Posts Tagged ‘integrity’

Top Qualities of a Great Paralegal

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

A recent post on the NYCPA LinkedIn discussion board linked to an article entitled “Top 10 Qualities of a Great Paralegal.” The article lists and explains these ten items:

1. Analytical Skills
2. Communication Skills
3. Detail Oriented
4. Ethical Judgment
5. Great Writer
6. Interest in the Law
7. Interpersonal Qualities
8. Organizational Qualities
9. Research Skills
10. Tech Savvy

I agree that all of these are attributes that every good paralegal has, but I’d likely not classify all of them as “qualities,” but as “skills” as some of them are listed. And it is likely that my “top ten” list would be different. Certainly I would add to the list. In terms of skills I would at least add the basic skills of time, workload, calendar, client, and attorney relationship management to the list – the basic set of skills that form the basis for The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. For example, even the best writer and the best researcher are of little value to a law office if she cannot get the work done on time. In terms of attributes I consider qualities, those such as integrity, reliability, and the other components of professionalism come higher up the list than some of those in this list. Again, a great writer and researcher is a problem rather than an asset to a firm if he is unreliable or lacks integrity. In the end a law firm can teach improved writing and researching skills if necessary to a reliable paralegal with integrity but can do little to improve the reliability of a person with little integrity.

Committed To Do Lists and Integrity

Friday, August 24th, 2012

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional workload organization and management tools such as “To Do” Lists are discussed extensively. Using a “To Do” list is only helpful if there is sense to the list, so it is important to prioritize. One aspect of this is making eliminate as many items as possible through delegation and other means. In her most recent newsletter Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, puts an interesting spin on this in a feature entitled, “What to Do vs. Need to Do.” Vicki distinguishes between those things you are committed to doing and those you “want to do” this way:

Your “want to do” list. The items on your “want to do” list are those that you have either chosen to do or feel the need to do. This could include a home improvement project, taking a class, writing an article, etc.

While your personal life or your career may be impacted if you do not do these things, it is your choice. Also, this list is not prioritized so when you decide to do something on it, you may end up choosing a task that will give you a higher return over another task on your list. Also, this list is always subject to change.

Your “committed to” list. Your “committed to” list is made up of the things you have agreed to do for someone or something: write an article, serve as an officer, plan an event, obtain a speaker, etc.

The things you have committed to are critical to your career success. If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.


I started this post quite awhile ago and have since lost the link to Vicki’s article. If I find it, I’ll update this post. At the time I probably intended to make a different point than I am making now. Here I want to emphasize the importance of Vicki’s statement, ” If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.”

As discussed at length in The Empowered Paralegal, a good part of professionalism for a paralegal involves “soft factors” – factors that cannot be measured by billable hours, documents produced, or even high praise from clients for work well done. Integrity, reliability, credibility are crucial. We (or at least I) talk a lot about managing time, workload, dockets, clients, and the attorney/paralegal relationship, but we are seldom interested in efficiency or effectiveness just for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness. The importance of tips like Vicki’s on To Do Lists lies not just in their ability to increase our efficiency and defectiveness, but in the way that translates into maintaining our integrity, reliability, and credibility.  The focus, in the end, is not just on what we do, but on who we are.

The Price of Appreciation

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

There is little doubt that attorneys frequently under appreciate those who work with and for them. Witness, for example, posts here such as Paralegal Unhappy. There are good ways to handle the feeling of not being appreciated, which for paralegals often hinges. Some of those ways are discussed on other posts here and in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. There are also many bad ways of handling it. Here’s a story from WHTM in Pennsylvania regarding one of the worst. It involves legal secretaries rather than paralegals:

Two legal secretaries in Cumberland County have been charged with ripping off their boss.

Tina Garlinger of Enola and Bethany Noss of Honey Grove, Juniata County, were arraigned Tuesday on theft, conspiracy and forgery charges. Police allege the woman stole $94,000 from Camp Hill attorney Patrick Lauer over the last two years by racking up false overtime and cashing forged checks from his office account. Lauer employed the pair as legal secretaries.

“They were just stealing checks, writing them to cash, forging my name, writing them to my own name and cashing them,” said Lauer. ABC 27 Talkback:
Click Here to Comment on this Story

Lauer said he caught on to the scheme in April when one of the women mailed a personal bill using a metered stamp from his office.

… Lauer said he was told by police they did it because they felt unappreciated.

There does seem to be something to the thought that it is OK to steal from unappreciative employers. See for example this from John Dierckx who, according to his website, assists employers in reducing the risk of employee theft:

While opportunity is most important, there may be other relevant factors. Low morale can lead employees not only to steal, but can also lower productivity. Feelings of being wronged or mistreated may ust offer that rationalization when the opportunity presents itself. The same applies to feelings of under-appreciation.
Lack of punitive measures in place or there is a lack of preventative and detection measures including but not limited to appropriate policies and procedures and control measures are similarly factors that could lead to an increased risk of employee theft and fraud.

However, one commentator who collects stories of employee theft mocks the idea and notes:

Hourly, salary, blue collar, white collar, rookie, or professional are all represented in the stories above. One individual was even a weekend pastor at a small church. At what point do people decide that taking things that do not belong to them is acceptable? Many will attempt in vain to justify inapt conduct with a Robin Hood justification thought process of taking from the “haves” by the “have nots” as being the way life is. Spend a little too much time surfing the net during work? Cheat on your taxes? Keep excess change that is not yours? Steal an identity? How would you answer the question “Are you honest”?

That question is, of course, important for everyone, but especially for professional paralegals. After all, professionalism is all about standards.

Ad: Professionalism is a must

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Our local paper (yes print media still exists) carries this ad:

Law firm seeks paralegal that can handle additional secretary and receptionist duties. Ideal candidate will have ability to organziae, prioritize and complete tasks under time constraints. Must be multi-tasked oriented and able to work in a fact paced envrionment. Excellent writing, verbal and communication skills. Professionalism is a must.

Of course, this ad interests me because it confirms my contentions that (1) those paralegal who demonstrate professionalism with control the market, and (2) professionalism is more than a set of skills. Thus, the empowered paralegal is one who is effective, efficient and professional.

This leads to the real challenge – determining just what professionalism is. In some ways it is like art and pornography – you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. In this blog and in my book I attempt to shed some light on its primary ingredients.  It is, quite clearly, more than simply a manner of dress. I frequently point out to students that the very phrase “I dressed like a professional” implies that there is something more to professionalism than a good suit, clean hands, and a haircut. If one can “dress like a professional” and still not be professional, then dress alone does not make a professional.

As discussed in The Empowered Paralegal and throughout this blog, the ingredients of professionalism include reliability, trustworthiness, work ethic, honesty, attitude, self-reflection, standards, personal integrity, the ability to think ahead, and inter-personal skills especially in dealing with clients and attorneys.

Initial results of the Professionalism Anthology are encouraging and I hope that publication will ultimately lead to a better understanding of professionalism in the paralegal profession. In the meantime I will contact the firm that place this ad to see what it means by “Professionalism is a must.”

Discussion Forum Civility

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

The holiday break has provided an opportunity to catch up a bit on various discussion forums and comments to posts on some of the blogs I frequent. Perhaps it is just the holiday spirit catching up with some participants, but the threads often seem to turn to discussions of the lack of civility on the part of many of the persons posting comments. This lack of civility – from simple name-calling to outpourings of pure vitriol – is common on political and news blogs and does not speak well of the state of political discussion in our country today, not only because it emphasizes what divides us rather than what binds us together, but because it seems to arise out of an inability of those persons to make their case based on facts, evidence and sound reasoning. This is bad enough when practiced by the general public, but of greater concern when it appears in legal and paralegal forums and blogs such as Paralegal Today and Above the Law. Indeed, the increasing lack of civility within the legal community has led some federal district courts to sponsor seminars dealing with the topic!

One problem with this lack of civility is that it the posts become a public record. Certainly, everyone who posts on the internet should be aware that anything they post on the internet can ultimately affect their careers. Several posts on this blog have dealt with this danger. However, it seems to me that the greater danger to those persons stems from what they say rather than where they say it, because what they say about others and how they say it, says much more about them, even if the say it anonymously. Those who will “make it” as paralegals are those paralegals who are professional. Persons who cannot not be civil when making a point are simply not professional. Those who hide behind the veil provided by internet discussions are even less so.

Professionalism is not just a way of behaving on the job. It is an attitude – a state of being. It requires the ability to work with others civilly. It requires the ability to listen to and communicate with others in a way that ones message gets through to them. It requires the ability to state your point clearly, concisely and rationally. It requires personal integrity even when there is no chance of “getting caught.” It often requires the ability to conduct self-examination and introspection. Those persons who cannot control what they say on discussion forums, need the latter in order to achieve the rest and become professionals.

Handling Unethical Attorney Conduct

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Lynne at Practical Paralegalism has an excellent post entitled “Should a Paralegal Expose a Plagiarizing Lawyer?”
She asks the question,

[H]ow does a paralegal that has uncovered a plagiarizing lawyer in her workplace handle this situation? Garcia is right, blowing the whistle on the attorney offender would direct a great deal of attention to the reporting paralegal, and possibly jeopardize her own employment. There is no guarantee that the managing partner would not fire the paralegal instead of the unethical attorney.

So, I am going to pose a hypothetical to you, my thoughtful and experienced readers. You’re a smart and valued paralegal that has discovered a hotshot firm associate is representing others’ content as his own original work. What are you going to do?

I strongly urge you to give this question some thought and respond with a comment to Lynne’s post. While there is no “right” answer to this type of question, the best answer  can often be through open discussion among those who have or might find themselves confronting the situation.

You might think that the paralegal/attorney relationship, being somewhat personal in natural would not entail much by way of formal ethical discussion.  However, that relationship can be the source of some of the most difficult ethical decisions a paralegal has to make: What do I do if I know my attorney is violating the Rules of Ethical Conduct and/or a law? And, even worse, what do I do if my attorney asks me to do something ethical?

Fortunately, you can find some guidance in the ethical codes of various paralegal associations. In  earlier posts I discussed the importance of paralegals, as  professionals, belonging to one or more of these associations and participating in their listservs, reading their journals and the like. The ethical codes of these organizations are not laws, but they do provide a good framework to use in facing these difficult issues.

Some common sense must be invoked in interpreting the language of the code. The attorney asking you to tell a client he is in court when he is really in his office is dishonest, but is not likely to rise to the level requiring (or even suggesting) reporting.

As stated above, these codes do not have the force of law. In particular situation you may want to seek legal advice yourself. Some states do have particular laws making failure to report certain actions such as judicial bribery, a crime.  However, for the most part, it is really of a matter of ethics rather than legal consequence for the paralegal (unlike an attorney who can lose his license.)  In most cases it is going to be a matter of balancing personal interest (you will likely lose your job if for no other reason than the attorney may lose his license), against personal integrity, protecting the public and maintaining the integrity of the legal profession.  In the end, I would hope that personal integrity wins out over personal interests, but you must be the judge in each situation.

If you do decide to report, I do suggest obtaining legal advice first from an attorney outside of the one in which you work. Remember that attorney has a firm obligation to keep what you tell her confidential. That attorney can advise you regarding protections to which you may be entitled, the proper authority to which you should report and the correct procedures for reporting.  Generally, you will receive immunity from being sued by your employer for slander and libel, and you may be entitled to certain protections against on-the-job retaliation under “Whistleblower” laws. She will help you analyze the situation to determine whether you have the necessary facts, have properly interpreted the facts and validate your decision regarding the proper balancing of interest and integrity.

Professionalism is all about standards

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

While I don’t agree with everything paralegal-paralegal.com says in the article “Paralegals And Standards,” there are some valid points. Here’s an except:

Although negativity and popular opinion may suggest otherwise, attorneys are expected to abide by some basic standards both in their professional and their personal lives. A paralegal is expected to adhere to the same standards as an attorney. The reason for this is based on general common sense: when a person in the legal field upholds high standards, both individuals and the public as a whole are much more able to place their trust in him. In the legal field, such trust is essential.

While professional competence is undeniably important, the standards which the legal professional adheres to is also a factor. In addition to upholding professional standards in the workplace and when doing field work, the person’s standards in his or her personal life are expected to be above reproach. The character points of integrity, ethics, and basic standards of morality, are not only required by the legal field but expected by the clients whom they serve.

As each and every client deserves not only competent representation but representation by those who take their role seriously, … and the highest standards of both professional and personal ethics and integrity, are prerequisites and ongoing requirements for those who wish to be accepted into the paralegal field and continue to do well in it.

Facebook Ethical Issues

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Paralegal Gateway’s Weblog has an interesting post on potential ethical issues arising from the use of Facebook by members of the legal profession. Entitled “Lawyer Cannot Ask Paralegal to ‘Facebook Friend’ A Witness,” the post includes, “The Philadelphia Bar Association Professional Guidance Committee hustled out its Opinion 2009-02 which held that a lawyer could not ask a “third person” (presumably a paralegal or office employee) to Facebook-friend a deposition witness so the lawyer could surreptitiously access the witness’ Facebook page….The Philly Bar concluded that this was improperly deceptive under their Rule 8.4…”

You might think that the paralegal/attorney relationship, being somewhat personal in natural would not entail much by way of formal ethical discussion.  However, that relationship can be the source of some of the most difficult ethical decisions a paralegal has to make: What do I do if I know my attorney is violating the Rules of Ethical Conduct and/or a law? And, even worse, what do I do if my attorney asks me to do something ethical?

Fortunately, you can find some guidance in the ethical codes of various paralegal associations. In an earlier post I discussed the importance of you, as a professional, belonging to one or more of these associations and participating in their listservs, reading their journals and the like. The ethical codes of these organizations are not laws, but they do provide a good framework to use in facing these difficult issues.

Some common sense must be invoked in interpreting the language of the code. The attorney asking you to tell a client he is in court when he is really in his office is dishonest, but is not likely to rise to the level requiring (or even suggesting) reporting.

As stated above, these codes do not have the force of law. In particular situation you may want to seek legal advice yourself. Some states do have particular laws making failure to report certain actions such as judicial bribery, a crime.  However, for the most part, it is really of a matter of ethics rather than legal consequence for the paralegal (unlike an attorney who can lose his license.)  In most cases it is going to be a matter of balancing your personal interest (you will likely lose your job if for no other reason than the attorney may lose his license), against your personal integrity, protecting the public and maintaining the integrity of the legal profession.  In the end, I would hope that personal integrity wins out over personal interests, but you must be the judge in each situation.

If you do decide to report, I do suggest obtaining legal advice first from an attorney outside of the one in which you work. Remember that attorney has a firm obligation to keep what you tell her confidential. That attorney can advise you regarding protections to which you may be entitled, the proper authority to which you should report and the correct procedures for reporting.  Generally, you will receive immunity from being sued by your employer for slander and libel, and may be entitled to certain protections against on-the-job retaliation under “Whistleblower” laws. She will help you analyze the situation to determine whether you have the necessary facts, have properly interpreted the facts and validate your decision regarding the proper balancing of interest and integrity.