Posts Tagged ‘paralegal/attorney relationship’

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.

Keeping the attorney/paralegal relationship professional

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

The attorney/paralegal relationship is an intimate one, with the well-operating legal team often being compared to a dance team on this blog based on a wonderful description from another blog. Equally a subject of discussion is the need to keep that intimacy professional with posts regarding the danger of crossing the line between professional and personal intimacy. However, most frequent internet searches bringing viewers to this blog continues to indicate that paralegals are considering crossing that line. So this is for their benefit:

In April 2006, Oakland, Calif., lawyer Thomas Ostly was chatting via instant messages with a paralegal in his office.

“How do you record these i.m.s?” she asked him.

“Oh, you can’t record me,” he typed back. “I refuse to give you any evidence for the inevitable lawsuit.”

He was joking then, but four years and reams of online chats and text messages later, Ostly and the former employee, Allison Moreno, are this week battling each other in a contentious, lengthy jury trial in Alameda County Superior Court.

And at trial Tuesday in front of Judge Jo-Lynne Lee, Moreno sought to make the most of Ostly’s odd decision to personally depose her.

Moreno, 30, sued in 2007, claiming that Ostly fired her when she refused to continue a sexual relationship with him. She says she felt pressured to have sex with Ostly, and that she did so to protect her job and her plan to attend law school.

Ostly, 38, says the two dated each other, and that he never fired Moreno — that he told her to go home one day because he couldn’t deal with her belligerent attitude after he confronted her about a serious mistake she had made in a case. He says her suit is just about money.

In cross-examining Moreno on Tuesday, Ostly’s attorney, Shane Anderies of San Francisco employment law firm Anderies & Gomes, quizzed Moreno about explicit messages she sent Ostly. And he poked at her credibility, showing the jury disparities in what she said in depositions and what she testified to in court. But he kept running up against the fact that his client had taken an active role in deposing Moreno, at times questioning her and at others observing.

“Isn’t it true that Mr. Ostly never said anything to you that you found offensive?” Anderies asked Moreno.

“That is very untrue,” she replied.

Anderies then played for the jury a portion of Moreno’s videotaped deposition, in which, answering the same question, she said she couldn’t think of anything specific.

“After three years of litigation, in day three of the deposition, you still couldn’t recall anything offensive that Mr. Ostly said to you?” he asked her in court.

Moreno replied that she had been stressed out and intimidated by Ostly’s presence.

There’s a lot more and you can read it at Law.com, but the moral of the story should be clear.

Building the Paralegal-Attorney Relationship – An Aggregation

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

There are names for blogs that rely on other blogs and sources for their content and add nothing to that content. Depending on who is doing the naming they range from parasites through derivative to aggregators. Today I’m joining Google News, Yahoo, etc., as an aggretator because that’s what I’m doing in this post.
Let’s start with Lynne DeVenney at Practical Paralegalism who has a post about another blogger’s post:

At first glance, I thought John Cord’s post, “Be nice, and other ways to strengthen your legal team,” at the blog Generation J.D., was only going to yield a short quote with some timeless advice for new lawyers, “1. Don’t run up the Westlaw/Lexis research bill, and 2. be nice to paralegals and secretaries.”

But Cord’s article is well worth a closer look – by all members of the legal team, from the senior partner right down to the part-time runner and that lady that comes by once a week to make sure the plants don’t die. His article is really about appreciating everyone’s contribution to getting the job done.

And what legal staffer wouldn’t heartily agree with the following advice for attorneys?:

  • Say please and thank you.
  • Be effusive in your praise for jobs really well done.
  • Be unexpected and reward exceptional work – a lunch out of the office, baseball tickets, or some other recognition.
  • Shut the office down early sometimes. Even 4 p.m. on a nice Friday is a good perk.
  • Get to know the people behind the workers – take an interest in their families and activities.
  • Don’t limit your website bios to just attorneys – include pictures everyone on the team.

But unlike this post, Lynne actually adds something. She points out:

But strengthening the team is a two-way street, and when we’re fortunate enough to be part of a great work environment, we should also be appreciative employees. There are a number of ways that we can show our employers that we don’t take their “work, energy and input” for granted:

  • Say please and thank you, whether it’s for great mentoring, having expenses paid for a CLE or conference, getting the opportunity to do more substantive work, or receiving a raise or surprise luncheon treat.
  • Be effusive in your praise for cases really well handled and problems quickly resolved.
  • Be unexpected and reward exceptional supervisors – do more than you’re asked, fetch a cup of coffee or a soda when you can tell they really need it, share the candy from your secret stash (all the attorneys I work with know which drawer has the Hershey’s chocolate) or bring baked (even if not at your house) treats once in a while for the whole office to enjoy.
  • Offer to stay late in a pinch, or come in on the weekend, especially when you can tell your supervising attorney needs your help but is reluctant to ask.
  • Get to know the people behind the bosses – take an interest in their families or activities (without being nosy).
  • Market your firm, even if your bio is not on the website, by telling people what you do and how proud you are of the work your firm does.

One of the nicest things my supervising attorney repeatedly says when he takes extended vacations is, “I couldn’t do this without you!” When I think of all the wonderful career opportunities I’ve had during 15 years of working for him, I honestly have to say, “I couldn’t do this without you!”

Now if all I did was to give you, as I have, Lynne’s work in its entirety, I’d just be a rip-off artist. What makes me an aggregator is that I noticed there were other posts and stories on the internet that go with (sort off) Lynne’s. Here’s the next, from Chere Estrin of so many sites I could not name them all – KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals, Sue Magazine for Women Litgators, Organization for Legal Professionals, etc. – with more advice on maintaining a good relationship with attorneys:

Establishing a good relationship with your boss is critical for success. And frankly, it’s sometimes hard to talk with these folks. If you have a distant relationship with him or her, you probably have no idea what to informally chit-chat about. You don’t want to cross any boundaries but when your boss starts small talk with you, it becomes even more important that you make a good impression.

Small talk is defined as light and easy conversation about common, everyday things. Hard to do if you have no clue what to say. Yet, a hidden key to success is the ability to carry on small talk. Why? Because small talk establishes rapport. It builds trust and allows the other person to get a chance to know you without delving into anything personal. You simply cannot get ahead in your job if you cannot establish trust with your employers. It’s not going to happen.

Attorneys, in particular, must have an excellent grasp of expressing themselves because mostly, that’s how they make a living. And, since raises and promotions are built on whether your firm likes and trusts you, it probably behooves you to do well in this arena. Conversations give a human dimension to the employee/employer relationship.

I got this excerpt from the KNOW Magazine LinkedIn Group feed, but you can read more at http://estrinlegaled.typepad.com. By the way, the most recent feed from that group contains review letters praising Chere’s new book, The Successful Paralegal Job Search Guide. Given the current market you may want to check it out.

Next we go to Linda Whipple who reports on the Paralegal Today discussion forum (in response to another post, not just out-of-the-blue), “Actually I will be 62 in September and I have been at this for 36 years now. I have lawyers all the time asking me if I am happy working for the attorneys I have been working for because if not they want to talk with me about hiring me.” Apparently, she is still happy with her present attorneys. This in itself is not news, but another posts reminds us, “Hey, Linda – FINALLY got around to reading my January-March issue of PT and saw the nice interview with you and your boss. Isn’t it wonderful having that sort of working relationship with an attorney?” So if you still have your copy of the January-March issue of Paralegal Today, feel free to add that interview to this aggregation. It ought to say a lot about how to build and maintain a good relationship with your attorney.

Now a previous post from this blog. This might seem like I’m adding my own content and not just aggregating, but this post is itself mostly aggregation. It is included to gives some sense of what a well-oiled attorney/paralegal relationship can do when that relationship comes up with a plan.

Finally, I’ll send you directly to Melissa at Paralegalese. The relevant posts are down a bit where Melissa describes the angst that goes with leaving a paralegal/attorney relationship built on mutual respect and trust – End of an Era Parts I, II, and III. Melissa has been quite busy working on her relationship with new attorneys, paralegals, and clients (I assume) so she hasn’t posted as regularly as she once did, but I am looking forward to the time when she regains her old blogging form!

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.

Not a Dead Horse

Monday, March 8th, 2010

The Paralegal Todaydiscussion forum has an thread started by a post entitled, “Not to beat a dead horse, but….” Here’s the gist of the post that started it:

Sad to say I had a conversation with one of the lawyers I work for and he said “don’t get caught up in titles, you are no different than the administrative assistants”. What do you think I should do? …

Now, please do not get me wrong, I think admins are marvelous  but I have a 4 year Bachelors, an Associates and a certificate as a paralegal. …

I am so discouraged. I was hired as a paralegal (I specifically mentioned how important that was to me) I do excellent work and don’t understand why there is still this attitude. I have worked so hard for respect and to create a niche where I add value.

Normally, I’d go into a long comment on this topic, since it is really what The Empowered Paralegal is all about, but on this one I’ll let some of the comments on the thread do the talking:

Obviously the attorney needs to be educated and is ignorant of the fact of what you REALLY do and what the profession REALLY does.
 IMHO, it’s up to you to educate him (depending on if he’s actually educatiable or is too set in his archaic mindset).  That or find another firm/attorney with a bit more modern mindset that gives you the respect you deserve.
 Course that’s MHO.  People like this are working on a mindset of 20 years ago.  Prehaps it’s time he came into the 21st Century.
_______________
 I understand his comment about not getting caught up in titles, but having a sit down discussion with him about his comment and letting him know you don’t mind helping him with a letter now and then, but that your work as a paralegal has deadlines that take priority and a secretary is more likely to be able to get the correspondence work out for him.  Don’t get discouraged, this is where you stand and fight for your turf.  Draw the line (but do it succinctly and professionally) letting him know you are the consummate professional and you have his clients’ best interest at heart.
_________
not to beat a dead horse… but why do you think there are paralegal utilization studies and the constant fight to get paralegals certified and blogs about The Empowered Paralegal?
 
Yes, we have to be team players and I do my share of copying (etc.) to manage the work flow for the day, but paralegals must continue to do the job of distinguishing themselves from the great assistants out there who have, by definition, a different job than we do.  They are good at what they do, assist the attorneys and other timekeepers.  We are good at what we do, provide substantive legal services that would otherwise have been provided by an attorney, under the supervision of an attorney.
 
I volunteer and am a board member of my paralegal association and obtained the PACE certificate for these very reasons.  To continue what I feel is a very strong need to further this profession – my profession – one paralegal at a time.  I want to continue to distinguish paralegals from secretarial assistants.
____________
In all fairness, I do believe that a lot of it comes down to the size of the firm, the area, and the age of the attorneys that you’re working with.  If you go with a sole practionier, you’re going to have to be a jack of all trades, including clerical/it/legal.  I can very vividly remember even here in Va. where 20-25 years ago, attitudes were the same as what Alison has stated.  Then a curious thing happened.  As the paralegal profession started to grow, and the more trained and educated paralegals that entered the profession, attitudes slowly changed.  The younger attorneys “grew up” with professional paralegals and they slowly replaced the dinosaurs with the attitudes Alison talked about.  There was also a difference between the eastern and western parts of the state and the way we were viewed.  The eastern part of Virginia had a more progressive attitude.  The western part was, shall we say, more conservative and old fashioned.  However, that’s changed too.  But again, it’s all in the size and progressiveness of the firm.

Lack of supervision of paralegal is problem for attorney

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Several posts here have discussed the duty an attorney owes ethically to supervise paralegals working with that attorney. In one post, I argued it is a duty owed not only to the public, but to the paralegal. Today’s Boston Globe reports that failure to supervise a paralegal has jeopardized the license a prominent Boston attorney:

Stephen B. Hrones, the well-known 68-year-old Boston criminal defense lawyer, is heading to the state’s highest court to fight to keep his law license, accused of letting a paralegal in his office pass himself off as a lawyer in the firm’s employment discrimination practice.

The state Board of Bar Overseers recommended in October that Hrones’s license be suspended for a year and a day for the alleged misconduct. The Supreme Judicial Court plans to hear appeals in May from Hrones, who says he deserves no suspension, and from the state’s bar counsel, which had recommended a two-year suspension.

Hrones denies much, but admits he did not provide adequate supervision:

Hrones – a bearded, Harvard-educated former Fulbright scholar who dubbed himself Mr. Innocence for getting the murder or rape convictions of four prisoners tossed, based on newly discovered evidence – denied Thursday that he had authorized former employee Lionel Porter to practice law. Hrones said the firm’s letterhead identified Porter as a paralegal but that Porter began doing things behind Hrones’s back, mishandling cases and clients’ fees.

“I was too trusting of this individual, and now I’m paying the price,’’ Hrones said in an interview. “I was done in by this guy, and I should have supervised him better. . . . But I didn’t hold him out as a lawyer.’’

Porter worked for Hrones from 2001 to 2004, handling employment discrimination cases before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission even though he was, as Hrones knew, a law school graduate who had not been admitted to the bar.

Porter bungled a series of cases; got Hrones’s firm barred from appearing before MCAD, which short-circuited active cases; and kept clients’ fees for himself, according to the board’s Oct. 19 recommendation of suspension.

Although the work of paralegals can resemble that of lawyers, the board concluded that Porter went far beyond permitted tasks. Porter single-handedly managed the firm’s employment discrimination practice and drafted and filed complaints at his own initiative in Hrones’s name in federal and state courts, the board said. Hrones fired him in the fall of 2004 after learning that Porter had kept fees in violation of an agreement to split them.

I suspect we will see more cases like these as the system adjusts to the blurring of the line between the paralegal and lawyer roles that occurs when out-of-work lawyers take on the role of a paralegal. While even licensed attorneys can cause problems for a firm is not adequately supervised, the role of the paralegal in a legal team is distinctly different from the role of an attorney. Blurring that distinction will inevitably cause problems for the attorney, especially if, as is often the case, the attorney does not really understand the role of a paralegal.

But let me get this straight, the “paralegal” here “bungled a series of cases; got Hrones’s firm barred from appearing before MCAD, which short-circuited active cases,” but was fired only when the attorney learned the paralegal “kept fees in violation of an agreement to split them.”   Does Massachusetts not have an ethical role against the splitting of fees with non-lawyers? If so, it’s tough to make a case that the only thing the attorney did wrong here was failure to supervise.

Paralegals dating lawyers II

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

A surprising (at least surprising to me) number of search queries that bring viewers to this blog relate to romance between paralegals and attorneys. I previously commented on this in a post involving a legal partnership that dissolved and devolved into assualt charges when one of the partners married the firm’s paralegal. The final act of that drama, appears to have ended. The Roanoke Times reports

Vinton lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, whose bankruptcy partnership with attorney Ann Marie Miller dissolved last year with an assault charge and hundreds of abandoned client files when he married an office paralegal, surrendered his privilege to practice bankruptcy law.

Those of  you prone to remembering such things will recall that it was Mr. Kessler who said of Ms. Miller, “I don’t know why she is behaving so inappropriately.”  One would think, however, that not all of the inappropriate behavior was on the part of Ms. Miller since,

In a federal bankruptcy court order filed Wednesday, Kessler agreed to give up his bankruptcy practice and to repay $35,000 he and Miller received from clients for work they didn’t do, said Carter “Chip” Magee, the Roanoke attorney appointed by the court to close Miller’s practice. That money, along with about $7,000 left in Miller’s bank accounts, eventually will be returned to the couple’s clients.

No word on the paralegal in this story, but this cannot help but to serve as a cautionary tale to those persons searching for “paralegals dating lawyers.”

Paralegal Gateway: Paralegals May Be Replacing First Year Associates

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

According to a press release, Jeannie S. Johnston of Paralegalgateway.com is finding that

[T]he inside word from some of the nation’s top law firms is that they actual lose money on first year associates. These firms spend big money on recruiting top candidates and offer large starting salaries only to have them begin work without any applicable experience.

“It takes about another year to train the first year associates. Secondary to this, they are not able to bill out as much time and the firms are actually losing profits.” Johnston goes on to say, “The existing paralegals, on the other hand, can do the exact same work much more efficiently and end up billing almost three times as much in the same day. It just makes more sense to increase the hourly rate of the paralegals and reduce the first year salary of the incoming associates.”

Johnston believes that if this trend catches on, paralegals should see an increase in their paychecks.

This comes on the heels of a post by Melissa H. at Paralegalese noting

Over the past several years, paralegals specifically have been carving out a niche for ourselves in the legal community. We grew out of a need for cost control and efficiency as law firms began competing as businesses. We grew out of a need to bridge the gap between the high and mighty lawyer and the lay people he serves. We stem from the legal secretary, a highly efficient and organized specimen who learned procedural law to perfection until one day someone decided her skills should be billable. We sprung forth from professionals of every field who enjoy the challenges in the law yet choose not to pursue a license. And we are becoming ever more necessary in a legal world fraught with runaway costs, inflated salaries, and increasing overhead. (Emphasis added)

And it certainly seems to address the claim that motivated Melissa to write the post, “This topic stems from a discussion I had this evening regarding paralegals and attorneys. I was told that paralegals are becoming less necessary today because young associates are willing and able to do all their own work.”

There is no doubt that financial considerations have been, are, and will be a major factor in the development of the paralegal profession. However, I would not let this factor blind the legal profession to other factors such as that mentioned by Melissa, “We grew out of a need to bridge the gap between the high and mighty lawyer and the lay people he serves.” If the only factor is cost, then it is possible young attorneys could serve as paralegals if they are willing to take the pay. However, as argued in previous posts, attorneys and paralegals differ in training, experience and skill sets, not just cost. It may be possible for a talented and skilled paralegal to take on many of the tasks of young attorneys since those tasks, e.g., research, are part of the paralegal skill set. The same is not as likely to be true the other way as most young attorneys are ill equipped to “bridge the gap between the high and mighty lawyer and the lay people he serves.” In the end quality legal service requires a legal team with each member of that team trained and competent in filling their role on that team.

Paralegals Dating Lawyers

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Some of the search queries bringing viewer to this site relate to paralegal and attorney dating. There are a number of online resources on “dealing with office romances” which apply well to law office relationships, but I’ll limit this post to this cautionary tale abridged from today’s news:

A love triangle has spilled into the streets of Vinton involving two lawyers and a paralegal. It’s a public spat playing out amid claims of stalking, assault, threatening phone calls and a cat fight in the middle of the street.

Ann Marie Miller just got out of jail on bond, having spent the last two nights accused of felony breaking and entering and assault.
Monday night she went to Jeff Kessler’s home on Shelbourne Avenue, not expecting to encounter Jennifer Kelley.Kelley says Miller assaulted her, forcing her way inside.”I don’t know why she has behaved inappropriately. I personally would someday like to be friends with her someday again. I don’t see that happening,” says Jeff Kessler.

Ann Marie Miller and Jeff Kessler are former partners, law partners and partners in love.The relationship soured in May, the day Miller learned Kessler had not only been seeing someone else, he’d married Kelley.

It is noteworthy, I suppose, that Kessler felt Miller should behave professionally (“I don’t know why she has behaved inappropriately”) even under these circumstances!

Honesty and the Professional Paralegal

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Last June 4th Kim Walker posted on Paralegal Pie regarding an Honesty Test. She noted,

The questions are hard.  For instance some of the questions pertain to stealing from your employer.  If you answer no, well you are a big fat liar.  I am willing to bet that everyone who works in an office has stolen a pen, a legal pad, a paper clip.  So you do in fact steal from your employer.

There does seem to be some “gray area” in the concept of honesty in the workplace. There is no doubt that honesty is essential for the professional paralegal. Every employer, including attorneys, expects it of their employees – except when they don’t.  Sometimes you will be asked to be just a bit not-so-honest such as when you are asked to tell a client the attorney has just left for the courthouse when she is still in the office. The rightness and wrongness of such “white lies” is a matter that cannot be treated fully here. Personally I believe that the best policy is to be as honest as possible with the people with whom both the lawyer and the paralegal deal whether it be clients, co-workers, court personnel, etc.

Regardless of how situations like this are resolved, you should strive for an honest relationship with your attorney. This does not mean you have to be the one to point out he has put on twenty pounds and needs to exercise more. But be honest about yourself.

  • Avoid dishonesty when you have made a mistake. Don’t try to cover it up. No one is perfect. Honesty can initiate steps to help you avoid making the same mistake again.
  • Avoid dishonesty in explaining why you are late for work, taking time off and the like.
  • Avoid dishonesty when stating what you can and cannot do. Be frank about your own limitations both in terms of time and competence. Ask for assistance and training.