Professionals Think About How to Do What They Are Doing

Professionalism is knowing “how to do” as well as knowing “what to do.” Often, to the frustration of attorneys and paralegals alike, work assignments are incompletely or incorrectly done not because the paralegal lacked the ability or the motivation, but because they did not understand the assignment. In this regard, communication between the paralegal and attorney is essential. More on that in a later post.

Before an assignment is begun, before you can even determine what clarification you need from the attorney, you must organize and plan. The first step in that provess is to analyze the assignment – break it down into its elements in a way similar to breaking down a statute or cause of action into its elements.  If we want to analyze whether our client is guilty of “Assault While Hunting,” we establish the elements and make a checklist for comparison to the facts of our case: (1) while hunting, (2) while in pursuit of wild game or game birds, (3) with criminal negligence, (4) with a dangerous weapon, (4) causes, (5) bodily injury, (6) to another. If any one of these is missing, the crime is not completed, e.g., if while hunting in pursuit of wild game or game birds with criminal negligence I cause my partner bodily injury by letting a tree branch swing back into his face, I have not committed the crime because element (4) is not present.

The same analysis can help understanding and completing an assignment. Let me give you an example from one of my classes:

ANALYZING AN ASSIGNMENT

The first step in completing any assignment, exam question or discussion forum is to break it down into its elements, i.e., analyze it. Let’s take a look at the Unit One Discussion forum as an example:

Either post an original answer or a substantive response to someone else’s original answer to the following question. State how critical and analytical thinking apply to discerning an answer to the question. Simple responses such as “I agree” are not acceptable. Check back regularly and participate in the discussion.

Please keep in mind that while this is an informal setting, your answers are being reviewed by all students and assessed by the instructor. Follow the writing rules. Use complete sentences and paragraphs. Make your postings concise and well organized. Spelling, grammar and punctuation count!

This can be broken down into the following tasks:
• Either post an original answer or a substantive response
• State how critical and analytical thinking apply to discerning the answer to the question
• Check back regularly and participate in the discussion
• Follow the writing rules

o Use complete sentences and paragraphs
o Be concise and well organized
o Use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Take moment now to go back and review your response to the discussion forum assignment using this list of the assignment elements as a checklist. Did you complete the assignment? Did you not only make a post but state how critical and analytical thinking apply to discerning the answer to the question? Did you check back regularly and participate in the discussion?

This same process can and should be used when a paralegal receives an assignment from their attorney. For example, assume you receive this assignment in an email from your attorney:

Our client is concerned about his son, Paul. Paul is 26 but has never held a job, tends to drink to excess, gamble and (our client thinks) use illegal drugs. Our client wants to be sure that Paul’s basic living expenses are covered if our client dies but does not want to simply give the money to Paul who will surely just spend it all on gambling, drugs or just have it taken away from him. He has heard of something called a “spendthrift trust” and would like to know if it is a good thing for him to do. We need to know whether “spendthrift trusts” are enfoced in Mississippi. If there are we need to explain to our client some general background on what they are and how they work. Check whether there are any statutes which may relate to them. If there are any limits on their enforceability in Mississippi courts and what those limits are.

This can be broken down into individual tasks:

A.) Research

  1. whether there is such a thing as “spendthrift trust,”
  2. some general background on what they are and how they work,
  3. whether they exist in Mississippi,
  4. whether there are any statutes which may relate to them, and
  5. whether there are any limits on their enforceability in Mississippi courts and what those limits are.
  6. B. Report results to attorney

    Questions for attorney:
    In what format do you want the report to you – memo, draft letter to the client?
    How much time do you want allocated to this project?
    What is the deadline for completion?
    If I start by determining whether such trusts are not enforcable in Mississippi, do you still want the others issue researched?

Organization and planning are foundational elements of The Empowered Paralegal. They are so important as tools for the professional paralegal that Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor,

applies them to home meal planning in her post today, The Paralegal’s Guide to Easy Meal Planning & Preparation :

First, there are two time organization issues involved with meal preparation

Planning: When you walk in the door from a long day of entering billable hours you have to know what you’ll be fixing for dinner. If you don’t, you will definitely resort to fast food, take-out or cereal. To know what you’ll be fixing, you must have a plan.

Breaking the work into manageable chunks: The task of fixing dinner seems overwhelming: too many steps and too much to do. If you look at cooking as one giant step, it’s bound to seem overwhelming. If you break it down into smaller pieces, it becomes manageable.

Read the rest of her post for the similarities between how the process is applied to classroom assignment, work assignments and home meal planning.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply