Archive for August, 2012

Age Discrimination in the Legal Profession

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

A post on today’s ABAJournal.com concerns a claim of age discrimination by a laid-off legal secretary. Given her pay scale I suspect she was performing paralegal tasks as well as or instead of legal secretary tasks, but in any case I suspect her complaint would be echoed by many older paralegals seeking work. It is strange that a profession charged, at least in part, with protecting clients from age discrimination engages in it itself. I am not aware of any large scale studies of the phenomenon as it relates to the paralegal profession. Of course, as discussed elsewhere in this blog, it would be difficult to do such a study as it would require determining who actually meets the non-existent standards of education, experience, and/or training that entitles one to be called a paralegal in the United States.

I do know that lawyers, especially partners forced out of partnerships, complain about age bias in the legal profession. I suspect I’ve experienced some of it myself when switching careers from full-time practicing attorney to professor of legal studies. (During one interview process I was pointedly told they were looking for someone who could commit to 15 years at the institution, implying that at my age I did not have the capacity to put in another 15 years!)

One problem with determining the extend of discrimination is the wide range of alternative explanations. Let’s take a look first at the legal secretary’s story as excerpted from the ABAJournal.com story:

A legal secretary who lost her job with Cozen O’Connor in 2009 is still looking for full-time work, despite 60 interviews in the legal field.

Terri Doring is 57 years old and she thinks her difficulties are partly due to her age, the Washington Times reports. “I have an excellent career record. It all comes down to age discrimination,” she told the newspaper. She said she wishes she lived in “a new country where expertise is valued.” …

Doring was paid $55,000 a year before she was laid off, and she suspects the salary causes employers to seek younger workers who are willing to accept less. Doring tells the newspaper that she is willing to take a salary cut, but she draws the line at working for a verbally abusive lawyer. (She walked away from the single legal secretary job she found because of the lawyer’s personality.)

Doring laments that employers nowadays value word-processing skills and speed instead of people skills. “Personal assistance is passé,” she says.

One of the comments to the post says, “Ah.  Failing typing speed test = age discrimination.  Good to know” an obviously sarcastic response indicating the commenter thinks its not Doring’s age but her inability to maintain the necessary skills for the job that is preventing her from getting work.

None of us are likely to know the facts of Doring’s case to comment directly on it, but I am interested in your experiences and opinions on the topic in general.

 

Committed To Do Lists and Integrity

Friday, August 24th, 2012

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional workload organization and management tools such as “To Do” Lists are discussed extensively. Using a “To Do” list is only helpful if there is sense to the list, so it is important to prioritize. One aspect of this is making eliminate as many items as possible through delegation and other means. In her most recent newsletter Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, puts an interesting spin on this in a feature entitled, “What to Do vs. Need to Do.” Vicki distinguishes between those things you are committed to doing and those you “want to do” this way:

Your “want to do” list. The items on your “want to do” list are those that you have either chosen to do or feel the need to do. This could include a home improvement project, taking a class, writing an article, etc.

While your personal life or your career may be impacted if you do not do these things, it is your choice. Also, this list is not prioritized so when you decide to do something on it, you may end up choosing a task that will give you a higher return over another task on your list. Also, this list is always subject to change.

Your “committed to” list. Your “committed to” list is made up of the things you have agreed to do for someone or something: write an article, serve as an officer, plan an event, obtain a speaker, etc.

The things you have committed to are critical to your career success. If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.


I started this post quite awhile ago and have since lost the link to Vicki’s article. If I find it, I’ll update this post. At the time I probably intended to make a different point than I am making now. Here I want to emphasize the importance of Vicki’s statement, ” If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.”

As discussed at length in The Empowered Paralegal, a good part of professionalism for a paralegal involves “soft factors” – factors that cannot be measured by billable hours, documents produced, or even high praise from clients for work well done. Integrity, reliability, credibility are crucial. We (or at least I) talk a lot about managing time, workload, dockets, clients, and the attorney/paralegal relationship, but we are seldom interested in efficiency or effectiveness just for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness. The importance of tips like Vicki’s on To Do Lists lies not just in their ability to increase our efficiency and defectiveness, but in the way that translates into maintaining our integrity, reliability, and credibility.  The focus, in the end, is not just on what we do, but on who we are.

Managing Procrastination

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I’ve been putting off a post on procrastination for some time now. (I did a search of past posts and found that my first and only post on the topic was “Perfection Procrastination” in February of this year where I questioned the alleged link between perfectionism and procrastination asserted in a post on ABAJournal.com.)

Now ABAJournal.com again provides the motivation for a post on procrastination this time passing on “expert” remarks on managing procrastination. Since the basic motto of The Empowered Paralegal is management of obstacles by identifying them, developing plans for getting over them, and implementing those plans, this post interested me – after all, a good portion of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is devoted to time and workload management, and procrastination is a significant impediment to both. The post references a list of 21 tips on managing procrastination by the Time Management Ninja most of which I endorse and many of which are discussed further in my first book.

One of the tips though is a concern for me as the Ninja recommends using caffeine, “Sometimes you need an energy boost. Whether your choice is coffee or Red Bull, a little caffeine can go a long way to getting you going. (And going and going and going…)” While it is true that sometimes you need an energy boost, there is little indication that an energetic procrastinator is any better off than a non-energetic procrastinator. If you have found a way to address a task rather than put it off, some extra energy may help, but extra energy is not going to solve the procrastination problem itself.

Besides, there solution may cause more problems than it solves. For example, ” Studies have also shown that caffeine decreases reaction time to both visual and auditory stimuli; it does not significantly alter numerical reasoning (arithmetic skills) or short-term memory; and it can diminish performance of manual tasks that involve delicate muscular coordination and accurate timing. When caffeine is taken in high doses it can cause many unwanted side effects.” “Caffeine’s Hidden Dangers,” AFPA,  (Accessed Aug. 15, 2012) So you finally get around to doing the task but find that your reaction time is lowered, your short-term memory diminished and your keyboarding is not good!

This is especially dangerous if you find that you “need” caffeine on a regular basis (I’m thinking of the 5-Hour Energy commercials here). If you need an artificial boost on a regular basis, the artificial boost is masking a problem that should be addressed through other means.

Paralegal Receives Legion of Merit

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Paralegal, Sergeant Major Terry Pahl (Ret), was recently awarded one of the highest ranking ribbons/honors in the United States Army. We know because his law firm, recognizing the value of marketing the professionalism of its paralegals as well as its attorneys, issued a press release through PRWeb.com. The release goes on to say:

SGM Pahl is the recipient of the Legion of Merit. This award is the 7th highest honor in the United States Army, above a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Soldier’s Medal.

This honor recognizes his “exceptionally meritorious service in positions of increasing responsibility, culminating a 40-year career as the Command Paralegal Noncommissioned Officer, 214th Legal Operation Detachment, United States Reserve Legal Command.”

He served his country with distinction and excellence and upon retirement is recognized for the performance of duty that represents exemplary service in the finest traditions of the Army.

SGM Pahl retired from the United States Army Reserves on March 1, 2012.

He continues work as a paralegal in the civilian field as Family Law Paralegal for the firm. He has more than 26 years of experience as a paralegal in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers Compensation, Child Support and Family law.

Congratulations to Terry and to the firm fortunate enough to have him as a member of its legal team!