Archive for January, 2012

Paralegal Superstar

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

There appears to be no escaping headlines like “Paralegal Who Faked Kidnapping and Law Degree Is Sentenced for Embezzlement.” For awhile I referenced such articles in posts collected in the category entitled, “Paralegal Crimes.” Lately, however, I just ignore them unless there is something in the article that sparks a comment about an issue of particular importance to the paralegal profession. Instead, my focus is on those paralegals who exemplify the best what professional paralegals and the paralegal profession can be personally and professionally. Once the dust clears on some other matters requiring my time and attention, I hope to create a page on this blog for articles about paralegals who win “Paralegal of the Year” awards. In the meantime, congratulations to RoxAnn Mack of Longmont, Colorado. The Longmont Times-Call reports in part:

LONGMONT — She rolls up her sleeves to give back in all sorts of ways — by donating blood six times a year, researching arrest warrants for homeless people in Denver, leading a team in the annual Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Race for the Cure and more.

Yet, it surprised Longmont’s RoxAnn Mack in 2011 when her pro bono paralegal work and community service won recognition from the Colorado Supreme Court, the Colorado Bar Association and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

In December, she got one more kudo when ParalegalGateway.com, a website dedicated to serving and connecting paralegal professionals, named her one of 12 “paralegal superstars” nationwide. She will be featured on the March page of the organization’s calendar.

“I was kind of surprised by all of this because I just didn’t think that I had done enough,” Mack, 51, said.

Take a moment to read the entire article. Of notable significance, it seems to me, is the breadth of the recognition of her achievements – not only fellow paralegals, but the state bar and Supreme Court.

Vicarious Traumatization

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

This is another “ditto for paralegals” post, i.e., a post that riffs on a post from another blog originally intended for attorneys, but which I feel applies as well to paralegals. This one is another excellent post by Judge Larry Primeaux whose excellent blog as a Chancery Judge has been the basis for several posts here. Judge Primeaux writes about the phenomenon of vicarious  traumatization as experienced by attorneys who “see almost every conceivable form of mankind’s capacity to be inhuman … violence and its physical and emotional scars, financial coercion, verbal cruelty, sexual abuse, use of children and other family members as weapons, defamation, and on and on in a breathtaking, seemingly inexhaustible panorama of brutality that seems almost limitless in the scope of its imaginative cunning.” Of course it is not only attorneys who endure such experiences, but each member of the legal team. Indeed, in many instances the paralegal has the more direct experience, acting as a shield between the attorney and the client – taking the phone calls, doing the initial interviews, managing the client as the legal team prepares to ADR or litigation.

Because I am 99% certain he won’t mind I’m copying his entire post here, but encourage you to follow this link and troll through his many useful posts:

Lawyers who represent people see almost every conceivable form of mankind’s capacity to be inhuman. We see violence and its physical and emotional scars, financial coercion, verbal cruelty, sexual abuse, use of children and other family members as weapons, defamation, and on and on in a breathtaking, seemingly inexhaustible panorama of brutality that seems almost limitless in the scope of its imaginative cunning.

Over time the exposure takes its toll. Some lawyers develop a defensive cynicism that effectively shields them from their clients’ pain, but also prevents them from empathizing. Other lawyers experience burnout that makes them ineffective. Still others experience sleeplessness, irritability, sadness, loss of concentration, difficulty in intimacy, depression, and a panoply of other symptoms. Your clients’ problems too often intrude into your own life and can come perilously close to becoming your own problems.

All attorneys who represent people experience stress. Even extreme stress. Some deal with it in a healthy way. Too many others self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or toxic behavior.

There is research that dubs this phenomenon “Vicarious Traumatization.” It is the process by which a lawyer who comes into contact with the client’s traumatization can become traumatized himself or herself.

Here is a link to a paper published by the American Bar Association entitled Secondary Trauma and Burnout in Attorneys: Effects of Work with Clients Who are Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse, by Andrew P. Levin, MD.

A lawyer is quoted in the article:

“It actually feels good to hear that I am not the only one who feels depressed and helpless and that these issues are worth studying. Fortunately, the stress has decreased with experience and time for me, but I still have vivid memories of quite traumatic experiences representing victims of domestic violence who were so betrayed that it was difficult to continue to have faith in humankind.”

Read the paper and see whether you recognize yourself there.

Seeking Whistleblower Status Based on Ethics Violations May Leave You Blowin in the Wind

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

In a series of posts on handling unethical conduct by the attorney for whom you work, I’ve emphasized the advisability of reaching out to others rather than attempting to handle the situation on your own. While other paralegals and paralegal associations can be quite helpful, I’ve advised getting legal advice from an attorney outside of your firm (indeed, I’d shoot for attorneys that do not even deal with your firm on a regular basis.) One advantage of going to an attorney is that you are protected by the attorney/client privilege.

In those posts I’ve pointed out that there may be some protection in “Whistleblower statutes.” A recent post on ABAJournal.com</em>illustrates how nebulous that protection can be and how important it is to get competent, objective, outside advice. The story itself involves an attempt to use whistleblower status by an attorney, but the principle of the case would apply to paralegals as well:

A federal judge has dismissed a suit by an associate who claims he was fired from his personal injury law firm for refusing to participate in an unethical referral scheme.

An illegal discharge claim can’t be premised on a violation of legal ethics rules, according to the Dec. 29 opinion by Judge John Heyburn II of Louisville, Ky. The ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct summarizes the decision.

…Heyburn said the allegations did not support a claim of illegal discharge. Employees in Kentucky can be fired at will, and the state allows a public policy exception based only on constitutional or statutory provisions, he said.

Gadlage had said his firing violated the public policy against lawyer conflicts of interest expressed in Kentucky Supreme Court rules. But a public policy from a court rule is insufficient to support a wrongful discharge claim in Kentucky, Heyburn said.

“This is not a pretty business that Mr. Gadlage has seen and fought against in his own way,” Heyburn wrote. “Unfortunately, Kentucky does not afford him a legal remedy in these circumstances.”

While this may not be the last word on the topic, even in Kentucky, the analysis seems valid based on the law in several states I’ve reviewed.

Paralegal Appointed to State Pracitice of Law Board

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

I’ve posted here from time to time about bar associations integrating paralegal professionals into their meetings and membership, and about court recognition of the role and value of paralegal professionals, each such instance being an advancement for the paralegal profession as well as the individual paralegals involved. Today, an additional step – a paralegal appointed to Washington State Bar’s Practice of Law Board. Here’s the announcement from Theresa Prater of NFPA from the NFPA LinkedIn group board:

Congratulations to NFPA Member Sue Beichley, Appointed to the Washington Practice of Law Board!

Sue Beichley, a paralegal at Injury at Sea in Seattle, WA, a member of the Washington State Paralegal Association, was recently appointed to the Washington State Bar’s Practice of Law Board. She attended her first meeting last week in Olympia.

This is a great stride for the paralegal profession — courts and lawyers who value input from our profession.

More information on the Practice of Law Board can be found at http://www.wsba.org/Legal-Community/Committees-Boards-and-Other-Groups/Practice-of-Law-Board.

Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

A lot has happened during my recent period of incapacitation. I doubt I’ll be able to catch up on it all, but should be at least post more regularly for awhile. One development I do want to mention is the return of Melissa to her Paralegalese blog. Interestingly, the return seems to have been precipitated by a message from her former  boss in which he acknowledges that “But, 22 months later (and moving on to my 5th paralegal since she left, by the way), I could not shake the feeling that I never properly said goodbye, or how much Melissa was appreciated while she was here (and even worse, how much she was unintentionally underappreciated).” I feel this is all too often the case. Many posts here have been addressed to law firms encouraging them to find real ways to learn and show appreciation for (mainly in terms of respect) the value of their paralegals as members of the legal team. I suspect, however, that since this is a “paralegal” blog (although not written by a paralegal) few attorneys ever hear my calls and I end up “preaching to the choir.” For those attorneys who do read this blog, please do also “A Message From the  Boss.” It could help keep you from being in that boss’s position.  It is true: all too often we do not know what we’ve got until it’s gone – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWwUJH70ubM (Sorry Counting Crows fans, Joni’s version is still the best.!)