Archive for March, 2012

Master Your Ship

Friday, March 30th, 2012

In a post The Estrin Reportreprinted in the most recent issue of KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals Chere Estrin spells out “10 Ways to Sink Your Paralegal Career – Guaranteed.” My position is that a sinking paralegal career can be summed up by “unprofessional” and letting yourself be managed by events rather than managing them. Hence a good part of my motivation for writing The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional,” providing (I hope) clear and concise information and techniques to be effective, efficient, and professional. Chere does a very good job here of emphasizing a “Top Ten” list, taking a paragraph or two to explain each, while summarizing my theory by advising that we all be the master of our own ships. I’m providing the link here. Just click through to the article or the magazine for the full article.

(The magazine has a number of worthwhile articles in this issue – as is often the case – including a good story on Marianna Fradman’s journey for a childhood in the Ukraine to President of the New York City Paralegal Association, one of the most active, vibrant, and professional such associations in the country.) Anyway, here’s the list:

Here are 10 top reasons why your career may be stalled, dead-ended or become routine and repetitious:

1. You Are Your Own Worst Career Manager

If you don’t watch out for your career and goals, no one else will and you may become a candidate for right-sizing, downsizing, merging or purging.

2. Breadth, Not Depth of Skills

You do not want to be a one-trick pony. In today’s paralegal field, there is a greater emphasis on the breadth of your skills not just on the depth.

3. Don’t Be a SMEL (Subject Matter Expert on Life)

We all know these folks – the ones who have the answer to everything. They’re annoying, really.

4. Not Being a Tall Tree

You want to be noticed in a positive manner. Do not try to blend into your paralegal department to avoid attention.

5. The Living Resume

You’ll hear over and over to keep your resume up-to-date. There must be a good reason.

6. The Written Word (and Picture) Remains

What you write in emails and instant messaging can be used both for and against you.

7. Don’t Burn Those Bridges

What a temptation it is to “tell all” in the exit interview! Telling your boss and colleagues what you really felt about them, particularly when you’re angry, is a potential future career buster.

8. Don’t Disconnect or Isolate

The reach of social networks and professional sites should not be underestimated – even for paralegals. Take a look at LinkedIn.

9. Technical Complacency, Ignorance or Denial

Never make the assumption that you have all the computer skills you need. New technologies are emerging at a furious rate and to remain relevant, you need to learn these new skills.

10. Lack of Soft/People Skills

In today’s market, paralegals that assume simply having updated skills will give them a ticket to career advancement, have their heads buried deep in the sand.

Above all, be responsible for your own career. Being the master of your ship instead denying what’s going on at the helm, guarantees a move forward in a growing, changing and fantastic journey.

More Consequences of Sloppiness

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

From “Lowering the Bar:”

JP Morgan won a case this week in which it had been sued by a trader who said his contract promised him 24 million rand per year (US $3.1 million). In yet another example of Why Typos Matter, the contract was missing a decimal point between the “2” and the “4.” JP Morgan said the trader knew this was a mistake, but signed the new contract anyway, hoping to try his luck with a lawsuit. On Monday, a judge agreed and ordered plaintiff to pay £80,000 in costs (no decimal point).

While this case turned out OK despite the typo, the fact of the matter is that the entire court suit could have been avoided if the mistake had not been made in the first place. Yes, this case is from the UK it could just as easily happen here! Therefore, it has earned a spot in our “Consequences of Sloppiness” category!

2012 NFPA/Thomson Reuters Scholarships

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

I’ve received this notice from several sources, so you probably have already seen it also, but just in case….

2012 NFPA/Thomson Reuters Scholarships!

NFPA will again co-sponsor the 2012 Scholarships with Thomson Reuters! Over the years, these scholarships have assisted many students in AAfPE programs obtain paralegal degrees.

This year there are two (2) scholarships to be awarded: First Place Scholarship is $3000 and Second Place Scholarship is $2000! A travel stipend will also be provided to scholarship recipients to travel to the NFPA Annual Convention to be held in Anchorage, Alaska from September 27-30, 2012!

I have provided links below for the Scholarship Application and procedures. Please share this information with your students. Scholarship winners will be notified by August 17, 2012!
Note: The deadline to submit the Application and all required documentation is July 1, 2012! If all documents requested are not included in the application package, the candidate will be disqualified!

Scholarship Application

Scholarship Procedures (Scroll towards bottom for Scholarship):

Paralegals in Punjab

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

One of my areas of research is the development of the paralegal profession in other countries. In many paralegals serve a different function than that served here in the U.S. This article from the Punjab Newsline has an almost military tone when describing people volunteering to serve as paralegals:

4th batch Paralegal Volunteers given training in Ferozepur

Thursday, March 29, 2012 – 14:15
By Harish K Monga
FEROZPEUR : In the judicial complex of Ferozepur, the 6th session training of 4th paralegal volunteers was given to different category of people under the leadership of Rekha Mittal, District and Session Judge, Ferozepur, with the motive of training them as Paralegal Volunteers.

Karnail Singh, Civil Judge Senior Divison cum-Secretary District Legal Services Authority, Ferozepur gave the knowledge to the volunteers on cases relating to civil laws, cheque dishonour and the schemes being run under the District Legal Service Authority.

On this occasion, Harish Umar, Civil Judge, Junior Division, Surinder Sachdeva, ADA Legal, K.D.Syal, President Bar Association, Ferozepur were also present. Karnail Singh hailed the volunteers to work for the betterment of the society and motivated them to make people aware about the legal rights and duties. He said that these trained paralegal volunteers will be put on duty at legal aid clinics being opened at the village level and thirty volunteers were also issued the identity cards on this occasion.

There are some common threads in all countries though. For example, just as in Punjab, American paralegals are “hailed…to work for the betterment of the society and motivated them to make people aware about the legal rights and duties.” I and other bloggers such as The Paralegal Mentor and Chere Estrin of “The Estrin Report” do some of the hailing, but more so the various paralegal professional associations such as NFPA, NALA, and NALS, all of which feature these as parts of their ethical codes and mission statements. But I think the drive to work for the betterment of society and motivation to make people aware of their legal rights and duties is so common to those who chose paralegalism as a career (as opposed to as just a job) that it must be an inherent trait.

The Professional Paralegal: A Guide

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

While in New Orleans at the AAfPE conference last week I had the opportunity to go through The Professional Paralegal: A guide to Finding a Job and Career Success,” a new book by Charlze Smith Diaz and Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor. It is a really good book for those starting out on a paralegal career and not just because it includes a screenshot of this blog (See page 33.) It covers a full range of topics from internships through preparing resumes, interviewing and negotiating a job to practical information on starting a job, organizing your time and organizing your office. I especially like the “Checklist for Success” at the end of chapters and the “In Practice” block liberally sprinkled in the chapters. All-in-all a good companion book to The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional!”

AAfPE South Central Conference

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

I recently traveled to New Orleans for the American Association for Paralegal Education South Central Conference admirably hosted by Tulane University’s School of Continuing Education Paralegal Studies Program directed by Sallie Davis. My own presentation, I believe, went well. The conference overall was an excellent example of what professional associations can do for the profession – in this case the profession of educating paralegal students by providing opportunities for members to meet, network, and share knowledge.

I particularly benefited from the presentation by Ernest Davila, J.D., Paralegal Program Director, San Jacinto College, Houston, TX, on getting the most from time and financial resources, the Using Media in the Classroom presentation by Joni Johnson, Adjunct Instructor, Tulane University, and the Teaching E-Discovery: Practices and Pitfalls presentation by Lois Elliot, also an Adjunct Instructor at Tulane University.

Even though I’ve been through fairly extensive time management training, it seems as though I pick up something new at every time/resource management presentation. For those practicing paralegal who could use time and workload management assistance (and who cannot!) I suggest, of course, my own The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional”
and posts here in the related categories.

E-Discovery, of course, is becoming ever more important and complex. Practicing paralegals involved with e-discovery may want to join the Organization of Legal Professionals an organization that focuses on e-discovery training and certifications and The Paralegal Knowledge Institute’s courses on e-discovery. In the interest of full disclosure, I am associated with both of these organizations. I am on the OLP Advisory Council, although it seems to do quite well without my advice, and I have taught in a PKI webinar.

Perhaps though the best lesson I learned is that it is possible to go to New Orleans and have a great time without straying too far from my medical restrictions on sodium and alcohol!

Advanced Directives are for Everyone – Yes, I’m Looking at YOU.

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

In my last post I wrote about a pro bono project providing advanced directives and other end-of-life planning documents to the elderly and threatened to write more on advanced directives in my next post. I did not realize at the time that the next post would be ten days later! Mid-term grades are in and the first draft of my thesis is done, so now I can focus a bit more on blog posts I hope.

I was reminded of the topic by a post in the Paralegal Network Linkedin discussion group entitled “Avoid these estate planning mistakes.” The post shared an article from, “Five Common Estate-Planning Mistakes After Having a Baby.” That post has now been followed by one entitled, “5 Common Estate-Planning Mistakes When Getting Divorced.”  I’ll let you read those posts for those mistakes as I want to talk about another one.

I have no data to back this up, but I have the distinct impression that the biggest mistake legal professionals make in end-of-life planning is that they do not do it for themselves. Sure many if not most attorneys have a will and maybe a trust. Documents that take care of the assets. But as I discuss extensively in The Empowered Paralegal:Working with the Elder Client, (1) disposition of assets is only one part of end-of-life planning and problably not the most important one, and (2) executing a document is only part of the answer.

I am going to assume you know what an advanced health care directive is. If not, check out Working with the Elder Client which I like to think does a good job of explaining them. It also explains that different perspectives that people have with regard to AHCDs in particular and aging & death in general. What I want to focus on here is the point that they are not solely elder law client documents and that the documents themselves are not enough.

Many legal professionals, lawyers and paralegals, think of AHCDs only in terms of their clients, especially elder clients.  I know you are already overworked, but I am going to give you something more to do – something essential to you and your family.  Sit down and think about what you want to happen if you were in Karen Ann Quinlan (at age 21) or Terry Shiavo (at agae 27). Who would get to make the decisions. Remember an AHCD allows you to make many of them in advance. Sure, you can simply appoint someone to make the decisions for you or allow the person designated by state statute (who may be the soon-to-be ex-spouse you are in the process of divorcing,) but is that fair to them (I realize that you are not likely to be real concerned about being fair to the soon-to-be ex-spouse.) Then execute an AHCD.

I know we tend to think the need for an AHCD will only occur to our clients, but it can and does happen to us. I know from recent personal experience just how suddenly a need for AHCD can arise. Keep in mind that your family and other loved ones will likely be in shock from the fact that an AHCD is needed. Only we can avoid the additional stress and distress occasioned by putting them in the position of having to make decisions that they have to make only because you wouldn’t and didn’t make them for yourself.

Which brings me to the second point. Talk about this stuff with your family and other loved ones. I know it is difficult. We don’t even want to think about it, much less talk about it. This is especially true in modern American culture. (As I discuss in Working thatwas not always the case.)  It is especially important to talk to those who may have to make decisions, but also those who will have to accept those decisions. Let them know what you would want to have happen. Find out what they would like to have happen (both to you and to them.) Be aware that since people are reluctant to talk about these topic you may have an entirely mistaken impression that those who would have to make decisions know what you would want. Worse, parents, siblings, or children who may have to make joint decisions may have vastly different impressions of what you would want and vastly different impressions of ought to be done. Do you really want your family arguing over whether you wanted to be cremated or buried, a church funeral or not, a wake or not, etc?

Our children are all over the age of 18. I advised each as they reached the age of 18 to execute an AHCD. Even more important in my opinion even before the age of 18 my wife and I began discussing with them what we want to happened in the final stages of our lifes and at our deaths. Without a doubt they considered it morbid and did not want to think about it. At times we had to leave the discussion for a future date. But I am now confident that when the time comes they will be drawn together as they struggle through the stages of grief  instead of being torn apart by disputes over what should be done.

Advance Directives for Seniors project

Monday, March 5th, 2012

This story is notable for several reason including the obvious value of the project. One of significance is the fact that the article refers to “attorney – paralegal teams.”

Advance Directives for Seniors project visits Jacksonville townhouse
by Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee Chairwoman

A team of volunteers including seven attorneys, four paralegals, and five law students gathered Feb. 25 to assist local seniors in creating advance directive documents.

The project was a collaborative effort of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Florida Coastal School of Law, The Jacksonville Bar Association and the Northeast Florida Paralegal Association.

The pro bono attorneys included Robert Morgan, Krista Parry, Bruce Duggar, Robyn Moore, Debbie Lee-Clark, Hollyn Foster and Pat Vail.

Paralegals Margaret Costa, Regina Colbert, Donna Hoffman and Courtney Brown, as well as law students Gabriella Vero, Hayley James, Melissa Cohenson, Camille Higham and Amanda Gray serving as scribes, witnesses, notaries and interviewers.

The attorney-paralegal and attorney-law student teams created and executed the advance directive documents including Durable Powers of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate Designations, Living Wills, and Designations of Pre-need Guardian for 24 local senior citizens.

For more on how this project operates (just in case your association is looking for a project) click here for the full story in the Jacksonville Financial News and Daily Record.

More on advanced directives and other end-of-life planning in the next post.