Posts Tagged ‘planning’

Advanced Directives are for Everyone – Yes, I’m Looking at YOU.

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

In my last post I wrote about a pro bono project providing advanced directives and other end-of-life planning documents to the elderly and threatened to write more on advanced directives in my next post. I did not realize at the time that the next post would be ten days later! Mid-term grades are in and the first draft of my thesis is done, so now I can focus a bit more on blog posts I hope.

I was reminded of the topic by a post in the Paralegal Network Linkedin discussion group entitled “Avoid these estate planning mistakes.” The post shared an article from Lawyers.com, “Five Common Estate-Planning Mistakes After Having a Baby.” That post has now been followed by one entitled, “5 Common Estate-Planning Mistakes When Getting Divorced.”  I’ll let you read those posts for those mistakes as I want to talk about another one.

I have no data to back this up, but I have the distinct impression that the biggest mistake legal professionals make in end-of-life planning is that they do not do it for themselves. Sure many if not most attorneys have a will and maybe a trust. Documents that take care of the assets. But as I discuss extensively in The Empowered Paralegal:Working with the Elder Client, (1) disposition of assets is only one part of end-of-life planning and problably not the most important one, and (2) executing a document is only part of the answer.

I am going to assume you know what an advanced health care directive is. If not, check out Working with the Elder Client which I like to think does a good job of explaining them. It also explains that different perspectives that people have with regard to AHCDs in particular and aging & death in general. What I want to focus on here is the point that they are not solely elder law client documents and that the documents themselves are not enough.

Many legal professionals, lawyers and paralegals, think of AHCDs only in terms of their clients, especially elder clients.  I know you are already overworked, but I am going to give you something more to do – something essential to you and your family.  Sit down and think about what you want to happen if you were in Karen Ann Quinlan (at age 21) or Terry Shiavo (at agae 27). Who would get to make the decisions. Remember an AHCD allows you to make many of them in advance. Sure, you can simply appoint someone to make the decisions for you or allow the person designated by state statute (who may be the soon-to-be ex-spouse you are in the process of divorcing,) but is that fair to them (I realize that you are not likely to be real concerned about being fair to the soon-to-be ex-spouse.) Then execute an AHCD.

I know we tend to think the need for an AHCD will only occur to our clients, but it can and does happen to us. I know from recent personal experience just how suddenly a need for AHCD can arise. Keep in mind that your family and other loved ones will likely be in shock from the fact that an AHCD is needed. Only we can avoid the additional stress and distress occasioned by putting them in the position of having to make decisions that they have to make only because you wouldn’t and didn’t make them for yourself.

Which brings me to the second point. Talk about this stuff with your family and other loved ones. I know it is difficult. We don’t even want to think about it, much less talk about it. This is especially true in modern American culture. (As I discuss in Working thatwas not always the case.)  It is especially important to talk to those who may have to make decisions, but also those who will have to accept those decisions. Let them know what you would want to have happen. Find out what they would like to have happen (both to you and to them.) Be aware that since people are reluctant to talk about these topic you may have an entirely mistaken impression that those who would have to make decisions know what you would want. Worse, parents, siblings, or children who may have to make joint decisions may have vastly different impressions of what you would want and vastly different impressions of ought to be done. Do you really want your family arguing over whether you wanted to be cremated or buried, a church funeral or not, a wake or not, etc?

Our children are all over the age of 18. I advised each as they reached the age of 18 to execute an AHCD. Even more important in my opinion even before the age of 18 my wife and I began discussing with them what we want to happened in the final stages of our lifes and at our deaths. Without a doubt they considered it morbid and did not want to think about it. At times we had to leave the discussion for a future date. But I am now confident that when the time comes they will be drawn together as they struggle through the stages of grief  instead of being torn apart by disputes over what should be done.

Billable Hour Goals

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Good planning can turn obstacles into stepping stones for meeting goals (e.g., I view the Rules of Procedure as a guidebook to litigation, not the pain-in-the-butt many legal professionals characterize them as). So I’m including here this post from Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, in its entirety:

Paralegal Practice Tip: Billable Hour Goals? Do the Math!from Vicki Voisin – The Paralegal Mentor with Paralegal Career Strategies by Paralegal Mentor

Most firms set annual billable hour goals for attorneys and paralegal. Reaching those goals is very important for a variety of reasons, the primary one being to demonstrate value to the firm.

If you do not break down the billable hour goals into ‘chunks,’ it’s a good possibility that come December 2012 you’ll find yourself falling short of the goal or scrambling to do two months’ time in one month.

Neither is good, one is virtually impossible. Instead, you need to do a bit of math and some simple planning NOW to be sure you meet your goals eleven months from now.

I’ll be revealing how to do the math and the planning this coming Tuesday, December 13th at 1:00 pm Eastern time when I present Your Big Billable Hour Breakthrough: How to Turn Your Time into a Billable Hour Gold Mine. For more information, follow this link.

Note: This course will provide 1.5 hours MCLE credit. Certificate of Attendance provided to all registered attendees.
As always, I’m dedicated to your success!

More on Having a Plan, Stan.

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Melissa H. of Paralegalese has a guest post at Legal Practice Pro entitled “The Paralegal’s Role in Managing the Law Firm,” which would be great except for the fact that she posted it there instead of here. Nonetheless, you should read it.

And you should troll through other posts on the Legal Practice Pro blog, especially “Managing Chaos.” You’ll note that Jay says stuff you’ve heard before. In fact you’ve heard it here! But he says it well, so I’ve lifted some of it for inclusion here:

You see, the fires erupt only when you’re not in control of your surroundings. Sure, there will always be unexpected issues that arise. But when you’re in control, you can handle the issues as they come up because you’ve got a plan in place for dealing with these sorts of things.

Control is attained only by having a plan, and a system for dealing with every facet of your practice. How a client file flows through the office, where things get put, how phones get answered. I’m not talking about some amorphous theory of picking up the phone when it rings, I”m talking about scripting out the entire dance. Yes, the entire dance.

I call it a dance because, well, it is one. For a business to operate properly, all players must move in perfect harmony at all times. Fred and Ginger were never caught on film stepping on toes, were they? So, too, must your business glide effortless from place to place on the dance floor.

Jay speaks in terms of law office operation, but what he says applies to all aspects of professional life, especially paralegal practice.  I’m looking forward to more from Jay on taking charge through planning. It’s not just that great minds think alike (as they do in this case), but this stuff works and works well! It is, in many ways, the foundation of The Empowered Paralegal.

Controlling Your Workspace

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

In almost every office of moderate or larger size and in many smaller offices, there is an office that has it door closed all the time because it would be an embarrassment for clients to see it. Let’s call the owner of this office “Joe.” There are files, documents, unopened mail, ancient unread copies of the ABA Journal, Wall Street Journal, the state bar journal and advertisements for legal and non legal journals of every type and description on every horizontal surface. Unopened boxes of USCA pocket-part updates are stuck in the corners and under chairs. There is not even a few inches of open space on the desk. When visitors enter the office Joe, somewhat embarrassed, gestures futilely towards a chair. The gesture is futile since there is far too much clutter on the chair for anyone to attempt sitting there.

It is not the workplace of an empowered, effective paralegal. This workplace controls the worker even to the extent of requiring him to move sideways to avoid knocking papers onto the floor. The empowered, effective paralegal controls the workplace, rather than let it control her.

You can control your workplace by establishing a few basic and easy procedures.
Deleting: The basic operating principle is that each item belongs in recycling unless there’s a good reason to put it somewhere else.

Sorting and Prioritizing: Deleting is part of the overall organizing process. As we noted before, some of the remaining papers may still need attention right away. As you delete, place items in on of four piles which are likely to be small enough in number and bulk to put into file folders. Try manila expandable folders if the standard manila ones are not quite large enough. Label one “Today,” one “To Be Determined Today,” one “This Week,” and one “To Be Filed.” The various piles of rubble have now been reduced to four folders placed neatly on the desk! That’s too many folders to have on a desk.

Planning: Since we can only work on one item, there should only be one item on our desk. In most instances the item will be a client file. In some instances we can “cheat” a bit and call “the mail” one item. The other folders can be put away until you are ready to work on them. Select a time to deal with them and enter that time on your calendar. Stuff in the “To Be Filed” folder is more likely to move out of that folder and into the files if a time, say tomorrow at 10 a.m., is set for getting it done. In the meantime it should be removed from the desk and put in its place.

Just Do It: Before stating the final option, let’s take a look at the common factor in all the previous options. Whether you are deleting an item or placing it in one of the folders, you are disposing of the item fairly quickly. There will be some items, possibility the majority of the mail, where the action required by you is not much more time consuming that, say, placing the item in the “To Be Delivered” folder and doing the delivery. In these cases, just do it.

Keep Control: Survey your new domain. It’s well organized, neat and clean. In fact, it may be a bit too sterile. You’ve taken control, the work and the workspace is yours, but it isn’t quite “You.” Add in a few of the photos, plants or knick-knacks that make you feel at home while at work, keeping in mind that you are a professional and you are at work, not at home or in your college dorm. The key word here is “few.” You do not want to replace paper clutter with tchotchkes.

Now you are ready to get to work. But first, add a time to your calendar near the end of each week to re-establish your office organization.

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

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reliability and Professionalism

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

One prominent aspect of professionalism is reliability.  Here are some ways to show reliability:

  • Be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. While everyone runs into traffic jams, flat tires and the like, reliable persons are not habitually late or absent. Many instances of tardiness or absence could be avoided by proper planning. Do not leave the office early just because your attorney is in court and no one will notice or run personal errands on your way to deliver a brief, deed or contract across town unless you have discussed it in advance.
  • Complete your work on time. The excuses used in school will carry little weight with an attorney, less with a client and none at all with a court. Plan your work so it will be done on time even if something goes wrong.
  • Avoid making promises you can not keep. Be honest about what you can and cannot do, and how long it will take to do it.  I will discuss dealing with unrealistic expectations on the part of the attorney in another post, but the paralegal can help in this regard if he or she avoids creating those expectations on the part of co-workers, attorneys and clients.