Archive for December, 2010

Useless Year End Statistics

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This statistics are probably not really useless. I just don’t know how to use them or what they really mean. Anyway, here’s what StatPress reports about the year (so far) on this blog:

Visitors              31,442

Pageviews       148,179

Feeds               163,864

However, the really impressive stats is from Akismet:

20,438 spams caught.

Maybe in the New Year I’ll figure out how to make these stats useful!

Following up on “Handling Unethical Attorney Conduct: An Example”

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

A short while back I posted “Handling Unethical Attorney Conduct: An Example,” a post that came close to setting a record for views, pingbacks, and views for this blog. That post contained excerpts from a news story regarding an ethics proceeding involving six members of a Portland, Maine, firm, that emanated from a discovery made by a firm paralegal regarding unethical conduct by one of the firm’s top attorneys and disclosed by that attorney’s legal secretary. The proceeding was against six members of the firm who where charged with failure to promptly investigate and report the attorney’s unethical conduct, but I focused on the dilemma faced by paralegals and other legal staff when they discovered unethical conduct on the part of the attorney for whom they worked. I ended up stating, “Hence my modification of my original advice [given in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional: a paralegal in this position should consult an outside attorney not only if they decide to report, but in determining whether a report should be made. This case, whether or not the allegation is true, demonstrates the folly of seeking that advice within the firm.”

Today’s report from the Portland Press Herald and ABAJournal.com states that all six of the attorneys were cleared of ethical violations in that the court found they had reported the original attorney’s violations in a timely manner. Once again, though, my focus in on the employees who made the initial discoveries. I am including here the portion of court’s order that describes their experience. It may be helpful to put yourself in their position and consider now what you would do as you may indeed find yourself in their position at some time. I’ll try to post something a bit more upbeat tomorrow so the year does not end on this.

From the court’s decision:

In late 2006, a Verrill Dana paralegal, reviewing a bank statement, noted a discrepancy between the check register for an account managed by Duncan for Janice Thomas and the bank statement of that account. The check register indicated a payment to Verrill Dana. The bank statement, with a copy of the face of the check appearing on the back, indicated a payment to Duncan.
This paralegal had been filling in for Ellie Rommel, the regular secretary for Duncan in the private clients group. Rommel also was the secretary to another attorney working in the private clients group, Gregory L. Foster. Foster was a counsel to the firm and usually worked in the office two days each week. Rommel had a very good professional relationship with, and high respect for, both Duncan
and Foster.

In January 2007, the paralegal told Rommel of the discrepancy she had discovered between the check register and the bank statement. Rommel was extremely surprised by this disclosure. She assumed, initially, that the discrepancy would be based on an error in entry and not indicative of any impropriety. She then checked banks statements against the check registers going back to 2003.

Over that period, she discovered fourteen checks that Duncan, using his power of attorney authority, had written to himself from the Janice Thomas account. The check registers indicated that each of these checks had been written to Verrill Dana. The faces of the checks were reproduced on the bank statements.Therefore, confirming the party to whom the check was written, and comparing it with the check register, was a relatively simple process. Rommel was shocked and greatly disturbed by this discovery. To her, it appeared that Duncan had been embezzling funds from the Janice Thomas account.

However, considering Duncan’s impeccable reputation in the firm, and his very good professional relationship with her, Rommel hoped that there would be some legal and proper explanation for these discrepancies. She was unsure, however, to whom she should disclose her discoveries, to seek an explanation. She decided that she did not want to seek an explanation directly from Duncan because the facts, in her mind, looked like he had committed crimes. Duncan had been having some other health issues at the time, and Rommel was concerned that if she was correct that these facts indicated embezzlement, and they were disclosed, Duncan might be driven to suicide, a tragic event in itself, and one that would have tragic consequences for Duncan’s family and the firm.

Knowing these facts, and having no one to discuss them with, was a cause of considerable anxiety and stress for Rommel, making it more difficult to confidently do her job and live her life. These difficulties were enhanced when she observed that Duncan was viewing pornographic materials on his computer, sending and receiving e-mails with a sexual content, in violation of firm policy, and engaging in an affair out of the office with another individual at times when Rommel was aware that Duncan was billing some clients for time spent on their accounts.

Over several months, Rommel’s stress level and anxiety grew as she knew, but did not disclose, this information. In May, Rommel resolved to leave the firm and gave notice that her last day would be June 15, 2007. Rommel also began seeing a therapist. The therapist advised Rommel that she needed to disclose the information to someone for her own good and peace of mind and for the good of the firm.

Ultimately, in early June 2007, Rommel disclosed what she knew to Greg Foster. She made the disclosure by meeting with Foster, advising him that she believed that Duncan was improperly writing checks to himself from the Janice Thomas account, and giving Foster a file of the materials that she had gathered comparing the bank statements and the check registers. She stated that she believed that Duncan was embezzling money from the client.

Foster reported it to the firm’s managing attorney who eventually met with Rommel:

Following this investigation, Warren met with Rommel on June 13, 2007. At this meeting, he thanked her for providing this information and indicated that he would be addressing the matter appropriately with Duncan. Rommel testified that Warren complimented her, stating that her actions “took a lot of courage.” They also discussed Rommel’s status with the firm, whether Rommel might qualify for disability payments, and whether she should rescind her resignation. There are differences in the testimony regarding the extent to which the issues of disability payments and rescinding the resignation were of significance in the discussion. However, as the parties recognized at closing argument, these differences are not material to the issues the Court must resolve.

The outcome of the June 13 meeting was that Rommel’s resignation was not rescinded, there was a commitment to explore the issue of whether disability payments would be pursued further, and because of her emotional state, Rommel was excused from having to appear at the firm for her last two scheduled days of work. Warren also advised Rommel that, although she was leaving the firm, he would keep her apprised of developments relating to Duncan.

California Paralegal Law Does, at least, a Darn Thing.

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

There’s been an interesting thread on the Paralegal Today listserv recently.  It started with a post concerning whether an advertisement for a paralegal position misrepresented the position. This is a difficult question in general. Many attorneys remain confused regarding the proper role for paralegals leading good, professional paralegals to be unhappy in their positions. Even courts have some difficulty determining what is “suitable work” for paralegals. This is especially true in areas where there is fine distinction between legal assistants and paralegals.  One commenter asked whether the California law establishing a definition of “paralegal” was helpful. Another responded that it “didn’t do a darn thing.” This drew a response from Jack Ingram which I include here in its entirety with Jack’s permission. In obtaining that permission I noted to Jack that his post contained most of what I would say on the topic. I do have further comments, but will save them for another occasion.

Here’s Jack’s comment:

In regards to Calif. Business & Professions Code Section 6454, doing
"not a darn thing", I couldn't disagree more.
 
Sure, admittedly, on Craigslist, it may be likely that there will be
so-called professional job postings in which the language misuses and
misrepresents the "paralegal/legal assistant".
 
But Craigslist is not the norm; keep in mind people can practically
purchase "adult services" among other things... So, the job postings
on Craigslist are not what I would consider as being representative of
the entire population of employers - employers whom actually value (if
not require) paralegal certification and paralegals as a skilled class
of legal professionals.
 
In addition to the codification requiring people employed  as
paralegals to attain a certain education and standardized testing for
certification, before they can call themselves a "paralegal" (on their
resume, etc.), the codification also allows for certified paralegals
to act as "Legal Document Assistants" ("LDA/""UDL") upon registering
and in the county and being bonded by the state.
 
The state of CA recognized a growing trend in the amount of self
represented litigants (NYT just had a front page article about 3 weeks
ago regarding the growing amount of self represented litigants in NY)
and essentially created a a niche industry, providing to those legal
professionals whom possess entrepreneurial aspirations, to create
their own lucrative, business, while offering a valuable, low-cost
alternative to  as many more litigants are representing themselves,
especially in BK.
 
There are also many litigation support positions (ie, trial
presentation techs, EDD specialists) requiring in depth-knowledge and
proficiency of legal-industry specific technologies: this field is
dominated by (what I call) "techie-paralegals"; many have
certification in specific software programs. Having paralegal
certification in this arena makes a legal professional more
marketable.
 
The certification is just a foot in the door. I've had paper weights
brighter than some of the attorneys I've worked w/ in the past. Its
experience that matters in this industry, if your concern is upward
mobility. But common sense, thick skin, a good sense of humor will
make it sustainable and tolerable.

Year End Professionalism Assessment

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Once again, I’m going to feed off of the Mississippi 12th District Chancellor’s blog for this post. As you are likely aware, I am a big fan of his “trial by checklist” checklists. In yesterday’s post he encourages attorneys to use “the Christmas lull, that blessedly quiet period in the few days before and after Christmas,” (a lull I did not experience as an attorney, or now for that matter as I’ve a book deadline coming up) to perform a professionalism check-up. It a long post (apparently there is a pre-Christmas lull in the 12th District), but well worth reading in full. Here I’m just going to crib a part I find particularly applicable to paralegals as well as attorneys. Not surprisingly, it also echoes many of the points I make in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional:

Have you noticed how many times on this blog that I mention the importance of reading and keeping up with changes to the code, case law and the rules?  I hammer away at it because it is not only essential to your success as an attorney, but also to the benefit of your client.  Too often we think of professionalism as ethics, but I challenge you to think of professionalism not only in ethical terms, but also in terms of competence and how you present yourself and represent clients.

Given all of this, I contend that it’s time to consider a few changes to the way you do business that will make you a better lawyer and make your clients more pleased with your performance.  And if you are doing one or all of these, more power to you.  Here they are:

    • Before you file your next probate matter, read the rules and look over the applicable statutes.  You will be amazed what you will find.  If nothing else, you will be shocked to see what a heavy load of responsibility you are taking on by signing and filing those pleadings.
    • For that matter, look back at the code the next time you file some familiar pleadings and look for changes you might have missed or some other little twist in the law you may have always overlooked.
    • Carefully read over every pleading before it’s filed.  Be honest: you let your secretary do most of your pleadings, don’t you?  Do you know that they’re right?  Are they up to date?  Remember that everything you produce is a portrait of yourself.
    • Read the appellate court decisions each and every week without fail.  Court of Appeals hand downs are on Tuesdays after lunch, and Supreme Court’s are on Thursdays after lunch.  As you run across case law that will help you in pending cases, print out the decisions and put them in those files for use in court.
    • Read the rules.  Lawyers who know and follow the rules generally impress judges as better lawyers because, quite frankly, they are better lawyers, and better lawyers can get better results.
    • Read the statutes.  Before you file that habeas, read the law.  If you’re wondering how to sell a parcel of real property in an estate, look for a statute in the code.  The answer to how to record and enforce a judgment is in the code.
    • Use your brain.  It seems to me that too many young lawyers want to get by with a fill-in-the-blank practice.  No innovative approach, no novel arguments based on sound research, no extra effort.  It’s so refreshing as a judge to see lawyer come into court with a soundly-prepared approach to a legal problem that is well supported by authority.
    • Advise your client.  If you simply do what the client says to do, you are not a lawyer, you are merely your client’s alter ego with a license; you are a tool.  Guide your client in the right way to go.  Influence what your client wishes to do with your judgment and knowledge.  If your client demands you to do something unethical or questionable, try to persuade him or her to take another course, and if they refuse, file a motion to withdraw.  Tell your client up front what the chances of success are.  Never take on the cause of a client who is seeking vendetta as opposed to legal redress; the former is malicious, and the latter is justice.

These are merely a starting point.  As a lawyer you have a duty not only to your client, but also to advance the profession.  It only takes a little time and devotion each day.  And if you are not devoted to your profession, perhaps you need to find something else to do.

Professionalism requires not only that you zealously represent your client, but also that you do it competently.

Take advantage of this quiet time and take a look at yourself and your career.  It will be a rewarding investment of your time.

The “Independent Paralegal Movement”

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Those who frequent this blog know I use quotation marks around “independent” in the phrase “independent paralegals,” because of the seeming incompatibility of the concept of true independent paralegals when the only accepted definition of paralegals in the United States defines paralegals as working under the supervision of an attorney.  (Even freelance and virtual paralegals work under contract with and the supervision of attorneys rather than under contracts directly with clients.) I receive emails fairly frequently from “independent” paralegals and, from time to time, have given them a forum in which to express their positions. (See the category “‘Independent’ Paralegals.”) Recently, during a particularly busy time, I received an entire article from Clifford C. Smith. Without taking a position on his position, I helped him edit it a bit. While it is far too long to reprint here in its entirety, I’m posting the beginning and end for your consideration. If you’d like to comment on it feel free to do so, but first read the entire article which is available at http://napa.club.officelive.com/Documents/ArtCSmithEdited2.pdf:

The independent paralegal movement gave birth to non-lawyers that provided self-help legal services to people who simply could not afford the high cost of legal services. Because paralegal educational programs were scarce in the late 1960s and ‘70s, most of these non-lawyer practitioners had no formal legal training. Much of what they learned was based on hands-on experience and applying that knowledge towards the legal self-help movement.

For the most part, the independent paralegal movement emerged in California around lawyers that had worked in legal aid, only to realize that many of the people they saw were the working poor, who simply didn’t meet the requirements of legal aid. Among other factors, it culminated in the formation of Nolo Press, a legal self-help publication based in Northern California in the 1970s.[1] Nolo’s self-help books became the main resource for independent paralegals – not only in California – but in many other states too, along with resources like, The Independent Paralegal’s Handbook, which provided legal guidelines for them to set up businesses as independent paralegals. The handbook was written by Ralph Warner, a lawyer and one of the founders of Nolo Press.

Through the visionary efforts of Nolo, coupled with the courage and commitment of  independent paralegals, those paralegals earned the trust and admiration of many working people. Eventually, this self-help movement spread throughout the United States. It also made its way into Canada, where paralegals also played a role in assisting consumers with self-help law. It even spawned a Nolo counterpart, entitled “Self Counsel Press.”[2]

Paralegals Today

While many paralegals continue to strive for independence in order to provide access to justice for working class people, the paralegal profession is constrained from fulfilling its full potential in this regard by the restraints imposed by the American Bar Association in its efforts to prevent competition and by paralegal associations that accept the subservient role of paralegals.

Paralegals today have very little in common with the independent paralegal movement that earned the trust and admiration of consumers. In many ways, this new paralegalism has appropriated the term “Paralegal,” which has now come to signify subservience to and working under the supervision of lawyers. In effect, paralegal associations in both United States and Canada have advanced a doctrine of “non-competition” of the paralegal profession, wherein every paralegal must work under the control and supervision of a lawyer. The only exception is the province of Ontario, where paralegals are licensed to practice law, in limited areas.

….

Conclusion

Paralegals should not adopt regulations and licensing absent conditions of professional autonomy and independent decision making. This is not to propose that paralegals should be given a blanket license to practice law. Rather, they should be permitted to provide basic legal advice and to practice law in specialized areas. Paralegals should:

  • Be permitted to exercise independent discretion and decision making.
  • Be permitted to practice before all small claims courts, traffic courts and government agencies.
  • Be permitted to work independently or in cooperation with lawyers.
  • Not be under the control of state bar associations or provincial law societies, but should form their own independent bodies comprising paralegals and members of the public to oversee the paralegal profession in a way that will balance the interests of both groups.

All of the forgoing will ensure deregulation of the legal profession by the ABA and inject some much needed competition in the legal market place. It is important that all paralegals understand the history of the independent paralegal movement and its goal of gaining  people  access to affordable legal services. Only with this understanding can the paralegal profession gain an identity as a truly independent profession dedicated to providing access to justice to working class people.

Clifford C. Smith

napalliance@gmail.com

North American Paralegal Alliance


[1] http://www.nolo.com/about.html

[2] http://www. Self-counsel.com

It takes two to manage a docket calendar

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, I explain that effective docket control involves the entire legal team. It is not enough for the attorney to simply delegate this task to the paralegal:

C. Dual Calendar Systems – Dual Attorney/Paralegal Responsibilities

You can and must manage your calendar. You also have some responsibility for managing your attorney’s calendar because you and your attorney are a team. The good news is that you and your attorney are a team so the attorney also has responsibility for managing the attorney’s calendar and some responsibility for managing yours.
Deadlines aren’t disastrous or dreadful. Missed deadlines are both. Cases, clients and law office reputations are lost due to late filing of documents. Even worse, jobs are lost. Take heart, there are systems designed to minimize this danger. When such systems are chosen and modified by you, your attorney and your office to suit your office’s practice, they can practically eliminate the danger. When your chosen system is combined with effective time, work, client and attorney management techniques and double-checking, missing a deadline should be a very rare occurrence indeed.

Legal.com posts a case today illustrating the dangers of failing to have a double-checking system in place.

Plaintiff—appellant Ber’Neice Harris appeals the district court’s dismissal of her Title VII action for failure to timely file her complaint. Harris argues that the ninety-day filing period for her religious discrimination action should be equitably tolled because the delay was caused not by the plaintiff but by a clerical error made by her attorney’s paralegal. We agree with the district court that equitable tolling does not apply to normal situations of attorney negligence or inadvertence. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court’s order dismissing the Title VII case for failure to timely file the complaint.

There is no doubt that the paralegal screwed up here, but I maintain that part of the responsibility lies with the law office, and not just because the rules make the attorney responsible for staff screw ups. This kind of error can be avoided by having a system in place that requires that every docket entry be cross-checked by someone else on the legal team. If the client is brought into the process (as I also advocate in The Empowered Paralegal), the client may play this role but I prefer that this responsibility remain within the law office.  I am sure that the attorney in this case came down hard on the responsible paralegal – and justifiably so. However, some of the wrath must be reserved for the attorney and law office that did not foresee this possibility and have a system in place to prevent it.

As part of your year-end assessment, check your office’s system for controlling and preventing docket calendar entries. If it is not a dual system, a system that has someone cross-checking what you do, talk  to your attorney about implementing the necessary changes. If you are concerned about having that conversation, read Chapter Six of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.

Whose job is more stressful, yours or a judge’s?

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I’m not actually entering into this fray – or suggesting there should be one. However, Judge Primeaux of the Mississippi 12th District posted “Ten Commandments for Reducing Stress” on his blog today and it occurred to me that it might be as helpful to paralegals as to judges:

This from a judges’ meeting a couple of years ago.

I    Thou shall not be perfect or even attempt to be.

II    Thou shall not try to be all things to all people.

III    Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done.

IV    Thou shall not spread thyself too thin.

V    Thou shall learn to say “no” without guilt.

VI    Thou shall schedule time for thyself.

VII    Thou shall have something to look forward to every day.

VIII    Thou shall sometime be slack, idle and inelegant.

IX    Thou shall keep thyself happily fit.

X    Thou shall embrace the present and let go of the past.  

For many paralegals number III, “Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done,” may seem like a prescription for increasing stress if taken individually. But this need not be the  case. As discussed in several posts here and at length in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional, stress reduction may best be accomphished by learning to manage time, work space, workload, dockets, clients, and relationships with attorneys – all those things that create the stress in the first place. Failing that, try following the judge’s commandments.

Handling Unethical Attorney Conduct: An Example

Monday, December 13th, 2010

From time to time I’ve done posts here on the dilemma paralegals face when working for an attorney who is engaged in unethical conduct. Often a certain amount of judgment is required as to whether the conduct requires the paralegal to report the conduct. I write about this in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. There I emphasize,

If you do decide to report, I do suggest obtaining legal advice first from an attorney outside of the one in which you work. Remember that attorney has a firm obligation to keep what you tell her confidential. That attorney can advise you regarding protections to which you may be entitled, the proper authority to which you should report and the correct procedures for reporting. Generally, you will receive immunity from being sued by your employer for slander and libel, and you may be entitled to certain protections against on-the-job retaliation under “Whistleblower” laws. She will help you analyze the situation to determine whether you have the necessary facts, have properly interpreted the facts and validate your decision regarding the proper balancing of interest and integrity.

In fact a paralegal is well advised to seek independent legal advice from an outside attorney in determining whether to report.

I write about this again now because of a proceeding brought against six attorneys in Maine by the  Board of  Bar Overseers. Having practiced in Maine for over thirty years, I am familiar with many of the player in this drama, but the reason I am writing about it here is that the matter involved the theft of $300,000 from an elderly client (of particular interest to me because of the recent publication of The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client, wherein I discuss such dangers) which theft was discovered by the attorney’s legal secretary who may very well have been a full paralegal.

The attorney (a member of one of the largest and most prominent firms in Maine) who stole the money has been disbarred for life and served two years in federal prison. The present proceeding is against six members of the firm’s executive board. The Board of  Bar Overseers is alleging they failed to properly supervised and report with regard to the incident. The full story is reported in the Portland Press Herald here and here. However, this is the allegation most pertinent to this post:

According to Davis [Bar Counsel representing the  Board of Bar Overseers – Hi, Scott!], Warren should have begun a thorough investigation of Duncan’s billing practices immediately after his legal secretary came forward with concerns about suspicious checks. Instead, Davis alleges, Warren accepted a false explanation from Duncan and told secretary Ellie Rommel not to seek legal advice from her private attorney.

If Rommel had listened to that advice, Davis alleges, “Duncan’s misconduct would have remained hidden, covered up and never properly reported by any of the firm’s board members as they were required to do.”

But Rommel continued to blow the whistle and consulted with attorney Daniel Lilley, whose interaction with Verrill Dana forced the firm to bring in outside auditors, Davis wrote.

Hence my modification of my original advice: a paralegal in this position should consult an outside attorney not only if they decide to report, but in determining whether a report should be made. This case, whether or not the allegation is true, demonstrates the folly of seeking that advice within the firm.

Professionalism and Administrative Agency Personnel

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Not long ago I co-opted a post from the Mississippi 12th District Chancellor’s blog to address the issue of professionalism when dealing with court clerks. I also used that post as a discussion point for my online Administrative Law class. The students in that class had just finished an assignment requiring that the interview a “high level” adminstrative agency employee. Not surprisingly, many had experienced the frustration that our client often experience when dealing with adminstrative agency employees! The discussion forum was active and included one post that I am copying here (with the student’s permission:)

I’m sorry that it does not sound like your interview went very well.  Dealing with other people can be tough.  We can only “control” ourselves and not others.  Since I’m probably older than everyone else in the class but the teacher, let me pass along a couple of hard earned tips about attempting to get something from someone that you do not know.  Most people in this class did not have local agency personel as relatives and friends to call up and complete this assignment.  This will be true when we all get jobs as paralegals or lawyers or what ever job we decide on. 

A sense of empathy and understanding will get you far when attempting to “work” someone for an answer.  For example, if I were going to perform an interview with a mental health professional, my first step would be to perform a little bit of research and thought into what their daily work life must be like.  How would I feel if my job was to constantly deal with people who had varying degrees of mental problems.  That make me feel a little bit crazy and under appreciated and highly stressed.  If you sound calm and project a calming tone to them this will help combat their added stress of having “one more thing” to do that day.  I little “kissing up” doesn’t hurt anyone either.

This is how I might have initiated the first phone call after doing research to see who in the agency specifically that I wanted to speak with for the interview.  Deep, calming breaths…then dial.  “Hi!  My name is Tommi McGrew and I am a student at Ole Miss.  Is it possible for me to either speak with Ms. X now or is there a better time for me to call back?” 

Their response, and let’s assume I am lucky enough to get through the first time which probably won’t happen often.  “Yes, she is in.  Let me transfer you.”  (If you get the run-around or have to make several calls, remember to try and keep the frustration from showing in your voice.  This will be off-putting to the person that you are attempting to get something from.  You need their help.  They don’t need yours.)

“Ms. X, my name is Tommi McGrew and I am a student at the University of Mississippi.  I know you are a very busy lady with an incredible job.  I’m sure you have a million things that you need to be doing, but I am interested in getting to know more about your agency.  Do you think you could spare me a few minutes of your time to ask you a few questions?”

Now, let’s also assume the stars have all aligned and she is willing to give me 5 minutes or we are able to set-up a phone interview for first thing the next morning.  A person who choses to make their life work in the field of mental illness will usually be one of those people with a savior complex or a really big heart.  They are also usually very passionate about their jobs.  Use these types of job personalities when you can to taylor your tone, attittude and phrasing. 

It sounds like in Jimmy’s interview, the interviewee kept wanting to make the interview about her “pet” projects and not about what Jimmy wanted to know.  As a skilled interviewer, you need to know how to politely steer the interview in the direction you want to go, not the other way around.  A possible response to get back on track might sound something like this.

“Wow.  It is hard for me to imagine how you handle all of those responsibilities as well as you do.  It sounds like if I want to work for your agency when I graduate it might behoove me to take some psychology classes.  However, right now I am taking a legal type class about agency law.  I know your time is very valuable and I respect that.  It sounds like you are a very busy and dedicated lady.  My next question is in regards to how the appeals process works for your agency.  Can desions be appealed and how does that process work?” (It is always better if you can ask questions that you already have at least a vague idea of what the answer is before you ask it.)

Most of the readers of this blog are well beyond this kind of academic assignments and must deal with administrative agency personnel in a much more practical and more important context – a client’s case. Much of Tommi’s advice is applicable to that context also. However, I’d like to hear from you as to how you handle professionally the often frustrating experience of dealing with administrative agency bureaucracies.

Paralegal Pie and The Empowered Paralegal on Same Book Page

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

A guest post on Paralegal Pie, entitled “7 Books to Help You Be A More Effective Paralgal” includes

The Empowered Paralegal: Professor Robert E. Mongue, J.D. teaches paralegals how they can be more effective and productive with “clear, concise and easy-to-use techniques”. This practical guide aims to help paralegals learn  how to manage work relationship with attorneys, time management skills, and professionalism.

Of course, I agree. And it makes a nice Christmas gift.

(The other books are pretty good, too.)