Posts Tagged ‘attitude’

The “C” Mantra

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

The NFPA National Paralegal Reporter for December/January, among several articles worthy of reading announces the winners of the Thomson Reuters Scholarship Winners (Melissa Jurik and Anne Caitlin Griffin) and the Chancellor University Scholarship Winner (Shelly L. Bender.) Their winning essays are included.

Melissa’s “Our Mantra – Learn As Much As You Can” was particularly interesting to me as it relates to my recent post on professional self-assessment in which I made the point, “The professional paralegal strives to move beyond just “doing the job” – average or satisfactory work. So as we do our year end assessments, we should each ask ourselves, ‘Am I doing “A” work?'” While I was speaking of already practicing paralegals, Melissa applies the principle to paralegal students and newly minted graduates. She points out, “In that diverse group of students, there are a myriad of personalities and work ethics. Some have the mantra of ‘C’s get degrees’ and are doing just enough to get by, while a larger group of us are on a mission to learn as much as we can to make sure we are prepared to enter into the workforce.” She then argues in favor of completion of a voluntary exam such as The Paralegal CORE Competency Exam as a way of showing employers that the “individual has met the standards that are objectively established and verified by a third party.”

Those of you who read my previous post are aware that I agree with Melissa on the need for students to be doing “A” work if they expect an “A” grade. That can best be accomplished by adopting Melissa’s mantra: Endeavor to learn as much as you can rather than work for a passing grade. That same attitude applies to getting and keeping a job. It certainly applies to any paralegal who sees themselves making a career as a professional paralegal.

Profesionalism: Being Competent and Maintaining a Credible Front?”

Monday, January 17th, 2011

“The Cultural Study of Work,” an anthology compiled by Douglas A. Harper, Doug Harper, and Helene M. Lawson, (2003) contains an article by Kathryn J. Lively, entitled Occupational Claims to Professionalism: The Case of Professionals that is an interesting read. It’s available in it’s entirety online (go to Goggle Scholar and type in “paralegal professionalism”), but I cannot download or copy-and-paste from the article. Lively conducted an open-interview study of over 50 paralegals to gather an understanding of how individual paralegals understand “professional” and “professionalism,” stating:

Given paralegal’s position in the middle of the occupational continuum, as paraprofessionals they make ideal respondents for studying the appropriation of the symbols “professional” (and the corresponding symbol “unprofessional”) and “professionalism” by nonprofessional workers. Paraprofessionals are members of occupations organized around the work of a master profession. They lack the requisite job autonomy, and, in some cases, depth of experience or knowledge to be full-fledged professionals. [citation omitted] In this case, paralegals are members of an occupation that serves attorneys, but they lack the job autonomy, experience, and knowledge to practice law without attorney supervision.

While some may argue that this is just a matter of definition and anti-competitive rules established by the ABA, i.e., that paralegal have the requisite experience and knowledge to practice some law, just not law as an attorney does, and the lack of job autonomy emanates from the ABA’s refusal to yield any part of law practice to non-lawyers, we will leave that aside for the moment and focus on the results of Lively’s study.

Lively explains,

Because professionalism was an important part of paralegals’ work identity, whenever they used “professional” or “professionalism,” I asked them what these words meant to them personally.  Although no two paralegals completely agreed on what it meant to be professional, they identified two sets of norms they used for judging their and others’ behavior: being competent in one’s work and maintaining a credible front. [Citations omitted.]

She concludes, in part,

Note that, at least for these paralegals, being competent often meant withholding anger, exhibiting civility, and stifling pettiness, which is reminiscent of earlier discussions of display and feeling rules in the workplace. Indeed one of the most striking observations about the use of the term “competency” by paralegals is the degree to which it often contained an emotive element in addition to the basic skill, knowledge and ability required to perform the job….In fact, many paralegals believed that the manner in which they completed their work was almost as important as whether or not they completed the work. [Citations omitted.]

For these paralegals, professionalism, or “being professional,” required not only that they do their jobs, but that they do them with good attitudes (or at very least the appearance of good attitudes.)

None of this is news to most of the readers of this blog in posts such as “Feedback, Attitude, and Control.” We’ve discuss the role of attitude in professionalism here before. To an extent I disagree with this statement of attitude being merely maintaining a credible front, as the statements of the paralegals seem to go well beyond that. However, the article itself is quite interesting and well worth reading.

Professionalism and Administrative Agency Personnel

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Not long ago I co-opted a post from the Mississippi 12th District Chancellor’s blog to address the issue of professionalism when dealing with court clerks. I also used that post as a discussion point for my online Administrative Law class. The students in that class had just finished an assignment requiring that the interview a “high level” adminstrative agency employee. Not surprisingly, many had experienced the frustration that our client often experience when dealing with adminstrative agency employees! The discussion forum was active and included one post that I am copying here (with the student’s permission:)

I’m sorry that it does not sound like your interview went very well.  Dealing with other people can be tough.  We can only “control” ourselves and not others.  Since I’m probably older than everyone else in the class but the teacher, let me pass along a couple of hard earned tips about attempting to get something from someone that you do not know.  Most people in this class did not have local agency personel as relatives and friends to call up and complete this assignment.  This will be true when we all get jobs as paralegals or lawyers or what ever job we decide on. 

A sense of empathy and understanding will get you far when attempting to “work” someone for an answer.  For example, if I were going to perform an interview with a mental health professional, my first step would be to perform a little bit of research and thought into what their daily work life must be like.  How would I feel if my job was to constantly deal with people who had varying degrees of mental problems.  That make me feel a little bit crazy and under appreciated and highly stressed.  If you sound calm and project a calming tone to them this will help combat their added stress of having “one more thing” to do that day.  I little “kissing up” doesn’t hurt anyone either.

This is how I might have initiated the first phone call after doing research to see who in the agency specifically that I wanted to speak with for the interview.  Deep, calming breaths…then dial.  “Hi!  My name is Tommi McGrew and I am a student at Ole Miss.  Is it possible for me to either speak with Ms. X now or is there a better time for me to call back?” 

Their response, and let’s assume I am lucky enough to get through the first time which probably won’t happen often.  “Yes, she is in.  Let me transfer you.”  (If you get the run-around or have to make several calls, remember to try and keep the frustration from showing in your voice.  This will be off-putting to the person that you are attempting to get something from.  You need their help.  They don’t need yours.)

“Ms. X, my name is Tommi McGrew and I am a student at the University of Mississippi.  I know you are a very busy lady with an incredible job.  I’m sure you have a million things that you need to be doing, but I am interested in getting to know more about your agency.  Do you think you could spare me a few minutes of your time to ask you a few questions?”

Now, let’s also assume the stars have all aligned and she is willing to give me 5 minutes or we are able to set-up a phone interview for first thing the next morning.  A person who choses to make their life work in the field of mental illness will usually be one of those people with a savior complex or a really big heart.  They are also usually very passionate about their jobs.  Use these types of job personalities when you can to taylor your tone, attittude and phrasing. 

It sounds like in Jimmy’s interview, the interviewee kept wanting to make the interview about her “pet” projects and not about what Jimmy wanted to know.  As a skilled interviewer, you need to know how to politely steer the interview in the direction you want to go, not the other way around.  A possible response to get back on track might sound something like this.

“Wow.  It is hard for me to imagine how you handle all of those responsibilities as well as you do.  It sounds like if I want to work for your agency when I graduate it might behoove me to take some psychology classes.  However, right now I am taking a legal type class about agency law.  I know your time is very valuable and I respect that.  It sounds like you are a very busy and dedicated lady.  My next question is in regards to how the appeals process works for your agency.  Can desions be appealed and how does that process work?” (It is always better if you can ask questions that you already have at least a vague idea of what the answer is before you ask it.)

Most of the readers of this blog are well beyond this kind of academic assignments and must deal with administrative agency personnel in a much more practical and more important context – a client’s case. Much of Tommi’s advice is applicable to that context also. However, I’d like to hear from you as to how you handle professionally the often frustrating experience of dealing with administrative agency bureaucracies.

Professionalism and Court Clerks

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Way back in September of 2009, Melissa at Paralegalese made the case that clerks were :”Good People to Know,” a point that I fequently make during workshops and seminars. As Melissa says, “On a daily basis, these ladies are life savers…That is why it is so important to get to know these people. If you have one good contact there, he or she will guide you through almost any procedural steps you may have forgotten or possibly never knew. Whether you are new, experienced, you need a good contact at the clerk’s office.”

For this reason if none other, you don’t want to “get on the bad side” of the clerk’s office or any of its members. But more important to the profession is that incivility to anyoneis unprofessional. Clerks especially are essential members of the legal system and entitled to respect.

In addition, because they are intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the court system, they often know more about their particular area of expertise than the attorneys. This point was recently made with more than just a hint of sarcasm by Mississippi’s 12th District Chancellor on his blog. His story involves lawyers, but I am aware of many instances where paralegals have gone in with the same – very unprofessional – attitude and came out with the same egg on their faces. On the assumption that the judge won’t mind, I’m including the whole post here, but you can definitely take the time to review other posts, especially his “Trial by Checklists” posts, on his blog.

Twice this summer, the deputy Chancery Clerks in Lauderdale County have been confronted by lawyers wanting to probate original wills and demanding to retain the original. One was from another district with large cities to our west, and the other was, I am sad to report, from closer to home. The clerks, I am glad to report, stood their ground and demanded the original for filing. Both lawyers condescendingly made it clear that our clerks are backward ignoramuses, and one went so far as to say that ours is the only district that makes the ridiculous demand for the original will. Which is where I was called in — apparently it is the Chancellor’s role to determine as between eminent lawyers and lowly clerks just who is the backward ignoramus.

Now, in all my years in the law, I had never heard of a lawyer in Mississippi retaining an original will after its admission to probate. But then again, we are more or less country peasants in this part of the state, and some things do pass us by. As is my anachronistic, unsophisticated practice, I sought for the answer among the gnostic mysteries of the law that remain so seemingly inaccessible to most practicing attorneys: The Mississippi Code.

It only took me a few minutes to leaf directly to Section 91-7-31, MCA, which states:

All original wills, after probate thereof, shall be recorded and remain in the office of the clerk of the court where they were proved, except during the time thay may be removed to any other court under process, from which they shall be duly returned to the proper office. Authenticated copies of such wills may be recorded in any county in this state.

So there you have it. The statute unambiguously requires that the original must be surrendered to the clerk of the court where the will is probated, and the clerk is responsible to record it and keep it.

Even though the truth revealed in the statute would seem to be clear, I realize that I do learn something new each day, and I posited to myself that there might be some angle to this issue that was known only to these superior attorneys that neither I, nor the state legislature, nor nearly 200 years of Mississippi jurisprudence had taken into account. Accordingly, I raised the question at the Chancery Judges’ study meeting last weekend whether any judges were aware of any districts where the statute was not being followed, or of any exception to the rule, and the unanimous response was no.

In our own, primitive way here in the hinterland, we try to follow the law, and when we do so, we will look first to the Mississippi Code and the Chancery Court Rules and not to the lawyer’s interpretation. We know that is a backwards and so 20th-century approach, but that is the old-fashioned way we still do it. We apologize if that offends your more cosmopolitan sensibilities that may not allow you time between workouts at the gym to look up the law. If our humble practice is too “slow lane” for you, perhaps you should pass that estate off to a local lawyer who is more accustomed to our rustic ways.

Practice Tip: (1) Read and know the law. (2) Apply Practice Tip (1) before acting like a jerk toward the Chancery Clerks. Oh, and while you’re at it, refresh yourself on the Mississippi Lawyer’s Creed, especially that part that reads: “To the courts, and other tribunals, and to those who assist them, I offer respect, candor, and courtesy. I will strive to do honor to the search for justice.”

Feedback, Attitude and Control

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

The Career Coach” at The New York Times deals this week with reacting when passed over for a promotion. Much of what is said, however, I advocate doing before regardless of promotion opportunities. That is to say, there should be good communication between the paralegal and attorney, including the paralegal specifically asking, with a positive attitude, for feedback as a normal part of the paralegal/attorneyrelationship. Here’s some of the what the article says:

What you want now is feedback, said Jane S. Goldner, a management consultant and author of “Driven to Success: A 10-Point Checkup for Achieving High Performance in Business.”

Asking why you didn’t get the promotion will only put your boss on the defensive. “It’s far more productive to ask what you need to do to be the best-qualified person next time,” she said.

Unfortunately, managers can be vague when it comes to this kind of feedback, so press for specifics. “If they say you need to work on communication skills, for example, ask what needs work — written communication, group communication, one-on-one? You need to know what to focus on,” Ms. Goldner said.

Convey your desire to learn what skills you need to develop, Mr. Beeson said. If possible, speak not only with your boss, but also with senior executives you work with.

“Ask them for examples of how you have fallen short,” he advised. “At the end of the meeting, ask what two things above all others would most build their confidence in your ability to succeed at a higher level. It is usually one or two things holding someone back, and you want to know what those two things are.”

Be aware of your body language during the meeting, Mr. Maurer said. Your boss is watching you to see how you are taking the information. “Don’t get defensive,” he said.

Q. How do you demonstrate to your boss and other senior executives that you are working to develop the skills necessary for a promotion?

A. After the meeting, send your boss an action plan that reiterates your discussion and the goals that have been set, and that tells your boss what you need from him or her in order to be successful — perhaps periodic meetings to assess performance, Ms. Dutra said. “Mangers love the fact that someone is saying ‘I need your help,’” she said.

Q. How do you manage your anger and frustration while working toward the next promotion opportunity?

A. Managing those feelings is vital, because negativity in the office can be a career killer, said Shawn Achor, a teaching fellow in psychology at Harvard and C.E.O. of Aspirant, a management consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass.

Mr. Achor studies the effects of positive and negative attitudes on job performance. He says that people who have a sour attitude begin to deconstruct their social support systems at work and lose their connection to co-workers. “Then they become the toxic person on the team,” he said.

A positive attitude, however, brings more intelligence to a task, allows you to see more possibilities and work longer and better with those around you, he said.

Instead of dwelling on the disappointment, he said, write down a list of the things that are outside your control, like the economy or office politics — and focus your energy and time on what you can control, like your performance.

This is all good advice and much of it is included in The Empowered Paralegal, but my position is that you need not, and should not, wait for disappointment to occur before you

Obtain feedback

Ask what you need to do to do your job the best it can be done

Request specifics so you know what deserves your focus.

Convey your desire to learn what skills you need to develop.

Are aware of your body language at all times.

Set periodic meetings to assess performance,  saying ‘I need your help.’

Manage your anger and frustration because negativity in the office can be a career killer.

Have a positive attitude.

Write down a list of the things that are outside your control, like the economy or office politics — and focus your energy and time on what you can control, like your performance.

The keys are communication (in this case not only feedback but communicating your needs), a positive attitude and control. These are all part of taking charge of your career. As noted in a previous post here Chere Estrin of the Estrin Report and Know: The Magazine for Paralegals in her article on entitled “In Search of the Rest of Your Career” states

I am emphasizing career-changing rather than changing careers. This means taking charge of your present career and changing it around to best suit your needs rather than switching careers all together.

Take charge of your career on a daily basis. Don’t wait for a promotion opportunity or other event. If you take charge now, you will be the best person for the job when the promotion opportunity arises.

Professional Demeanor

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009 posts on article in the National Law Journal giving advice to “older attorneys” looking for a job including “lose the comb-over” and “update the wardrobe.” However, much of it seems to apply to anyone who wants to be professional – even those who already have a job.

The professionals in any office will not “groan or sigh when you sit down or get up,” “avoid outdated expressions, such as referring to a woman as a ‘gal,’ ” make “statements that reminisce such as ‘in my day’ or ‘when I started out.’ ” and “appear cocky or arrogant.” 

The professionals will demonstrate a good attitude as well as  “teamwork, flexibility, innovation and creativity, capacity to learn new things and work in different and changing environments, ability to work long hours and knack for getting along with a variety of people.”

The professionals in the office will be…, well they’ll be professional! We all want to be treated as professionals. In order to get such treatment we have to “walk the walk.”