Posts Tagged ‘preparation’

Is your legal team really ready for trial?

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Much, if not all, of The Empowered Paralegal:Effective, Efficient, and Professional,  is about being prepared with one chapter being devoted specifically to trial preparation. Preparation is especially important at trial where it is often the best prepared case, not the best case, that wins. In a new post on Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog, Chancellor Deborah J. Gambrell  emphasizes this point from the point of view of the bench:

Q:  What is the main thing lawyers should know to avoid doing in your court room during a trial?

A:  DO NOT ANNOUNCE “READY FOR TRIAL” IF YOU ARE NOT. Being ready for trial means: 1) having three (3) copies of all proposed Exhibits; 2) having presented a copy of the proposed Exhibits and Exhibit List to counsel opposite; and 3) having all necessary parties present.

Indeed, being prepared is one of  three attributes of a good attorney for Judge Gambrell. However, on an well-working legal team, one that can “dance,” it is the paralegal who sees that the preparation is done. When the attorney stands, says, “We are ready for trial” and really is prepared, more often than not the paralegal is responsible – effective, efficient, professional, and proud.

Improving the Dog and Pony Show

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I state that when it comes to a trial “the best dog and pony show wins” meaning that often it is the best prepared case that wins, not necessarily the best case. The best prepared case is not simply the case with the most information, but the case in which that information is organized and set for presentation to the jury in a way the jury can understand it. Today’s post “Show Me the Money!” from Judge Primeaux on his blog illustrates this point as it applies to any factfinder, including those wearing a black robe:

As a judge I can tell you it’s hard to capture every detail in my trial notes. Sometimes the witness just speaks so fast  that I stay three sentences behind, trying to catch up, and just can’t get it all. Sometimes the significance isn’t clear until much later in the trial or even when the judge is writing the opinion, and then it’s too late.  Sometimes a verbose witness will bury the critical info under an avalanche of mostly meaningless words.

Next time you have an equitable distribution case, why don’t you sit down with your client during your trial preparation and work up a spreadsheet that shows how she wants the marital estate divided. 

The post includes other suggestions and the questions necessary to lay a foundation. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the role of this kind of preparation is for a successful trial and the importance of the paralegal’s role is in preparing a well-done trial notebook. For more on this see Judge Primeaux’s blog and Chapter 7 of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.

Professionalism and Administrative Agency Personnel

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Not long ago I co-opted a post from the Mississippi 12th District Chancellor’s blog to address the issue of professionalism when dealing with court clerks. I also used that post as a discussion point for my online Administrative Law class. The students in that class had just finished an assignment requiring that the interview a “high level” adminstrative agency employee. Not surprisingly, many had experienced the frustration that our client often experience when dealing with adminstrative agency employees! The discussion forum was active and included one post that I am copying here (with the student’s permission:)

I’m sorry that it does not sound like your interview went very well.  Dealing with other people can be tough.  We can only “control” ourselves and not others.  Since I’m probably older than everyone else in the class but the teacher, let me pass along a couple of hard earned tips about attempting to get something from someone that you do not know.  Most people in this class did not have local agency personel as relatives and friends to call up and complete this assignment.  This will be true when we all get jobs as paralegals or lawyers or what ever job we decide on. 

A sense of empathy and understanding will get you far when attempting to “work” someone for an answer.  For example, if I were going to perform an interview with a mental health professional, my first step would be to perform a little bit of research and thought into what their daily work life must be like.  How would I feel if my job was to constantly deal with people who had varying degrees of mental problems.  That make me feel a little bit crazy and under appreciated and highly stressed.  If you sound calm and project a calming tone to them this will help combat their added stress of having “one more thing” to do that day.  I little “kissing up” doesn’t hurt anyone either.

This is how I might have initiated the first phone call after doing research to see who in the agency specifically that I wanted to speak with for the interview.  Deep, calming breaths…then dial.  “Hi!  My name is Tommi McGrew and I am a student at Ole Miss.  Is it possible for me to either speak with Ms. X now or is there a better time for me to call back?” 

Their response, and let’s assume I am lucky enough to get through the first time which probably won’t happen often.  “Yes, she is in.  Let me transfer you.”  (If you get the run-around or have to make several calls, remember to try and keep the frustration from showing in your voice.  This will be off-putting to the person that you are attempting to get something from.  You need their help.  They don’t need yours.)

“Ms. X, my name is Tommi McGrew and I am a student at the University of Mississippi.  I know you are a very busy lady with an incredible job.  I’m sure you have a million things that you need to be doing, but I am interested in getting to know more about your agency.  Do you think you could spare me a few minutes of your time to ask you a few questions?”

Now, let’s also assume the stars have all aligned and she is willing to give me 5 minutes or we are able to set-up a phone interview for first thing the next morning.  A person who choses to make their life work in the field of mental illness will usually be one of those people with a savior complex or a really big heart.  They are also usually very passionate about their jobs.  Use these types of job personalities when you can to taylor your tone, attittude and phrasing. 

It sounds like in Jimmy’s interview, the interviewee kept wanting to make the interview about her “pet” projects and not about what Jimmy wanted to know.  As a skilled interviewer, you need to know how to politely steer the interview in the direction you want to go, not the other way around.  A possible response to get back on track might sound something like this.

“Wow.  It is hard for me to imagine how you handle all of those responsibilities as well as you do.  It sounds like if I want to work for your agency when I graduate it might behoove me to take some psychology classes.  However, right now I am taking a legal type class about agency law.  I know your time is very valuable and I respect that.  It sounds like you are a very busy and dedicated lady.  My next question is in regards to how the appeals process works for your agency.  Can desions be appealed and how does that process work?” (It is always better if you can ask questions that you already have at least a vague idea of what the answer is before you ask it.)

Most of the readers of this blog are well beyond this kind of academic assignments and must deal with administrative agency personnel in a much more practical and more important context – a client’s case. Much of Tommi’s advice is applicable to that context also. However, I’d like to hear from you as to how you handle professionally the often frustrating experience of dealing with administrative agency bureaucracies.