Posts Tagged ‘research’

The Researching Paralegal

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

During an exchange about my new book Cecil C. Elwell, RP, informed me of her relatively new blog, The Researching Paralegal. Lot’s of good information there already. Here’s one as an example:

Peter Martin’s Introduction to Basic Legal Citation — An ALWD and Bluebook Cheat Sheet

31 Thursday Oct 2013

Posted by Celia C. Elwell, RP in ALWD, Citations, Legal Writing, The Bluebook

ALWD Citation Manual, Bluebook, Legal Information Institute, Peter W. Martin

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (online ed. 2013), by Peter W. Martin, Cornell Legal Information Institute

This guide can be used for both the 4th Edition of the ALWD Citation Manual and the 19th Edition of the Bluebook. CCE

(See also Citing Legally Blog,

I’m adding this blog to my blog roll and RSS feed for sure!

Paralegals Contributing In Another Way

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Through a press release on, Outsourced Paralegal Services has asserted a “Link Between Chapter 7 & 13 Bankruptcy Filings and Medical Bills:”

Outsourced Paralegal Services, LLC a company specializing in providing Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy petition preparation and other relevant support services to attorneys has identified a direct correlation between chronic illness and medical bills, and filings for Chapter 7 & 13 bankruptcies throughout the Unites States.

According to Outsourced Paralegal Services President and Bankruptcy Paralegal, Patrick Campbell, “Our firm has prepared several hundred bankruptcy petitions for attorneys in the past year. I can corroborate the unsettling fact that approximately 65% of the consumer bankruptcy petitions that have come across my desk this year are for people who have, or who are still dealing with a chronic illness with medical bills in the thousands, and in some cases the tens of thousands of dollars. This is no longer simply something I read in the newspaper or watch on CNN. I have seen it in black and white first hand.”

This is interesting for several reasons. One is that it provides a starting point for a type of paralegal that has not previously been discussed on this blog – the paralegal who works as an independent contractor for a variety of attorneys. These paralegals are neither employees of special law offices in the traditional sense and the sense most discussed here. Nor are they “independent”paralegals in the sense of working directly with the public without attorney supervision as discussion several posts in the category “‘Independent’ Paralegals.”

 It is possible outsourced paralegals may provide a way balancing the competing interest of increasing access to the legal system by the public and providing protection for the public against the harms that arise from UPL. According to the press release, “Outsourced Paralegal Services provides law firms with the opportunity to outsource their workload to a senior level bankruptcy paralegal at half the cost of hiring a full time paralegal on staff.” The question, of course, in terms of providing greater public access to the legal system is whether the sole benefit of this is “conserving resources within a law firm” without that consevation of resources being passed on to the public thus making access more affordable.

Another interesting aspect is the way, not totally altruistic to be sure, that these particular paralegals used their expertise to contribute some hard data and some research to a public debate. There is a tremendous amount of talent and expertise with the paralegal profession. Bringing that talent and expertise to bear on matters of public interest, if done properly, can help improve the public’s perception of paralegals as professionals.

Professionals Think About How to Do What They Are Doing

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Professionalism is knowing “how to do” as well as knowing “what to do.” Often, to the frustration of attorneys and paralegals alike, work assignments are incompletely or incorrectly done not because the paralegal lacked the ability or the motivation, but because they did not understand the assignment. In this regard, communication between the paralegal and attorney is essential. More on that in a later post.

Before an assignment is begun, before you can even determine what clarification you need from the attorney, you must organize and plan. The first step in that provess is to analyze the assignment – break it down into its elements in a way similar to breaking down a statute or cause of action into its elements.  If we want to analyze whether our client is guilty of “Assault While Hunting,” we establish the elements and make a checklist for comparison to the facts of our case: (1) while hunting, (2) while in pursuit of wild game or game birds, (3) with criminal negligence, (4) with a dangerous weapon, (4) causes, (5) bodily injury, (6) to another. If any one of these is missing, the crime is not completed, e.g., if while hunting in pursuit of wild game or game birds with criminal negligence I cause my partner bodily injury by letting a tree branch swing back into his face, I have not committed the crime because element (4) is not present.

The same analysis can help understanding and completing an assignment. Let me give you an example from one of my classes:


The first step in completing any assignment, exam question or discussion forum is to break it down into its elements, i.e., analyze it. Let’s take a look at the Unit One Discussion forum as an example:

Either post an original answer or a substantive response to someone else’s original answer to the following question. State how critical and analytical thinking apply to discerning an answer to the question. Simple responses such as “I agree” are not acceptable. Check back regularly and participate in the discussion.

Please keep in mind that while this is an informal setting, your answers are being reviewed by all students and assessed by the instructor. Follow the writing rules. Use complete sentences and paragraphs. Make your postings concise and well organized. Spelling, grammar and punctuation count!

This can be broken down into the following tasks:
• Either post an original answer or a substantive response
• State how critical and analytical thinking apply to discerning the answer to the question
• Check back regularly and participate in the discussion
• Follow the writing rules

o Use complete sentences and paragraphs
o Be concise and well organized
o Use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Take moment now to go back and review your response to the discussion forum assignment using this list of the assignment elements as a checklist. Did you complete the assignment? Did you not only make a post but state how critical and analytical thinking apply to discerning the answer to the question? Did you check back regularly and participate in the discussion?

This same process can and should be used when a paralegal receives an assignment from their attorney. For example, assume you receive this assignment in an email from your attorney:

Our client is concerned about his son, Paul. Paul is 26 but has never held a job, tends to drink to excess, gamble and (our client thinks) use illegal drugs. Our client wants to be sure that Paul’s basic living expenses are covered if our client dies but does not want to simply give the money to Paul who will surely just spend it all on gambling, drugs or just have it taken away from him. He has heard of something called a “spendthrift trust” and would like to know if it is a good thing for him to do. We need to know whether “spendthrift trusts” are enfoced in Mississippi. If there are we need to explain to our client some general background on what they are and how they work. Check whether there are any statutes which may relate to them. If there are any limits on their enforceability in Mississippi courts and what those limits are.

This can be broken down into individual tasks:

A.) Research

  1. whether there is such a thing as “spendthrift trust,”
  2. some general background on what they are and how they work,
  3. whether they exist in Mississippi,
  4. whether there are any statutes which may relate to them, and
  5. whether there are any limits on their enforceability in Mississippi courts and what those limits are.
  6. B. Report results to attorney

    Questions for attorney:
    In what format do you want the report to you – memo, draft letter to the client?
    How much time do you want allocated to this project?
    What is the deadline for completion?
    If I start by determining whether such trusts are not enforcable in Mississippi, do you still want the others issue researched?

Organization and planning are foundational elements of The Empowered Paralegal. They are so important as tools for the professional paralegal that Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor,

applies them to home meal planning in her post today, The Paralegal’s Guide to Easy Meal Planning & Preparation :

First, there are two time organization issues involved with meal preparation

Planning: When you walk in the door from a long day of entering billable hours you have to know what you’ll be fixing for dinner. If you don’t, you will definitely resort to fast food, take-out or cereal. To know what you’ll be fixing, you must have a plan.

Breaking the work into manageable chunks: The task of fixing dinner seems overwhelming: too many steps and too much to do. If you look at cooking as one giant step, it’s bound to seem overwhelming. If you break it down into smaller pieces, it becomes manageable.

Read the rest of her post for the similarities between how the process is applied to classroom assignment, work assignments and home meal planning.

What should a paralegal do when an attorney deletes research given by paralegal prior to giving information to judge?

Monday, August 31st, 2009

One visitor to this blog arrived through the Google search “what should a paralegal do when a attorney delete research given by paralegal prior to giving information to judge.” Several posts here have discussed ethical questions that arise for a paralegal when they discover that an attorney is engaged in unethical acts. However, it is unclear in this case that the attorney is engaged in any unethical conduct. While the attorney does have an obligation not to commit fraud or other dishonesty with regard to the court, it is not necessarily required that she provide the court with all of the information discovered during research of an issue. There are often strategic or tactical reasons for an attorney not to include research in a memorandum or brief filed with a court that do not violate any ethical obligation owed by the attorney to the court.

The main thing a paralegal should do in this circumstance is to make sure there is a record showing that he did his work, found the information and provided it to the attorney. The attorney is always the final arbiter of what is and is not included in documents filed with the court. They must sign those documents and in civil proceeding in federal court are subject  to sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Additional information would be necessary to assess whether in any particular case the paralegal should do more.

Often the paralegal is frustrated because, after hours of research and preparation, the attorney does not seem to be applying the resulting work to the project at hand. I discuss this in The Empowered Paralegal in the context of trial tactics:

One key to managing your relationship with your attorney is a mutual understanding of what each of you does as part of the legal team. Understanding your attorney’s use of trial tactics is also an essential tool to assisting in building a better trial with that attorney. Often the paralegal is frustrated because, after hours of research and preparation, the attorney does not seem to be applying the resulting work to the trial. However, trials are more than just the application of rules of procedure, rules of evidences, statutes and case law to a set of facts.

Just as important as knowing the rules and law is knowing how and when to employ them in the context of a particular trial. While knowledge of the rules of evidence will tell the attorney she can object to a question, she must use your preparation and her judgment to determine whether to object.  At each opportunity to object she must determine instantly

  • whether an objection is likely to succeed because an unsuccessful objection may create the wrong impression in the jury’s mind,
  • whether repeated objections, even if successful, will cause a jury to think her client has something to hide,
  • whether a successful objection will later prejudice her ability to use similar evidence favorable to her case,

and many other potential ramifications.

The trial attorney must make tactical use of all the weapons available. This can only be done if the case is thoroughly prepared; the facts, law and rules all known and the evidence all available. There are several excellent books devoted to effective trial tactics, a topic which cannot be covered comprehensively here. However, there are several general tactical considerations which will be helpful to you in understanding what your attorney is doing and how you can most effectively assist the attorney.


Friday, August 14th, 2009

Tell your attorney about this. Better yet set this up and show it to your attorney. It’ll be a great way to start the new week:

Tired of Paying for PACER Docs? Princeton Group Offers Alternative

Many federal courts make their opinions readily available online–for a price. And even though it’s only eight cents a page, that can quickly add up for frequent users.

As some users unhappy about the cost of the PACER (short for Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system lobby for changes, others are developing workarounds. The latest is a website launched today, RECAP, that offers a download to open source software through which PACER documents are seamlessless duplicated as they are pulled up by participants, according to Ars Technica.

The Firefox extension puts the duplicated documents on a mirror hosted by Internet Archive, and eventually, if enough people use the RECAP website system, there will be a substantial library of free documents available, the law blog explains.