Posts Tagged ‘Client Management’

“The Paralegal” Speaks on Time Management

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As regular readers of this blog know, time management is one of the basics of paralegal empowerment and professionalism. So, I enjoyed reading Ana Perrio’s post regarding time management onThe Paralegal. According to her website, Ana Pierro, “is a paralegal supervisor in the Office of the General Counsel at a large financial institution in the Greater New York area.   Ana has over 16 years experience working in law firms and in corporate legal departments with experience in insurance defense, plaintiff’s personal injury and product liability, asbestos litigation, securities litigation, compliance, regulatory work recently government affairs.”

Ana’s post two of the biggest impediments to time management: the telephone and email. The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” devotes entire chapters to time, workload, and client management. Ana is correct that time management requires active management of email and telephone. If you do not control them, they willcontrol you. So, I recommend some specific rules. These are rules that you put in place to govern the way you manage emails and calls. Click here to check out the fundamentals for email rules and client management phone rules.

Liking Latin and Lawyers II

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Way back in September of 2009 I did a post referring readers to posts by Melissa H. at Paralegalese about lawyers being too intelligent to be liked in “Nobody Likes a Know-It-All” and Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, who wrote an ode to the study of Latin and put together a compilation of many of the Latin terms and phrases that form a good part of the legal lexicon. Both were (and are) worth the read and, I contend, the two are likely connected. In my post and in an exchange of comments with Vicki I cautioned against over use of Latin terms and phrases when speaking with or corresponding with clients, who are not likely to understand the phrases:

I have heard clients told “Tomorrow we voir dire the jury,” and that their attorney would be “admitted pro hoc vice.” For awhile I kept a running list. Others I’ve heard or seen in written correspondence to clients without explanation are respondeat superior, quantum meriut, res ipsa, in rem, ad litem, corpus delecti, de jure, forum non convenviens, mens rea, in situ, per stirpesand ultra vires. One even ventured outside of Latin to French with cy pres. This one was somewhat humorous because I got the distinct impression that the attorney using the phrase did not really understand what it meant!

I especially encourage paralegals to drop Latin (an other legal jargon) when speaking to clients. Sure, the use of such phrases between the paralegal and attorney act as good shorthand, allowing quick and effective coverage of complex topics. But the client is quickly lost when slogging through a swamp of legal jargon and Latin phrases. This is one of many barriers to client understanding and full participation on the legal team. If you must use a Latin legal phrase, remember that it has an English translation that might actually be understood by a client, making client management easier. The paralegal can, and should, use the English translation or explain the Latin phrase when speaking to the client, acting literally as a interpreter between the attorney and the client. Melissa puts the point well:

Knowledge and education are wonderful things when they serve clients’ needs, and therefore the firm’s needs. But empathy, understanding, and the ability to communicate on the client’s level are also necessary parts of meeting these goals.

All this was brought to mind by an email from Julia Watson at OEBd.com (Online Education Database) regarding an article entitled, “50 Common Latin Phrases Every College Student Should Know.”   I know nothing about OEBd other than the email and the article, and do not take a position here regarding online education in general or that referenced by OEBd.com, but the article is a good collection of Latin phrases with explanations. The 50 phrases are broken down into categories such as “Legal,” “Business,” “Arguments and Logic,” and “Must Learn Terms.” (The phrases are each linked to their Wikipedia entry. As my students know I do not condone use of Wikipedia as an reference authority in papers or briefs as it’s entries have contained errors.) If nothing else it make a good reference for giving understandable explanations of the terms to clients.

It being Friday, it is likely that the phrase most likely to apply to college students and many members of legal teams across the country is “In vino veritas.”

 

A Practical Task from Practical Paralegalism

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Head on over to Lynne DeVenny’s blog, Practical Paralegalism for her post, “Paralegal Do-Over: What Would You Tell Lindsay to Wear to Court?” While Lindsay is a tough case, this exercise is a good one since it is an example of the tact required quite often by paralegals in preparing clients for court appearances. Good post, Lynne.

Whose job is more stressful, yours or a judge’s?

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I’m not actually entering into this fray – or suggesting there should be one. However, Judge Primeaux of the Mississippi 12th District posted “Ten Commandments for Reducing Stress” on his blog today and it occurred to me that it might be as helpful to paralegals as to judges:

This from a judges’ meeting a couple of years ago.

I    Thou shall not be perfect or even attempt to be.

II    Thou shall not try to be all things to all people.

III    Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done.

IV    Thou shall not spread thyself too thin.

V    Thou shall learn to say “no” without guilt.

VI    Thou shall schedule time for thyself.

VII    Thou shall have something to look forward to every day.

VIII    Thou shall sometime be slack, idle and inelegant.

IX    Thou shall keep thyself happily fit.

X    Thou shall embrace the present and let go of the past.  

For many paralegals number III, “Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done,” may seem like a prescription for increasing stress if taken individually. But this need not be the  case. As discussed in several posts here and at length in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional, stress reduction may best be accomphished by learning to manage time, work space, workload, dockets, clients, and relationships with attorneys – all those things that create the stress in the first place. Failing that, try following the judge’s commandments.

Dress for Success

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

An article in USA Today entitled, “Judges crack down on inappropriate clothes in court” notes that many courts are taking measures to eliminate dress that offends the dignity of the court and the judicial process. In most instances the offenders are likely pro se litigants appearing for arraignments and the like.  Most paralegals are well versed in appropriate dress for the office and the courthouse, although it is not unusual for more experienced paralegals to find it necessary to take new paralegals aside for a few pointers on this issue. However, many paralegals are unaware that they must be concerned about the appearance of the entire legal team. Every member, including the client and witnesses associated with the client, must “dress for success.”

As I note in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional,  dressing for success  does not mean “look successful.” It’s my way of saying you have to be aware that the jury is not just looking at the evidence as presented; it is looking at the presenters of the evidence.

Many times the best dog and pony show wins a case (as long as the case is otherwise well prepared). Consider a real circus dog and pony show; the performer and the atmosphere are at least as important as the acts performed. This principle applies to almost any performance meant to leave an impression or make a point on an audience. Every political operative considers not just what is being said, but the backdrop for the speech. Rock stars don’t just sing – they perform. The jury is your attorney’s audience. They are watching, and waiting for, the show.

Like most performers, your legal team is “on” every moment the jurors are in the jury box (and when they are entering or leaving the box). They are watching not just the witness on the stand and the attorney examining the witness, but also the rest of the “performance.”

In this respect it is important how the performers dress and appear to the jury. The performers include the attorney, the paralegal, the client and the witnesses. Each of you most dress appropriately for your role keeping in mind that you must dress for the jury.  Even jurors who seem to be paying little attention seem to notice clothing – distracting ties, short skirts, body-piercing and tattoos.  If a client is pleading poverty, she cannot show up day after day in $300 dollar outfits, dazzling jewelry, $30 nails and $50 hair.  (In my early days of practice a client met me at the courthouse for a hearing to determine whether she was in contempt of court for failure to pay a $100 fine in exactly that fashion.) An expert witness will not impress a jury if he dresses unprofessionally. In fact, he should dress for the jury’s conception of his profession – a doctor as a doctor, a contractor as a contractor and a professor as a professor.

Remind clients and witnesses that they are subject to observation by the jury anytime jurors are present. A jury will assume that a client who is rude to, or snarls at the other party, was equally rude and disagreeable during the event or events that led the parties to court, regardless of how that client or witness presents on the stand. In fact, a client or witness who acts differently on the stand than when he thinks the jury isn’t watching is telling the jury not to believe him as his presentation on the stand is not the “true” him.

Jurors generally do not react favorably to clients who mumble “that’s a lie” under their breath, gasp and shake their heads in reaction to a witness’ testimony.  Clients who squirm, constantly adjust their clothes (this happens a lot with clients not used to wearing a tie who “dress up” just for the trial), or fidget nervously may look as though they have something to hide.

Clients and witnesses seldom of much awareness of these factors. The poverty pleading client who dressed so fashionably in the example above simply had no conception of how her appearance clashed with the purpose of the hearing. They need to be informed by the paralegal. Preparing the clients and witnesses in this way is an important part of overall part of preparing and managing litigation.

Cell phone civility

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

A post on ABAJournal.comtoday reports on some very pominent people who have stopped using cell phone, “giving them more power over their time and eliminating distractions that interrupt their work and their relationships.” I like this idea as a matter of time management and have written on the need to institution phone rules, cell or land-line, for both time and client management purposes. Of course, completely doing away with the boss’s ability to contact you as a paralegal is not a good attorney managment technique. The key is to manage the phone (and email) rather than let it manage you.

This post is really about another aspect of the ABAJournal.com report though:

A Los Angeles-area college dean, Jonathan Reed of the University of La Verne, said ditching his cell phone helps him pay attention in meetings and frees him up to talk to strangers. “A cell phone signals that my whole world is me and it excludes everyone else,” he told Bloomberg. He recalls a recent trip where he saw two men in a restaurant sitting with beautiful women, and both were on their cell phones.

“Do they have someone better on the other line?” he wondered.

I have noticed a growing tendency on the part of legal professionals, including attorneys, to leave their cell phones on while meeting with clients.  Aside from being just plain rude and unprofessional, this is disasterous for client management. When the cell phone is left on and caller ID is being checked, the implication is that there is someone out there who is more important to the legal professional than the client who is right in front of them. Clients note the distraction and wonder if they are being billed for the time taken to check the caller ID. In general, they feel disrespected – and rightfully so. It also prevents the legal professional from being able to sell the idea that when they are with another client, they focus only on that client and, therefore, cannot take their call. The client knows this isn’t true, because the legal professional is willing to take other calls while with them. What this tells the client again  is that they are simply not important enough to garner the professional’s attention while the professional is with them or to be a distraction to the professional when the professional is with another client.

Civility does seem to be on the wan. The courts have started to take action against the lack of civility given by one attorney to another in the courtroom and the litigation process in general. Legal teams who want to keep their clients ought to start by being civil to those clients.

Is being a paralegal stressful?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

A recent viewer of this blog was brought here by the search, “Is being a paralegal stressful?” The search also brought the viewer to a number of forums and other discussions indicating that it can be, and often is -even to the extent of causing some practitioners to abandon the career. I hope, though, that the searcher read far enough to understand that being a paralegal need not be excessively stressful. Certainly there are aspects of the job that can lead to “paralegal unhappy.” While stress cannot be eliminated from any profession, it can be managed making the rewards of the profession far outweigh the stress toll.

The key is to manage your work and your career, rather than let them manage you. As is often stated here and explained in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional:

  • The effective, empowered paralegal manages time well. Generally, a lawyer sells legal services, rather than a product. The value of those services is measured by the amount of time spent fulfilling a client’s legal needs. It is essential, therefore, that both the paralegal and the attorney organize themselves and their time to maximize efficiency. In addition, they must keep track of, and bill for, their time in a way that makes sense for the law office and the clients.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages the calendar well. Missed deadlines result in dissatisfied clients, malpractice claims, and attorney disciplinary procedures. It is essential that both the attorney and the paralegal be aware of upcoming deadlines and have a system in place to meet those deadlines without last-minute pressures that increase the likelihood of mistakes.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages files well. The best crafted deeds, contracts, wills and pleadings are worthless if they cannot be found when needed. None of them can even be created if the necessary information cannot be located in a timely manner, or was never obtained in the first place. It is essential that the both the paralegal and the attorney have a system in place, and use that system, for organizing, identifying, indexing and tracking files and the materials contained in the files.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages clients well. The client is part of the legal team. Without the client there is no need for either the paralegal or the attorney and no money to fund the law office. However, the client is the member of the team who knows least about the law and her role in the team. It is essential that the paralegal and the attorney keep the client informed about what is being done for her and why, and what she needs to do for the outcome to be successful.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages the paralegal’s relationship with the attorney well within the legal team. Both the paralegal and attorney must know, and respect, their roles and those of the other; their abilities and those of the other. It is essential that the paralegal understand what the attorney expects of him and the attorney understand what the paralegal can and cannot do for her.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal knows and applies the principles of professionalism and thereby gains recognition of his status as a professional.

    In addition, it is possible to manage happiness. (See Planning for Happiness: The Happiness Project Finally, keep in mind the role of humor and a sense of humor in managing stress. Depending on your sense of humor, you may find some help with Paralegals on Trialor in Paralegal Hell,or both. I’d be interested in hearing of other sites and other ways paralegals work humor into their days.

    Blogging from Paralegal Hell

    Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

    There’s another new blog in the paralegal neighborhood entitled “Paralegal Hell.”  You may have noted the blogger’s comment to my last post about a new blog, “Paralegals on Trial,” but I have removed the comment because it identified the blogger. In an email to me, Paralegal states that the blog helps her relieve stress. She notes, “I do have a sarcastic bite to my blog, but if you read the actual conversations I have with my clients, you will understand why.”

    The blog does provide an interesting read and will likely provide stress relief for paralegals who follow the blogger’s candid reports of some of the most frustrating aspects of legal work for all involved in the profession. Many of those frustrations come from clients, making client management a significant topic in my first two books and a frequent topic in workshops and seminars.

    While I’m sure to read the blog on a regular basis, there is some danger to relieving stress by reporting office occurrences, even anonymously, on the internet, as reported in previous posts on this blog.  Consider this for example,

    ABAJournal.com has a post dealing with an attorney in trouble because of posts on her blog which states in part,

    A former Illinois assistant public defender’s blog musings about her difficult clients and clueless judges has landed her in trouble with disciplinary officials.

    Kristine Ann Peshek has been accused of revealing client confidences, allegedly for describing her clients in a way that made it possible to identify them. Peshek referred to her clients by either their first names, a derivative of their first names, or by their jail identification numbers, according to the disciplinary complaint filed on Aug. 25. The Legal Profession Blog noted the accusations.

    Peshek counters that she would never have posted information that she believed would lead to identification of a client, absent the client’s permission or unless the information is a matter of public record. She tells the ABA Journal she is in the process of hiring a lawyer.

    This is, of course, a problem not only for attorneys, but for their paralegals. Less obvious it the fact that it is a problem that extends well beyond blogging to Facebook and other social networks, emails with friends and family and off-line conversations. It is one thing to talk about a difficult, exciting, or interesting “day,” and another to talk about a difficult, exciting or interesting case or client. The latter requires extreme care and in most instances the best advice is “Don’t.” Keep in mind that later the well-known “Monday morning quarterbacks” may be judging whether your musing have cross the line with regard to confidentiality. They will be doing so with the benefit of hind sight and often without the proper context.

    It is true that confidentiality is not broken if the client gives permission or the information is part of a public record. But there will be questions:  Do you have a record of the client’s permission? Was the permission given independently with complete knowledge of the facts, circumstances and consequences? Did the client have time to consider all this before giving permission? Was the client influenced by his dependent relationship with you? Was ALL of the information you revealed part of the public records? And many more. The best way not to cross the line is not to come near it.

    For more on problems with mixing your professional life and social media see Lynne Devenney’s post “Social Media 101: Mojitos and Mourning Don’t Mix on Facebook” on her blog, Practical Paralegalism.

    One good aspect of the blog is that the blogger manages to maintain the sarcasm, while making it clear she still enjoys her career. Another is that the blogger takes an occasional serious turn such as her excellent post on payday lenders. While it will be better if clients do not read most of the posts on her blog -one may recognize themselves and get angry, all clients should read the post on payday lenders.

    Complaints Wanted!

    Friday, October 23rd, 2009

    Teaching paralegals to manage clients and the paralegal-attorney relationship is best done in the context of “real life” situations. So, I am looking for your stories about difficult clients and problem attorneys. Please post a comment here or email me at theempoweredparalegal@live.com sharing your stories. The best stories are ones that give context and specificity to a complaint, rather than simply state, “My attorney always procrastinates.”

    The goal is to give students an opportunity to work through some of these situations and develop ways to prevent them or manage them when they do occur. Thanks for your help.

    Of course, your emails will be kept confidential.

    Liking Latin and Lawyers

    Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

    Melissa H. at Paralegalese posts today about lawyers being too intelligent to be liked in “Nobody Likes a Know-It-All.” Meanwhile, Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, has an ode to the study of Latin and a compilation of many of the Latin terms and phrases that form a good part of the legal lexicon. Both are worth the read and, I contend, the two are likely connected.

    I agree with Vicki on the benefits of the study of Latin for those considering the legal profession both because of the Latin contain in law and because the rigors of analysis required for the study of Latin is also useful for the study of law. My own exposure to the language began as an altar boy and continued through the conquest of Gaul in high school. However, while it is essential that both lawyers and paralegals know and understand the many Latin legal terms, use of those terms when speaking with clients is likely to be a mistake. As Melissa says,

    But those attorneys (and anyone else, for that matter) who have a deep desire to share their intellectual prowess with others for no reason other than to prove how smart they are probably need to work on toning it down a bit.

    I especially encourage paralegals to drop Latin (an other legal jargon) when speaking to clients. Sure, the use of such phrases between the paralegal and attorney act as good shorthand, allowing quick and effective coverage of complex topics. But the client is quickly lost when slogging through a swamp of legal jargon and Latin phrases. This is one of many barriers to client understanding and full participation on the legal team. If you must use a Latin legal phrase, remember that it has an English translation that might actually be understood by a client, making client management easier. The paralegal can, and should, use the English translation or explain the Latin phrase when speaking to the client, acting literally as a interpreter between the attorney and the client. Melissa puts the point well:

    Knowledge and education are wonderful things when they serve clients’ needs, and therefore the firm’s needs. But empathy, understanding, and the ability to communicate on the client’s level are also necessary parts of meeting these goals.