Posts Tagged ‘Professionalism’

A Legacy of Professionalism / Mentoring

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Last Saturday the father of a friend, who is himself an attorney died. I only met his father a couple of time, but heard a lot about him. A few days ago, Judge Primeaux posted the following regarding Tom’s father’s professionalism and the role of mentoring. It is primarily addressed to attorneys, but applies as well to paralegals. After you read it, I’d like you to consider what role you can play as a mentor or a mentoree in one of the many mentoring programs supported by local paralegal associations. If your association does not have such a program, perhaps you can play a role in starting one.

Attorney Thomas Henry Freeland, III, of Oxford, died last Saturday…Mr. Freeland’s friends knew him as Hal. I did not know him, but from what I read about him he was one of those lawyers who set high standards for himself and demanded the same from those who worked with him. The respect he earned is clear in the comments on Tom’s blog.

One of those comments, by attorney Danny Lampley of Tupelo, brought me up short, and I hope he and Tom will forgive me for copying a part of it so you can read it here:

Small things I would overlook as an ignorant clerk were revealed to be important. I recall Hal crossing out incorrect phrasing in an acknowledgment and telling me the correct words to use; and he took the time to tell me why those words were better and explained how doing it one way would have an effect different from doing it the other way. I learned that just because everybody says “the law” is thus and such and “the cases say so” does not mean that is really “the law” nor is it necessarily what the cases said. I learned you gotta read ‘em and you have to understand what it is exactly that they say. I learned to always independently research an issue and to never assume that a rule is today what you thought it was yesterday. I learned how to be a lawyer; I only wish I could more often put it into actual practice.

Mr. Lampley learned how to be a lawyer from one who took professionalism seriously and who understood the care, devotion and attention that the law demands. Beyond learning the craft of lawyering, though, he learned the meaning of professionalism. And — this is important — there is a distiction between ethics and professionalism. Ethics requires that you practice in a way that conforms to both the letter and the spirit of rules of conduct. Professionalism is the style in which you approach and carry out those ethical requirements. Professionalism demands more than mere observance of the standards, Or, as Justice Mike Randoph told a gathering of chancery judges a few months ago: “The rules are the basic minimum. We expect much more than that.”

If you are a young lawyer, I encourage you to seek out a battle-scarred old warhorse who would be willing to be your mentor. If you are as fortunate as attorney Lampley, you will learn that mastery of the legal profession lies not in discovering the shortcuts, but rather in learning to love the hard work, devotion, attention to detail, study, creativity and long hours that it takes to achieve excellence.

Mr. Freeland left his family his own personal legacy, including two children who are, themselves, members of our profession. But far more than that, as those blog comments reveal, he left the legal profession richer by inculcating professionalism in those whom he mentored. I hope that someone will be able to write that about all of us when our days reach their end.

Well-dressed Professionals on LinkedIn

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Since my recent post on professional dress and the need for more attention to the issue from and for males, I accepted an invitation to connect on LinkedIn from Rebecca Hetzler, a paralegal/legal secretary at Steptoe & Johnson in the Columbus, Ohio area. She is a member of the LinkedIn group – “Well-dressed Professionals.” I have not yet joined or reviewed the discussions for the group, but here’s how it bills it self:

This is a group for those of us who (despite the trend towards casual attire in the workplace) still choose to dress well. – Todd Herschberg, Founder.

Discussions can be found on the group site:

Members of the group include a “Menswear Designer and Owner” and “President, Advance Image & Etiquette Consulting.” I agree with Vicki Voison’s comment that “it’s easier for guys, though: a navy blue sport coat, khakis and nice shirt (with or without a tie) will take them a long, long way,” but I also like to think that male fashion can extend beyond the “frat boy” uniform and still be professional. So, check out the “Well-dressed Professionals” group and tell me what you think. Also, do use the advice from both my book, The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, and from Vicki and Charlsye’s book, The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success

So what if he’s a “a tyrant, an idiot, a weasel and a dump truck?”

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

We have all worked with, and often for, persons who meet this description (or something close to it.) Do not write it or even say it, except to the most intimate of your friends and relations. If those friends are fellow employees, don’t even say it to them. Do not post it on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. As a story in illustrates, it can become grounds for termination of your employment or – at the very least – ground for a defense against an a claim for wrongful termination.

One can certainly sympathize with the person who wrote these emails both because of the culture of the office at the time and because it is very, very hard to work with or for a tyrant, idiot, weasel or a dump truck, much less someone is embodies them all. But, office email and social networks (online or in person) are not the places to vent the frustration that goes with working with or for them. (As noted in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional the same goes for comments about clients.)

The problems is not all about the possible consequences, which go beyond lost of a job to the perception persons have of you as a professional. Even those who agree with you will think less of you for having lowered yourself to this form of name-calling. Worse, yet you will be (and therefore feel) less professional. This will cause you to lose some of the respect most necessary for empowerment – respect for yourself.

Sparks Flying in Texas Federal District Court

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Two posts from other blogs are connected not only because they both deal with issues of professionalism but because they mention the same judge, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks. The posts related to attorneys, but I think the lessons in professionalism and civility pertain to the entire legal profession, so I’m including them here.

The first is from Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog that reprints in it’s entirety an order recently issued by Judge Sparks in a discovery dispute. The order had previously been subject of a post on the Above the Lawblog. Rather than reprint the entire order here (mainly because I don’t have the time to figure out how,” I’m using the Above the Lawsynopsis:

On Friday, Judge Sparks invited lawyers to a hearing that he referred to as a “kindergarten party.” According to the “invitation” — er, order — “[t]he party will feature many exciting and informative lessons, including… how to enter into reasonable agreements about deposition dates [and] how to limit depositions to reasonable subject matter.” The event is aimed at lawyers who “are unable to practice law at the level of a first year law student.”

The second story is from In the case referenced there,

Last week, Sparks rejected an anti-abortion lawyer’s request to file an amicus brief in the case on behalf of “317 Texas women hurt by abortion,” according to Texas Lawyer’s Tex Parte Blog. In a sternly worded order (PDF), Sparks called the San Antonio lawyer, Allan Parker, “anything but competent.”

“A competent attorney would not have filed this motion in the first place; if he did, he certainly would not have attached exhibits that are both highly prejudicial and legally irrelevant,” Sparks wrote. The judge went on to seal one of the exhibits—which was a picture of an aborted fetus, Parker says.

Good paralegals point out to their attorneys when the attorneys may be crossing the line in pleadings, discovery disputes, and even client relations. Of course, this requires clear lines of communications between the attorneys and their paralegals. In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, there is extensive discussion on how to establish and maintain that kind of communication. But the fact of the matter is that it takes a good attorney who respect others to be mindful of admonitions from their paralegals. It does not sound as though the attorneys “benchslapped” by Judge Sparks, are that kind of attorney.

Professionalism Anthology Orders Being Taken

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Carolina Academic Press has posted The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology on its website. Most of page is posted here, but you can click through to the Table of Contents and Introduction at the webpage.

Thanks again to all of you who contributed to this project as contributors, editors, and reviewers!

The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology

Edited by: Robert E. Mongue

Forthcoming August 2011 • $40.00 • 370 pp • paper • ISBN: 978-1-59460-821-6 • LCCN 2011013633

Professionalism is more than dressing well and a profession is more than a group of people engaged in the same career. This book takes a comprehensive approach to paralegal professionalism and the paralegal professional, discussing topics such as establishing a professional identity, regulation, certification and licensing, paralegal associations, paralegals from the perspective of the courts, paralegal utilization, paralegal professionalism, paralegal practice outside the United States, and paralegal education.

“This important book addresses issues that either are or should be at the forefront of every discussion of the paralegal professional today. Paralegals are beginning to acknowledge the heights they have attained, but they have lacked a major scholarly treatise that has examined the profession in a systematic and insightful way. This book provides that scholarly examination. Beginning with a thoughtful overview of professional identity and all its elements, the book then goes on to examine each element of that identity — education, regulation, professional ethics and the attorney/paralegal relationship, and utilization — in academic detail. This framework echoes the issues that define the profession as a whole today. Thus, it is likely that this book will provide the intellectual framework for the discussions that will take place throughout the professional sphere.” — Toni Marsh, Esquire, Director, George Washington University Paralegal Studies Programs

“This anthology delivers on the title’s promise: it is a thought-provoking compilation of issues facing paralegals today and a challenge to individual paralegals to embody professionalism as the profession itself grows and develops.” — Kristine M. Hill, ACP, FRP, Advanced Certified Paralegal, Pensacola, Florida

The Empowered Paralegal Professional Anthology approaches the inherent questions posed to the modern day paralegal in terms of where we have been, who we are, and where we go from here. There is such a diverse background, with regard to education and preparation, in the field that it is refreshing to see a guide that incorporates a historical context, as well as future goals of the profession. It is so very important to understand the value of personal identity in terms of professionalism and ethics, which is crucial, or should I say integral, to how the legal community and the general public view the paralegal or legal assistant. I would highly recommend this book to all presently in the paralegal profession, as well as those interested in pursuing a paralegal career.” — Toylaine Hayman Spencer, Environmental Paralegal, Houston, Texas

Paralegal Outsourcing – India is too far!

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Over a year ago I did a post entitled, Paralegal Outsourcing: Is India too far?” noting, “If an attorney in Boston can “supervise” a virtual paralegal located in San Francisco, could she not also do so with one located in India? Since licensing is not required in the United States, is the door open to this sort of outsourcing? Perhaps, it is happening already. If any of you know, I’d like to hear from you.”

The answer, it appears, is that it had been happening for several years, but many of the problems noted in the post do indeed arise and, as a result, at least one company is moving its outsourcing back home. According to, “About a decade after it helped pioneer the trend of outsourcing legal work to India, Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner, a patent prosecution boutique, is bringing the work back to U.S. soil.”

One of the primary, although not the initial, reasons for the outsourcing was cost savings, but some of those savings are phantom savings, especially when you factor in the cost of doing the kind of supervision discussed in the original post;

“There’s a very large volume of paralegal work required to support patent prosecution,” Lundberg said. “It was working well for us because we were getting substantially lower pricing.” Schwegman’s Indian outsourcing peaked at about 15 people doing document or paralegal work for the firm.

The arrangement worked well for several years, but the firm “finally figured out that our productivity in the U.S. was substantially higher,” Lundberg said. Meanwhile, costs in India had risen, and automation was more prevalent. “It started to look less and less attractive to be in India,” Lundberg said.

The firm originally saved about 50% in labor costs for the outsourced work, assuming that productivity was equal. But shipping work to India also involves many layers of management, supervision and training expenses, plus work culture differences that can affect cost, Lundberg said.

“A U.S. employee would feel a lot more freedom to take action in gray areas than an Indian employee,” Lundberg said. “They would ask permission for things a U.S. employee would do without blinking an eye.”

The extremely hierarchical nature of work in India is also a factor, he said. If a copier runs out of paper, for example, a paralegal in India would go and find an administrative person to load the paper instead of just doing it, Lundberg said.”You get a lot of that type of thing going on that ends up slowing things down if there’s any question about how things are going to work.”

The ability to take initiative, to exercise judgment, and work  independently, I have argued here and in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is an essential element of professionalism.  This demonstrates that this kind of professionalism is an essential element of keeping United States paralegal work in the United States.

Defining Professionalism

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Judge Larry Primeaux posts today on his Chancery Court blog on a post on The Legal Ethics Forum. While it relates to lawyers, its applicable to paralegals as well. Defining professionalism (or even a profession) is not easy and is the subject of The Paralegal Professionalism Anthology which is on the way to the printers and should be available from the publisher soon, as well as a key part of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional and many posts here.  While the Judge does a good job of summarizing the original post, it is well worth clicking through to the original for a take on professionalism that is not often discussed.

Here’s Judge Primeaux’s post:

The Legal Ethics Forum has a thought-provoking post about a study in Minneapolis in which lawyers were called upon to define professionalism by identifying lawyers they considered exemplars, and by identifying the traits they displayed.  ” … [T]hese exemplars talked about a way of being, of acquiring habits of reflection and soul searching, of questioning their personal assumptions about how to be an effective lawyer, or how to lead other lawyers.”  It’s an interesting addition to the concept of professionalism.

Not Doing Nothing -The Paralegal Voice on Ethics and Professionalism.

Monday, June 13th, 2011

It’s been awhile, I know. But I’ve not been doing nothing. Two children graduated (one in Providence and one from grad school at NYU – both summa!). So we drove from Mississippi to Providence, then to NYC, then back to Providence, then up to Maine where I’ve been holed up in a cottage re-charging while indexing and doing final edits on The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology, editing a student’s Masters thesis, conducting an online course, working on The Empowered Paralegal Cause of Action Handbook,etc. What I have not been doing (obviously) is posting here. However, with the Anthology behind me, I’m likely to get back to regular posting.

In the meantime there are a whole lot of people who really have not been doing nothing and I’m just catching up with what they’ve been doing. As usual Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, and Lynne Devenny of Practical Paralegalism top the “active” list with blog posts, newletters, speaking engagement, etc. However, the item you should catch if you haven’t already, is the latest edition of their The Paralegal Voice:

Ethics and professionalism are essential to becoming a successful paralegal. On this edition of The Paralegal Voice, co-hosts Lynne DeVenny and Vicki Voisin welcome paralegal, Camille Stell, Director of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual, who provides ethics tips for paralegals, talks about how paralegals can assist attorneys in the area of client communications and what paralegals can do every day to maintain the highest level of professionalism.

This is an important topic and Lynne and Vicki handle it well!


Professionalism and Wikipedia

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Despite the title to this post, there is NO connection between professionalism and Wikipedia when it comes to legal or academic research. When I point this out to students or practicing paralegals I generally get responses indicating that the listeners are somewhat stunned by the comment, but they are not all the same. The “stunning” seems to be of two types: those who are stunned because they cannot believe anyone uses Wikipedia to do research and those who cannot understand why I am opposed to its use for these purposes, i.e., they don’t believe anyone really cares if you get your information from Wikipedia. I get similar responses on the issue of citing authority: Some can’t imagine that any legal professional would fail to cite authority and some who c do not believe anyone really cares.

Aside from the many documented instances of Wikipedia being wrong, e.g., reporting Senators Kennedy and Byrd as dead long before the actual events and Rush Limbaugh being hoaxed via Wikipedia today’s passes on a story from Legal Blog Watch in a post entitled “Judge Warns Defense Lawyers in Pitino Extortion Case: Don’t Crib Law Discussion from Wikipedia” in which it is clear that some people do care. This is especially important to legal professionals when the “someone” is a federal judge:

A federal judge has issued a legal writing warning to lawyers who sought a new trial for a woman convicted a trying to extort money from University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The defense should not have copied its discussion of ineffective assistance from Wikipedia, U.S. District Judge Charles Simpson of Louisville wrote in a February opinion (PDF). His concerns are outlined in footnote 4 of his opinion denying a new trial for the defendant, Karen Sypher, Legal Blog Watch reports.

“The court notes here that defense counsel appears to have cobbled much of his statement of the law governing ineffective assistance of counsel claims by cutting and pasting, without citation, from the Wikipedia website,” Simpson wrote.

“The court reminds counsel that such cutting and pasting, without attribution, is plagiarism. The court also brings to counsel’s attention Rule 8.4 of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to ‘engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.’ …

“Finally, the court reminds counsel that Wikipedia is not an acceptable source of legal authority in the United States District Courts.”

Legal Blog Watch credits Legal Writing Prof Blog for noting the footnote

Professionals do not rely on Wikipedia.  Professionals cite their sources in work submitted to courts. Period.

Profesionalism: Being Competent and Maintaining a Credible Front?”

Monday, January 17th, 2011

“The Cultural Study of Work,” an anthology compiled by Douglas A. Harper, Doug Harper, and Helene M. Lawson, (2003) contains an article by Kathryn J. Lively, entitled Occupational Claims to Professionalism: The Case of Professionals that is an interesting read. It’s available in it’s entirety online (go to Goggle Scholar and type in “paralegal professionalism”), but I cannot download or copy-and-paste from the article. Lively conducted an open-interview study of over 50 paralegals to gather an understanding of how individual paralegals understand “professional” and “professionalism,” stating:

Given paralegal’s position in the middle of the occupational continuum, as paraprofessionals they make ideal respondents for studying the appropriation of the symbols “professional” (and the corresponding symbol “unprofessional”) and “professionalism” by nonprofessional workers. Paraprofessionals are members of occupations organized around the work of a master profession. They lack the requisite job autonomy, and, in some cases, depth of experience or knowledge to be full-fledged professionals. [citation omitted] In this case, paralegals are members of an occupation that serves attorneys, but they lack the job autonomy, experience, and knowledge to practice law without attorney supervision.

While some may argue that this is just a matter of definition and anti-competitive rules established by the ABA, i.e., that paralegal have the requisite experience and knowledge to practice some law, just not law as an attorney does, and the lack of job autonomy emanates from the ABA’s refusal to yield any part of law practice to non-lawyers, we will leave that aside for the moment and focus on the results of Lively’s study.

Lively explains,

Because professionalism was an important part of paralegals’ work identity, whenever they used “professional” or “professionalism,” I asked them what these words meant to them personally.  Although no two paralegals completely agreed on what it meant to be professional, they identified two sets of norms they used for judging their and others’ behavior: being competent in one’s work and maintaining a credible front. [Citations omitted.]

She concludes, in part,

Note that, at least for these paralegals, being competent often meant withholding anger, exhibiting civility, and stifling pettiness, which is reminiscent of earlier discussions of display and feeling rules in the workplace. Indeed one of the most striking observations about the use of the term “competency” by paralegals is the degree to which it often contained an emotive element in addition to the basic skill, knowledge and ability required to perform the job….In fact, many paralegals believed that the manner in which they completed their work was almost as important as whether or not they completed the work. [Citations omitted.]

For these paralegals, professionalism, or “being professional,” required not only that they do their jobs, but that they do them with good attitudes (or at very least the appearance of good attitudes.)

None of this is news to most of the readers of this blog in posts such as “Feedback, Attitude, and Control.” We’ve discuss the role of attitude in professionalism here before. To an extent I disagree with this statement of attitude being merely maintaining a credible front, as the statements of the paralegals seem to go well beyond that. However, the article itself is quite interesting and well worth reading.