Archive for October, 2009

Pepsi’s Problem

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Pepsi’s 1.2 Billion-dollar boo-boo is (or should be) the discussion of the day on the Legal Assistant Today listserv and several blogs.  On the listserv, it has started with this post:

One of my attorneys forwarded this article to us (mostly as a joke about ‘let’s sue Pepsi while they aren’t looking’).

Anyway.  If you had been the Paralegal who was tasked to serve PepsiCo the corporation, where would you have sent the Subpoena? Just a quick search of the WI Corporations page shows one active filing w/a corporate registered agent.

Also, how many of you believe the legal assistant with PepsiCo is no longer employed there.  That right there is my worst employment nightmare.

Anyway obviously there is much more to it (SOL issues, etc) but with our recent talks about serving corporations I thought this would be interesting.

Katrina C. Robinson, NCCP


And Lynne DeVenney of Practical Paralegalism provided a very good post on the topic yesterday. I am at the AAfPE conference today (trying to determine when I became too old to handle a two hour time change!) and cannot dwell on this long, but it does seem to me that while a good paralegal can be the solution to a lot of process management problems, and no process management solution should be put in place without input from the office paralegals, this failure falls on those who set up Pepsi’s system as much as, if not more than, the legal secretary. None the less it provides a good object lesson to all of us and definitely falls in the “Consequences of Sloppiness” category.

Paralegal Testifies as Witness

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 reports on another case in which a paralegal was called upon to testify as to events occurring “on the job:”

Unhappy about the result of a motion filed by his matrimonial lawyer in a child custody dispute, a New Jersey accountant allegedly took extreme action.

Nicholas Lucarella, now 57, is accused of hiring another state resident to kill his attorney, Peter Paras….

Testifying earlier today in state court in Freehold about the day of the June 2002 attack, retired paralegal Leslie Margolies said she became concerned after receiving a strange phone call from a purported would-be client and told Paras not to come to work on the day of the attack. She also told other staff to keep the doors of the law office locked.

“I was very concerned,” she testified.

I’ve previously posted on paralegals needing to be aware of their potential as witnesses to what has occurred and, on occasion, what has not occurred while at work. Since I still teach a class tonight before packing, I’ll just refer those interested to that post.

While I’m Away

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Tomorrow I head to Portland, Oregon, for the American Association for Paralegal Education national conference. On Friday night we are having a joint event with NFPA that should be particularly interesting. This is my first time attending and presenting at an AAfPE national conference, so I do not know whether and when I will be able to post, but if it is at all like ABA or ATLA meetings, I should be able to at least post on the proceedings.

One topic discussed several times on this blog and I suspect will be discussed at the conference is pro bono work as a means of giving back to the profession and community while benefiting by the networking. Along that line is this from Reuters:

Peirce College and Burlington County College will host a Professional Networking Reception and Panel Discussion for paralegals on Thursday, October 29 on the Burlington County College Mt. Laurel Campus.

Professionals from the legal community will discuss the personal and
professional benefits of working with local Pro Bono and Public Interest Law
organizations. The keynote speaker is Jill Friedman, Director of Pro Bono and
Public Interest Programs, Rutgers School of Law in Camden, NJ.

Peirce College is co-sponsoring the event for the College`s undergraduate
Paralegal Studies students and other interested professionals. “Our goal is to
communicate the personal and professional benefits of volunteering with a public interest or pro bono organization,” says Cynthia Gentile, J.D., Assistant
Professor, Legal Studies at Peirce College.

On the professional side, “We want to show them how they can get their foot in the door. From a personal perspective, we want to demonstrate the benefits of volunteering, especially during these difficult economic times, when the need for more pro bono volunteers is even greater.”

Our program here at Ole Miss is currently working on providing a formal channel for pro bono work through a legal clinic and other volunteering opportunities for our students. Paralegal educators want their students to know what profession paralegals already know: when paralegals volunteer to meet pro bono and public interest needs, everyone wins.

Paralegal earns Combat Action Badge

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

No comment on this one from dvids. Just a salute to Romeo Belunta:

Romeo Belunta, a paralegal assistant and Tampa Bay, Fla., native with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Mountain Warrior, became the first paralegal from the task force to receive a Combat Action Badge.

A Soldier earns a CAB by actively engaging or being engaged by enemy forces.

Belunta, a former infantryman, earned the coveted badge while performing paralegal duties at Combat Outpost Keating, in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, near his home base of Forward Operating Base Bostick.

Belunta traveled to COP Keating in early July to offer legal assistance to the Soldiers there.

Are “7” and “6+1” the same?

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently honor a prosecution team including a paralegal for work done convicting a former Ukrainian prime minister for money laundering. On a previous occasion I noted the significance of the paralegal being honored in his capacity as a paralegal rather than the award going to an attorney and staff. It recognized his contribution as a separate professional and member of the legal team.

The Justice Department appears to have a firm grasp of this concept. But the same is not true for those who report on this honor. Compare, for example, the report in the Contra Costa Times with that posted by CBS Channel 5 in its “Crime Watch” section.

The Times piece is short. Here’s how, in part,  it cast the honor:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder honored six federal prosecutors and a paralegal for their work convicting Pavel Lazarenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister who moved to Marin County.The seven received the Attorney General’s Award for distinguished service during a ceremony Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The award, in its 57th year, was given to 286 honorees this year.

Note that the paralegal is both mentioned separately here recognizing her separate role but included as a member of the seven member team.

The Channel 5 post is much longer and has a significantly different approach:

Six federal prosecutors from San Francisco have been honored by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for pursuing a money laundering case against a former Ukrainian prime minister.

The six prosecutors won a jury conviction of former Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko in federal court in San Francisco in 2004 for using U.S. banks to launder $21.7 million extorted from a businessman in Ukraine in the 1990s.

It is only at the end of a 335 word story that we learn, “Paralegal Specialist Christine Ying Tian also received an award for her work on the case.” Clearly this report does not convey the perception of the role in, and the contribution to, the legal team held by the Justice Department.  In an operation like this, the paralegal is not just an afterthought.

Hats off to the Contra Costa Times for getting it right. Eventually, with the help of reports like theirs, as the paralegal profession gains in professionalism and identity, the public will have a better understanding of the role of the paralegal in the legal team.

Complaints Wanted!

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Teaching paralegals to manage clients and the paralegal-attorney relationship is best done in the context of “real life” situations. So, I am looking for your stories about difficult clients and problem attorneys. Please post a comment here or email me at sharing your stories. The best stories are ones that give context and specificity to a complaint, rather than simply state, “My attorney always procrastinates.”

The goal is to give students an opportunity to work through some of these situations and develop ways to prevent them or manage them when they do occur. Thanks for your help.

Of course, your emails will be kept confidential.

“In addition to the legal work, you would be required to…”

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 reports on an ethics complaint against an attorney for filing a Craigslist ad for a legal secretary position that included sexual relations with the attorney. It’s not quite that simple, of course, but still appalling. I was trying to decide just what to say about when Chere Estrin did the job in a posting on the Estrin Report. So I get off that hook by sending you to her post Sex, Secretaries and Audacious Attorneys. Thanks, Chere!

Paralegals and Process Management

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

ABAJuornalreports that the new office buzzword is “process management.” In process management firm attorneys focus on discussing how they could develop a model for efficient law practice in various contexts.

Much as a builder relies on blueprints or an automotive assembly line can be used to put together the base model, law practice, too, can be standardized, as far as some elements are concerned, Goldstein and others tells the legal publication. By focusing on such process management, a law firm can more efficiently handle standard work while freeing up seasoned attorneys to oversee strategy and other aspects requiring greater skill.

Process management is expected to reduce law firms’ need for associates, as they outsource some work and use paralegals for other projects that have traditionally been handled by lower-level attorneys. But that, says Silvia Coulter of Hildebrandt, will mean more profits for partners. [Emphasis added.]

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.

It also seems to me that firms are making a mistake if it is only the attorneys who are “focused” on this process. No process set up to increase efficiencies through use of paralegals will be as effective as it could be unless paralegals are involved in the process of developing process management! After all, the paralegals are frequently the members of the legal team intimately involved in, and familiar with, the existing process, so they are best situated to improve that process.

Washington State Paralegal Week

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

According to the Washington State Paralegal Association newsletter, Findings & Conclusionsthe State of Washington is presently celebrating Paralegal Week by virtue of a proclamation from the Governor. Some of these proclamations can be quite formulaic, but I like this one which states in part, “Whereas, paralegals are multi-skilled professionals…”

By the way, the newletter now comes in a nifty digitalized magazine format allowing you to “flip” pages, as well as a more standard format. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to copy and paste the language from the proclamation and I’m not about to type it all in. If you’d like to read the whole thing, go to page 3 of the newletter.

Another Attorney in Need of a Good Paralegal

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 reports on an attorney barred from practicing in the Federal Second Circuit do to missing deadlines and abysmal briefing:

A New York immigration lawyer has been barred from appearing again before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals due to missed deadlines that resulted in the dismissal of at least 12 cases and and substandard briefs.

“We want to make it clear that the deficiencies of [Karen] Jaffe’s conduct, in the aggregate, bespeak of something far more serious than a lack of competence or ability. They exhibit an indifference to the rights and legal well-being of her clients, and to her professional obligations, including the obligation of candor, to this court,” states a per curiam written opinion of the circuit’s 10 active judges. It imposes the practice ban by striking her from the circuit’s roster of authorized attorneys, reports the New York Law Journal in an article that is reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

One reviewing panel described Jaffe’s briefing skills as “abysmal,” the legal publication notes.

Certainly there are attorneys who cannot be saved from themselves by anyone. I’m not in a position to judge this attorney, but based on the statements of this court, I don’t think this is one. Meeting deadlines and seeing that legal documents are “as they should be” is what professional paralegals do. Solo practicioners often balk at the cost of a paralegal, but in cases like this the costs of not having a member of the legal team who can balance out the attorney’s weaknesses with complementing strengths are far higher than the cost of having such a member. In addition to preventing this type of problem a paralegal would likely make it possible for this attorney to serve more clients better, thus providing the income necessary to cover the costs of the paralegal.