Archive for May, 2012

A Legacy of Professionalism / Mentoring

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Last Saturday the father of a friend, who is himself an attorney died. I only met his father a couple of time, but heard a lot about him. A few days ago, Judge Primeaux posted the following regarding Tom’s father’s professionalism and the role of mentoring. It is primarily addressed to attorneys, but applies as well to paralegals. After you read it, I’d like you to consider what role you can play as a mentor or a mentoree in one of the many mentoring programs supported by local paralegal associations. If your association does not have such a program, perhaps you can play a role in starting one.

Attorney Thomas Henry Freeland, III, of Oxford, died last Saturday…Mr. Freeland’s friends knew him as Hal. I did not know him, but from what I read about him he was one of those lawyers who set high standards for himself and demanded the same from those who worked with him. The respect he earned is clear in the comments on Tom’s blog.

One of those comments, by attorney Danny Lampley of Tupelo, brought me up short, and I hope he and Tom will forgive me for copying a part of it so you can read it here:

Small things I would overlook as an ignorant clerk were revealed to be important. I recall Hal crossing out incorrect phrasing in an acknowledgment and telling me the correct words to use; and he took the time to tell me why those words were better and explained how doing it one way would have an effect different from doing it the other way. I learned that just because everybody says “the law” is thus and such and “the cases say so” does not mean that is really “the law” nor is it necessarily what the cases said. I learned you gotta read ‘em and you have to understand what it is exactly that they say. I learned to always independently research an issue and to never assume that a rule is today what you thought it was yesterday. I learned how to be a lawyer; I only wish I could more often put it into actual practice.

Mr. Lampley learned how to be a lawyer from one who took professionalism seriously and who understood the care, devotion and attention that the law demands. Beyond learning the craft of lawyering, though, he learned the meaning of professionalism. And — this is important — there is a distiction between ethics and professionalism. Ethics requires that you practice in a way that conforms to both the letter and the spirit of rules of conduct. Professionalism is the style in which you approach and carry out those ethical requirements. Professionalism demands more than mere observance of the standards, Or, as Justice Mike Randoph told a gathering of chancery judges a few months ago: “The rules are the basic minimum. We expect much more than that.”

If you are a young lawyer, I encourage you to seek out a battle-scarred old warhorse who would be willing to be your mentor. If you are as fortunate as attorney Lampley, you will learn that mastery of the legal profession lies not in discovering the shortcuts, but rather in learning to love the hard work, devotion, attention to detail, study, creativity and long hours that it takes to achieve excellence.

Mr. Freeland left his family his own personal legacy, including two children who are, themselves, members of our profession. But far more than that, as those blog comments reveal, he left the legal profession richer by inculcating professionalism in those whom he mentored. I hope that someone will be able to write that about all of us when our days reach their end.

Professional Dress for Male Paralegals

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Last February I did a post on the dearth of fashion advice for male paralegals. Not long after , I accepted an invitation to connect on LinkedIn from the LinkedIn group – “Well-dressed Professionals” and posted about that here. Today, Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, posted an email from one of her readers, Todd R. Noebel, SPHR Manager, Professional Support Services, with McGuireWoods LLP in Richmond, Virginia entitled, “10 Wardrobe Must-Haves For Men.” The list is a good one:

1. Tailored Suit
2. At least 2 Freshly Pressed White Shirts
3. Comfortable, dress shoes
4. Blazer/Sport Coat
5. High quality briefcase/laptop bag in good repair
6. Sweater
7. Gray dress pants
8. High Quality Leather Belt – Black, cordovan and dark brown.
9. A Silk Tie
10. A Watch

The reasoning and further descriptions are available at Vicki’s website which you can reach by clicking here.

I actually made it through the last few years of my full-time legal career without the white shirts, but I practiced in Maine. They are indeed de rigor in many locations. Now I have the luxury of not having to wear a watch – there seems to be digital time displays everywhere and I have my cell phone chronometer to fill in the gaps.

So check out this list. Also, do use the advice from both my book, href=”http://theempoweredparalegal.com/?page_id=1791″>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

Impressing the Judge

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Chancery Court Judge Larry Primeaux has a top ten list of tips for attorneys wanting to  impress a judge while in court. The paralegal can play an important role in most of them. Let’s take today’s post as an example:

TOP TEN TIPS TO IMPRESS A CHANCELLOR AT TRIAL: #8

Know the law and have it handy.

Know the law that applies in your case. It’s never a bad idea to check on what the appellate courts have said most recently about whatever it is you are getting ready for trial. Even if you are an experienced, battle-scarred litigator, you can get blindsided by a rank, newly-minted lawyer if you don’t keep up. Complacency is stupidity in the guise of arrogance; it is intentional ignorance that often proves embarrasing, or worse.

Read the COA decisions every Tuesday afternoon and Supreme Court decisions every Thursday afternoon. When you run across something pertinent to a pending case, print out the decision, highlight the language you need, and stick the decision in your file. That way you’ll have it handy when you need it at trial. If you are too lazy to make time to read the decisions, subscribe to either the Ole Miss or MC law school briefing service and receive summaries via email after each handdown.

….

If you know that your case will involve an issue that is out of the ordinary, have your authorities copied and ready to give the judge. Don’t just read off a few case cites; have copies of the decisions to hand the judge. Some judges require you to give a copy to opposing counsel. When you have authorities at hand, it not only aids the judge in making the right decision, it also communicates to the judge in not-so-subtle fashion that you know you are on sound ground and have confidence that the law supports your position. Contrast that with the lawyer who, when asked what authority supports his position, replies “Well, I know there’s a case out there on point, judge, and if you give me about 10 days, I might be able to find it.”

Have your trial factors printed out and handy, with case cites. Use them as checklists to question your witnesses.

Implementing this tip will be no problem for the attorney with a good paralegal. In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I include an entire chapter on preparing a trial notebook organized around the elements of a cause of action. Each element is supported by the evidence available to prove the facts that meet the requirements of the element. For item of evidence and each witness’s testimony the possible objections are anticipated and the relevant law cited with copies of the pertinent cases included. All element is cross-referenced to the exhibits and testimony; each exhibit cross-referenced to the elements it supports and the witness who will provide the foundation its admission into evidence. With the proper assistance from a professional paralegal, any attorney ought to be able to impress the judge and the jury with their professionalism. Even more important, that attorney is much more likely to win the case!

The really fortunate attorney will be able to bring the paralegal to court. As noted previously the good legal team can work as smoothly as a dance team both in the office and in the courtroom. If you both understand the case and have a well-organized notebook, objections to evidence (for example) are anticipated. The opposing attorney objects. Your attorney quickly explains the basis for admission of the evidence. The court asks for supporting law.  The attorney (trying not to smile to broadly) reaching out her hand and you place into it three copies of the case the judge needs to see – one for the judge, one for opposing counsel, and one for your attorney. Smooth as wet butter!

College Graduates First Male Paralegal

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Back in 2009 I posted in response to Melissa H. at Paralegalese’s  question, “Where are all the men?” in relation to the demographics of the paralegal profession. There does to be some progress being made in this regard. Each year our program graduates a few males, although some of them go directly to law school. I was reminded of the 2009 post by this article in the Aramillo Globe-News: Amarillo College student will be school’s first male paralegal graduate. The article recounts the adventures of Ben Staton, that college’s first male student.

I was especially interested, however, comments from Ben, Bruce Moseley, director of paralegal studie at the college, and Aramillo College President Paul Matney:

Staton and Moseley were shocked when they found out Staton would be the program’s first male graduate.

“I did a double take,” said Moseley, who has been the program coordinator since 2009. “I was like, ‘Not one, really?’ I scoured our records to make sure.”

Matney said Staton’s graduation is a historic moment for the college, and he hopes it helps break down stereotypes about who can enter a given profession.

Moseley said he thinks part of the reason the paralegal program has so few men is because the profession grew out of the secretarial field, which has historically been dominated by women.

He said paralegals are distinct from secretaries because they can do all the work of a lawyer except activities such as giving legal advice, representing a client in court or negotiating a settlement.

About 92.5 percent of paralegals in Texas are women, according to a 2010 study by the State Bar of Texas.

Moseley said there is no reason a paralegal has to be a female, and he expects more males to enter the field in the future.

Staton said part of the reason he was surprised to be the first male graduate was because the program is not specifically designed for women.

“Nothing in what I learned is directed toward females,” he said.

Moseley said the program currently has 142 students. He said about 80 percent of those students are 40- to 50-year-old women.

What do you think? What can be done to bring more men into the paralegal profession? Should the profession be concerned about the female/male ratio?

What, Me Change?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Because paralegals have a different perspective on ground level operations in a law office they are often in a position to suggest changes that would improve those operations, client services, and the firm’s bottom line. The Empowered Paralegal, afterall, is well-equipped to recognize and analyze problems, identify solutions, and develop and implement plans for effectuating those solutions – everything from establishing procedures for time, docket, workload, and client management to utilizing advancements in technology to improve overall office operations (all discussed in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional). However, getting the attorneys to pay attention, much less accept and adopt those changes is a frequent source of frustration for paralegals.

The Empowered Paralegal also deals with approaches to dealing with the difficulties of communicating with one’s own attorney and managing the effects of attorney mismanagement. In addition, however, paralegals may take some solace in the fact that they do not suffer this frustration alone. Today’sABAJournal.com includes a post with a headline that will come as no suprise to paralegals: Don’t Underestimate Lawyers’ Resistance to Change, Seyfarth Shaw Chairman Says. The story is about attempts to implement process management, but applies as well to paralegal efforts to effectuate changes as it does to management consultant’s efforts:

Seyfarth Shaw has learned a lot about lawyers and their resistance to change as the firm embraced Lean Six Sigma, a management approach emphasizing process improvement and efficiency in legal work.

Seyfarth Shaw chairman J. Stephen Poor outlines the lessons learned in an article for the New York Times DealBook blog. “Never underestimate the resistance to change from lawyers,” he writes. “Even more likely, never underestimate the ability of lawyers to describe virtual status quo efforts as revolutionary change. Working through a change management process intended to deal with that push-back has been a core element of our challenge for years.”

By the way, I’ve noted before that “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. But if they won’t listen to their own chairman, what are the chances they are listening to me? And the chances that the chairman is listening to me is even less!

Maybe they’ll listen to David Bowie:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8v486aUYu0  or, for those who are a bit older, Jefferson Airplane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOrb0G0tw08:

Life is Change
How it differs from the rocks

The alternative is

Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for
in the only way that it’s granted
in a place among the fossils of our time.*

From “Crown of Creation” which is largely taken with permission from “The Chrysalids” by John Wyndham(published 1955)

Speaking of changes, it’s about time I learned how to actually embed YouTube videos. If anyone out there actually read this far and knows how to do so, please clue me in!