Posts Tagged ‘paralegal role’

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 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.

Paralegals In Film – One Point of View

Friday, January 29th, 2010

My post regarding suggestions for movies or TV shows including paralegals for a possible course has drawn several interesting responses. The point of the course is to use the films as a starting point for discussion on issues ranging from ethics and professionalism to dealing with attorneys and clients. The idea was given a boost by this post by Melissa H. at Paralegalese and then one by Lynne DeVenney at Practical Paralegalism both of which provide insight into both the role of the paralegal in real life and the discrepancies between that role and the reality of paralegal practice.

Here’s one of the comments which I found particularly interesting. While the opinion is that the films do a horrendous job of depicting paralegals, it does prove the point that they films may be a good starting point for discussion of issues affecting paralegals. This comment has been edited somewhat to protect the identity of the paralegal who sent it to me:

I read your post today about developing a class on the role of paralegals in film.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to offer for suggestions about which films/shows to utilize because I don’t think that paralegals are accurately represented in these mediums.  In fact, I am writing because I think that Hollywood portrays people as paralegals when they are not really fulfilling these roles. 

By way of background, I have been working as a paralegal for a little for many years.  I am very well educationed including Master of Legal Studies.  Currently I am the Senior Paralegal in the office where I work.   We are in the process of replacing our legal assistant who has been doing paralegal work over the past year.    My supervisor was willing to accept simply a high school diploma with 1-2 years of legal experience.  This does not seem right to me.   As I explained to him, paralegals go through extensive training to learn not only legal concepts but how to complete legal research and legal analysis.  And, most importantly in my opinion, we learn the ethical responsibilities associated with being a paralegal. This is not something that any person off the street can do.  We (paralegals) work hard for this designation and it is insulting to assume that a person with simply a high school diploma can be considered a paralegal. 

The same holds true for how paralegals are portrayed in film.  Not to pick on Erin Brokovich but that film irritates me more than anything.  As portrayed in the film, she had no legal training and education.  She was looking for a job.  I think as an investigator she did a fantastic job but to classify her as a paralegal is an insult to all of us who make the effort to go through school and gain legal experience.  For some, they even go the extra step to become certified.  When I hear people touting Ms. Brokovich’s movie as a prime example of paralegals then I find it incredibly insulting. In fact, it might be best to use the movie to give ethics students examples of things not to do (i.e. accepting a percentage of profits from the settlement)!  It is possible that some of the work that she engages in can be considered within the parameters of a paralegal position.  But please make it clear that, at the time, Ms. Brokovich was not a paralegal.  I am unsure as to her current status.  Again, by no means am I trying to slander Ms. Brokovich.  In fact, I admire her for all of the work that she has done and is doing.  But students should know that parelegals don’t generally climb through water wells, walk around insulting co-counsel, and accepting contingent payments from settlements.

I am sure that what I am saying are things of which you are already aware.  I just felt the need to give you perspective from yet another paralegal on the portrayal of our profession in film and television.  I wish you the best of luck as you develop your class.

I do like the part where the writer says he/she is sure that what he/she is saying are things of which I am already aware! Even if that is true (and of course it is), students and other practicing paralegals can benefit, and often benefit more than when hearing it from a professor, from hearing from a practicing paralegal. So, feel free to express your thoughts here or by email at

Another Attorney in Need of a Good Paralegal

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 reports on an attorney barred from practicing in the Federal Second Circuit do to missing deadlines and abysmal briefing:

A New York immigration lawyer has been barred from appearing again before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals due to missed deadlines that resulted in the dismissal of at least 12 cases and and substandard briefs.

“We want to make it clear that the deficiencies of [Karen] Jaffe’s conduct, in the aggregate, bespeak of something far more serious than a lack of competence or ability. They exhibit an indifference to the rights and legal well-being of her clients, and to her professional obligations, including the obligation of candor, to this court,” states a per curiam written opinion of the circuit’s 10 active judges. It imposes the practice ban by striking her from the circuit’s roster of authorized attorneys, reports the New York Law Journal in an article that is reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

One reviewing panel described Jaffe’s briefing skills as “abysmal,” the legal publication notes.

Certainly there are attorneys who cannot be saved from themselves by anyone. I’m not in a position to judge this attorney, but based on the statements of this court, I don’t think this is one. Meeting deadlines and seeing that legal documents are “as they should be” is what professional paralegals do. Solo practicioners often balk at the cost of a paralegal, but in cases like this the costs of not having a member of the legal team who can balance out the attorney’s weaknesses with complementing strengths are far higher than the cost of having such a member. In addition to preventing this type of problem a paralegal would likely make it possible for this attorney to serve more clients better, thus providing the income necessary to cover the costs of the paralegal.