Posts Tagged ‘job description’

Tracking Time for Non-Client and Non-paralegal Work – A Follow Up to “Paralegals: An Asset to Your Team”

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

It is, of course, necessary to keep time records for all of your billable time. There are also reasons for you to track your time that are more practical to you. They involve non-billable time, that is, time not necessarily spent on client work or time spent on non-paralegal (and therefore non-billable) tasks.

One reason is that it allows you to advocate for yourself as an asset to the legal team and the law office. Time management often entails delegating tasks that may be better handled by someone with less skill than you. This may require hiring another full or part-time staff member. Convincing your attorney or office manager that this was the right thing to do may require some initiative on your part. Tracking your time may very well give you the ammunition you need.

Really, did you get your paralegal degree to spend time filing?  That alone is enough reason for you to track the time. But we’re not done yet.

A Job Description Sheet that includes estimates of the amount of time you spend doing particular tasks is a good starting point for time management. From that point you can move on to making plans and schedules to structure and manage time in a way that makes sense given the work you do.  However, the plans and schedules should not be matter of guess work.

The guess work is quite educated because you have a good grasp of your job and what it entails. After all, you do the job day in and day out. However, really effective time management requires that you know how much time it takes to do a task. You can’t plan an allotted amount of time for filing each week if you don’t know how much time you actually spend filing each week.

Finally, it’s your time. You can gain a great deal of satisfaction from knowing how you are using it and knowing you are managing it well.

Does your attorney understand what you do? – An Encouraging Sequel

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Melissa H. over at Paralegalese takes Time Out for a Moment of Encouragement starting with:

When I first decided to enter the paralegal career, I geared up to constantly be on the defensive. I just knew that many attorneys, especially young ones fresh out of law school, would look down on me and my lowly position on the legal totem pole. In a few instances, my assumption turned out to be correct. Fortunately, ignorance is usually the proponent of such attitudes, and ignorance is fairly easy to cure. I remember talking to one baby lawyer last year about my studying for the NALA certification exam, and how I excited I would be to be able to add “CP” or “CLA” to the end of my name. All of a sudden, an understanding came to his face, and he said, “So that’s what those letters mean! I thought our staff was just making it up!” I do not know whether he appreciates the staff members at his firm more because of my revelation, but I believe that conversation revealed to him that paralegals, while we usually have not spent three years in law school, take our jobs and roles very seriously.

Do not assume that your attorney really understands what a paralegal is. Here are just some of the reasons they may not understand:

  • Some attorneys do not understand the distinction between a legal secretary and a paralegal. In some small firms, especially a single attorney office, all the staff is used to doing about everything. There is no file clerk, so everyone just does the filing when they are using a file. While there are differences in the positions of the staff, there are no clear job descriptions. This blurring of lines in daily practice can cause confusion.
  • Often the problem goes deeper than that. There is substantial confusion in the legal system itself. The ABA and NALA may have agreed upon a common definition. You know this from school, but few attorneys know the definition much less understand it. In fact, while many attorneys, paralegals and legal assistants feel there is no difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant, others draw a rather unclear distinction. For them there is an hierarchy that runs some thing like this: receptionist, secretary, legal secretary, legal assistant, paralegal. Almost nobody has a clear idea of exactly where the lines are drawn between the various stages in the hierarchy. In areas where this distinction is made, generally the paralegal is more educated and/or more experienced than the legal assistant and is often paid more. Similarly, the paralegal is given more responsibility for substantive legal work while the legal assistant may have more clerical and/or secretarial duties.
  • Your attorney may be aware that paralegals are more than legal secretary and less than an associate attorney, but be quite vague as to where they fall between those two goal posts. As a result, the attorney may expect you to do work that is really attorney work and give you less guidance and supervision that you need and deserve. Or she may be unaware of just how much help you can be and give you tasks you feel underutilize your talent because she views you as a “fancy” legal secretary or “just” a legal assistant.
  • The ABA/NALA definition does not help such attorneys much. Unlike the attorney who must meet specific educational and licensing requirements, how a paralegal becomes a paralegal is a bit of a mystery to many both in and outside the profession. There was a time when a person could become an attorney just through experience by “apprenticing” to an established lawyer, or by studying and passing the bar exam, but those days are long gone. So it can be unclear to an attorney (and almost everyone else) just what qualifies a paralegal to be a paralegal.
  • The definition says “education, training, and/or work experience,” but how much of each is needed? Not long ago, there were no formal paralegal education programs. Most paralegals simply moved up the receptionist, secretary, legal secretary, legal assistant ladder by gaining more and more responsibility as a result of more and more experience which gave the attorney more and more confidence in their ability to handle that responsibility. At what point did they become paralegals – after five years? Ten? Fifteen? At what point did the responsibility level become that of a paralegal rather than that of a legal assistant? What is “substantive legal work?”
  • The present status of paralegal education is no less confusing to many attorneys. What is the difference, in terms of the work the paralegal can perform between a paralegal certificate, an associates degree in paralegal studies and a bachelors degree in paralegal studies? What does it mean to be certified? Is being certified the same as having a certificate? Who does the certification?

When I am asked to give advice to attorney on training their paralegals I soon discover that it is the attorneys that need to be trained! They are perfectly competent, sometimes extremely competent, attorneys, but know little about the capabilities of their own staff.  (Excerpted from The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional)