Archive for February, 2012

Perfecting Procrastination

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

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

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

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

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

 

Five Useful Apps for Paralegals

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I occasionally receive offers to do “guest” blog posts from commercial sites  using them as a way to increase their presence on the web. Up until now I have not used them, but today’s post is one such from Criminal Justice Degree Schools. Criminal Justice Degree Schools is a career site that includes a directory of paralegal schools by state and paralegal interviews with leaders in the paralegal field.  While I’m using the post I know very little about the site other than that I also once was interviewed by them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Fw1olpC5cg ( I apologize for the quality of the video – I was fairly new to such things at the time.) In addition to the fact that I’ve been slow to post on my own due to some medical restrictions, I posting this one because it does appear useful and it’s on a topic I cannot cover myself since I do not have a smartphone and have never used an app! (I know it makes me sound like a dinosaur. Finally ordered one last night so in a few days I too will be trying out some of these apps.)

5 Useful Apps for Paralegals

 A paralegal is a busy individual for whom timing and precision are essential elements of success.

Success depends on being able to deliver accurate work products on time according to a very specific schedule and to always be in the right place at the right time. To make sure this happens, paralegals rely on different tools and techniques to keep the gears turning smoothly.

Now that mobile devices – and their accompanying apps – are becoming more prominent in the workplace, more professionals are taking advantage of the technology to make work easier.

Below we take a look at five apps paralegals can use to make work a little less stressful.

1. Burton’s Legal Thesaurus

Paralegals are many things, but above all else they are writers. Whether it’s a legal brief, memorandum or motion, or day-to-day correspondence between legal professionals, getting the right word the first time can save more than money – it can vouchsafe a client’s rights.

At $39.99, Burton’s Legal Thesaurus is not cheap, but it is comprehensive. It contains 8,000 synonyms, terms and definitions, and can increase the efficiency and accuracy of any paralegal.

2. Black’s Law Dictionary

This is the quintessential reference for both attorneys and paralegals, and has been in use since 1891. It is highly likely there will be one on hand in a paralegal’s office, either in text or digital form, but paralegals may find the app functionality to be more efficient than using these other resources.

Again, quality comes at a price with the app’s $54.99 mark-up, but there’s no question regarding its utility. For those thinking Burton’s may be a better value, keep in mind it is only a thesaurus, whereas Black’s contains more in-depth definitions and information.

3. Court Days

As previously mentioned, timing is everything in the legal world, and a missed court date is more than just a missed opportunity – it can lead to major problems.

The Court Days app will never amount to the final chapter in a paralegal’s scheduling strategy, but at $0.99 it is an inexpensive and convenient way to quickly calculate the date between the current day and a scheduled hearing, the time between two court appointments, and so on.

4. PocketJustice

The U.S. Supreme Court is the “highest court in the land,” and as such it’s important for legal professionals to stay up-to-date on rulings as well as know how and why the Justices came to their conclusions.

PocketJustice is a free app that details Supreme Court rulings, provides visual representations of votes and details the “Top 100” constitutional law cases – all of which can provide a paralegal with a stronger background for understanding current trends in legal cases.

5. Time Master + Billing

For better or worse, many paralegals are tasked with keeping up with an attorney’s billing in addition to the myriad legal functions that come with the job. Due to the meticulous nature of legal billing, this can add up to a lot of extra work.

For $9.99 paralegals can get a very powerful scheduling device and billing calculator all rolled into one. Time Master + Billing has an incredible array of features, most notably coordinated time tracking and billing functions, a time-rounding function and exportable timesheets and schedules for email or printing.

This article was written by James Madeiros, a recent law school grad and staff writer for Criminal Justice Degree Schools. Criminal Justice Degree Schools is a career site that includes a directory of paralegal schools by state and paralegal interviews with leaders in the paralegal field.

KNOWing When It Isn’t Working the Way It Should

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The basic premise of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is time, file, calendar, client, attorney, and self management should be an integral part of everyday practice. But how do you know if the management is effective? Self-assessment is critical and the sooner a problem is noticed, the sooner corrective action can be taken. This is the point of an short article in a recent KNOWnewsletter: “15 Warning Signs of Poorly Managed Assignments.” Here are the first three and the link to the rest:

1.          Missing deadlines because you are handling too many matters.
2.         Receiving assignments from more than one attorney and cannot prioritize them.
3.         Consistently receiving assignments you don’t know how to complete.

Empowerment does not come from the outside. It comes from within. It is not granted, it is earned. The empowered paralegal gains that power  and the confidence that comes with being professional, and by being a competent, effective and efficient member of the legal team. The paralegal who self-assesses, indentifies problems, and develops a plan to overcome those problems will recognize in themselves the ability to manage their practice, gain self-confidence and the respect they deserve, and feel the satisfaction and gratification of being a legal professional.

NFPA Provides Webinar on Pro Bono Work: Register Now!

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

As frequently discussed here (see “Volunteering” category) pro bono work, of course, benefits the persons receiving the services and the public, but provides just as much if not more benefits to the paralegal performing the services in the form of experience, networking, fulfilling ethical requirements, and just plain feeling good about doing good as well as benefiting the paralegal profession. So I please to re-post this announcement posted by Theresa Prater on NFPA’s LinkedIn discussion board:

Announcement from National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. – PRO BONO WEBINAR – MARCH 29 — REGISTRATION OPEN

Here is the link to the registration form for the first NFPA Pro Bono Webinar to be held on March 29: http://paralegals.org/displayemailforms.cfm?emailformnbr=175366

Our speaker is Michael Adler of Philadelphia, whose topic is “Meaningful Giving: The Benefits of Helping Others While Networking Through Pro Bono Work.” This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about networking opportunities while giving back. There is no CLE credit for this webinar.

This is a free event for NFPA members; there is a small charge for non-members. We hope to make pro bono webinars available throughout the coming year.

Well-dressed Professionals on LinkedIn

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Since my recent post on professional dress and the need for more attention to the issue from and for males, I accepted an invitation to connect on LinkedIn from Rebecca Hetzler, a paralegal/legal secretary at Steptoe & Johnson in the Columbus, Ohio area. She is a member of the LinkedIn group – “Well-dressed Professionals.” I have not yet joined or reviewed the discussions for the group, but here’s how it bills it self:

This is a group for those of us who (despite the trend towards casual attire in the workplace) still choose to dress well. – Todd Herschberg, Founder.

Discussions can be found on the group site: http://welldressed.collectiveX.com

Members of the group include a “Menswear Designer and Owner” and “President, Advance Image & Etiquette Consulting.” I agree with Vicki Voison’s comment that “it’s easier for guys, though: a navy blue sport coat, khakis and nice shirt (with or without a tie) will take them a long, long way,” but I also like to think that male fashion can extend beyond the “frat boy” uniform and still be professional. So, check out the “Well-dressed Professionals” group and tell me what you think. Also, do use the advice from both my book, The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, and from Vicki and Charlsye’s book, The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success

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!

Comfortable, Professional Shoes

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

I am sure most of you already know that Lynne at Practical Paralegalism has a long running feature on Paralegal Career Dressing. It is very well done. (Despite my tendency to read the titles as “Paralegal Cross Dressing” when feeling the effects of my medication.) I now note that Vicki, The Paralegal Mentor has provided a link to a posting at lawyerist.com entitled, “Dress for Success: The 5 Shoes Every Woman Should Own.”

I am all for this coverage of this topic. I deal with the need to dress professionally in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional,” and have posted about it on this blog. But the example I use in the book relates to So, my question today echos that asked by Melissa H. long ago: Where are all the men? Of course, as Melissa points out, there are fewer men in the profession and few (if any) paralegal bloggers, but those in the profession do need to know how to dress professionally and fashionably. Lynne, perhaps you could throw a shirt, tie, and slacks on that bony friend of your and give some hints to the guys. Oh, and some comfortable, professional shoes!

NALA Certified Paralegal Scholarship Award nominations – Deadline Extension

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Deadline Extension – April 1

The deadline for submitting student nominations for the NALA Certified Paralegal Scholarship Award has been extended to April 1. The award will recognize two graduating paralegal students who excel in their academic paralegal studies, have demonstrated strong leadership, and plan to take the CP Exam.

Visit www.cengage.com/community/paralegal for complete award details and guidelines.

Submit your student nomination today!

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.

CHILDREN IN THE VORTEX

 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.

 

Alternative Law Practice Structures

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Whenever the ABA gets involved in anything involving “nonlawyers” (a term that, when used by the ABA using is going to encompass persons with some connection to law not just members of the public, i.e., inter alia paralegals), paralegals ought to perk up and make sure their voice is heard. According to the a post by Robert Hrouda, RP, Vice President and Director of Positions and Issues at National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc., on the NFPA LinkedIn Discussion Board:

NFPA Comments on ABA Discussion Draft Regarding Alternative Law Practice Structures

Good morning everyone. In early December, 2011, the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 published for comment a Discussion Draft with cover memo relating to Alternative Law Practice Structures. In sum, they are discussing changes to ABA Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 in order to allow nonlawyer ownership in law firms. The ABA Discussion Draft can be found at:

http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/ethics_2020/20111202-ethics2020-discussion_draft-alps.authcheckdam.pdf

On January 27, 2012, NFPA responded to the ABA in support of this proposed rule change. NFPA’s response is available on the NFPA website, front page banner, and also on the website under the VPPI tab, Regulation (See National section of Regulation tab).

This is one of the many advantages of professional organizations such as NFPA. However, it is only an advantage if the association does indeed speak for you on an issue. Take some time and read the proposed rule change and decide whether NFPA was correct in supporting it. If you are a member of NFPA, let the leaders know whether or not you support its support of the proposed change. NFPA is a good organization in part because of its leadership, but any organization is only as good as its membership in the long run.