Posts Tagged ‘docket management’

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.

Paralegals Help Prevent Dustbunnies

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Chancery Judge Larry Primeaux has another excellent post today entitled, “Sweeping Dustbunnies.” I’m reposting it here because I think you need to read the whole thing to get the full picture and the judge as previously indicated he doesn’t mind me lifting his material. I recommend that any paralegal interested in understanding practice before a court to put his blog on their RSS. It is worth it for the checklists alone.

My only contribution will be this foreword to the post, partly addressed to attorneys and partly to paralegals:

Attorneys: A good, professional paralegal can save you a lot of grief. They are not maids, butlers, super-secretaries, who clean up the office. But as an effective member of the legal team they can greatly assist in preventing dustbunnies of the type depicted by the judge. For this to happen it is important that you understand, respect, and properly use the special skills a good paralegal brings to the legal team. Support your paralegals in this regard by providing them with the time and means to obtain appropriate CLE and membership in professional associations. Talk to your paralegals about what can be done to improve their skills in this regard, to improve the office to more effectively utilize those skills, and to improve the working relationship of the legal team. Together you can make a plan to manage the chaos.

Paralegals: It is, indeed, part of your role on the legal team to use effective and professional time, workload, workspace, docket, and client management skills, to prevent the accumulation of dustbunnies. Use examples such as this case to do a self-assessment and an assessment of your office systems. How many of these dustbunnies would have been prevented in your office and how many would likely have begun gathering in the small spaces between the files piled on the legal team members’ desks? Talk to your attorneys about what can be done to improve your skills in this regard, to improve the office to more effectively utilize those skills, and to improve the working relationship of the legal team. Together you can make a plan to manage the chaos.

OK, homily over, here’s the judge’s post:

Have you ever noticed that mistakes and missteps seem to pile up in some cases despite your best efforts, just like those dustbunnies that pile up under that buffet in your dining room no matter how hard you try?

The case of Estate of Bellino v. Bellino, decided by the Court of Appeals on November 2, 2010, is one of those “dustbunny” cases, and it merits your attention. For ease of following this, we’ll mark the dustbunnies as they accrue with the international dustbunny symbol: ¤.

Stephen and Margaret Bellino were married in 1974. During the marriage, Stephen inherited $200,000 and opened a securities account with A. G. Edwards (AGE). In 1995, he and Margaret executed a joint account agreement declaring the account to be a joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

Alas, the marriage foundered, and the erstwhile blissful couple faced off in court. Their marriage ended May 2, 2006, with entry of a final judgment of divorce.

And that is when the discombobulating deluge of dustbunnies (¤) began to develop.

It seems that the divorce judgment made no mention of the AGE account. That would be the first ¤.

Stephen became aware of the problem when he tried to make a withdrawal and was refused by AGE, which took the position that it could not allow any withdrawals until the court addressed the ownership issue. Another ¤.

Stephen filed an MRCP Rule 59 motion to alter or amend the judgment to address the oversight. Only problem is that he waited until May 15, 2006. That would be a major ¤ because it was filed more than ten days after entry of the judgment, and so the motion was time-barred.

In all the hubbub surrounding the issue, Stephen never got around to changing ownership of the account. This is one of those ¤’s that spawns lots of other ¤’s.

Before the issue could be resolved by the judge, Stephen died on June 18, 2006. Regrettable as it is, this development was also a ¤.

Stephen’s estate was duly opened in July. There is no mention of the estate being substituted as a party in the divorce action under MRCP 25. Probably a ¤.

In November, the attorney for the estate approached the chancellor and, without any notice to Margaret or her attorneys, obtained an order directing AGE to pay the funds to the estate. No question this was a ¤.

To compound matters, the attorney for the estate never filed the order (or, it appears, any motion therefor) in either the estate or divorce file, and never served it on Margaret’s attorneys. That would be ¤ ¤ ¤.

They’re beginning to pile up, aren’t they?

At this point the attorney for the estate realized that the dustbunnies were getting out of hand, so he started trying to sweep them up. The problem is that when you sweep dustbunnies it tends to scatter them and they seem to proliferate, which is exactly what they did.

The attorney for the estate filed an appeal. Now, this is really a dustbunny because the issues are fairly straightforward and not really in doubt. Score another ¤.

Right off the bat the court of appeals criticized the attorney for the estate for not filing a statement of issues after being asked not once but several time by the appellate court to do so. That would be another ¤ ¤ ¤. The court even thought about not considering his brief, which is, of course a ¤.

The court of appeals ruled that Margaret got the money because Stephen never changed the account and it was hers by survivorship. A predictable ¤.

Stephen’s estate will be stuck with the cost of cleaning up all these dustbunnies, and will have nothing to show for it. That’s a ¤ right there. In the alternative, the estate could insist that its attorney bear the cost of the appeal, which would be his own personal ¤.

So there you have it. Too many dustbunnies and before you know it you have a mess too big to clean up.

Combating the “Hire an Out-of-work Lawyer as a Paralegal” Trend

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Grades are finally posted! I hope to catch up on some reading and make more regular posts over the next few weeks in between working on the new book.

There have been a number of posts here on lawyers taking jobs as paralegals, and how lawyers are ill suited for paralegal positions. Today I noticed a post on the Legal Assistant Today listserv discussion forum on this topic that states the case for “combating” this trend. It’s from Linda Whipple. Linda was recently awarded the American Association for Justice Paralegal of the Year Award according to Paralegal Today magazine. Congratulations, Linda!

I am hoping Linda will not mind me including her post here in toto:

Someone wrote that attorneys are signing up for paralegal jobs so that they can work since many attorneys aren’t being hired during the current recession. The way to “combat” this intrusion into our profession is to let the legal administrators and senior hiring partners know that attorneys know the law very well – that is what they are trained to do, but in order for a case to be MANAGED WELL and docketed thoroughly and discovery answered promptly – attorneys are NOT trained to do that – believe it or not they aren’t!! Let an attorney do case management and see what shape the entire case will be in very quickly. Those “attorney” paralegals also have to have an assistant – I finally have an assistant but only after decades of doing most of my work myself – I’m not training new paralegals who come into our firm and they learn by working side-by-side with me. Also, one GREAT argument to make is that if an Attorney can do paralegal work, then paralegals can do attorney work – hmmmmmm – that should make some legal administrators sit up and take notice. I guarantee you that I’ve seen 2 year associates come to me and ask me a question, “Linda, what do you think needs to be done next on this case?” I’m dumbfounded but never surprised because my cases are managed BY ME and I’m more than aware of what needs to be done every week. My tickler system in Outlook and my Tasks lists are extensive. I also work 30 days out from a deadline – got a pre-trial conference coming up? I’ve already set up the attorneys’ meeting, exhibit exchange (meaning I have my exhibits already prepared and ready for trial), and provided a draft of a pre-trial statement to my boss – this is a signal to Bob that we are now moving from “pre-trial” mode to “trial” mode. I also have his initial Trial Notebook set up with his witnesses, depo summaries, list of exhibits to be introduced by a particular witness. All this goes on Bob’s desk 30 days before the pre-trial and he can’t scream and shout he doesn’t have time to prepare. We just avoid all those kinds of problems from the get go. He likes how I work and he knows I ALWAYS have his back.

No one said it would be easy…

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

but no one said it would be this hard. (My apologies to Sheryl Crow ):

In what is characterized as an emotional appeal a Colorado Springs D.A. plead for more money to run his office including $58,302 for a second paralegal in the special victims unit, noting inter alia, “. The unit’s only paralegal juggles 390 cases at once for six attorneys, prepares for trials, lines up witnesses, files motions and tracks court schedules.”

Many paralegals experience a great deal of stress at work.  I like to use this video to illustrate the way may feel at the end of a typical day. The professional paralegal can and does learn how to minimize the stress through time, file, docket, client and attorney management techniques. In the end, though, it doesn’t hurt to have sound stress management techniques among the arrows in your quiver.

Note: As an attorney I suffer from “Latin Phrases Disorder.” We depend on paralegals to understand us when we use terms like “inter alia, ” but not to use them yourselves. Someone has to be able to speak English to the clients.

Note 2:  If one of you knows how to embed youtube videos into a blog post, please take a few moments to instruct me. You can leave a comment or email me at TheEmpoweredParalegal@live.com

Note 3: Here’s a link to Sheryl Crow doing “No One Said It Would Be Easy” in concert.