Archive for the ‘Client Management’ Category

The Estrin Report on Effective Client Communications

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Chere Estrin’s newest “The Estrin Report” on effective client communication starts with a great quote from George Bernard Shaw, “”The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Chere sets out and explains five important tips for improving communications with clients and more. Here are the bullet points on the five tips, but you should read the entire article:

1. Let clients speak for themselves.
2. Try to take a no-blame approach. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge mistakes.
3. Show respect.
4. Don’t volunteer others. Speak only for yourself.
5. Use every opportunity for learning, connection and insight.

Client communication is a fairly frequent subject on this blog, and in both The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professionaland The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client.  The essence of client communication is understanding that it is not enough to see that merely that the client hears or reads the communication. We must take effective steps to see that the client understands that communication. This frequently means overcoming barriers to communication. There are some barriers that are always there. There are others that pertain to particular groups of clients or to individual clients, or are greater obstacles to understanding with some clients. Consider this except from The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client on accommodating the diminished hearing and eyesight that so often accompanies aging:

When communicating with elder clients it is often necessary to adjust communications to accommodate diminished hearing or vision. In general, simply increasing volume is not a good answer because it increases the volume of the sounds a person can hear as well as those he or she
cannot. As stated above this is one problem with the use of hearing aids. If a client is having difficulty distinguishing speech or other desired sound from background or other undesired sound, simply increasing the volume of all sound will not help, and may make the problem worse. Finally, shouting and other means of raising volume can lead to confidentiality problems. It increases the chance that the conversation will be overheard by other persons. This is especially true when we must meet our client outside of the office—in their home, a hospital, nursing home, or other assisted living facility.

If the solution implemented to accommodate the loss of hearing is increased volume, then we must also adopt some means of maintaining confidentiality. Sound-proofing rooms is quite expensive but provides the additional benefit of screening out distractions. Certainly we should consider rugs (well secured so as not to create a tripping hazard) and wall décor that deaden sound. However, we can take simpler steps such as conducting conferences in rooms detached from waiting rooms and other high traffic locations. In addition, we can follow the
lead of therapists and use “white noise”machines outside of conference rooms.

Fortunately, simply raising the volume is not the only and often is not the best way to accommodate our clients’ diminished hearing. Gerontologists inform us that there are ways to communicate that compensate for much loss of hearing. Many of the techniques are helpful in ensuring understanding of our communications with any client. Those methods include:

• Face the person and maintain eye contact. This minimizes distractions and provides non-verbal clues as to what is being said as well as directing the sound at the listener.
• Sit somewhat close to and at eye level with the listener. Large, fancy conference tables are nice, but it may be better to sit next to the listener rather than across the table. Placing the client at the end of the long side of the table and sitting at the closest point on the short side allows closeness without the need to turn uncomfortably to the side to maintain eye contract. Watch the client’s body language for signs that you are too close for their comfort.
• Do not cover your mouth or face with your hands or objects such as papers while speaking. This muffles and deflects the sounds and creates an unnecessary distraction.
• Speak slowly and clearly but not in an exaggerated way.
• Minimize distractions, especially background noises. Again, sound proofing a room can be excessively expensive, but distractions can be minimized by holding conversations away from high-traffic areas, using “white noise” machines, and décor that deadens sound. Sometimes it is as simple as remembering to close the door. “White noise” machines can be purchased in sizes that fit in a briefcase and brought to out-of-office meetings with the client.
• Speak in a lower tone of voice. This is not as counter-intuitive as it may seem. We are not talking about lowering volume but tone of voice, thus conveying our words in frequencies within the listener’s ability to receive. Speak as you normally would in terms of cadence and modulation.
• Especially important information should be repeated often and in different ways. If the client fails to catch the point due to sound distortion, distraction, background noise or the like when it is stated one way, they may understand the same point when it stated a different way.
• Speak from a checklist or agenda so that points are made in a clear, systematic way. Provide the client with a written checklist of the topics covered and/or specific information conveyed such as items they must bring with them to the next meeting.

I suggest you literally put yourself in the place of the client. Sit in your conference room at different times of day and listen to the background noise. Do this not from the seat you normally take, but the seat or seats normally assigned to clients. Sit outside your conference room and listen for indications that conversations can be overheard. Conduct conversations with earplugs that
deaden, but do not eliminate sound. Ask the other person to try the techniques listed above in various ways and settings to see how they work from the perspective of the listener with diminished hearing capacity. Accommodating our clients’ diminished hearing capacity is generally not difficult if we make ourselves aware of it and implement reasonable steps in response to it. It helps not only the client but the entire legal team. Effective and efficient communication among the members of the team is essential in order for any
member of the team to be able to perform at his or her best.

(Excerpted from The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client scheduled for publication by Carolina Academic Press in September, 2010. Internal footnotes omitted.)



Advising Divorcing Parents

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Judge Larry Primeaux writes an excellent blog now entitled, “The Better Chancery Practice Blog.” While directed towards chancery practice in Mississippi his litigation checklists, case analysis, and cautions on the use of rules and statutes, ought to be mandatory for any  legal professional. In a recent post, however, he gave advice that while directed to legal professionals was really for the benefit of divorcing/divorced clients and, more important, for the benefits of their children. I realize that paralegals cannot give legal advice, but this advice is primarily non-legal. In any case, it can be put into a brochure distributed to clients and explained by the paralegal. As Judge Primeaux says, “You are in a unique position to influence your clients to do a better job in making it easier and healthier for the children in these situations.” I’m fairly sure he won’t mind, so I’m passing on the advice verbatim:

Here are a few suggestions for the custodial parent:

  • Reassure the child that you will be okay while he or she is away. A child I spoke with years ago told me she did not want to go visit with her dad because she was worried that her mother would be lonely and sad without her. Remember that children have seen their parents sad, crying, upset and emotional during the heat of the divorce. They feel it is their responsibility to try to fix it. The custodial parent can alleviate the child’s concern by assuring him or her in the few days leading up to visitation that the parent has plenty to do, and will be happy to see the child go off for an enjoyable visit.
  • Let the non-custodial parent participate in the children’s lives. The transition to visitation is much easier when the non-custodial parent is not a stranger who drops in every other weekend. Encourage the children to call the other parent, to send birthday and holiday cards, to Skype every now and then, to call with news like good grades or a smiley face for good behavior in school. Let the children invite the other parent to school and church programs, sports, and award presentations.
  • Leave the visitation schedule free for visitation. Never schedule outings, events, or even sports activities during the other parent’s visitation without his or her permission.
  • Be flexible in scheduling. Both parents should yield to the other’s reasonable requests for rescheduling due to family reunions, weddings, family holidays, and the like. If the non-custodial parent can only schedule Disney World with the children during the first week in July, why shouldn’t the custodial parent give up her July 4 holiday for some other time?
  • Make exchanges amicable. Leave the drama at home when it comes time to exchange the children for visitation.
  • Share school pictures. Get extra copies for the children to give to the non-custodial parent, the grandparents and other members of the family. The little wallet-sized and 4×6 sizes are not that expensive. Get a few copies of the order forms to give to the other parent and family so that they can order as many and whatever size photos they want.
  • Listen to the children’s experiences when they return home. Show interest in their experiences, and encourage them to share their enthusiasm, but never pry into what is going on in the other home or use the children as spies.
  • Understand that parenting styles are different, and that’s okay. The children may come home with wide-eyed tales of being able to stay up to midnight, or to watch a scary movie, or being able to eat popcorn in bed. Reassure them that the rules can be different in different places, and the important thing is that they honor the rules set down by each parent.

While the primary benefit of this advice is the children, as the judge also notes there are benefits to the law office as well, “Clients remember that kind of help when their friends ask who they would recommend in their own divorce situations.”


Memories – Another Obstacle to Understanding

Monday, September 24th, 2012

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional we discuss extensively barriers to communications and understanding that can affect our ability to work optimally with our clients: cultural, generational, educational, and similar barriers. We also discuss ways to remove those barriers and manage communication to maximize understanding. I later apply those same concepts to the elder client in The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client specifically dealing with some of the problems caused by the natural changes in memory that come with aging. Now a post in indicates that, regardless of age, memories can change with each recall according to a study by Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

While I had not previously given this much thought, now that it is pointed out I do recall observing this phenomenon many times during the course of my legal career. The ABAJournal.compost quotes Bridge as saying in a press release, “A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event—it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it. Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval…Maybe a witness remembers something fairly accurately the first time because his memories aren’t that distorted. After that it keeps going downhill.”

In a more general sense this can obviously be a trial in any legal action, civil or criminal, and when providing other services to clients. It is another barrier to communication and understanding. So it is incumbent upon us as legal professionals to work on ways to manage the effects of this phenomenon. As with other barriers we start be recognizing it as a problem. This will lead to more practical actions. Minimizing the times a client has to tell her story (first to the paralegal, then to the junior attorney, then to the senior attorney, then to the expert, then at the deposition, then in trial testimony…) We all already attempt to get the client or witness as soon as possible after an incident to record their statements before those statements are given to a police officer, an insurance adjuster, etc. This adds to the importance of both getting that first statement and recording it for the benefit of review by the client/witness before they need to re-count the incident again. Perhaps it would be best to write out our notes from a client interview, have the client verify that we got it right, and have that account available in full both to inform others of the incident without the client having to tell the incident again and to refresh his memory before the next rendition. (Although I can see some downsides to this.)

Any thoughts on this?

Being Too Influential

Monday, June 4th, 2012

ABA recently posted an article entitled, “Staff of Reclusive Heiress Coerced Her Out of $44M in Gifts, Executor Says,” regarding an action brought against nurses, doctors, a hospital, a lawyer and an accountant for reclusive heiress Huguette Clark claiming they coerced or influenced her out of more than $44 million in gifts. I know nothing more about the facts of the case and whether or not Clark was unduly influenced by these people. However, the article raises some issues addressed here previously and at least one that has not yet been the focus of a post here, although it is discussed extensively in The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client.

One previously discussed issue is the role of a paralegal as a “watchdog” both in general and with regard to practices within ones own law firm. That is, it is incumbent upon the professional paralegal to see can be seen and sometimes notice what is not there to be seen, make an appropriate record and when necessary “do the right thing.” Another is how a paralegal should handle ethical violation on the part of an attorney.

Not previously discussed and thus the focus here is the danger that legal professionals might unduly influence their clients without intending to do so. Consider this excerpt from Working with the Elder Client:

Avoiding unintentional undue influence by the legal professional

The importance of the various methods of making advance decisions is that the client can make the decision that best suits their own beliefs. Having a living will or an advanced health care directive does not compel a client to choose an approach in opposition to their own beliefs. It simply allows them to make the decision rather than leave it to someone else, someone who may not share their beliefs. Establishing a “fair” estate plan, must be done using the client’s conception of fairness, not ours.

We must be careful in discussing these options with clients that we do not judge their decisions or let them feel we do not approve of their decision. As noted previously, the elderly, especially those who are seriously ill, can be particularly vulnerable to outside influences. While many people become less concerned about what others think of them as they grow older, some others suffer from loss of a sense of self that can make them more susceptible to such influence. Our role is to assist the client in determining and effectuating their wishes, not to judge, shame, or persuade the client to our way of thinking.

It is often difficult to gauge our own prejudices and the way they affect our demeanor and approach to client. It is important that we reflect carefully on our own preferences. For example, it is my belief that options for making decisions regarding end-of-life healthcare can be arranged in a descending order, i.e., that the first is better than the second, the second better than the third, and so on.

I view these options as belonging to one of three categories. In the first, the client makes as many health care decisions for himself in advance as he can and designates someone to make only those decisions which were not anticipated in advance. In the second, the client makes no decisions in advance except the designation of the person or persons who will make necessary decisions on her behalf. Finally, there is the option of taking no action. In this instance, the client should understand that taking no action is itself making a decision. The client decides to allow someone designated by state law to make the decisions on her behalf. However, throughout the discussion we must keep in mind that the paralegal’s role is to inform (and for the attorney to advise), not to convince or persuade, a client even unintentionally…

As discussed extensively in Working, it is often difficult to tell when a client is being unduly influenced by outsiders. It can be even more difficult when we ourselves are involved, even when that involvement is nothing more than the very provision of legal services for which our clients have turned to us.

Diversity and Communication

Friday, February 17th, 2012

In “The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” I discuss a variety of obstacles to communication and emphasize the need for paralegal to recognize potential obstacles. Those obstacles include cultural, generational, educational, and other barriers, many of which cannot be overcome by watching for “body language” unless the paralegal understands the client’s body language in terms of the client’s cultural, generational, education, etc., background. (In The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client we examine this phenomenon with focus on the client’s perspectives on death, dying, aging, etc.

Despite the fact that my spouse is a certified behavior analyst who does amazing work with autistic children I did not think to include the barriers to communication and understanding that arise from disorders such as autism. So what bring this up now? An article by Brian Lafferty in East Coast Magazine. Brian is a newly minted paralegal. In addition to the other difficulties facing all paralegals seeking work, Brian has to deal with the communication, understanding, and appearance barriers that arise from autism. Here is just a portion of his article:

That’s the problem with job interviews for Autistic people. On the outside I look unenthused, boring, and lacking a personality. My body language and facial expressions usually indicate someone who isn’t necessarily incompetent, but is someone who would be unable to perform his duties adequately.

Appearances can be very deceiving, though. On the outside I may look blank-faced and lacking confidence. On the inside, I’m full of emotion and happiness. I possess an outstanding visual memory that never ceases to impress people; one favorite Lafferty Family story is the time I memorized – at age seven – all fifty states, their capitals, and their nicknames in the span of two to three days. Ever since elementary school, family, friends, and teachers alike have commented to me how well I write. I attribute this to being a voracious reader growing up.


Brian’s difficulties are important in and of themselves, but my focus here is the import of the barriers to communication and understanding that disorders such as autism can have in the context of representing clients with those disorders. As a legal team, our obligation is not just to note, “This client seems odd” or “This client is eccentric,” but to understand the barriers to communication and do our best to overcome them in order to render the best possible and most professional service to those clients.

Thanks Brian for the article!

Children in the Vortex

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Judge Larry Primeaux, writing for attorneys, again last week included a post well worth applying to paralegals. In fact, since paralegal often have more contact with the clients than the attorneys, it may be even more important for paralegals. I’m re-posting it here, but highly recommend you go to Judge Primeaux’s blog itself for post after post of value to the legal team.


 The maelstrom of conflict between parents in a divorce or custody battle often catches up the children and dashes them against the same rocks that brought the marriage to destruction. Even the mildest custody conflict can damage children and their relationships with one or both parents, but the injury can be severe when the conflict is intense and where one or both parties bring the children into the vortex.

As an attorney, you stand in a position to influence your clients to minimize the damage. Here are some thoughts to share with your custody clients:

A custody dispute is not about winning or losing. Custody is decided on the basis of what is in the best interest of the children. No matter what the judge decides, his or her decision will be based on what is best for the children. Help your client understand the Albright factors, how they apply in her case, and how to maximize her strong points while minimizing her exposure on the weak points.

Hate and revenge do not help. If your client’s motivation for custody is hate and/or revenge, he will be operating under a considerable disadvantage because (1) those are not positive factors under Albright for custody, and (2) they communicate to the children that they are spoils of war to be won instead of children who are to be loved no matter what the controversy is between the parents.

Never allow the children to make the custody decision. Children do not know what is best for them. They are subject to all sorts of influences, the strongest of which appeal to what they believe they want. It is appropriate to ask a mature child’s opinion, but only as input, never as a final decision. The parent or lawyer who tells a child “You will get to decide when you reach x age” is doing the child a great disservice because the law never gives the child a right to finally decide; that decision is always up to the judge. Children who are made to decide often feel that they have betrayed one parent or the other. Making a child decide is putting the child squarely in the middle of the conflict. Children who are placed in the middle learn to manipulate.

Parents who put their children in the middle usually find that the children become master manipulators, playing both sides against each other to gain whatever it is that the child wants or thinks he wants.

Putting the children in the middle complicates the case. When the parties put the children in the middle, the resulting conflict spawns contempt, modifications, more discovery about all kinds of perpheral matters, and adds expense, stress, conflict and injured relationships to everyone’s plates.

Drop the drama. The only enjoyable thing about a divorce or custody battle for most people is the attention and sympathy they derive from others over the suffering and pain they are having to endure. So when they find their friends’ and family’s attention wandering, they will ramp up the drama to regain the spotlight. That’s self-defeating because it usually takes some kind of negative action to stimulate the other side into conflict. The best and most productive policy is to drop the drama and act like an adult and a caring parent.

Act like an adult. The best behavior you can model for your children is to act like an adult. Treat the other party with the respect he or she deserves as parent of your child. Eschew juvenile name-calling. Turn your back on invitations to argue. Avoid sarcasm and profanity. No threats, veiled or otherwise. Your children are watching and learning from your every move.

Lawyers are in a superior position to advise clients about where to expect to find pitfalls and landmines as they navigate the no-man’s land of child custody litigation. Don’t be reticent when it comes to guiding your clients and even bringing them up short whan they get out of line. That’s part of what you’re there for.


Cleaning Up Facebook Leads to Sanctions

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

In a previous post I noted this admonition from an analysis by H. Christopher Boehning and Daniel J. Toal of  a recent article published in the Delaware Law Review, in which attorney Margaret DiBianca ” identified a number of these novel ethical issues:

Upon learning that a client’s social networking site contains information that is potentially harmful to a claim or defense, a lawyer may be tempted to advise the client to remove the harmful content. To do so, however, would risk running afoul of Rule 3.4 (a), and incurring sanctions for spoliation of evidence.

Failure to heed that warning (although the events recounted here likely occurred before the warning appeared in the article) has indeed lead to significant sanctions for an attorney (and the attorney’s client) who directed his paralegal to direct his client to “clean up” his Facebook page. The sanctions? Well, they totaled $722,000 (to be paid presumably out of a $5,000,000 judgment the client had obtain against the defendant in the proceeding in which the sanctions were issued. Here’s more:

”According to a September 1 order from Judge Hogshire, the spoliation began in March 25, 2009, when Murray received a discovery request for the contents of Lester’s Facebook account. Attached was a photo of Lester wearing a ‘I [heart] hot moms” t-shirt, and holding a beer can with other young adults.
Murray instructed a paralegal to tell Lester to ”clean up” his Facebook page because, ”we don’t want blowups of this stuff at trial,” the assistant, Marlina Smith, said in a disposition. She emailed that message to Lester the next day.
On March 26, 2009, according to the judge’s order, Murray came up with a scheme to take down or deactivate Lester’s Facebook account so that he could respond that he has no Facebook page on the date the discovery request was signed.
When defense attorneys filed a motion to compel, Murray instructed Lester to reactivate the account. But in a December 16 2009, deposition, Lester denied deactivating the account.
Murray is also accused of withholding the email from Smith instructing Lester to clean up his Facebook page when he was ordered to produce it shortly before the trial began. Murray falsely claimed after the trial that the omission was the paralegal’s mistake, according to the court order.”

The rest is here from, but this is enough to bring me to the second point of this story that is worthy of comment:

 “Murray [the attorney] falsely claimed after the trial that the omission was the paralegal’s mistake, according to the court order.”

On second thought, it is probably not in need of comment as it seems to speak volumes all by itself.

When a client emails from work…

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

According to (in a story brought to my attention through the KNOW: The Magazine for ParalegalsLinkedIn Group forum) the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued an opinion that under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct if a client is emailing his or her lawyer from a work computer or an employer’s electronic device, there’s a good chance that the communication could be intercepted by the employer. This in turn may impose a duty on the lawyer to warn the client “of the potential confidentiality concern.”

This opinion is, of course, only an opinion and it is based on the Model Rules, which may not be applicable to your state. However, it appears well reasoned. While the opinion and the rules themselves apply directly only to the attorney member of the legal team, this is of particular concern for paralegals because in many instances the paralegal is the primarly liason between the client and the law office. This means it will be the paralegal, not the attorney who will have the primary indication that the client is emailing from her workplace and should be warned of the confidentiality implications.

When this happens it is likely that the paralegal will have an inclination to so warn the client. However, “warn” appears to be a form of “advise” and paralegals cannot give legal advice. So, the correct step would be for the paralegal to bring the matter to the attention of the attorney. Alternatively, the law office could have a standard policy together with standard language to address this issue. If would be best to inform the client of the potential problem at the intial interview and request that all email be done through non-work devices and servers. In the event that the client “forgets” there can be a standing direction from the attorney to the paralegal to remind the client via the standard warning language.

Paranoid clients: Whose reality is real?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Paranoia is a difficult topic to address in the client context. It is, as you likely know, a disorder in which a person is very suspicious and distrustful of others. MedlinePlus, an informational website provided as a service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, describes the symptoms in this way:

People with paranoid personality disorder are highly suspicious of other people. They are usually unable to acknowledge their own negative feelings towards other people.

Other common symptoms include:


  • Concern that other people have hidden motives
  • Expectation that they will be exploited by others
  • Inability to work together with others
  • Poor self image
  • Social isolation
  • Detachment
  • Hostility[1]


There is also a type of lesser distrustful behavior that lacks the more psychotic persecutory elements of delusional paranoia. This type is called “functional paranoia” because it serves the function of reducing the sense of vulnerability that often accompanies the loss of independence and control experienced by the elderly. In essence, functional paranoia is a coping mechanism. However, the “distrust, suspiciousness, and blaming of others can take on an angry quality that certainly can be aggravating for others.”[2]

A paranoid client is problematic for legal professionals in at least two respects, (1) they mistrust just about everyone, including the legal professionals who are attempting to help them, and (2) it is difficult to separate out the reality from the unreality of the information they provide. To a great extent the empowered paralegal will already be prepared for dealing with the first of these problems, because the paralegal will already be communicating fully with clients. When the client’s paranoia is functional, full communication can empower the client and diminish their feelings of vulnerability. However, even though functional paranoia fulfills a rational purpose, the paranoia ideation itself is not rational; the definition of paranoia is irrational suspicion. You cannot expect someone for whom paranoia is a coping mechanism to suddenly stop the ideation simply because you are in fact very trustworthy and have only the client’s best interests in mind.

Paranoia is subject to treatment. Counseling in which “an individual focuses on changing negative, self-defeating beliefs or misconceptions, may be useful in treating paranoid older adults who often attribute causality to external factors (e.g., the belief that someone took their pocketbook, that they themselves did not misplace it)”[3]may enable that individual to redirect those beliefs. However, we as legal professionals cannot make it our role to counsel or treat paranoia. Rather, we best perform our role when we understand the paranoid client and use that understanding to better work with the client.

Here are some suggestions for coping with the paranoid client:

  • Do not take his mistrust personally
  • Keep the client fully informed on a consistent, regular basis
  • Speak and write in short, simple, and clear sentences to minimize misunderstanding and misinterpretation
  • While you must check fairly constantly the client’s thoughts and statements against reality, do not constantly confront the client with that reality. Remember, the clients delusions are reality for them. Chose these “battles” wisely.
  • At the same time that you let client statements and ideation pass without openly questioning it, do not indicate that your are accepting or “buying into” the client’s paranoia. Be firm and respectful in protecting and projecting your own reality. (We are, of course, all hopeful that our reality is the reality, but be mindful that each of our realities is, at least, colored by our own biases, prejudices, and suspicions.) Do not see monsters under the bed just to keep the client happy.
  • Be open to the client’s discussion of her mistrust and suspicions. Let her know that she is free to voice them to you. Clarify misunderstandings about your actions or motivations in a non-defensive, non-judgment way.
  • Anticipate events that are likely to give rise to mistrust and suspicions. Explain proceedings and the role of the persons in them well in advance. For example, it is useful for any client to know that a mediator may be meeting with both sides of a dispute privately and that such meetings may not be equal in length, but this is essential information for a paranoid client.
  • Focus on the client as a whole and as an individual. Do not focus on his symptoms.

The empowered paralegal is also well-equipped to separate out legal relevant portions of client reports from the legally irrelevant, and is likely to have considerable practice at separating fact from fiction in the client’s rendition of her side of a case. Our client’s reports to us are always colored by their particular perspective, biases, prejudices, desires, and motivations. Paranoid clients are an extreme form of this. However, they are more than just an extreme form of this phenomenon. Non-paranoid clients, unless they are simply lying, color reality, but do not irrationally misjudge it.

This is a problem for the legal professional because we must make our judgments and recommendations based on the facts. If our clients are showing signs of paranoia, we need to be ever more mindful of our obligation to verify the facts before taking action. Michael Nugent Moore, a paralegal and licensed private investigator located in Boston, commented on this topic in a NFPA LinkedIn discussion thread. He gives this example,

While working as an investigative paralegal, I had a client who was a WW II vet. He believed that someone had stolen stock from him. His mind seemed sharp, but he had bouts of paranoia. I found numerous facts that contradicted his report of the situation and I was informed that paranoia is the initial manifestation of dementia. It was a real strain constantly trying sort out reality.

However, we must also avoid swinging too far in the other direction. There is tendency to discount or even ignore everything a paranoid client says, especially when they are making accusations against people who appear to us to be above such accusations. The sad fact is that all too often an elderly client’s own children, and the nursing home personnel entrusted with the care of the elderly, do steal from, neglect, and abuse those for whom they are providing care. We cannot assume these problems are not occurring simply because the client displays signs of, or even has been diagnosed with, paranoia.

Finally, as is the case with depression discussed previously and dementia discussed in the next section, paranoia provides cause for concern regarding our client’s competency.

 [Excerpted and modified from The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client.]


[1] Medline Plus, (Last accessed March 17, 2010)

[2] Sheldon S. Tobin, Preservation of  the Self in the Oldest Years, Springer Publishing Company (1999), 14.

[3] Hooyman and Kiyak, 235

“The Paralegal” Speaks on Time Management

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As regular readers of this blog know, time management is one of the basics of paralegal empowerment and professionalism. So, I enjoyed reading Ana Perrio’s post regarding time management onThe Paralegal. According to her website, Ana Pierro, “is a paralegal supervisor in the Office of the General Counsel at a large financial institution in the Greater New York area.   Ana has over 16 years experience working in law firms and in corporate legal departments with experience in insurance defense, plaintiff’s personal injury and product liability, asbestos litigation, securities litigation, compliance, regulatory work recently government affairs.”

Ana’s post two of the biggest impediments to time management: the telephone and email. The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” devotes entire chapters to time, workload, and client management. Ana is correct that time management requires active management of email and telephone. If you do not control them, they willcontrol you. So, I recommend some specific rules. These are rules that you put in place to govern the way you manage emails and calls. Click here to check out the fundamentals for email rules and client management phone rules.