal.) announced through the NYCPA LinkedIn discussion board a new LinkedIn Group:Legal Careers Rx for non-attorneys.

The announcement is brief, so I’ve included it all here:

In less than two weeks, over 900 paralegals joined the group. The group is about career strategies, job search techniques, resumes, workplace situations, stress/burnout, virtual paralegals, promotions & more.