Posts Tagged ‘paralegal utilization’

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.

The DuPont Paralegal Utilization Model

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Inside Counsel (“Business insights for law department leaders”) in a story mention in aManufacturing.net post, honors Dupont’s corporate legal department as “innovators in corporate legal departments.” According to the story, one of the DuPont Legal Model’s “secret weapons is its incorporation of paralegals. DuPont’s legal department historically had employed paralegals, and with an increase in litigation in the early ’90s it saw a greater need for more, so it bulked up its paralegal staff. This influx of paralegals coincided with the development of the department’s new model. Department management thought it would be a good idea to place more focus on these employees and created the DuPont Paralegal Utilization Model as part of the DuPont Legal Model.”

It is, of course, the “Paralegal Utilization Model” that caught my attention. Dupont has packaged the model as “Dollars and Sense of Paralegal Utilization: The DuPont Paralegal Utilization Model,” a publication that “offers best practices for using paralegals to their fullest potential.”  It’s available for purchase, but I’m not willing to purchase it just to see what its like, so I have no knowledge of the details and am not endorsing or plugging the publication in any way. However, I do endorse its premise as stated by its creator, Marybeth Davies, manager of the Dupont paralegal program:

“At DuPont, we’ve created a culture where paralegals are partners with the business people as well as colleagues and partners to the lawyers with whom they work,” Davies says. “In this economy, we have to do more with less, and paralegals are really stepping in to fill that gap.”

Of course the primary motivation behind my endorsement of the premise is that it is the same premise on which I base much of my writing and my posts here!

If any of my reader have personal knowledge of this program, I’d like to hear from you.

California Paralegal Day Celebration

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

The San Francisco Paralegal Association’s website announces a Paralegal Day celebration this Friday, June 18th. I’m a fan of declarations establishing a day to recognize the contributions of paralegals to the legal profession and the communities they serve and I’m a fan of celebrations. This celebration is particularly noteworthy because it appears to involve the San Francisco Bar Association acting together with the paralegal association. The keynote speaker, Michael P. Carbone, Esq.,’s topic is “Paralegal Utilization,” a frequent topic here. I’d love to hear from anyone who attends and takes notes on the speech. If it’s good perhaps we can prevail on Mr. Carbone to go a guest post for this blog – or at least crib a post from the notes!

I can’t end this post without noting that the brochure for the celebration contains this notice:

***BRING ITEMS FOR OUR ADOPTED PARALEGALS SERVING IN IRAQ***
(Beef jerky, toiletries, gum/hard candy, paperbacks, stamps, notepaper, single serving powders drink packs, band aids)

Even if you do not attend the celebration, San Francisco paralegals, send over an item or two from the list with a colleague who is attending.

Guest Blog Post – Paralegal Utilization

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Coincidences abound in the blogosphere. (What a word!) As I posted regarding unhappy paralegals and the prospect of improving their plight through proper utilization, a discussion entitled “Paralegal Utilization” began on the Paralegal Today discussion board. One post particularly caught my attention and I asked the auther, Sharon Lunsford, to provide a Guest Blog Post on her experiences for The Empowered Paralegal. She agreed and this is it. You may find it helpful to share some of it with your attorney:

Sharon Lunsford has spent her in-house paralegal career working for international retail corporations with a mix of corporate and franchise locations. Having also dealt with corporate maintenance, trademarks, real estate and other corporate matters, she currently specializes in franchising. Sharon holds a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in comparative politics.

 ____________________________________________

In my 21-year paralegal career, I have always worked in-house. This is my fourth corporation so far. They have all been national retail businesses; at least two of them were Fortune 500 companies. I hope the following gives you a good idea of the typical corporate law department environment as I have experienced it.

Working Environment:

In every position I have spent most of my time on substantive legal work, except that in one job the paralegal part was half the job and running certain aspects of the department’s operation was the other half. Although I have sometimes had to do all my own copying, filing etc., I have not been asked to split my time between secretarial and paralegal assignments for an attorney.

I have been treated as a professional at three of the four positions, including the job with one of the smaller companies where I was actually a member of the “company management team” and attended periodic meetings of that group. My job at the other company (one of the smaller departments) was an odd situation as far as secretarial support, and the less said about that the better. At the same job, although the only relevant qualification for the job was that I had to be familiar with a computer keyboard and have reasonable word processing skills, they insisted on giving me a typing test the day I got there, after I was hired and had already left the other job. (I don’t even deal with agencies that require typing tests of paralegals, so you can imagine how I felt about that little surprise. Come to find out, their idea of treating a paralegal as a professional was not to complain if we took time off for a medical appointment.) I had some good people around, including the other paralegal and some of the businesspeople I worked with, but the company as a whole was not a pleasant work environment at that time in its history. I did, however, gain considerable experience in franchisee default issues and unusual state examiner issues, and the timing of my bankruptcy-related layoff put me in the right place for my next job.

 Office Space:

 At one job I went from a desk in the “bullpen” (room with 5 desks) to a cubicle to a glass office along the outside of the building. (Some years after I left, that office or the one next to it was shattered by a tornado after normal working hours.) In one I had a cube first in line from the corporate floor elevators. People kept thinking I was the receptionist. In another I had an office (no windows) the whole time, with lots of cabinet, shelf and worktable space. At the other I started with half of a large double cube area with extra shelving and then moved to an inner office.

 Secretarial Support:

 In each of the four positions I have had some level of secretarial support. This has included, in order of support level, not chronological order:

 1.   someone to bring my mail to me unopened and do nothing else for me (and act as hybrid secretary/paralegal and support the general counsel);

 2.   someone to open my mail, date-stamp it and hand it to me; type up documents that involved filling in very simple forms; make copies (large batches only); answer my phone if needed and send out mail and express items (and support the general counsel and one other paralegal);

 3.   someone to open my mail, date-stamp it and bring it to me; make copies; send faxes & bring me faxes; use a signature machine to apply management signatures to contracts as authorized; copy or scan contracts and contract amendments and send copies of the signed documents to franchisees; file correspondence and contract documents and index contract files; occasionally pull files; occasionally set up meetings and send out invitations on the email system; scan large batches of documents (e.g. contract files) for me to send to outside counsel as needed; take default/termination notices and other non-routine documents to executives for signature; occasionally assist in generating contract documents and inventory files for storage (and support one to three attorneys and one or two other paralegals); and

 4.   someone to check the tickler list every morning, pull the files diaried for that day and bring them to me; open my mail, date-stamp it and bring it to me; answer my phone when needed; make copies; send faxes & bring me faxes; send mail and express items; file; occasionally set up meetings or appointments; inventory files for storage and occasionally draft letters (and support the lead deputy general counsel). I could have asked her to bring coffee and it would have been considered part of the job. (Yes, our secretary was well paid.)

 Title and Pay Grade:

 In-house paralegals may be hourly non-exempt or salaried exempt employees. At one of the smaller corporations we had two levels – Corporate Paralegal (me) and (if I remember correctly) Senior Paralegal; at the other, there were also two levels – the hybrid secretary/paralegal (I don’t remember her exact title) and me, a Senior Paralegal. At one of the larger corporations we had two levels; one for paralegals trained on the job, titled Administrative Assistant–Legal Department and one for paralegals holding paralegal certificates from accredited colleges (not necessarily ABA-approved, because they weren’t aware of that process), titled Paralegal. Both were referred to verbally, and introduced to outside counsel, as paralegals. At the other there are three levels – Paralegal, Senior Paralegal and Senior Corporate Paralegal or Manager depending on the standard titles in place when the paralegal moved into that position.

 Examples of Substantive Legal Responsibilities:

 During part of my time working with franchise matters I have managed an annual interdepartmental franchise disclosure update process similar to the manner in which an in-house securities paralegal might manage a 10-K update process. Franchise contracts I have worked with have ranged from short fill-in-the-blank documents prepared by the franchise department to fairly complex documents prepared (usually by me) in the law department. At one company I have managed a franchise contract database and have been the “go-to” person for what’s in a franchisee’s contract (business and legal provisions) for a certain location. Franchise documents I have drafted at the different companies include franchise agreement amendments, release documents, default and termination notices, franchise inventory buyout agreements and international master franchise agreements. Another part of the job has been negotiating disclosure document issues with state franchise examiners. In addition, I have drafted transfer documents and managed franchise transfer closings either in person or by phone, email and fax.

 When I handled trademarks for one company I drafted all documents to be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (applications, notices of opposition etc.) and worked directly with international outside counsel on international filings. When I handled trademarks for another company I just told our U.S. or Canadian law firm what we needed and they handled everything; the U.S. firm dealt with international matters through their international law firm connections. I much preferred being able to draft documents myself but different companies handle things different ways. At both companies I reviewed the U.S. Trademark Gazette for possibly infringing marks. When I handled real estate matters I drafted subleases, prepared or corrected Estoppel certificates and negotiated legal points with landlord’s counsel. At one company I tracked the details of several levels of subsidiaries, drafted written consents in lieu of board meetings and handled state corporate maintenance filings and state merger and acquisition filings.

 Examples (just the highlights) of the utilization of in-house paralegals in various areas of law include trademark paralegals who write the company brand use guidelines, transactional paralegals who assist in negotiating mergers and acquisitions and draft some or all of the needed documents; labor and employment paralegals who represent companies at mediation proceedings and draft responses to agency inquiries and litigation paralegals who gather information and respond to subpoenas, draft answers to interrogatories and draft responses to requests for production. (Sometimes this responsibility is shared; at one company I drafted the answers and responses for franchise litigation.)

 Specialization:

 An in-house paralegal position can be as specialized or as varied as you want. In one position I handled all general corporate, franchise, and (for a while) trademark matters – basically anything that was not litigation (except some franchise litigation) or agency claims. At another I handled franchise and trademarks. At another I handled domestic and international franchise, real estate and odd state filings formerly handled by the tax department. Currently I handle franchise matters only.

 Other Opportunities:

 An in-house paralegal may be in a position to learn certain aspects of law department management. There is a small chance of jumping over to the business side, for those interested in that route. Among my four paralegal jobs, for instance, I have handled most facets of running a law department (network administration and documentation, budget process management, clerical staff training and/or supervision etc.). Law department administration is one of the alternative careers possible to someone with that type of experience. Another, in my case, would be contract administration. A real estate paralegal could move to a lease administrator position in a company real estate department, and I know one who did exactly that. Much larger companies of course may have paralegal managers; I have not worked with that additional management layer but it offers another type of opportunity for an experienced in-house paralegal

Continuing Legal Education:

 

I believe each of my employers has paid for at least one paralegal association membership. One even paid for ABA associate membership for several years. And one employer has paid the travel and registration costs for me to go to national legal conferences in my area of law.

 

Supervision:

 

I can’t discuss in-house positions in detail without adding this warning. I have interviewed for two different jobs where the paralegal was the only person in the law department and the decisionmaker/gateway for documents to be reviewed by outside counsel. I was very leery of those positions; in one case the company was just coming out of Chapter 11 and in the other the people conducting the interview were consultants with an accounting firm (???!!) and not lawyers. Fortunately I was not called back for a second interview for either position. I know someone who is constantly being put into an awkward spot because she is asked to handle certain contract and compliance matters without appropriate experience or training or the assistance of outside counsel. I would avoid that environment like the plague unless you are a highly experienced paralegal who knows where the line is and has the clout to require the use of outside counsel as needed.

 

If you’re not asleep yet (!), I hope this has been helpful.

 

Sharon Lunsford

http://www.linkedin.com/in/sharonlunsford

Thank you, Sharon!

 

Paralegal Unhappy

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

I’ve noted that the searches that brought viewers to this blog recently included not only “sexy paralegal,” a search that appears to come up about twice a month, and “paralegal unhappy.” Although it is still without any legitimate basis, this blog still appears to be the first Google hit for “sexy paralegal,” but I did at least get an explanation for the reoccurring the search: there is a website selling “Sexy Paralegal Gifts, T-shirts,” etc. While none would be considered anything near outrageous, they are not suitable for professional wear or use. (This is not an endorsement of the website or the products sold there. I have no connection with the website and have not received anything from them in exchange for mentioning the website. I’ve never purchased anything from the website. I could go on about this, but you – and the FTC – have the general idea by now.) However,  I’d happily accept just about anything they offered me including a discount on “Empowered Paralegal” mugs, T-shirts, etc.)

I was pleased to see that this blog is no where near the top of a search for “paralegal unhappy.” In fact, it is so far down that I wondered who had time to go through all the higher hits to get to this one! It’s one of those searches that make one also wonder the story behind it, something I seldom get to know.

The search did bring me, however, to the Legal Support Personnel webpage on “Paralegals as Profit Centers: Are Utilizing Your Paralegals Effectively.” I don’t recall referencing this article on this blog before but I have on other occasions. It is pertinent now because it does proffer some indication of the primary reasons why paralegals are unhappy – a reason that coincides nicely with the premise behind The Empowered Paralegal:

In speaking with paralegals on a regular basis, we hear time and time again why they are unhappy in their current positions and what issues are most important to them. The common theme is that they seek challenging and interesting work, as well as professional respect and acknowledgement [sic] for exemplary job performance. Paralegals, like all career-minded professionals, crave challenge and increasing levels of responsibility. If you tap into these desires, not only will you provide your paralegals with a sense of accomplishment and motivation, you will reap the benefits of exceptional work product, as well as employee allegiance.

It also provides this insight (often not perceived by attorneys, although well-known by all professional paralegals):

Paralegals should play a key role in both private law firm and corporate legal teams. If utilized effectively, paralegals have proven to be invaluable players in the provision of legal services in a number of ways: in supporting attorneys in their daily functions; in acting as liaisons between attorneys and their clients, as well as the courts and governmental bodies; and in offering expertise in a number of practice areas in which they have received specialized training. If used successfully, from a pure economic standpoint, paralegals can offer cost savings to consumers of legal services and be true profit centers for your firm.
We have found that there tends to be misconceptions in the legal marketplace as to what paralegals can do. As a result, the uncertainty often leads to the under utilization of stellar talent.

I advocate a fairly direct approach to establishing the mutual respect and professionalism between attorneys and paralegals necessary for legal team to dance without tripping over each other. However, in some instances it might be helpful for an unhappy paralegal to start things off by printing off a copy of the full article and leaving it where their attorney can’t help but see it.

By the way, I know nothing at all about Legal Support Services, so this is in no way an endorsement of the company. You can draw your own conclusions after reading the article.

Does your attorney understand what you do?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

In PARALEGALS AS PROFIT CENTERS : Are You Utilizing Your Paralegals Effectively? , Legal Support Personnel says, “We have found that there tends to be misconceptions in the legal marketplace as to what paralegals can do. As a result, the uncertainty often leads to the underutilization of stellar talent.” Do you agree?

They go on to say,

“What we suggest is that attorneys examine their workload and, where appropriate, delegate substantive responsibilities to their paralegals. Attorneys who utilize their paralegal staff successfully will be rewarded with lower stress levels, quicker turnaround time on projects and a happier department all around. This article highlights what a paralegal can do for your department, explores different practice areas and tasks to which you should assign paralegals and offers some retention advice for keeping your paralegals both happy and motivated within your organization.” Are attorneys open to this kind of information? How is it best presented to them?

Do you feel you have a good understanding of the attorney(s) for whom you work and they of you? What could be done to improve that understanding?