Archive for October, 2014

Critical Thinking – An Essential Skill

Friday, October 24th, 2014

As so often happens, Marianna Fradman has started an interesting discussion on LinkedIn. This time her post is on The Paralegal Society’s discussion board. Her post consists of a single question and a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal,Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ But What Is It?.” Her question is, “How do paralegals define this skill?” In a later comment she also asks, “Does it mean that ALL paralegals have to possess this skill? How to measure it?” Here are my initial thoughts on the first two questions:

The ability to solve problems and “connect the dots” is a good way of describing the concept of critical thinking, but critical thinking involves a particular approach to problem solving. I like the way that approach is set out in this quote (I can’t remember the source for sure, but I think it’s from S. Contrell’s work:

Critical thinking means “weighing up the arguments and evidence for and against”. It involves:
• Considering an issue carefully and more than once
• Evaluating the evidence put forward in support of the belief or viewpoint
• Considering where the belief or viewpoint leads – what conclusions would follow; are these suitable and rational; and if not, should the belief or viewpoint be reconsidered? Critical thinking goes hand in hand with analytical thinking.

Critical thinking is essential for every good paralegal. It is what separates a paralegal from other support staff in a law office and makes them a member of the legal team. It is the second principle of my first book, The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional:”

The second principle has to do with the way the paralegal approaches any and all aspects of paralegal practice. It is a proactive rather than reactive approach. It seeks to understand and manage even those aspects of practice that the paralegal cannot control. This principle involves taking a rational empowered approach.
While the specifics were different in each of the chapters, in each chapter of this book we identified the areas of concern, analyzed each aspect of that concern, set priorities that addressed those concerns, sought a greater understanding of the area of concern, investigated solutions and barriers to those solution, and established procedures for implementing solutions and removing or overcoming barriers to those solutions. We did so in a direct, rational and professional way. We did so in a way that honored our own need to be efficient, effective and empowered, and honored the interrelationships and responsibilities of the first principle.

Critical thinking can be learned, but only through practice. You can’t just read about it and expect to become proficient at it. Legal professionals have some help in this regard since the methodology of legal reasoning, statutory interpretation, and case analysis all incorporate a critical thinking approach to solving problems. Therefore, we practice critical thinking each time we do one of these tasks. As we do more the task, we become more practiced in the skill. Perhaps more than anything else in our Paralegal Studies Program, the demand that our students engage in critical thinking exercises separates the program and our students from those described in the article:

According to research detailed in those books, students rarely study on their own for more than an hour a day, and most don’t write in-depth papers that require sustained analysis.

For their part, students seem to think they are ready for the office. But their future bosses tend to disagree. A Harris Interactive survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers last fall found that 69% of students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.

Judy Nagengast, CEO of Continental Inc., an Anderson, Ind., staffing firm, says she has come across young graduates who “can memorize and they can regurgitate” but who struggle to turn book learning into problem solving at work.

Students successful in our program can perform well beyond memorization and regurgitation, because they are required to practice critical thinking on a regular basis. This leads to a bit of a paradox: Although they are more prepared for the office than students who can only memorize and regurgitate, they are apt to see themselves less prepared because they know what the expectations are!

It’s a matter of history.

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

I am engaged in a historical research project tracing the development of paralegal practice and the paralegal profession during the 1950s through the 1990s. (I’m working on a Masters in History. This project will start as a potential journal article, expand into my thesis, and possibly a book.) I am interested in state, local, and national paralegal association newsletters from that period and other documents – news stories, minutes of minutes, letters, etc. – that might provide information on what it was like to be a paralegal or legal assistant (even if you did not have that title) during that time. Early issues of magazines such as “Fact & Findings,” and the like would also be helpful. Contact me here or via email if you have documents or other information that might be helpful and you are willing to share. Ultimately, I’d like to interview some of the paralegals who practiced during that time period, so please let me know if you would be willing to be interviewed regarding your background, how you entered the legal profession, your first jobs, etc.

Should lawyers be nicer to their paralegals?

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Above the Law has a nice post by Joe Patrice entitled, “We Should All Be Nicer To Our Paralegals.

Law firms routinely abuse paralegals. You remember the paralegals, right? They’re the fresh-faced youngsters who inexplicably think it might help their future legal career to spend a couple of years compiling binders full of documents that lawyers will look at once and discard. Or most likely forget about and make the paralegal do again four months hence. At least they make overtime when caught in the thresher maw. But other than a slight bump in pay, paralegals don’t get much appreciation for doing all the tasks lawyers would never be caught dead doing at 2:00 a.m.

His comments are followed by a bunch of memes to describe the job of a paralegal compiled by Legal Cheek.

Kudos, Mr. Patrice and Above the Law!

Legal Careers Rx for non-attorneys

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Mariana Fradman, MBA Senior Real Estate Paralegal at Kaye Scholer LLP and NYCPA Treasurer, Mentor Program & CLE Chairperson (NYCPA is an exemplar of what paralegal associations can be. An excellent set of officers! Check it out even if you are not a New York City paralegal.) announced through the NYCPA LinkedIn discussion board a new LinkedIn Group:Legal Careers Rx for non-attorneys.

The announcement is brief, so I’ve included it all here:

In less than two weeks, over 900 paralegals joined the group. The group is about career strategies, job search techniques, resumes, workplace situations, stress/burnout, virtual paralegals, promotions & more.