Posts Tagged ‘trust’

Attorney Supervision of Freelance Paralegals

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I have advocated here for the proposition that attorneys have an obligation to paralegals, as well as the public, to provide adequate supervision to the paralegals with whom they work. And I have often commented that cases involving paralegal embezzlement raise real questions regarding whether the attorneys supervising the embezzling paralegal have provided adequate supervision. The issue is, however, not clear cut as there are few clear standards as to what constitutes adequate supervision. The issue is even more complex when the attorney contracts with a freelance or virtual paralegal for services.

This story excerpted from the Law Times involves a Canadian attorney and paralegal, but it illustrates the point:

A lawyer who worked with former paralegal Shellee Spinks, who stole $2.6 million from clients, denies he could have done anything to stop her.

Spinks used an old trust account belonging to Hamilton, Ont., lawyer Michael Puskas’ law firm to deposit funds for mortgage transactions and then transferred the money to a personal account at the same bank to feed her gambling habit.

Sentencing the former paralegal to four years in jail on Aug 5, Ontario Superior Court Justice Barry Matheson was left to wonder how she got away with it for so long.

“How it went undetected is a mystery to me. Did the lawyers not check on their paralegal?” asked Matheson. “Did the law society not check on the trust accounts of the firm? Many questions remain unanswered.”

The court heard Spinks worked for Puskas between 2002 and 2008, when she was arrested. But Puskas tells Law Times his relationship with Spinks, who operated an office in the same building as him, was always at arm’s-length.

He says he contracted her to assist him on real estate files, but she was never his employee.
“These were all files of which I wasn’t aware. If someone is suggesting I should have been breaking into her office and reviewing her filing cabinet, that’s putting a heavy onus on me,” says Puskas.

He says he asked Spinks to close down the trust account in September 2006 because he was transitioning from sole practice to a partnership and no longer needed the old trust account.

“She told me she had closed it. She had me sign a cheque to transfer the remaining funds out of it into the new account. Unfortunately I relied upon her advice that she had indeed shut it down,” says Puskas.

The attorney is correct that “If someone is suggesting I should have been breaking into her office and reviewing her filing cabinet, that’s putting a heavy onus on [the atorney],” but it hardly seems anyone is suggesting that. Surely there are steps lesser steps that the attorney can put into place. I seldom agreed with Ronald Reagan, but as I argued in a previous post there is significant merit to his signature line: “Trust, but verify.” While the attorney need not be responsible for the paralegal’s other clients and other accounts, it is possible and necessary to verify what is being done for his clients and with his accounts.

What do all you freelance and virtual paralegals think about this?

Building the Paralegal-Attorney Relationship – An Aggregation

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

There are names for blogs that rely on other blogs and sources for their content and add nothing to that content. Depending on who is doing the naming they range from parasites through derivative to aggregators. Today I’m joining Google News, Yahoo, etc., as an aggretator because that’s what I’m doing in this post.
Let’s start with Lynne DeVenney at Practical Paralegalism who has a post about another blogger’s post:

At first glance, I thought John Cord’s post, “Be nice, and other ways to strengthen your legal team,” at the blog Generation J.D., was only going to yield a short quote with some timeless advice for new lawyers, “1. Don’t run up the Westlaw/Lexis research bill, and 2. be nice to paralegals and secretaries.”

But Cord’s article is well worth a closer look – by all members of the legal team, from the senior partner right down to the part-time runner and that lady that comes by once a week to make sure the plants don’t die. His article is really about appreciating everyone’s contribution to getting the job done.

And what legal staffer wouldn’t heartily agree with the following advice for attorneys?:

  • Say please and thank you.
  • Be effusive in your praise for jobs really well done.
  • Be unexpected and reward exceptional work – a lunch out of the office, baseball tickets, or some other recognition.
  • Shut the office down early sometimes. Even 4 p.m. on a nice Friday is a good perk.
  • Get to know the people behind the workers – take an interest in their families and activities.
  • Don’t limit your website bios to just attorneys – include pictures everyone on the team.

But unlike this post, Lynne actually adds something. She points out:

But strengthening the team is a two-way street, and when we’re fortunate enough to be part of a great work environment, we should also be appreciative employees. There are a number of ways that we can show our employers that we don’t take their “work, energy and input” for granted:

  • Say please and thank you, whether it’s for great mentoring, having expenses paid for a CLE or conference, getting the opportunity to do more substantive work, or receiving a raise or surprise luncheon treat.
  • Be effusive in your praise for cases really well handled and problems quickly resolved.
  • Be unexpected and reward exceptional supervisors – do more than you’re asked, fetch a cup of coffee or a soda when you can tell they really need it, share the candy from your secret stash (all the attorneys I work with know which drawer has the Hershey’s chocolate) or bring baked (even if not at your house) treats once in a while for the whole office to enjoy.
  • Offer to stay late in a pinch, or come in on the weekend, especially when you can tell your supervising attorney needs your help but is reluctant to ask.
  • Get to know the people behind the bosses – take an interest in their families or activities (without being nosy).
  • Market your firm, even if your bio is not on the website, by telling people what you do and how proud you are of the work your firm does.

One of the nicest things my supervising attorney repeatedly says when he takes extended vacations is, “I couldn’t do this without you!” When I think of all the wonderful career opportunities I’ve had during 15 years of working for him, I honestly have to say, “I couldn’t do this without you!”

Now if all I did was to give you, as I have, Lynne’s work in its entirety, I’d just be a rip-off artist. What makes me an aggregator is that I noticed there were other posts and stories on the internet that go with (sort off) Lynne’s. Here’s the next, from Chere Estrin of so many sites I could not name them all – KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals, Sue Magazine for Women Litgators, Organization for Legal Professionals, etc. – with more advice on maintaining a good relationship with attorneys:

Establishing a good relationship with your boss is critical for success. And frankly, it’s sometimes hard to talk with these folks. If you have a distant relationship with him or her, you probably have no idea what to informally chit-chat about. You don’t want to cross any boundaries but when your boss starts small talk with you, it becomes even more important that you make a good impression.

Small talk is defined as light and easy conversation about common, everyday things. Hard to do if you have no clue what to say. Yet, a hidden key to success is the ability to carry on small talk. Why? Because small talk establishes rapport. It builds trust and allows the other person to get a chance to know you without delving into anything personal. You simply cannot get ahead in your job if you cannot establish trust with your employers. It’s not going to happen.

Attorneys, in particular, must have an excellent grasp of expressing themselves because mostly, that’s how they make a living. And, since raises and promotions are built on whether your firm likes and trusts you, it probably behooves you to do well in this arena. Conversations give a human dimension to the employee/employer relationship.

I got this excerpt from the KNOW Magazine LinkedIn Group feed, but you can read more at http://estrinlegaled.typepad.com. By the way, the most recent feed from that group contains review letters praising Chere’s new book, The Successful Paralegal Job Search Guide. Given the current market you may want to check it out.

Next we go to Linda Whipple who reports on the Paralegal Today discussion forum (in response to another post, not just out-of-the-blue), “Actually I will be 62 in September and I have been at this for 36 years now. I have lawyers all the time asking me if I am happy working for the attorneys I have been working for because if not they want to talk with me about hiring me.” Apparently, she is still happy with her present attorneys. This in itself is not news, but another posts reminds us, “Hey, Linda – FINALLY got around to reading my January-March issue of PT and saw the nice interview with you and your boss. Isn’t it wonderful having that sort of working relationship with an attorney?” So if you still have your copy of the January-March issue of Paralegal Today, feel free to add that interview to this aggregation. It ought to say a lot about how to build and maintain a good relationship with your attorney.

Now a previous post from this blog. This might seem like I’m adding my own content and not just aggregating, but this post is itself mostly aggregation. It is included to gives some sense of what a well-oiled attorney/paralegal relationship can do when that relationship comes up with a plan.

Finally, I’ll send you directly to Melissa at Paralegalese. The relevant posts are down a bit where Melissa describes the angst that goes with leaving a paralegal/attorney relationship built on mutual respect and trust – End of an Era Parts I, II, and III. Melissa has been quite busy working on her relationship with new attorneys, paralegals, and clients (I assume) so she hasn’t posted as regularly as she once did, but I am looking forward to the time when she regains her old blogging form!

Professionalism is all about standards

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

While I don’t agree with everything paralegal-paralegal.com says in the article “Paralegals And Standards,” there are some valid points. Here’s an except:

Although negativity and popular opinion may suggest otherwise, attorneys are expected to abide by some basic standards both in their professional and their personal lives. A paralegal is expected to adhere to the same standards as an attorney. The reason for this is based on general common sense: when a person in the legal field upholds high standards, both individuals and the public as a whole are much more able to place their trust in him. In the legal field, such trust is essential.

While professional competence is undeniably important, the standards which the legal professional adheres to is also a factor. In addition to upholding professional standards in the workplace and when doing field work, the person’s standards in his or her personal life are expected to be above reproach. The character points of integrity, ethics, and basic standards of morality, are not only required by the legal field but expected by the clients whom they serve.

As each and every client deserves not only competent representation but representation by those who take their role seriously, … and the highest standards of both professional and personal ethics and integrity, are prerequisites and ongoing requirements for those who wish to be accepted into the paralegal field and continue to do well in it.