Posts Tagged ‘Time Management’

Managing Stress the NFPA Way

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I’m just now making  my way through the August/September 2012 issue of NFPA’s Paralegal Reporter which you can subscribe to here. I subscribed during a special offer. I don’t know if the offer is still special, but the Reporter is well worth the regular subscription price. This issue has a number of good articles including one on Cloud technology, Estate Planning in the  Digital Era, Retaliation in the Workplace, and Medicaid: Estate Recovery and others. I was particularly interested in “Stress Management, A Plan for Working Paralegals.” The article works off the same premise as The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, i.e., that stress in best managed by managing your work (and personal life), rather than allowing it to manage you. While TEP discusses time, workload, workspace, client, and attorney relationship management, this article focuses on time management. It has quick, concise, clear suggestions for ten steps to follow and suggests following them for 28 days to establish their bona fides: 1. Assessing How You Spend Your Time, 2. Scheduling, 3. Setting Reasonable Goals, 4. Prioritizing, 5. Evaluating Tasks Once, 6. Learn to  Say No, 7. Delegating, 8. Limiting Interruptions, 9. Investing Time (an interesting concept), and 10. Maximizing Rewards.

Check it  out. I best the time it saves will outweighs the time it takes to read it!

AAfPE South Central Conference

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

I recently traveled to New Orleans for the American Association for Paralegal Education South Central Conference admirably hosted by Tulane University’s School of Continuing Education Paralegal Studies Program directed by Sallie Davis. My own presentation, I believe, went well. The conference overall was an excellent example of what professional associations can do for the profession – in this case the profession of educating paralegal students by providing opportunities for members to meet, network, and share knowledge.

I particularly benefited from the presentation by Ernest Davila, J.D., Paralegal Program Director, San Jacinto College, Houston, TX, on getting the most from time and financial resources, the Using Media in the Classroom presentation by Joni Johnson, Adjunct Instructor, Tulane University, and the Teaching E-Discovery: Practices and Pitfalls presentation by Lois Elliot, also an Adjunct Instructor at Tulane University.

Even though I’ve been through fairly extensive time management training, it seems as though I pick up something new at every time/resource management presentation. For those practicing paralegal who could use time and workload management assistance (and who cannot!) I suggest, of course, my own The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional”
and posts here in the related categories.

E-Discovery, of course, is becoming ever more important and complex. Practicing paralegals involved with e-discovery may want to join the Organization of Legal Professionals an organization that focuses on e-discovery training and certifications and The Paralegal Knowledge Institute’s courses on e-discovery. In the interest of full disclosure, I am associated with both of these organizations. I am on the OLP Advisory Council, although it seems to do quite well without my advice, and I have taught in a PKI webinar.

Perhaps though the best lesson I learned is that it is possible to go to New Orleans and have a great time without straying too far from my medical restrictions on sodium and alcohol!

“The Paralegal” Speaks on Time Management

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As regular readers of this blog know, time management is one of the basics of paralegal empowerment and professionalism. So, I enjoyed reading Ana Perrio’s post regarding time management onThe Paralegal. According to her website, Ana Pierro, “is a paralegal supervisor in the Office of the General Counsel at a large financial institution in the Greater New York area.   Ana has over 16 years experience working in law firms and in corporate legal departments with experience in insurance defense, plaintiff’s personal injury and product liability, asbestos litigation, securities litigation, compliance, regulatory work recently government affairs.”

Ana’s post two of the biggest impediments to time management: the telephone and email. The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” devotes entire chapters to time, workload, and client management. Ana is correct that time management requires active management of email and telephone. If you do not control them, they willcontrol you. So, I recommend some specific rules. These are rules that you put in place to govern the way you manage emails and calls. Click here to check out the fundamentals for email rules and client management phone rules.

Whose job is more stressful, yours or a judge’s?

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I’m not actually entering into this fray – or suggesting there should be one. However, Judge Primeaux of the Mississippi 12th District posted “Ten Commandments for Reducing Stress” on his blog today and it occurred to me that it might be as helpful to paralegals as to judges:

This from a judges’ meeting a couple of years ago.

I    Thou shall not be perfect or even attempt to be.

II    Thou shall not try to be all things to all people.

III    Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done.

IV    Thou shall not spread thyself too thin.

V    Thou shall learn to say “no” without guilt.

VI    Thou shall schedule time for thyself.

VII    Thou shall have something to look forward to every day.

VIII    Thou shall sometime be slack, idle and inelegant.

IX    Thou shall keep thyself happily fit.

X    Thou shall embrace the present and let go of the past.  

For many paralegals number III, “Thou shall not leave undone things that ought to be done,” may seem like a prescription for increasing stress if taken individually. But this need not be the  case. As discussed in several posts here and at length in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional, stress reduction may best be accomphished by learning to manage time, work space, workload, dockets, clients, and relationships with attorneys – all those things that create the stress in the first place. Failing that, try following the judge’s commandments.

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.

Empowerment and “De-stressing”

Monday, September 27th, 2010

I have just gotten to reading the most recent edition of The East Coast Paralegal, a magazine for paralegals published in Nova Scotia, Canada, where paralegal practice is on a different basis from that in Ontario, which has been the subject of many posts here because of its experiment in licensing paralegals through the Law Society, the same body that oversees attorneys. The magazine, sent to me by Ann-Marie Allen, Editor-in-Chief, is well worth the read. In particular, there is an article entitled, “DE-STRESSING YOUR LAW FIRM BY DE-STRESSING YOUR LEGAL STAFF” that consists of answer to questions posed by ECP to Estelle Morrison M.Ed. C.W.C., Director, Health Management Ceridian Canada Ltd. 5th, who recently wrote an article on de-stressing law firms for The Lawyer’s Weekly.

I’ve written frequently about diminishing the stress associated with the paralegal (and legal) profession, so I’m always interested in solutions proposed by others. I’m particularly taken by Morrison view that de-stressing the law office must include being aware of, and doing what can be done to decrease, the stress placed on the legal staff, most especially the paralegals.

I can’t reprint the entire article here, but the first exchange will give you a good idea of the approach:

ECP: What specific areas can lawyers improve on to help destress their staff?
EM: One of the most important areas for lawyers and other professionals to be concerned with is workload and worklife balance. This issue has become critical in recruitment and retention efforts, employee engagement and of course, employees’ personal experience of stress. Understanding what is appropriate in terms of job demands, time frames, setting reasonable expectations for hours of work and supporting efforts to set boundaries between work and home are some of the ways that Lawyers can foster healthy work environments and working conditions.
Where possible, encouraging staff to exercise control over their work or have input into decisions is another way to reduce stress and elevate job satisfaction. Rewarding and/or recognizing efforts or accomplishments at work, even if only verbally, can send the message to staff that their efforts are noticed and their hard work is appreciated.
Depending on the nature of the practice, the legal work environment can be pressured and laden with negative interactions. Many clients seeking legal services are doing so for situations that may involve significant stress, conflict, fear or sadness. To offset the heaviness that this can bring to the staff, lawyers should find ways to bring a sense of fun or playfulness, where appropriate, into the workplace.

The primary premise of The Empowered Paralegal series is that paralegals can, and should, take control of their work, their work place, and their career. I believe that this kind of empowerment must come from within and can be developed through implementation of techniques that enhance management of time, workload, calender, docket, workplace, clients, and relationships with attorneys. However, this is not to deny that law firms can, and should, provide an environment that encourages paralegals to take that control and internalize that empowerment. It is not just a matter of respect (although that is a large factor.) Doing so de-stressing paralegals, which de-stresses the law firm, which increased both the quantity and quality of productiveness by the entire legal team.

Cell phone civility

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

A post on ABAJournal.comtoday reports on some very pominent people who have stopped using cell phone, “giving them more power over their time and eliminating distractions that interrupt their work and their relationships.” I like this idea as a matter of time management and have written on the need to institution phone rules, cell or land-line, for both time and client management purposes. Of course, completely doing away with the boss’s ability to contact you as a paralegal is not a good attorney managment technique. The key is to manage the phone (and email) rather than let it manage you.

This post is really about another aspect of the ABAJournal.com report though:

A Los Angeles-area college dean, Jonathan Reed of the University of La Verne, said ditching his cell phone helps him pay attention in meetings and frees him up to talk to strangers. “A cell phone signals that my whole world is me and it excludes everyone else,” he told Bloomberg. He recalls a recent trip where he saw two men in a restaurant sitting with beautiful women, and both were on their cell phones.

“Do they have someone better on the other line?” he wondered.

I have noticed a growing tendency on the part of legal professionals, including attorneys, to leave their cell phones on while meeting with clients.  Aside from being just plain rude and unprofessional, this is disasterous for client management. When the cell phone is left on and caller ID is being checked, the implication is that there is someone out there who is more important to the legal professional than the client who is right in front of them. Clients note the distraction and wonder if they are being billed for the time taken to check the caller ID. In general, they feel disrespected – and rightfully so. It also prevents the legal professional from being able to sell the idea that when they are with another client, they focus only on that client and, therefore, cannot take their call. The client knows this isn’t true, because the legal professional is willing to take other calls while with them. What this tells the client again  is that they are simply not important enough to garner the professional’s attention while the professional is with them or to be a distraction to the professional when the professional is with another client.

Civility does seem to be on the wan. The courts have started to take action against the lack of civility given by one attorney to another in the courtroom and the litigation process in general. Legal teams who want to keep their clients ought to start by being civil to those clients.

Is being a paralegal stressful?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

A recent viewer of this blog was brought here by the search, “Is being a paralegal stressful?” The search also brought the viewer to a number of forums and other discussions indicating that it can be, and often is -even to the extent of causing some practitioners to abandon the career. I hope, though, that the searcher read far enough to understand that being a paralegal need not be excessively stressful. Certainly there are aspects of the job that can lead to “paralegal unhappy.” While stress cannot be eliminated from any profession, it can be managed making the rewards of the profession far outweigh the stress toll.

The key is to manage your work and your career, rather than let them manage you. As is often stated here and explained in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional:

  • The effective, empowered paralegal manages time well. Generally, a lawyer sells legal services, rather than a product. The value of those services is measured by the amount of time spent fulfilling a client’s legal needs. It is essential, therefore, that both the paralegal and the attorney organize themselves and their time to maximize efficiency. In addition, they must keep track of, and bill for, their time in a way that makes sense for the law office and the clients.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages the calendar well. Missed deadlines result in dissatisfied clients, malpractice claims, and attorney disciplinary procedures. It is essential that both the attorney and the paralegal be aware of upcoming deadlines and have a system in place to meet those deadlines without last-minute pressures that increase the likelihood of mistakes.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages files well. The best crafted deeds, contracts, wills and pleadings are worthless if they cannot be found when needed. None of them can even be created if the necessary information cannot be located in a timely manner, or was never obtained in the first place. It is essential that the both the paralegal and the attorney have a system in place, and use that system, for organizing, identifying, indexing and tracking files and the materials contained in the files.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages clients well. The client is part of the legal team. Without the client there is no need for either the paralegal or the attorney and no money to fund the law office. However, the client is the member of the team who knows least about the law and her role in the team. It is essential that the paralegal and the attorney keep the client informed about what is being done for her and why, and what she needs to do for the outcome to be successful.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal manages the paralegal’s relationship with the attorney well within the legal team. Both the paralegal and attorney must know, and respect, their roles and those of the other; their abilities and those of the other. It is essential that the paralegal understand what the attorney expects of him and the attorney understand what the paralegal can and cannot do for her.
    • The effective, empowered paralegal knows and applies the principles of professionalism and thereby gains recognition of his status as a professional.

    In addition, it is possible to manage happiness. (See Planning for Happiness: The Happiness Project Finally, keep in mind the role of humor and a sense of humor in managing stress. Depending on your sense of humor, you may find some help with Paralegals on Trialor in Paralegal Hell,or both. I’d be interested in hearing of other sites and other ways paralegals work humor into their days.

    Distinguishing Clerical and Professional Tasks

    Friday, July 9th, 2010

    Most paralegals are charged with file management and other “clerical” tasks. In some small offices, even the attorneys must take on such tasks. The professional paralegals handles these tasks effectively and efficiently as part of their role in the legal team. Many paralegals are also charged with tracking and billing their time.  A recent case from the Nebraska United States Bankruptcy Court posted by Leagle.com deals with the relationship between the performance of clerical tasks and billing of time (among other issues). Here’s what the court has to say:

    In addition to the matters discussed above, there is an issue concerning a law firm charging for secretarial or administrative functions, which, traditionally, have been treated as overhead and either not charged at all, or not charged at professional or paraprofessional rates.

    There has been little guidance on this issue from courts in the Eighth Circuit. Most of the case law around the country suggests that “ministerial tasks” (typing, file organization, document preparation, searching or filing documents on PACER, etc.) performed by a professional or paraprofessional should not be allowed as a separate charge because it is part of the office overhead which should already be built into counsel’s hourly rate. See In re Dimas, LLC, 357 B.R. 563, 577 (Bankr. N.D. Calif. 2006) (“Services that are clerical in nature are not properly chargeable to the bankruptcy estate. They are not in the nature of professional services and must be absorbed by the applicant’s firm as an overhead expense.”). There is some older authority, however, for the proposition that the court should look at the “sum total” of the services rendered in determining whether a specialized service was performed which benefitted the estate, even if it was a clerical task performed by a professional. In re Interstate Restaurant Sys., Inc., 61 B.R. 945, 949 (S.D. Fla. 1986).

    With regard to billing for clerical work, the Supreme Court said, in a case involving the award of attorney fees under the Civil Rights Act, that:

    It has frequently been recognized in the lower courts that paralegals are capable of carrying out many tasks, under the supervision of an attorney, that might otherwise be performed by a lawyer and billed at a higher rate. Such work might include, for example, factual investigation, including locating and interviewing witnesses; assistance with depositions, interrogatories, and document production; compilation of statistical and financial data; checking legal citations; and drafting correspondence. Much such work lies in a gray area of tasks that might appropriately be performed either by an attorney or a paralegal. To the extent that fee applications under § 1988 are not permitted to bill for the work of paralegals at market rates, it would not be surprising to see a greater amount of such work performed by attorneys themselves, thus increasing the overall cost of litigation. Of course, purely clerical or secretarial tasks should not be billed at a paralegal rate, regardless of who performs them. What the court in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717 (CA5 1974), said in regard to the work of attorneys is applicable by analogy to paralegals: “It is appropriate to distinguish between legal work in the strict sense, and investigation, clerical work, compilation of facts and statistics and other work which can often be accomplished by non-lawyers but which a lawyer may do because he has no other help available. Such non-legal work may command a lesser rate. Its dollar value is not enhanced just because a lawyer does it.”

    Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 288 n.10 (1989).

    Many of the time entries in this fee application for work performed by the employees identified as paralegals appear to be, functionally, clerical. File setup, scanning, setting up appointments, would be considered, according to the authority cited above, clerical in nature and not billable. I will, therefore, discount the amount claimed as paralegal time. I suggest that in the future Mr. Skrupa, and other law firms using a similar billing system, review the functions performed by the “paralegals” and bill, or not bill, accordingly.

    The court thus recognizes the value of paralegal professional services, but requires that clerical task time be built into the paralegal’s hourly rate, just as it is for the other professional on the legal team – the attorney.

    A clerical task remains a clerical task whether done by a file clerk, a paralegal, or an attorney. Law office might want to take this into account when structuring the office. Since clerical tasks are not separately billable by a paralegal, it might make more sense to hire a file clerk as part of the office overhead and free up the paralegal time for professional work that can be billed separately. In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, I discuss delegation of clerical tasks as one aspect of paralegal time management. There I attempt to assist paralegals in making the argument for hiring persons to whom clerical tasks can be delegated. This case supports that argument.

    Delegating your way to effective time management

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    As discussed in The Empowered Paralegal, time and work management requires analyzing the work you do and the way you use your time to do it. Once the work is analyzed, it can be prioritized and managed. Sometimes tasks are best managed by being eliminated.  (Yes, some of what you are doing may simply be a waste of time with no real purpose. It only feels like most of it is.) Often, tasks are best managed by being delegated to others, even if this means convincing your employer to higher an “other” such as a high school student willing to do filing after school for a couple of hours. Delegation only works, however, if done properly.

    All this is just a lead-in to an article you should read by Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor. It appears in the most recent issue of her newsletter, “Paralegal Strategies.” Vicki not only lists, but explains, five important steps to successful delegation. Here are the steps:

    1. Plan.

    2. Decide to whom you’re delegating.

    3. Give clear directions.

    4. Follow Up.

    5. Reward success.

    Head over to www.paralegalmentor.com and sign up for the “Paralegal Strategies” newsletter for the full article.