Archive for the ‘Professionalism’ Category

The Realities of a Career in Law

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

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

Friday, December 12th, 2014

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:

Estrin Report: The Future of Paralegals

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

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.


You May Not Be Lawyers, But You Are Professionals

Friday, October 11th, 2013

I don’t normally so blatantly based the title of my post on the title of another person’s article, but this time it seems appropriate.  Mianne on the NFPA LinkedIn discussion board posted a link to an article on from the Legal Technology News page on law. com entitled, “We May Not Be Lawyers, But We Are Professionals” by Jeffrey Brandt.

I’m going to sign-on to most of what Jeffry says and suggest you read the entire post. Here are two parts that I found particularly well stated,

But last time I looked, in addition to the lawyers, law firms required technologists, Help Desk staff, library specialists and researchers, litigation support teams, marketing personnel, financial experts, paralegals, secretaries, human resource staff, and other administrative experts in order to run. Merriam-Webster defines “nonprofessional as “being such only for recreation” or “lacking or showing a lack of expert skill.” It offers up synonyms of amateur and unskilled. It goes on to define professional as “relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill.”


So here’s a cheer for all the dedicated professionals that work with lawyers day in and day out to ensure their needs are met and that their clients have the best experience possible. We may not be lawyers, but we are professionals.

Of course since paralegals are professionals, the must act as professionals, which is the point of this blog and The Empowered Paralegal series of books.

Professional Citation

Friday, April 12th, 2013

My last post keyed off an article on common grammar mistakes I found by following a link in Paralegal Gateway LinkedIn discussion post by Barbara Liss. Today’s post keys off an article by Daphne Drescher, CP, on the Paralegal Society website  I found by following a link in Paralegal Gateway LinkedIn discussion post by Barbara Liss.  With Barbara as a resource, I may get away with no original thought at all for a couple of weeks!

The article is A Little Primer on Citation. As you might suspect based on the title, the article does a good job of setting out the basics of legal citation setting out a quick “anatomy of a case citation” lesson. Citations are part of legal writing. Like grammar, spelling, and punctuation, getting the citations right is an important part of any writing assignment completed by a legal professional. As Daphne states, “because if their citations aren’t uniform, they look…well…unprofessional.” So take a few minutes to follow the link and read the article. While there take a few more minutes to look around the Paralegal Society’s website. It’ll be worth the time.

Common Grammar Mistakes That Make You Look Unprofessional

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Now that’s I’ve shipped the The Empowered Paralegal Cause of Action Handbook manuscript off to Carolina Academic Press I hope to be able to attend more to this blog, although I have a lot of catching up to do on grading. Since I’ve been writing a lot, I’m especially focused on what other people have to say about writing right. (In looking at my own posts over the years I found that there are probably enough posts on the topic to create a category for discussion writing well in addition to the “Consequences of Sloppiness” category for examples of what can happen when one does not write well.)  One of the first discussion to catch my attention in this regard is a Paralegal Gateway LinkedIn discussion post by Barbara Liss of a link to “Common Grammar Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb” by Ilya Posin.

The article covers several common mistakes: 1. You’re vs. Your, 2. They’re vs. Their vs. There, 3. Lose vs. Loose, 4. It’s vs. Its, 5. Effect vs. Affect, 6. Alot, and 7. Then vs. Than, giving examples of each. Ilya gives this advice:  Edit your work, or ask someone else to glance at it for you. These errors may seem insignificant, but your intelligence will be questioned when these mistakes are discovered…and they will be.  One that I’ve notice cropping up more and more lately is “sell v sale,” i.e., people using the noun “sale” when  meaning the verb “sell” and the verb when meaning the noun.

One commentator responding to the article states, “Such a strong judgement. Erroneous typos happen. Makes us human.. Just saying…” It is true that typos occur especially in informal writing like this blog, but the misuse of words in their entirety is commonly not a typo but a misunderstanding of the meaning and correct use of the words themselves. Also, the article asks people to “edit their work.” While typos occur professionals do all they can to minimize them and must certainly make every effort to see that their work product – correspondence (including email), pleadings, memoranda, and the like use correct grammar. I frequently suggest that students and practitioners alike consult Grammar Girl’s website and subscribe to the podcast. The podcast lessons are short, clear, informative, and well-researched. Most of us can (and should) always learn a bit more and all of us can use refreshers!

Critical and Analytical Thinking – A Paralegal Example

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Last week a law professor lamented to me that it seemed students were less and less willing to engage in true critical thinking, perhaps reflecting the role models of some of our more prominent politicians. He pointed out that the legal profession was a service industry, one in which the primary tools are the ability to read with comprehension, write clearly and concisely, and think analytically and critically. This, of course, applies to paralegals as well as attorneys, and is the focus of much of the instruction here at the Ole Miss B.P.S. program. A recent LinkedIn exchange provides a good example of both side – remarkably non-analytical and non-critical thinking by one paralegal and good, solid analytical and critical thinking by another. Note how the second paralegal, Blake Ferger, keys in on language that indicates bias, seeks facts rather than accept conclusions, deals with the primary source and “the actual legal definition,” applies the law objectively to the facts, and even reads the footnotes – all things that are to be expected of a professional paralegal:

First Paralegal: Kidnapping and sex with a minor not grounds for deporting illegal immigrants

Hard to believe but a U.S. federal appellate court has stopped the deportation of an illegal immigrant convicted of kidnapping , ruling that it’s not necessarily a crime of moral turpitude.
The decision, issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, is a 27 page opinion that is, in all honesty, quite hard to grasp. “This undoubtedly appears to be a difficult question at first glance,” it reads. “Kidnapping is a serious crime, and our instincts may be that it would meet the moral turpitude definition. Even for serious offenses, we must look to the specific elements of the statute of conviction and compare them to the definition of crimes involving moral turpitude.”
What? The definition of moral turpitude is: A phrase used in Criminal Law to describe conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals. Attorneys can be disbarred for moral turpitude but, it appears, convicted illegal immigrants can’t be deported.
The case involves Javier Castrijon-Garcia who entered the United States illegally in 1989 and is the father of three American-born anchor babies. He has twice been convicted for driving with a suspended license and in 1992 pleaded guilty to attempted kidnapping. He received a suspended sentence of 300 days in jail and 36 months of probation.
Years after the kidnapping case, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earmarked Castrijon-Garcia for removal. He appealed but an immigration judge found that he was deportable because the kidnapping conviction is a categorical crime of moral turpitude. The Board of Immigration Appeals, the government’s final authority on immigration matters, agreed noting that it had previously listed kidnapping as an example of a crime of moral turpitude and that California’s penal code also defined it as involving moral turpitude.
But the 9th circuit disagreed, writing in its decision that precedent dictates that “non-fraudulent crimes of moral turpitude almost always involve an intent to harm someone, the actual infliction of harm upon someone, or an action that affects a protected class of victim.” The type of “simple kidnapping” that this illegal immigrant committed doesn’t necessarily involve such evil intent and harm therefore it doesn’t constitute moral turpitude, according to the San Francisco-based court.
The ruling orders the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is part of the Justice Department, to “conduct a modified categorical analysis” of the illegal immigrant’s crime. But the BIA has already determined that kidnapping is a serious enough crime that merits deportation, so the court seems to be ordering the BIA to make an exception or change the criminal code.
A few years earlier the 9th Circuit reversed a lower court ruling calling for the deportation of a Mexican immigrant convicted of having sex with a minor. In that ruling, the 9th Circuit claimed that while the crime violated state law and was unwise and socially unacceptable, having sex with a minor wasn’t base, vile or depraved enough to warrant deportation.


Blake Ferger • I would be interested to know the actual full circumstances of these cases. The phrase “anchor babies,” which has no basis in reality, is a huge flashing red warning that the author has an anti-immigrant ideology. For instance, was the kidnapping of one of the alien’s own biological children? Was the alien who had sex with a minor barely him/herself an adult? These are the kind of facts that would explain apparently unjust decisions which the author is attempting to exploit for outrage.

Anyone know of factual, unbiased background on the above cases? From somebody not pimping the “9th Circuit commie Californians LOL” angle?

Blake Ferger • Interesting, thanks. Well, as is usual with appellate decisions, it is short on facts and long on technicalities. The upshot appears to be, though the 9th Circuit was politer than this, that the Board of Immigration Appeals engaged in sloppy, lazy lawmaking (not surprising to anyone familiar with them), and rather than “ordering the BIA to make an exception or change the criminal code,” the 9th Circuit has actually told them to try again and do the job right this time.

The author was too lazy him- or herself to pull the actual legal definition of moral turpitude from the decision: “The Immigration and Nationality Act does not define the term ‘crime involving moral turpitude,’ but ‘courts and the BIA have generally defined [it] as comprising crimes that are inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general…. Such crimes are of two types: those involving fraud and those involving grave acts of baseness or depravity.” (Grave baseness or depravity is things in the realm of murder, rape & incest.) The California kidnapping statute in question requires neither fraud nor grave acts of baseness or depravity. It might seem weird that “kidnapping” could not involve that, but as an example, the decision cites the upheld kidnapping convictions of angry black students who compelled university administrators to walk with them for a few hundred yards to address their complaints of a coach beating a black football player in the middle of a game. When this is the kind of kidnapping that is covered by the statute, then it is impossible to say with certainty that it qualifies under the federal standard of moral turpitude.

Lots of other interesting stuff in there, like footnote 8: “Only the Fifth Circuit has decided whether kidnapping is categorically a crime involving moral turpitude, holding that it is not. Hamdan v. INS, 98 F.3d 183 (5th Cir. 1996) [interpreting a Louisiana simple kidnapping statute similar to the California statute at issue].”

In short, the decision is only hard to grasp if you avoid reading the actual decision and instead stick to the sensationalistic headline.


The COA opinion is here


Top Qualities of a Great Paralegal

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

A recent post on the NYCPA LinkedIn discussion board linked to an article entitled “Top 10 Qualities of a Great Paralegal.” The article lists and explains these ten items:

1. Analytical Skills
2. Communication Skills
3. Detail Oriented
4. Ethical Judgment
5. Great Writer
6. Interest in the Law
7. Interpersonal Qualities
8. Organizational Qualities
9. Research Skills
10. Tech Savvy

I agree that all of these are attributes that every good paralegal has, but I’d likely not classify all of them as “qualities,” but as “skills” as some of them are listed. And it is likely that my “top ten” list would be different. Certainly I would add to the list. In terms of skills I would at least add the basic skills of time, workload, calendar, client, and attorney relationship management to the list – the basic set of skills that form the basis for The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. For example, even the best writer and the best researcher are of little value to a law office if she cannot get the work done on time. In terms of attributes I consider qualities, those such as integrity, reliability, and the other components of professionalism come higher up the list than some of those in this list. Again, a great writer and researcher is a problem rather than an asset to a firm if he is unreliable or lacks integrity. In the end a law firm can teach improved writing and researching skills if necessary to a reliable paralegal with integrity but can do little to improve the reliability of a person with little integrity.

The “C” Mantra

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

The NFPA National Paralegal Reporter for December/January, among several articles worthy of reading announces the winners of the Thomson Reuters Scholarship Winners (Melissa Jurik and Anne Caitlin Griffin) and the Chancellor University Scholarship Winner (Shelly L. Bender.) Their winning essays are included.

Melissa’s “Our Mantra – Learn As Much As You Can” was particularly interesting to me as it relates to my recent post on professional self-assessment in which I made the point, “The professional paralegal strives to move beyond just “doing the job” – average or satisfactory work. So as we do our year end assessments, we should each ask ourselves, ‘Am I doing “A” work?'” While I was speaking of already practicing paralegals, Melissa applies the principle to paralegal students and newly minted graduates. She points out, “In that diverse group of students, there are a myriad of personalities and work ethics. Some have the mantra of ‘C’s get degrees’ and are doing just enough to get by, while a larger group of us are on a mission to learn as much as we can to make sure we are prepared to enter into the workforce.” She then argues in favor of completion of a voluntary exam such as The Paralegal CORE Competency Exam as a way of showing employers that the “individual has met the standards that are objectively established and verified by a third party.”

Those of you who read my previous post are aware that I agree with Melissa on the need for students to be doing “A” work if they expect an “A” grade. That can best be accomplished by adopting Melissa’s mantra: Endeavor to learn as much as you can rather than work for a passing grade. That same attitude applies to getting and keeping a job. It certainly applies to any paralegal who sees themselves making a career as a professional paralegal.

To Peek or Not to Peek / To Complain or Not to Complain

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012 posts today about a paralegal that was mistakenly given a part-time attorney’s paycheck and was shocked to see the attorney was paid more than the paralegal. The post entitled, “Paralegal Peeks at Part-Time Lawyer’s Check, Takes Pay Peeve to Advice Columnist
was posted by Debra Cassens Weiss, reports that the paralegal then wrote to the “Ask Amy” advice column to complain about pay inequity saying,
“I’ve made a lot of money for the firm. Because of all my hard work, the firm has hired two new attorneys (one is part-time). By accident my manager gave me the part-time attorney’s paycheck, and I was floored. She makes way more than I do!”

Weiss states:

Ask Amy replies that it’s possible the firm’s success is due to more than just the paralegal’s efforts, and it’s the marketplace that determines worth. “You are comparing apples to wheelbarrows,” the columnist writes.

She says the paralegal should negotiate for more money by getting a job offer from another firm and leveraging it into more money from the present employer.

Some of the commentors to the post think the last piece of advice is not good. What do you think? Once the paralegal realized the check was not hers, should she have “peeked” at the amount as is implied by the post’s title? Was it a good idea to air her concern in the “Ask Amy” column? Where else could/should she have gone for advice? What advice would you give her?