Archive for the ‘Work Management’ Category

Trial by Checklist

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

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.

No room for fossils

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog post today entitled, “Twenty-First Century Fossils,” discusses ““fossilization of the hard drive.” This occurs when, as the Judge states,

when lawyers time and again have the same erroneous matter in pleadings, PSA’s, or other documents, and, when (again) brought to their attention the lawyers sheepishly admit the error and promise (again) to fix it. But they don’t. Because that error is saved countless times in other documents on the hard drive, and changing it once does not solve the problem.

A harmless example of what I am talking about is the lawyer in our district whose divorce complaints pled grounds thus: ” … guilty of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment as codiciled in MCA 93-5-1 …” That’s hard to eradicate when it appears in 1,000 other complaints stored — and fossilized — on the hard drive. Every time I called it to his attention, he professed he would fix it. After five years or so, he managed to pull it off somehow.

There are a number of solutions to this problem, one of which is discussed by the judge. Here’s mine: Create a folder on the hard drive labelled “Templates.” Client work goes into a folder for that client. (The client’s folder can have sub-folders if the office is handling more than one matter for that client.) Only the most recent “clean” documents sit in the template folder. Everyone in the office must be instructed to only use the template folder for templates and not to write over the template documents with client work. (There is a back-up folder in case the latter rule is broken.) The templates are revised each time a new pertinent rule, statute, or case ruling is promulgated. The template folder should be divided with sub-folders for the various types of documents frequently used by the office, e.g., “PSA,” “Deeds,” “Wills,” etc.

How to Schedule a Deposition – Checklists

Friday, October 18th, 2013

As I’ve noted before, I’m a big fan of checklists and organizational aides. A paralegal professional is well-organized. Checklists can be invaluable assistance in file management, workload management, and docket management – all essential skills for the professional paralegal. I’m especially fond of those posted by Judge Primeaux on the Better Chancery Practice Blog. But today’s helpful aid comes through NFPA LinkedIn Discussion Board from Dawn Houghton. Dawn owns the Michigan reporting service “O’Brien and Bails” which provides a short booklet on how to schedule a deposition together with both a “quick checklist” and a more extensive (and more useful) deposition scheduling worksheet. I haven’t obtain permission to republish any of them here so, I’m just including the link to them.

One word of caution and a disclaimer on this: In order to get to the downloads you have to “sign up,” give your name and email address. This is a common marketing device used to gain a mailing list of potential customers. In most instances when I have signed up in order to see what resources are available, there has been no problem, but sometimes the service provider abuses the email address either by cluttering up my Inbox with way-too-frequent emails or by selling the email address. So the disclaimer is that, while I have every reason to believe that my email address will not be abused by O’Brien and Bails, I only signed up today so I don’t know that for a fact. That disclaimer itself should act as a caution to my readers. My word of caution to providers who abuse emails obtained in this way: My bet is that you lose more customers and goodwill through the abuse than you gain.

Email shortcuts

Monday, August 26th, 2013

The subtitle to the first The Empowered Paralegal book is Effective, Efficient, and Professional. This blog has focused on the “Professional,” with occasional trips into “Effective and Efficient,” some like the encouragement to have only one file on the desk at a time somewhat controversial. One part of the typical legal professional’s day that can interfere with efficiency is managing emails. I’ve spoken here previously about “Email Rules.” So I’m passing on a link to post from Legal Technology Today ‘s site (a part of the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Legal Technology Resource Center) entitled, “Email Shortcuts: Faster and Safer.” It includes instructions for both Windows and Mac users, and explains,

Email shortcuts are an easy way to save a few seconds and cut down on the risk of a misdirected email. An email shortcut is an icon on your desktop that, when double-clicked, will automatically open up your email client and address a new email to a pre-set person. For example, you might have a shortcut on your desktop that says “Email John Doe” and when you click on it, it’ll open and address an email to john.doe@example.com.

Those saved seconds can be precious, but I’m a bigger fan of this method’s ability to reduce the risk of a misdirected email. Fixing the problems caused by misdirected email takes a lot of time and, worse, some of those problems can never be fixed. Once the cat is out of the bag, it’s out.

The Paralegal’s Role in Ensuring that Subscribing Witnesses Fulfill Their Role.

Monday, December 17th, 2012

A few days ago Judge Primeaux included a post on his blog regarding the The Role of the Subscribing Witnesses to as will spurred on by a Mississippi Supreme Court decision. In that case “The two subscribing witnesses were called to testify, and their testimony established that: they did not know they were witnessing a will; that the testator did not request that they witness a will; and that they did not satisfy themselves that the testator was of sound and disposing mind when she executed the will.” The court reversed the chancellor’s decision admitting the will, holding that the subscribing witnesses did not satisfy the requirement of “attesting” witnesses. The court’s opinion noted, “These formalities associated with attesting a will are important, not only as safeguards against fraud by substitution of a different will than the one signed by the testator, but also to make sure a person executing a will is of sound and disposing mind.”

Judge Primeaux states, “I would say that most of us who have ever prepared simple wills as a routine matter for clients have not paid heed to the exacting requirements that are imposed on subscribing witnesses by operation of the case law in this area. But, as this case illustrates, it is worth re-examining how you select and instruct your subscribing/attesting witnesses as to their duties, and, more importantly, how you document what it is that they are witnessing. By that latter point, I mean to suggest that you might want to scrutinize that subscribing witness affidavit form that is fossilized in your computer and which you have been using for more than 35 years, to see whether it is stout enough to pass muster in a trial of this sort, and whether it would help jog the memory of the witness to the extent that the witness’s testimony would be helpful.”

The judge is right, but in many law offices it will not be the attorney who sees that this gets done. As I discuss in great detail in The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client a good paralegal will see that the a statutory requirements are met. Create and use detailed checklists for every step in every legal proceeding. Break enabling statutes such as those that enable people to make wills down into their elements. The break down can then be used as a checklist. Supplement with requirements interpreted or added by court opinions. The court in this case noted

Mississippi law empowers “[e]very person eighteen (18) years of age or older, being of sound and disposing mind” to make a will which, if not “wholly written and subscribed” by the testator, must be “attested by two (2) or more credible witnesses in the presence of the testator or testatrix [MCA 91-5-1]. The attesting witnesses must meet four requirements: First, the testator must request them to attest the will [Green v. Pearson, 145 Miss. 23, 110 So. 862, 864 (1927)]; second, they must see the testator sign the will [Matter of Jefferson’s Will, 349 So.3d 1032, 1036 (Miss. 1977)]; third, they must know that the document is the testator’s last will and testament [Estate of Griffith v. Griffith, 20 So.2d 1190, 1194 (Miss. 2010)]; and finally, they must satisfy themselves that the testator is of sound and disposing mind and capable of making a will [Matter of Jefferson’s Will, Id.].

This provides a good basis for a checklist:

1.  client

a. eighteen (18) years of age or older

b. of sound and disposing mind (document file)

2. Subscribing witness

a. two or more

b. credibile (document file)

c. in presence of testator or testatrix

d. requested by testator to attest the will

e. see the testator sign the will

f. know that the document is the testator’s last will and testament

g. satisfy themselves that the testator is

i.  of sound and disposing mind and

ii. capable of making a will

If each item on the checklist is documented at the time of the execution of the document and the checklist is kept in the file, not only can all be assured that the requirements are met, but there will be a record that can be used to prove the requirements were met in the event of a hearing many years later.

Note 1: Most states have a provision for “Self-proving Wills” that ought to be part of every will execution.

Note 2: Judge Primeaux’s blog is just chock full of helpful checklists for most proceedings that take place in equity courts regardless of their name in your jurisdiction, e.g., probate court, family court.  It is important, however, to adapt those checklists to the statutes, rules, and other applicable law for your jurisdiction.

Committed To Do Lists and Integrity

Friday, August 24th, 2012

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional workload organization and management tools such as “To Do” Lists are discussed extensively. Using a “To Do” list is only helpful if there is sense to the list, so it is important to prioritize. One aspect of this is making eliminate as many items as possible through delegation and other means. In her most recent newsletter Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, puts an interesting spin on this in a feature entitled, “What to Do vs. Need to Do.” Vicki distinguishes between those things you are committed to doing and those you “want to do” this way:

Your “want to do” list. The items on your “want to do” list are those that you have either chosen to do or feel the need to do. This could include a home improvement project, taking a class, writing an article, etc.

While your personal life or your career may be impacted if you do not do these things, it is your choice. Also, this list is not prioritized so when you decide to do something on it, you may end up choosing a task that will give you a higher return over another task on your list. Also, this list is always subject to change.

Your “committed to” list. Your “committed to” list is made up of the things you have agreed to do for someone or something: write an article, serve as an officer, plan an event, obtain a speaker, etc.

The things you have committed to are critical to your career success. If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.


I started this post quite awhile ago and have since lost the link to Vicki’s article. If I find it, I’ll update this post. At the time I probably intended to make a different point than I am making now. Here I want to emphasize the importance of Vicki’s statement, ” If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.”

As discussed at length in The Empowered Paralegal, a good part of professionalism for a paralegal involves “soft factors” – factors that cannot be measured by billable hours, documents produced, or even high praise from clients for work well done. Integrity, reliability, credibility are crucial. We (or at least I) talk a lot about managing time, workload, dockets, clients, and the attorney/paralegal relationship, but we are seldom interested in efficiency or effectiveness just for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness. The importance of tips like Vicki’s on To Do Lists lies not just in their ability to increase our efficiency and defectiveness, but in the way that translates into maintaining our integrity, reliability, and credibility.  The focus, in the end, is not just on what we do, but on who we are.

Managing Procrastination

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I’ve been putting off a post on procrastination for some time now. (I did a search of past posts and found that my first and only post on the topic was “Perfection Procrastination” in February of this year where I questioned the alleged link between perfectionism and procrastination asserted in a post on ABAJournal.com.)

Now ABAJournal.com again provides the motivation for a post on procrastination this time passing on “expert” remarks on managing procrastination. Since the basic motto of The Empowered Paralegal is management of obstacles by identifying them, developing plans for getting over them, and implementing those plans, this post interested me – after all, a good portion of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is devoted to time and workload management, and procrastination is a significant impediment to both. The post references a list of 21 tips on managing procrastination by the Time Management Ninja most of which I endorse and many of which are discussed further in my first book.

One of the tips though is a concern for me as the Ninja recommends using caffeine, “Sometimes you need an energy boost. Whether your choice is coffee or Red Bull, a little caffeine can go a long way to getting you going. (And going and going and going…)” While it is true that sometimes you need an energy boost, there is little indication that an energetic procrastinator is any better off than a non-energetic procrastinator. If you have found a way to address a task rather than put it off, some extra energy may help, but extra energy is not going to solve the procrastination problem itself.

Besides, there solution may cause more problems than it solves. For example, ” Studies have also shown that caffeine decreases reaction time to both visual and auditory stimuli; it does not significantly alter numerical reasoning (arithmetic skills) or short-term memory; and it can diminish performance of manual tasks that involve delicate muscular coordination and accurate timing. When caffeine is taken in high doses it can cause many unwanted side effects.” “Caffeine’s Hidden Dangers,” AFPA,  (Accessed Aug. 15, 2012) So you finally get around to doing the task but find that your reaction time is lowered, your short-term memory diminished and your keyboarding is not good!

This is especially dangerous if you find that you “need” caffeine on a regular basis (I’m thinking of the 5-Hour Energy commercials here). If you need an artificial boost on a regular basis, the artificial boost is masking a problem that should be addressed through other means.

What, Me Change?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Because paralegals have a different perspective on ground level operations in a law office they are often in a position to suggest changes that would improve those operations, client services, and the firm’s bottom line. The Empowered Paralegal, afterall, is well-equipped to recognize and analyze problems, identify solutions, and develop and implement plans for effectuating those solutions – everything from establishing procedures for time, docket, workload, and client management to utilizing advancements in technology to improve overall office operations (all discussed in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional). However, getting the attorneys to pay attention, much less accept and adopt those changes is a frequent source of frustration for paralegals.

The Empowered Paralegal also deals with approaches to dealing with the difficulties of communicating with one’s own attorney and managing the effects of attorney mismanagement. In addition, however, paralegals may take some solace in the fact that they do not suffer this frustration alone. Today’sABAJournal.com includes a post with a headline that will come as no suprise to paralegals: Don’t Underestimate Lawyers’ Resistance to Change, Seyfarth Shaw Chairman Says. The story is about attempts to implement process management, but applies as well to paralegal efforts to effectuate changes as it does to management consultant’s efforts:

Seyfarth Shaw has learned a lot about lawyers and their resistance to change as the firm embraced Lean Six Sigma, a management approach emphasizing process improvement and efficiency in legal work.

Seyfarth Shaw chairman J. Stephen Poor outlines the lessons learned in an article for the New York Times DealBook blog. “Never underestimate the resistance to change from lawyers,” he writes. “Even more likely, never underestimate the ability of lawyers to describe virtual status quo efforts as revolutionary change. Working through a change management process intended to deal with that push-back has been a core element of our challenge for years.”

By the way, I’ve noted before that “In my view process managment is not just about developing efficiencies so paralegals can do more work formerly done by attorneys. Effective use of professional paralegals, who can manage time, dockets, clients and workload is process management. But if they won’t listen to their own chairman, what are the chances they are listening to me? And the chances that the chairman is listening to me is even less!

Maybe they’ll listen to David Bowie:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8v486aUYu0  or, for those who are a bit older, Jefferson Airplane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOrb0G0tw08:

Life is Change
How it differs from the rocks

The alternative is

Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for
in the only way that it’s granted
in a place among the fossils of our time.*

From “Crown of Creation” which is largely taken with permission from “The Chrysalids” by John Wyndham(published 1955)

Speaking of changes, it’s about time I learned how to actually embed YouTube videos. If anyone out there actually read this far and knows how to do so, please clue me in!

Perfecting Procrastination

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

A post on today’s ABAJournal.comblog reports that “expert” has linked perfectionism to procrastination. The expert is a consultant who has written a book on time management. She tells the New York Times that perfectionists often need deadline pressures to force themselves to finish projects.

We are all familiar with this phenomena as many people insist that they have such a need for dealines. Let’s just be clear: the link between procrastination seems somewhat tenuous and perhaps dubious. However, even if there is such a link it is a link such that all perfectionists are procrastinators (many recognize that their work will more closely approach perfection if they manage both their time and deadlines) and certainly not all procrastinators are perfectionists (as demonstrated repeatedly each semester by my students.) For a time, one of my children claimed he was perfecting procrastination. Fortunately, he’s given up on that project and is now getting his work in on time.

The ABAJournal.com posts also (and perhaps more astutely) notes the most effective people focus on progress over perfection, according to corporate trainer Rory Vaden. He outlines the extent of the problem in an interview with the Times. In one survey, employees admitted wasting, on average, two hours a day at work, he says. (I wonder if writing blog posts like this count as wasting time all  the time or only when I’m procrastinating in order to avoid having to grade papers!)

So don’t consider yourself a perfectionist just because you procrastinate and don’t use your drive for perfection as an excuse for procrastination. The effective, efficient, and professional paralegal manages time, deadlines, work, and even their own characteristices rather than allowing them to manage them.

 

Billable Hour Goals

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Good planning can turn obstacles into stepping stones for meeting goals (e.g., I view the Rules of Procedure as a guidebook to litigation, not the pain-in-the-butt many legal professionals characterize them as). So I’m including here this post from Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, in its entirety:

Paralegal Practice Tip: Billable Hour Goals? Do the Math!from Vicki Voisin – The Paralegal Mentor with Paralegal Career Strategies by Paralegal Mentor

Most firms set annual billable hour goals for attorneys and paralegal. Reaching those goals is very important for a variety of reasons, the primary one being to demonstrate value to the firm.

If you do not break down the billable hour goals into ‘chunks,’ it’s a good possibility that come December 2012 you’ll find yourself falling short of the goal or scrambling to do two months’ time in one month.

Neither is good, one is virtually impossible. Instead, you need to do a bit of math and some simple planning NOW to be sure you meet your goals eleven months from now.

I’ll be revealing how to do the math and the planning this coming Tuesday, December 13th at 1:00 pm Eastern time when I present Your Big Billable Hour Breakthrough: How to Turn Your Time into a Billable Hour Gold Mine. For more information, follow this link.

Note: This course will provide 1.5 hours MCLE credit. Certificate of Attendance provided to all registered attendees.
As always, I’m dedicated to your success!