Posts Tagged ‘legal team’

Honoring honorees

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

When a paralegal is honored by his or her employers, by professional association, or by a public group, I like to recognize that recognition by posting about it here. Thus the “Awards and Honors” category. The problem is keeping up with all the news, especially during the busy parts of a semester. This semester I’ve required the students in our Advanced Seminar class to maintain a blog (their choice as to whether it’s a public blog or one available to the class only) and I have one of those students to thank for bringing this one to may attention and that of her classmates:

Raye Thornton, a paralegal with the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Office of Counsel, is presented the prestigious USACE Chief Counsel Keystone Award by District Commander Col. Michael Teague. The award recognizes professionalism and valued service of an individual member or of a team comprised of members of the USACE Legal Services System who made a significant contribution to the Corps Legal Services System and its mission.

Raye Thornton, a paralegal with the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Office of Counsel, is presented the prestigious USACE Chief Counsel Keystone Award by District Commander Col. Michael Teague. The award recognizes professionalism and valued service of an individual member or of a team comprised of members of the USACE Legal Services System who made a significant contribution to the Corps Legal Services System and its mission. (Photo by Sara Goodeyon)

Tulsa District attorney, paralegal honored with prestigious awards

Posted 10/16/2012

By Sara Goodeyon
Tulsa District

TULSA, Okla. – Two members of the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of Counsel staff are winners of USACE Chief Counsel Honorary Awards for 2012.

The prestigious Keystone Award and E. Manning Seltzer Award were presented to Raye Thornton and Stephanie R. Darr in a ceremony at Tulsa District Headquarters Oct. 5 by District Commander Col. Michael Teague.

“I was surprised and kind of speechless when I heard about the award,” said Thornton, winner of the Keystone award. “I was very honored and humbled, and just completely surprised.”

….

Thornton is the sole paralegal in the Office of Counsel and also serves as the Freedom of Information Act officer. The Keystone Award, established in 1997, recognizes professionalism and valued service of an individual member or of a team comprised of members of the USACE Legal Services System who made a significant contribution to the Corps Legal Services System and its mission.

In a letter notifying Thornton of her selection as the award winner, Chief Counsel Earl Stockdale said, “the name of the Keystone Award refers to the arch which is the supporting element of the structure, without which the arch would fail. The term is reflective of the indispensible [sic]roles non-attorneys perform in the successful accomplishment of the Corps’ legal services mission.”

“Raye just does a great job in the FOIA program,” said Klein. “We’ve had a lot of big complex cases this year that she has dealt with really well, along with managing the office during a time of a lot of change.”

The story is about awards given to an attorney in the office as well as the paralegal, but I’ve edited to focus on the paralegal for obvious reasons. But there is also this:

 “Both Stephanie and Raye are just really, really top notch people who are always contributing and they deserve it immensely,” said Klein. “Usually a district will do well to have one chief counsel award; getting two in the same year is a good reflection of the caliber of people in our office.”
It may also reflect on the ability of attorneys and paralegals to work as a team and the excellence that results when they do!

Avoiding Missed Deadlines

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

In his blog post today, Judge Primeaux drew attention to the importance of proper calendar/tickler management, doing an excellent job of describing the system most of used when I started practicing 35 years ago. The point cannot be emphasized enough. If his post was lacking in any respect, it was that it did not make clear the way in which paralegals and attorneys can work as a team to minimize the the problem of missed deadline.

I followed up on his post with this comment:

This is an excellent and important point, one that I emphasize in all my paralegal classes and focus on in my first “The Empowered Paralegal” book [The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.] There are many intermediate methods for calendar management, including use of the Calendar function in Outlook and most other email program. A few points merit emphasis:

 1. Proper calendar management is a two person function. The paralegal and attorney should coordinate calendars and ticklers frequently, cross-checking each other. The problems avoided by having two persons ensuring timeliness far outweigh the little time it takes each person.;

 2. More than one calendar is helpful if you are using a paper system – the attorney’s calendar with all the entries important to her, the paralegal’s calendar for her deadlines, and a joint calendar for all major dates;

3. The calendar should contain not only deadlines, but intermediate steps – Answers to Interrogatories are due in 30 days, but the calendar should have dates for getting them to the client, getting necessary information from the client, a first draft date, etc.

 4. This type of organization should extend beyond the tickler/calendar to the attorney’s (and paralegal’s) workspace management, file management, client management, and -most importantly- time management.

Paralegal-Experienced

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

A small law firm in Manhattan has posted an add for a “Paralegal-Experienced.” It states:

 Seeking experienced paralegal for full-time position with potential for growth.

Unlike at some larger firms, our paralegals are involved in every step of the legal process, including fielding intake inquiries from potential clients, drafting demand letters and court complaints, and reviewing settlement agreements – all while working with the attorneys and clients. Paralegals help guide clients from the beginning of the case through resolution.

The disappointing part of the add is that it is all too accurate in stating that the way paralegals work in this firm is “unlike” many other firms. Frequently, as I’ve discussed here previously, this is the result of misunderstanding on the part of the firm as to what paralegals can and ought to do for a firm and the firm’s clients. It is also partially due to the fact that so many people involved in providing legal services are classified as “paralegals” because there is no real standard for determining which ought to be so classified and which ought not to be.

The profession continues to mature and, I believe, will soon be at the point where professional paralegals are fully integrated into the legal team for the entire legal process whether that process is litigation, probate, business formation and operating, or any of the other areas in which paralegals provide essentail services.

The prospects for this firm finding the paralegal they seek are quite good if my experience with the NYC Paralegal Association is any indication! I suggest the firm contact the NYCPA in this regard.

Firm Publicizes Legal Team to Gain Clients

Friday, August 5th, 2011

A recent press release for a Massachusetts firm was premised on a new attorney joining the firm to manage a branch office. My notice was attracted, however, by the way the law firm focused on both the attorneys and paralegals in the firm. I know nothing about the firm itself, so this is not in anyway an endorsement of the firm. However, the fact that it recognizes its paralegals in its publicity is likely to advance the paralegal profession, at the very least increasing public awareness of the paralegal profession and its importance in providing the best service to clients. Here are some excerpts from the release:

At d’Oliveira & Associates our commitment is providing every client with the best possible legal services regarding their personal injury claim. Whether you live in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, or no matter where you live our lawyers and legal staff will be with you every step of the way. With fifteen locations throughout RI and MA both your attorney and paralegal are always nearby to handle each and every aspect of your claim.

Furthermore, our lawyers and paralegals are relentlessly committed to serving you, the client, to the best of our ability, to ensure that you receive the largest settlement you deserve for your personal injury case as quickly and efficiently as possible. We begin working on your case within 24 hours after you retain us. We also understand how important it is that we remain in continuous contact with you so you are advised properly regarding your medical treatment and are updated regarding the status of your case throughout the course of your case.

The Value in Critical and Analytical Thinking

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

It’s been a while since I posted. I appreciate the emails asking whether I still exist! I do, but I’ve been quite busy. I’m teaching extra courses this semester, weekends have been taken up with projects such as teaching Constitutional Law to reserve and part-time police officers. In addition, I’m attempting to complete my Masters in Philosophy and had the opportunity to present a paper at a recent annual conference of the Mississippi Philisophical Association.

Normally when I find myself in such a situation, I fill in gaps by relying on posts that incorporate ideas or actual posts from other blogs or emails that I’ve received, but I even seriously behind in reading the many items backlogged in those two categories. However, I have spent some time reading over the last couple of days and will be working off these materials for posts until I can find time for truly original work.

I’m starting with a post from Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog on “THE VALUE OF THINKING LIKE A LAWYER.” That post itself features an article by Professor Harner of Univsersity of Maryland School of Law, which “begins by accepting some of the premises offered by Ribstein and Susskind: that forces are at work changing the legal profession; that the legal profession is becoming commoditized and generic; and that survival as a lawyer, and indeed, survival of the legal profession, will demand evolution in the way lawyers offer and market services.”  But I focused more on Judge Primeaux’s opening words,

In law school we were taught not so much the law as how to think like lawyers.  That is, we were taught to think analytically, to break complex issues into comprehensible components, and to bring creative solutions to bear using the framework of the law.

The judge’s comments and the post in general are, of course, directed to attorneys, but I belive the judge’s comments (at least) are applicable to paralegals, especially in the context of an ongoing discussion on the Paralegal Today listserv. One comment there states,

I agree finding a job as a paralegal is extremely competitive and the employers want to pay $10.00 an hour even with a bachelor. Its like they no longer value the cost and effort that you put into getting an education. When I graduated from undergrad four years ago I was told from my professor that becoming certified was not necessary, however, I noticed that more jobs are asking for five to ten years experience and requiring certification for anyone with less experience. I think that the schools should be honest and inform the students about how hard it is to get a job as a paralegal making a decent income with no experience.

To this another responded,

I agree with you that the schools and colleges should be notified of what is really going on out here after we spent all this money and time and can’t find a job because attorneys are taking them, and they only want to pay us $10.00.  The should be telling students that the demand for paralegals is diminishing because there are so many unemployed attorneys.

I agree that paralegals schools should be forthright with students regarding the prospects for obtaining employment (to the extent any of us can predict the prospects of obtaining employment in two or four years based on the market at the time of enrollment), but my thoughts today are on the comment that law firm employers do not value the education paralegals get (through formal education or experience) and that the devaluation is at least in part unemployed lawyers. While there are many indications that this is happening, I am writing once again to propose to those attorneys who read this blog that the use of unemployed attorneys as substitutes for paralegals is a mistake.

This issue has been addressed here before, but I’ll take another shot at it today using the concept of “thinking like a lawyer” as an example. Well educated paralegals are trained to do a number of things like an attorney (not identical to an attorney.) If we things of the capacities of paralegals and the capacities of attorneys based on education and experience as Venn diagrams we see that there are capacities (usually varying in degree), but there are many tasks for which paralegals are trained that attorneys are not. For example:

•PARALEGALS
•Client Communications, Docket Management, Calendar Management, File Management, Legal Research, Legal Reasoning, Critical and Analytical Thinking
•ATTORNEYS
•Client Representation in Court, Legal Tactics and Strategy, Legal Advice, Legal Research, Legal Reasoning, Critical and Analytical Thinking
Quarterbacks and guards are both atheletes and they are both football players. Many of their capacities overlap. It’s a mistake to hire a guard to play the position of  quarterback. It is a mistake to hire quarterback to play the position of guard. Likewise, it is a mistake to hire an unemployed attorney as a paralegal. In practical terms they cannot and will not “block” clients or provide the same protection from a malpractice blitz as paralegals.

As stated previously,

In general, lawyers are either over-qualified or under-qualified for many of the available non-lawyer positions. For example, one firm that advertised for an administrative assistant was inundated with lawyer résumés. But the firm declined to hire a lawyer because it felt the candidate would simply leave once a better job came along.

The point is not, however, that the lawyer is over-qualified. The lawyer is simply not qualified by training or experience to do what paralegals do. For example, the paralegals role in client management is quite different from that of an attorney.

Lynne Devenny of Practical Paralegalism  summed the training aspect up well :

While lawyers’ training is usually a three-year immersion in case study and analysis, many paralegals have undergone two to four years of specific paralegal training which is much more practice-oriented and very different from most law schools’ current curriculum.

Chere Estrin, Editor-in-Chief of Know: The Magazine for Paralegals handles the experience issue this way,

Besides differences in training – lawyers are trained in the practice of law while paralegals are trained in procedures and processing – few lawyers have the on-the-job experience to be a paralegal. In fact, while lawyers can delegate a paralegal assignment, very few can execute it. The awarding of a law degree does not guarantee knowledge of the finite and detailed responsibilities of paralegals.

And Melssa H. from Paralegalese, who I have previously quoted in an encouraging sequel on the topic “Does Your Attorney Understand What You Do?” makes an point that may be even more important:

Also, we need to stop tiering in the legal world. When we say that paralegals and attorneys are trained differently for different jobs, we are not saying that the attorney’s job requires a smarter or more capable person. We are saying the attorney’s job requires a person with a law degree and license to practice, while the paralegal’s job has other requirements (which I personally feel need to be more uniform as we move forward). If I were a lawyer, I would want the most capable, intelligent person I could find to assist me in my practice. After all, if the paralegal is doing work that, absent the paralegal, would be done by the attorney, I would hope the paralegal is at least as competent as the person who chose to go to law school would be. …  Rather than a viewing this as a problem, I like to compare it to the different jobs nurses and doctors do. The doctor may be fully capable of performing the duties of a nurse in a technical sense, but the nurse’s experience and training probably make him better at the job.

The attorney and paralegal are parts of the legal team. The attorney, like a quarterback, directs that team. Except in exceptional circumstances, the quarterback is not expected to play the role of the other team members – primarily because he is not trained or experienced enough to perform those roles. No one want the quarterback responsible for protecting against a 300 lb defensive lineman. The same applies to the protection a paralegal gives from many clients through skillful and professional client management.

UPDATE: After writing the above post I check through the “backstage” data for the blog over for yesterday and found a link for Superlegal Fun, a paralegal blog that contains a post from last Thursday that asks an newly minted attorney who could not find a job as an attorney, “Dear JD: What exactly did you learn in law school?:”
JD is an attorney (hence the nickname JD), but couldn’t find a lawyer job, so he took a job with our firm as a Paralegal.

Today, he asked what ABN and LR meant.

For those who don’t live in a law office, you may not know that those acronyms stand for “associated business name” and “local rule.”

That’s right. He didn’t know LR meant local rule. Oh the humanity, bring me some sticks to draw that man a picture on the wall of his cave!!

No one is expected to know everything about law or law offices freshly out of law school or paralegal school. However, if a law firm is going to spend money giving on-the-job training to someone for a paralegal position, it seems to make sense to start with someone who has the appropriate basic training and will not be constantly looking to move on to another role in the firm leaving the firm to spend the money giving a real paralegal the same on-the-job training!

Put on your “Junior Paralegal Hat?”

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Last Thursday’s Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald includes “4 tips to make your divorce easier for your divorce attorney, yourself
By Nancy Perry of divorce360.com. The advice is all pretty good, but I was struck by tip four:

4. And lastly, put on your junior paralegal hat.

There are many things you can do rather than pay your attorney’s paralegal to do it. By helping with the workload, it will not only keep you involved in your case, but it will save you money. The best example is preparing discovery responses and marital asset inventories. You should gather the documents, copy and organize them and have them ready to go to the paralegal well before the due date. This will save the paralegal a lot of time rather than you handing over a pile of mixed up papers and expecting her to sort through them and make heads or tails of them. Also, spreadsheets are a great way to list and organize the marital assets.

Now those of you who have read either of The Empowered Paralegal books know that I am a big advocate of making the client an integral part of the legal team.  Also, I agree that the client, as part of the legal team, should do the things suggested in this “tip,” but not as a junior paralegal.  This is the role of a client who has been integrated into the legal team as a fully functioning and well managed member of that team in order to allow the paralegal to utilize his or her valuable time in the way that he or she can most effectively utilize that time in his or her role as a member of that legal team.  We need not, and ought not, to blur the distinction role of each member of the them. Rather, as discussed extensively in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional, the paralegal ought to manage the client in a way that make the distinctive roles of each member clear, but integrates them into an effective team.  After all, it makes little sense to advise a client “You should gather the documents, copy and organize them and have them ready to go to the paralegal well before the due date.” If the client does not understand what discovery is, what documents are required, how the documents will be utilized, etc.  It is not uncommon for attorneys and paralegals to simply assume such understanding on the part of client. As discussed in TEP and previously here it is a mistake that hinders client management to make that assumption.

It takes two to manage a docket calendar

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, I explain that effective docket control involves the entire legal team. It is not enough for the attorney to simply delegate this task to the paralegal:

C. Dual Calendar Systems – Dual Attorney/Paralegal Responsibilities

You can and must manage your calendar. You also have some responsibility for managing your attorney’s calendar because you and your attorney are a team. The good news is that you and your attorney are a team so the attorney also has responsibility for managing the attorney’s calendar and some responsibility for managing yours.
Deadlines aren’t disastrous or dreadful. Missed deadlines are both. Cases, clients and law office reputations are lost due to late filing of documents. Even worse, jobs are lost. Take heart, there are systems designed to minimize this danger. When such systems are chosen and modified by you, your attorney and your office to suit your office’s practice, they can practically eliminate the danger. When your chosen system is combined with effective time, work, client and attorney management techniques and double-checking, missing a deadline should be a very rare occurrence indeed.

Legal.com posts a case today illustrating the dangers of failing to have a double-checking system in place.

Plaintiff—appellant Ber’Neice Harris appeals the district court’s dismissal of her Title VII action for failure to timely file her complaint. Harris argues that the ninety-day filing period for her religious discrimination action should be equitably tolled because the delay was caused not by the plaintiff but by a clerical error made by her attorney’s paralegal. We agree with the district court that equitable tolling does not apply to normal situations of attorney negligence or inadvertence. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court’s order dismissing the Title VII case for failure to timely file the complaint.

There is no doubt that the paralegal screwed up here, but I maintain that part of the responsibility lies with the law office, and not just because the rules make the attorney responsible for staff screw ups. This kind of error can be avoided by having a system in place that requires that every docket entry be cross-checked by someone else on the legal team. If the client is brought into the process (as I also advocate in The Empowered Paralegal), the client may play this role but I prefer that this responsibility remain within the law office.  I am sure that the attorney in this case came down hard on the responsible paralegal – and justifiably so. However, some of the wrath must be reserved for the attorney and law office that did not foresee this possibility and have a system in place to prevent it.

As part of your year-end assessment, check your office’s system for controlling and preventing docket calendar entries. If it is not a dual system, a system that has someone cross-checking what you do, talk  to your attorney about implementing the necessary changes. If you are concerned about having that conversation, read Chapter Six of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.

Empowerment and “De-stressing”

Monday, September 27th, 2010

I have just gotten to reading the most recent edition of The East Coast Paralegal, a magazine for paralegals published in Nova Scotia, Canada, where paralegal practice is on a different basis from that in Ontario, which has been the subject of many posts here because of its experiment in licensing paralegals through the Law Society, the same body that oversees attorneys. The magazine, sent to me by Ann-Marie Allen, Editor-in-Chief, is well worth the read. In particular, there is an article entitled, “DE-STRESSING YOUR LAW FIRM BY DE-STRESSING YOUR LEGAL STAFF” that consists of answer to questions posed by ECP to Estelle Morrison M.Ed. C.W.C., Director, Health Management Ceridian Canada Ltd. 5th, who recently wrote an article on de-stressing law firms for The Lawyer’s Weekly.

I’ve written frequently about diminishing the stress associated with the paralegal (and legal) profession, so I’m always interested in solutions proposed by others. I’m particularly taken by Morrison view that de-stressing the law office must include being aware of, and doing what can be done to decrease, the stress placed on the legal staff, most especially the paralegals.

I can’t reprint the entire article here, but the first exchange will give you a good idea of the approach:

ECP: What specific areas can lawyers improve on to help destress their staff?
EM: One of the most important areas for lawyers and other professionals to be concerned with is workload and worklife balance. This issue has become critical in recruitment and retention efforts, employee engagement and of course, employees’ personal experience of stress. Understanding what is appropriate in terms of job demands, time frames, setting reasonable expectations for hours of work and supporting efforts to set boundaries between work and home are some of the ways that Lawyers can foster healthy work environments and working conditions.
Where possible, encouraging staff to exercise control over their work or have input into decisions is another way to reduce stress and elevate job satisfaction. Rewarding and/or recognizing efforts or accomplishments at work, even if only verbally, can send the message to staff that their efforts are noticed and their hard work is appreciated.
Depending on the nature of the practice, the legal work environment can be pressured and laden with negative interactions. Many clients seeking legal services are doing so for situations that may involve significant stress, conflict, fear or sadness. To offset the heaviness that this can bring to the staff, lawyers should find ways to bring a sense of fun or playfulness, where appropriate, into the workplace.

The primary premise of The Empowered Paralegal series is that paralegals can, and should, take control of their work, their work place, and their career. I believe that this kind of empowerment must come from within and can be developed through implementation of techniques that enhance management of time, workload, calender, docket, workplace, clients, and relationships with attorneys. However, this is not to deny that law firms can, and should, provide an environment that encourages paralegals to take that control and internalize that empowerment. It is not just a matter of respect (although that is a large factor.) Doing so de-stressing paralegals, which de-stresses the law firm, which increased both the quantity and quality of productiveness by the entire legal team.

JAG Flag Course Focuses on Legal Team

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

A public affairs notice from the Maxwell Air Force Base reports on a JAG/paralegal training course held there in May. The course sounds fascinating just in terms of the law being taught: “During the operational law course, students receive lecture and seminar instruction in deployed fiscal law, contingency contracting, law of armed conflict, legal assistance before and during deployments, deployment-related claims, rules of engagement, joint and combined operations, and civil law issues during deployed operations.”

However, I found most interesting the fact that the course focuses on building the legal team. “This ten-day course trains judge advocates and paralegals to identify and analyze legal and political implications of international military operations, teaches students how to apply legal principles and reinforces the JAG paralegal team concept.” (Emphasis added.)

I also like the method of teaching:

Upon completion of classroom and seminar instruction, students then deploy in judge advocate-paralegal teams to the exercise, which provides a field environment where students apply their classroom learning to specific deployment-related legal scenarios while under the direct supervision of senior judge advocates and paralegals with deployment experience. …The scenarios the students face vary and can sometimes prove cumbersome. During one scenario, the students find themselves in a foreign country attempting to establish whether a person captured by a simulated CIA agent can be detained under the Laws of Armed Conflict. They must assess the situation, establish the person’s rights and then implement their decision. A marshal, played by a senior judge advocate, then discusses the scenario with the students, identifies the proper legal solution and critiques what the students did right and wrong.

It seems to me that more legal teams should be trained in this fashion. It often seems artificial to be training paralegals and attorneys totally detached from each other and then trying to meld them into a team later. I would prefer to have more paralegals programs connected directly to law schools rather than located in separate business schools or departments. At the vary least, there should be more programs where paralegal students work side-by-side with law students during the clinic experience. My recent research indicates that this may indeed by the trend at this time.

Writing as a Team

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Two of my favorite bloggers, Lynne DeVenney of Practical Paralegalismand Melissa Hinote of Paralegalese have teamed up to illustrate the importance of the attorney and paralegal to write as a team. The post on Lynne’s blog is entitled, “Who’s the “Nice One” on Your Legal Team?” It’s short but effectively makes the point, so check it out.

Coincidentally, acting as a team was a major topic of discussion in my professionalism class last night. The post above shows how each member of the team can use their strengths to balance the other member’s weaknesses. As much work as possible should be done as a team from initial analyzing of a client’s fact situation to final implementation of a plan for dealing with that situation whether it’s a matter of litigation or a real estate closing. In addition to working as a team with the attorney, in larger firms you can work as a team with other paralegals. Even if they are working on other matters, you can consult with each other, proofread each other’s work, use each other as sounding boards, etc.

For these purposes, let’s all be the nice ones!