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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Holiday Spirit

The holidays are upon us, and with that come all of the questions regarding office ettiquette for gift-giving, party-throwing, and the like.

When I worked with the Boss, I enjoyed giving a small token of holiday cheer. Because we only had two workers at our office, we did not have much of an office party. However, when the annual Christmas parade came through, he set up an open house with hot chocolate and cookies for parade-goers and his dad's chili in the kitchen for those special family and friends.

This year the rules are much different. I have twelve attorneys on my list, and I do not know many of them very well. We work in the same office, but there is not much opportunity to get to know them. I thought briefly about doing small gifts for all of them, but when I tallied it up, small gifts for all of them would still exceed my budget. I thought about doing something for the few of them that I know better than the others, but that did not seem wise either. I finally settled on nothing... at least not this year. I'll have to wait and feel out how the office handles the season before I feel comfortable putting myself out there in such a way.

Cakes, popcorn, gift buckets of goodies, I've seen my fair share of those this year. It appears that there is more to come. And those are just treats from clients and vendors. Almost every day one of the attorneys or staff will bring cookies or a spice cake for us to munch on during the day.

And then there are the parties. The staff had a "staff-only" ornament party last week complete with gifts and goodies. This was done during the work day and lasted about half an hour. The ornament exchange was fun, and the food was good, but I could not wait to get back to my desk to start billing. I suppose that is why it was a short party. Everyone had things to do, and the attorneys were waiting for us to do them.

The week before Christmas, the whole firm will have a party one afternoon. There should be plenty of food... the one thing I've learned at my firm is that we always have plenty of food. At some point, the attorneys will gather at a partner's house with clients and enjoy a party sans staff. I wonder if the staff has ever thought of doing the same at someone's house. But goodness, I would be all partied out by the time that happened.

I can't help but think that it must be a little off-putting, all this Christmas-y stuff, for my fellow office members who do not celebrate Christmas. Call it a holiday party all you want... when you have a tree and a Santa and you exchange gifts, you are celebrating traditional Christmas. At the same time, I believe whole-heartedly in the office party because, well, we've spent a whole year in the trenches together, and we should celebrate a little at the end of it all!

I've read posts and stories about the pros and cons of exchanging gifts at the office and of having parties, but I think every situation calls for its own unique approach.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The People at the Office

I have some of the best co-workers a gal could ask for. No matter what other ups and downs my job holds, it has provided me with fun, interesting, and experienced people who are always willing to help or advise me when I need it.

We all come from different backgrounds, but I am definitely the youngest and least experienced. I work with a paralegal who has been involved in the law since she graduated high school, an IT paralegal with a military background, a nurse paralegal, a former plaintiff's paralegal, and a paralegal who knows just about everything about the firm because she has been there longer than any of the rest of us.

When someone's workload gets too heavy we are usually able to count on each other for a little help. When I had the huge trial to prep a few months ago, my office neighbor was constantly reminding me that she was available if I needed her.

I ended up working on that case with my most experienced co-worker, (we'll call her A) so I followed her lead, took some pointers, and made it a point to be available when she needed me. By the end of the trial, we were teammates. I did not necessarily feel like a part of the entire legal team, but I felt like a part of A's team, and that was enough.

I also cannot fail to give a shout out to some of the great attorneys I work with who use their knowledge of the firm to give me helpful work advice and who try to give me interesting assignments when they are available. They seem to understand and empathize with my never-ending hunger for substantive work when I am surrounded by assignments to organize files.

I work with some great people. They keep my work environment interesting, and a few of them are becoming pretty neat friends.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Sometimes I get all legaled out. I work at a law firm. I live with a lawyer. I have several friends who are either lawyers or paralegals. I eat, sleep and breathe legal. Every. Single. Day.

Today, the boyfriend and I had a riveting discussion about our views regarding the federal government's authority to control the nutritional value of public school lunches. For most people, this would be b-o-r-i-n-g. And sometimes, when I hear myself, and the people around me, I feel like most people.

Don't get me wrong. I love my career, and I enjoy the law. It has been good to me so far. But every once in awhile, my life feels overwhelmed by law and legalese and lawyers.

Take, for instance, those times I walk into my office on Monday mornings to find it strewn with papers because someone was looking for something over the weekend and did not have time to put anything back in its place. Or I get stuck working overtime on Friday, the weekend I was supposed to go out of town. Those are the days that make me shake my fist at the sky, or turn my face red with frustration.
But most days... I love my career choice. The work itself - the paralegaling - fits me well. I hope this Monday is one of those days.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pushing Through and On To Number Two

Well I made it though my first major trial prepping endeavor. I suppose that in the world of litigation, it wasn't as big a beast as I originally thought. However, it was big enough to require multiple hands and several long days. Now, thanks to the backstage team, the attorneys should be fully prepared for whatever this trial throws at them.

But where does that leave me? With a brand new trial to prep, of course. October-November appears to be trial season in the great city of Memphis (probably just like every other time of year), so I have the chance to learn a lot of different styles and techniques. After helping to tame the recent beast, I was surprised to find that not every case will threaten to devour my life and career. The newest one only took me about a day and a half to put together, all on my own.

I have learned a couple of new things over the past few weeks. First, not everything can fit into a condensed trial notebook. Binders can be my best friend. We created binders for all of the important pleadings in the case: complaints/answers, discovery pleadings, any pleadings relating to a particular party or motion of interest, etc. We also create binders for all parties, fact witnesses, and expert witnesses. In some cases, one expert took up an entire three-inch binder, while in others, all of the plaintiff's experts fit into one notebook. Obviously, the binders can be tailored to the specific needs and major focuses of each case. The notebook system comes with the benefit of allowing easy access to the most important information to be referenced at trial, whatever that may be. No rummaging through loose paper and digging through redwells, or searching through a fifteen volume pleading index to find a party's responses to requests for admission.

 Every case is different, as is every attorney, as is every paralegal prepping the file. Being new to litigation, I have found the notebook method to be helpful and enticing when preparing my first two cases, but I am sure there are plenty of other efficient ways to meet the same goal. Feel free to comment with your suggestions. I'm sure I could use them all, and other readers might benefit, as well. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trying to Decide

I have always planned on going to graduate school, but the implementation of that plan has been put off for some time. The first stall came when I was unable to get in-state graduate tuition at my alma mater, University of Maine. I moved home to Alabama, waited a semester, and then began working toward an M.S. in Education at Troy University. One semester in, I realized that despite years of planning, teaching was not my true calling. That summer was the summer I fell in love with becoming a paralegal.

Starting that August, I spent the next 15 months taking online classes through Washington Online Learning Institute. In November 2008, I became certificated with a Master Paralegal Certificate. In 2009, I sat for the NALA certification exam and became a Certified Paralegal (CP).

But still I craved more. More education. More knowledge. More intellectual challenges. However, I had to put those desires on hold while I worked full time tried to start an adult life and adult career. Lack of time and an unwillingness to take on a huge amount of debt for my continuing education kept me from proceeding. For the longest time I also felt conflicted. If I loved the law so much, did I want to go to law school? Since I truly enjoy the substantive part of my job, does that mean I should be a lawyer? My hesitant answer to these questions was usually "no," but without being sure, I could not form any true educational goals.

When I moved to Memphis, I literally moved in directly across the street from the law school. The University of Memphis main campus is but minutes away, too. School has been staring me in the face and daring me to proceed. Still, I have remained undecided. I wanted to go back, but if not for law school, then what?

I regret to say that I have not come much further. I thought I was settled on an MBA. Memphis has several programs that would work with my schedule and allow me to avoid massive student loan debt. An MBA makes some sense, since I would love to learn more about business, and it one of the few slightly applicable degrees to my career field. But is it really applicable? After all, I'm a paralegal. I do not supervise or manage anything. Unless I move into the non-legal corporate world, it is very unlikely that I will ever manage big projects or need to have more than common business sense.

So I examined every graduate degree available through University of Memphis, and Communications popped out. With a background in English and literature, I feel drawn to the courses listed under this program. Some of them sound intellectually enticing. If I were to pursue a master degree in this area, I think I would enjoy it. But is it applicable to my career?

Neither of my two options is very applicable to what I do right now, so I've tried to think long-term. I may be an entry-level paralegal now, but where will I be in five years? Administrator? Office manager? Will the med mal case load slow down and result in my move to an in-house position? Of course, the truth is that there is no way to tell what will happen over time.

So here I sit, still undecided with a self-imposed application deadline of January 2011 looming over me. That's enough time to force myself to decide, right? If neither of my options is directly applicable to my current career, I need to figure out whether I should choose the one that I know I will enjoy or the one that might open more doors for me in the future. And all the while, the Law School sits across the street...

The Navy Steps Up Its Requirements for Legalmen

The Navy has taken a huge step forward by requiring its legalmen to obtain at least an associate degree, reports the Navy Times in its story "Navy: Legalmen must earn associate degree."

"Navy lawyers now do much work done by paralegals in civilian life, Houck said. By putting all legalmen through paralegal education, he said the enlisted members of the JAG Corps will be able to do 'powerful things, freeing up lawyers to focus on what is unique to being a lawyer and the practice of law.'"

This is exactly the type of thinking that encourages efficiency and affordability of services in civilian law practices. The Navy is doing two things here. First, it is recognizing the value of education for its legalmen and encouraging higher standards from its legal staff. Second, it is adding value to the law degree possessed by JAG lawyers, by freeing them up "to focus on what is unique to being a lawyer."

In effect, they Navy is recognizing the difference between attorney duties and paralegal duties, and that it makes sense to delegate paralegal duties to non-attorney team members. 

The Navy did not start this trend, nor has it come in last. Civilian law firms still vary widely in educational/training requirements and the ways in which they use paralegals. Many law firms are still stuck in a routine similar to the current Navy, in which lawyers are doing the work paralegals could be doing. Of course, the decision of when and how to use paralegals is ultimately a decision that lawyers must make when deciding how to maximize benefit to the client. Still, I predict wider and more efficient use of highly educated paralegals as time presses on.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Trials of Trial Prep

Trial prep is stressful.

Even since before I started my new job, my office has been home to a very large case file. Because of its location, I was tasked with the organization and maintenance of the file. I became close with the file. When a paralegal or attorney would rush in looking for a pleading or deposition, I would point them to it.

I knew the relationship was too good to be true. Now this case has come up for trial, a day that seemed so far off until a few weeks ago. The case has become a monster that threatens to drown me in paper every day. It demands every second of my time at work, forgetting that I have other relationships with other cases that must be maintained as well. When I attempt to work on a pressing matter in any other case, this case acts hurt for a moment, then narrows its eyes and promises revenge. Last week I began to feel like the victim of an abusive relationship.

When I worked for the Boss, trial prep consisted of reminding him of the upcoming trial. Many of our cases fit into one redwell. Those were the larger ones.

That was before I was introduced to med mal cases, many of which last for several years before either settling or making it to trial and sucking the joy out of the lives of a few legal staff members in the process.

I jest, but it has been a stressful couple of weeks. I am a fast worker, but this level of trial prep makes me feel slow. I try to maintain an organized office, but these days I am just happy to find a trail to my door. I have been challenged with emergency binders and seemingly missing deposition exhibits. I tried and tried last week, but even during a day with absolutely no breaks, I felt as though I could barely keep up and breath at the same time.

All that being said, it's kind of fun. The demands of litigation are both vexing and enticing at the same time. I hate missing lunch, or being so worked up that I don't even get hungry, but I enjoy working so hard to meet deadlines and help the team. I enjoy the feeling of doing a job that matters.

I guess this is my introduction to the real, nitty grittiness of litigation. For a newbie, I hope I am doing well. Of course, we are all so busy that I'm not sure anyone has time to tell me if I've made mistakes or not.

So until everything slows down a little bit, I rely on the advice of a very kind associate at my firm. She noticed how stressed I was the other day and how my eyes looked kind of glazed over with computer screen glare and reminded me of one unfailing truth: "The most you can do is your best, Mel. That's all any of us can do."

And she is correct. In careers, in relationships, in life in general, the most we can do is our best. So I survived the week and lived to endure the inevitable time crunches that the next week will bring. Here's hoping that I patch things up with the file on Monday so that it will be more inclined to work with me, rather than against me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Clio: The Easy Practice Management Option

From time to time I am asked to write about various legal software, books, schools, etc. I am very particular when it comes to promoting these things, especially when I do not have firsthand knowledge of the product, and more often than not, I opt out. However, today is one of those rare instances when preference and firsthand knowledge meet. Not only did I get the chance to play with Clio for a month, I also really enjoyed it.

Clio is web-based practice management at its finest. Perhaps the greatest thing about it is that there are no downloads or uploads, no CDs, and no books. The only thing you need in order to access Clio is an Internet connection. This means that no matter where you are in the world, as long as you can find an Internet connection and can remember your password, you have access to your entire practice, from your calendar to documents and forms to your time slips to client accounts.

It is difficult to explain just how simple Clio is to use, how integrated and efficient it can make a practice. The best word I can think of is easy. Click on a client and/or matter, and you have immediate access to all of the information relating to that client/matter. If you are working on a document, simply hit the time icon next to it to enter your time. The time automatically transfers to time billed for that matter, no extra steps needed.

Of course, that is just one example of Clio's efficiency. Clio allows you to keep a task list, calendar, and agenda. As with many other programs, calendars can be shared among users or used individually. If you use Outlook, like so many of us do, Clio is easily linkable to Outlook for optimal task efficiency. However, Clio works perfectly alone on the task front. You can keep up with your ongoing task list in several different ways. View the task list in entirety, or view tasks under separate clients or matters. You have many options for choosing how best to streamline your work day. Clio will also send task reminders to your inbox everyday in order to help keep you up-to-date on your to-do list.

Under each client, there are buttons dedicated to client matters, notes on the client, communications, and transactions. The communications tab allows you to record phone call notes and times, as well as emails sent or received. If used correctly, the only source you need to check for a complete communication history with a particular client is Clio.

Small firms and solo practitioners will love how easy Clio makes bill generation and client account management. Because any time entered for a document, communication or task is directly linked to the client account, the generation of monthly, quarterly or yearly statements is as easy as the click of a button.

Your billing page will show all of your unbilled hours and the amounts due from clients. Statement generation is as easy as checking the statement you want to generate and making it happen. Once a statement has been generated, it will appear in your open statement section until it has been paid. After you have generated bills – get this – you can email the link to your clients, and they can pay online. Rather than dealing with bulk mail-outs and incoming checks every month, you can streamline the billing and payment process to the ultimate delight of your billing staff and your customers.

And speaking of connecting online with clients, Clio offers ClientConnect, which allows you to quickly share information or collaborate with clients online, all from one location. It does not get simpler than that.

Another thing I love about Clio is its extremely friendly interface. Who every said that practice management has to be dry and boring? The modules and tabs are presented in a fun, yet concise, appearance. With Clio, practice management seems interesting and fresh. All of the graphics, icons, and fonts look professional, yet somehow exciting.

Finally, I am not familiar with the standard pricing of practice management programs, but at $49/mo for attorney users and just $25/mo for support staff, Clio seems reasonably priced, especially for small and solo practice firms, when you take into account all that it provides.

There is much more to Clio than what is contained in these few paragraphs, but I could not possibly describe it all. If you are even the slightest bit interested, I suggest visiting the Clio website and signing up for the free 30-day trial. If you are like me, you will be amazed at how one program can streamline an entire practice.

**Other than a free 30-day trial period, which is offered to any and all interested, I did not receive any benefits, monetary or otherwise, for this review.**

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good People to Know: Your Friendly Process Server

Back in rural Alabama, when we served a summons and complaint, or a subpoena, or any other document that warranted service, we used the Sheriff's department. It was a one-step process: take the document to the courthouse (or e-file it), and let it go. The return on service would usually take around a week... if we were lucky.

I have since learned that private process servers are much more time efficient and focused on service of your specific documents to your specific defendant, deponent, or custodian of records. Within my first week at my Memphis job, I was introduced to the world of private process servers. The new system involves a couple more steps, but it takes much less time.

Step one: Send subpoena to court to be file-stamped and issued. Ask runner to return file-stamped issued subpoena to me for service.
Step two: Call private process server to come pick up subpoena for service.
Step three: Wait for return on service. The great thing about a private process server is that he or she will likely try more than once to perfect service, and if the address you gave is inadequate, will often put in some time finding a better one. He then usually takes the subpoena back to the court to be filed. 

Every once in awhile, I am asked to issue a subpoena in another state, or several hours away from this county. In these cases, I realize how convenient it is to know local process servers.

I once had to arrange for issuance and service of a subpoena in a rural part of the great state of Texas. In this little town in the middle of absolutely nowhere, I looked for hours for a process server. I finally found someone to help us with service, but he was located nearly two hours away. Because we were in a hurry to perfect service, I overnighted the subpoena to the local court in Texas, then arranged to have the process server drive in from two hours away to pick it up at the clerk's office and serve it.

I did not know the Texas process server I used, but now I do. Just in case, you know, we ever have to issue a subpoena in Middle Of Nowhere, Texas again.

Many private process servers also include other services, such as copying and imaging, or private investigations. So knowing you local process servers could mean knowing your local PI and document imaging business. Because of the nature of the business, many of them also have various connections in your town or city that could prove useful in the future.

If you currently use the Sheriff's office as your main server of process, I would suggest considering a private server. They can be more expensive, but you may find that the added cost is worth the added benefit. At the very least, get to know a local process server, whether you believe you will use him for service or not. You never know when his connections, knowledge, or related skill set will come in handy.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Living Vicariously Through More Experienced Colleagues

In my first couple of years, I often wondered why so many paralegals and legal secretaries worry so much about the "cya" rule. Perhaps I have not been in the business long enough to develop the paranoia that comes with working for people in high-stress positions who might be tempted to blame the "little guy" when things go wrong. The longer I work in this field, though, the more stories I hear about assistants being thrown under the proverbial bus.

It makes sense. Blaming the assistant is the easy thing to do. Attorney saves face, and Assistant is none the wiser. I have been lucky enough in my nearly three years of paralegaling to have avoided attorney supervisors who would fall into such easy temptation. (You may remember stories of the Boss in which he rose to my defense with foul-mouthed clients and the like. The Boss always had my back the same way I had his... ah, the good ol' days of solidarity and teamwork in the rural law office.)

But part of my career education involves learning how to cover my back side, especially when working in the bigger legal world with more than a handful of attorneys. It is not that any one of my lawyers would purposefully slander me or unreasonably grow angry, but rather that in a busy mid-size law firm, as assignments get passed up and down and back and forth, figuring out where a mistake was made or a deadline missed is much trickier. When so many hands are touching any one case, five fingers per hand add up quickly. You better bet some of those will be used for pointing.

Today I was lucky enough to receive some good advice from a secretary who has been in the legal business since before I was born. The advice was simple: cover yourself. Get into the habit of documenting everything. Not just to yourself, but to the file itself. Did you arrange for a court reporter? Take a few moments to tell the file what you did, when you did it, and who your contact is. If the file knows, everyone working on the file knows, too. This way, if the court reporter fails to show up, you can at least point to the Monday three weeks ago when you arranged for the deposition. Or if opposing counsel swears the settlement figure she gave you to pass to your attorney had one less zero, you know where you find your conversation.

The secretary today was speaking from hard won experience as she suggested I document my work. While I have always made date-stamped notes to myself in Outlook tasks and calendar, it never occurred to me how important it might be to have those notes date-stamped in the file for everyone to see. Thankfully, I did not have to learn this lesson through the harsh reality of personal experience. While I have never been falsely accused of botching an assignment yet (and hopefully never will be), this secretary may have very well saved Future Me from that embarrassment.

Of course, a practical, less self-serving reason to write memos to the file is to remind oneself of important landmarks in the case while making sure that anyone else on the case, even a newly assigned colleague, can easily figure out which stage it is in.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Choice of Habit

I was such a sheltered little paralegal in my old world. I know I have covered all the aspects of my former life - close client contact, assignments that included dense substantive work - and how all that has changed with my new job. I believed until recently that most experienced attorneys and other legal professionals knew of all the ways non-lawyer assistants and paralegals can be utilized. I assumed that if my attorneys were not using me in many of those ways, it was simply because they chose not to. And that is okay. As a member of the legal team, I am happy to be utilized to benefit the team as the leader sees fit (although just like any team member, sometimes I think my skills might be better used in different ways). It had occurred to me only fleetingly that some, nay, many attorneys might not know how to use these functional accessories called paralegals. But I brushed that thought aside for some reason.

However, since moving into a legal world that gives me much more face-time with a greater universe of lawyers and legal professionals, I have learned that perhaps under-utilization is not a choice. Perhaps it is sometimes a habit born of confusion and mystery.

Not once but three times in the past three months, I have been involved in conversations with different attorneys about the ways they use their paralegals and the ways they see other paralegals being used. One lawyer seemed confused at the idea of a paralegal signing her name to a letter transmitting pleadings to the other side ("Please find enclosed..."). Another considered the drafting of pleadings to be one of the attorney-only facets of the practice of law. Still another did not like receiving lawyer-transmitted information through the opposing counsel's paralegal ("Since we did not hear from you after calling and writing you several times, we had to go ahead and tentatively schedule the deposition before the discovery time limit ran out. Here is the date.").

Thankfully, in each of these conversations, the attorney seemed relieved to find out that he could actually choose to use his paralegal to ease the burden of some of these tasks. Of course, old habits die hard, and once someone gets used to practicing a certain way, that way may be the way. For instance, I know of partners who refuse to allow anyone but attorneys even organize their files. And I know of lawyers who will always prefer that any communication to any party or counsel comes directly through their pen. My hope is that these preferences are choices made after careful consideration of how to achieve the best results for the client in the most efficient way, rather than a self-inflicted routine caused by a lack of understanding of how to use other legal professionals.

Nevertheless, when I received an assignment to draft a complaint this week, I could not help but smile. I am happy to have been able to take something substantive and time-consuming off of one of my attorneys' desks, freeing him up for more complex tasks.

This was the result of good communication among legal team members, of course. In one five-minute conversation regarding the many uses of paralegals, I was able to help one lawyer become more efficient and profit-oriented, while at the same time ensuring interesting substantive work for myself. That's what I call a win-win situation.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

I'm back. For any of you who still check from time to time, I have returned from my month-long hiatus. It was full of long writing assignments and contemplation over how to proceed with this blog. For obvious reasons - the bigger firm, attorney supervisors I am still getting to know, new and unfamiliar clients - I can no longer poke easy fun at the Boss (or any boss), and I must be careful about how my intended tone is perceived by others. This requires a bit of a change on my part, and the best changes are rarely easy.

All that aside, now that my assignments are complete and I have thought long and hard about the direction of this little blog, stay tuned for regular postings from Paralegalese.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Giving Back, Paying Forward

I'm ashamed to say that it has been years since I sought out volunteer work of any kind. But I broke that streak recently when I volunteered at the monthly Saturday legal clinic sponsored by the Memphis Association of Legal Services (MALS). Thank goodness that I did.

At 9 a.m., I arrived at the library where the Saturday clinics are held. Several people seeking legal assistance were already there filling out intake forms. I was happy to find that many of the volunteers were legal staffers. Our jobs included intake, answering questions about the intake forms, matching legal issues with suitable attorneys, and receiving finalized paperwork.

I walked around most of the time helping people with raised hands and taking up their completed intake forms. I answered questions about the kind of information the applicants needed to give, and I played with babies.

Surprisingly, the number of volunteers that day almost matched the number of clients that showed up. Family and employment lawyers were most on demand, but some people also had estate questions. We saw people of all ages, ethnicities, and income brackets.

The only problem with this otherwise wonderful experience is that I felt nearly useless. As a paralegal, my job is to assist attorneys. In the clinic setting, I was not assisting attorneys, and I had a very limited role in helping the clients. The assistance I was able to provide was purely administrative. I found myself wishing that I could do more... take notes, draft something up, research a legal problem, etc. But in the clinic setting, they need volunteers who can make sure forms are filled out correctly and decipher handwriting. It was much better to show up and be used for those tasks than not to show up at all.

I've decided to make the MALS Saturday clinics a monthly habit. It feels good to be donating time toward the field I love. If you are a legal secretary, paralegal, law student, or attorney in the Memphis area, and you are interesting in volunteering, visit the MALS website.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good People to Know: Records Custodians

Whether you are trying to acquire medical records, city records, or any other type of recorded material, a relationship with the person who protects their distribution can make all the difference in the world.

I have learned that since moving to Memphis, a place where I know very few people. I took it for granted back in Small Town, Alabama, that all records custodians were sugary sweet and eager to help fill my requests. That was Small Town, Alabama; this is Large Metropolitan Area, Tennessee. While I am sure the hospitals back home see their fair share of records requests, Memphis hospitals probably see three times as many.

In my first two months, I have had few successes at quickly retrieving records. With exceptions, most records requests and subpoenas feel like pulling teeth. I may end up with the wrong address or learn that billing records have to be subpoenaed from an entirely different place. I have been told several times that they never received my request, even after re-faxing it. I can't tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, "We're running behind here, and we have two weeks worth of unopened mail to go through."

Thus, it becomes very important to form a relationship with the records custodian. He or she is not going to work any faster or put forth any extra effort for the faceless voice over the phone. However, a few seconds of warm conversation and a couple of thankyousomuches seem to melt even the coldest personalities.

I have taken to writing down names of people to ask for when I inevitably call these places again. It helps to speak to a familiar person, especially when you can remind her of how grateful you were for her help in the past.

When I first moved here, I made a request for records to a hospital system in a completely different region. The first request was sent to the correct (but incomplete) address. I had to send another one. The first custodian I spoke with gave me the complete address and encouraged me to save my firm a little money by requesting the records on CD. I failed to take down his name. The CD came in, but the records were password protected. This seems like a smart idea. It keeps out those who should not be viewing the records. I called the hospital for the password then proceeded to upload the records to my firm's system. I noticed, however, that they remained password protected.

I attempted to change the security on the pdf documents in order to release the password, but this required a new password. Of course when I contacted the hospital, they were unwilling to give me the administrative pass code. I was unable to OCR, bates stamp, or otherwise alter the documents in any way. And I could not remember the name of the guy who had been so helpful when I first called. He may not have been able to give me the password, but perhaps he would have empathized with me when I explained to him that the double password protection would require me to print the 1,000 pages of records anyway and then re-scan them back into the system before anyone else in my firm could access them or process them. The person I ended up speaking with simply did not care that we were in fact wasting paper and defeating the purpose of the paperless system.

So get to know your local records custodians. They hold the keys to the information you need.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Life of the Young Urban Professional

Two months into the new job, and I have a few changes to note. First, my attorneys seem to have figured out that I like to work. My to-do list never runs out, and my office is full of accordion files that are stuffed with folders and papers.The best part is that my work is still interesting. While I began my new job by organizing file after file after file, a larger part of my work these days includes researching expert witnesses and obtaining medical records.

One thing I wish I could change is this time clock business. When I worked for The Boss, I never worried about fitting so much into a mere 40 hours. If I needed to work overtime, I did. Five o'clock was just a number. Now it's a deadline. I must clock out by 5:15, and if I do not, then I must cut my Friday short by however many minutes I snuck into the front of the week. Leaving early on a Friday sounds nice, right? Not when I have to leave one or two items on my to-do list for Monday.

And as a stickler for rules, I take the firm policy of no unapproved overtime seriously. Although it seems that a few minutes of overtime seems to be okay every once in awhile, it still feels like cheating to me. So I work and I stress and try to fit as many billable hours into my strict eight-hour day as possible.

I am ridiculously busy these days, and not just with work. Somehow over the past year, I have extended paralegaling into real life. If you read my blog, you already know that. But specifically, I am doing quite a bit of writing lately. A professional paper and two other articles due before August... along with making time for everything else. I guess frazzled is an appropriate word for these circumstances.

But I wouldn't change a thing. One of the partners at my new firm asked me why I had not left the office yet at 5:15 last Wednesday. "You need to grab your man and go out to a coffee shop. Enjoy being young urban professionals," he said. It struck me then that urban professionals is exactly what we are. It also struck me that he used the word "professional" to describe my position as a paralegal. As I said, I wouldn't change a thing.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Word from Remington College

Online learning is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to traditional education for people wanting to further their education without sacrificing a current job or responsibilities to friends and family.  It offers the possibility of earning a degree to people who thought education was out of the question because of the demands of daily life.       
 What if someone is interested in an education in paralegal studies, for instance? Are there benefits to pursuing a degree in paralegal from an online program instead of attending classes on a campus? 
Yes! First of all, it may be convenient for someone who would like to continue to work or manage their family rather than go to campus for classes during the day.  Many potential students need a program that can fit around their busy schedule, not vice versa.  For some students, the best time to work on their course may be after 7 p.m., or early in the morning – times that traditional classes typically aren’t held.  Of course, it’s up to the student to manage his or her time to successfully juggle previous commitments in the pursuit of an associate’s degree. 

For people who are going back to school to receive paralegal training, an online program may offer an ideal education choice for their lifestyle. Taking courses online doesn’t mean people have to sacrifice their daily responsibilities to work and family. Whether it’s taking the kids to soccer practice, working until 6 p.m. or taking yoga classes in the afternoon, online courses can work around the life and schedule they’ve already made.  Working adults may benefit by adding an education into their schedule rather than having an education take over their schedule!
Another benefit: Most online paralegal studies program can be completed in a little over a year.  In fact, the online paralegal program through Remington College can be completed in as few as 18 months. 
While no reputable college can guarantee employment upon graduation, students could be working in a law firm or corporate legal department after less than two years of studying for their paralegal degree.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Most entrants have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.”  Remington College’s online paralegal program covers many areas of law that paralegals may encounter in their work, such as real estate law, civil litigation, trial preparation, business and contracts law, and family and probate law. 
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “private law firms will continue to be the largest employers of paralegals, but a growing array of other organizations, such as corporate legal departments, insurance companies, real-estate and title insurance firms, and banks also hire paralegals. “
Lawyers want to provide the most efficient legal service they can, and paralegals help to provide the assistance lawyers need to help organize information for cases, research laws, and prepare for closings and trails.  The help that paralegals provide lawyers can be valuable when lawyers are working on a tight schedule.
Paralegals can support lawyers in their work and save them time and money, and employment opportunities have stayed in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 28 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.”   

An online paralegal degree program may be something to consider for someone interested in the field of legal services.  An online program may provide flexibility and convenience – and most importantly, the opportunity to pursue an education.  Visit the website to find out more about obtaining your paralegal degree online through Remington College Online.

Written by: Sasha Roe
Employee of: Plattform Advertising
On behalf of: Remington College

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


You may wonder why my posts have been so infrequent lately. I have been settled into my place for almost two months. I thought by now that I would have found time to write at least every other day. But life has a strange habit of getting in the way of our best set plans.

Before my move, I worked all day then went straight home. I talked to My Boyfriend the Lawyer on the phone before eating dinner and relaxing in front of a television for the remainder of the evening. As one of the few people who returned to my home town after college, I was definitely not a social butterfly. This gave me a ton of time to write.

Now, however, while work still takes up the standard 40 hours of my week, life itself is suddenly requiring more of my time. Nowadays, meeting at a pub for an after work beer or going to a friend's house for dinner is becoming the norm. And forget about a moment of true peace. My Boyfriend the Lawyer also moved to Memphis, and I quickly learned that an apartment of two is much busier than an apartment of one. Between work and get-togethers - and don't forget quality time with the love of my life - I am lucky I found this moment to share tonight.

But I am learning a necessary and refreshing lesson from this whirlwind: life outside of and apart from work is very important. Over the past two and a half years I have become consumed with paralegalism, ideas of regulation, questions about UPL lines and musings about the economic ramifications of an expanding paralegal profession in the greater legal world. I identify whole-heartedly as a paralegal. I am proud to be a contributing force of justice in this world, in some small way. I have always been the kind of person who needed to connect on a personal level with her job.

But this is the first time in my adult career life when I have been forced to take off the legal mask sometimes. And as hard as it is, as much as I love talking paralegalese, I have to admit that it has felt amazing to be just Mel outside of the office. These days, at least during this adjustment period, both in work and personal life, I am consumed with something other than paralegalism... but stay tuned. I am not done being Para-Mel just yet.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Taking Company Brand to a Whole New Level

I have been asked to do a lot for the many jobs I have had in my life. I have worked overtime, calmed angry customers, dealt with spilt food, come home late, arrived early, driven all over the county, and patiently accepted rude comments. I have done these things as a waitress, customer service rep, cashier and most recently as a paralegal. Going the distance is a part of who I am. There is little that I will not do for a boss or company I respect in the course of a job I enjoy.

But I will not get a tattoo of the company logo on any part of my body.

I came across a story tonight of a paralegal who has done just that. States the story at, "Katie Edmeier, a paralegal for Anytime Fitness, got the health club chain's purple running-man logo tattooed on her upper left arm." Apparently Ms. Edmeier is just one of over 200 employees of the fitness chain who really take company loyalty to heart. The fact that so many staffers are willing to physically take on the brand speaks volumes about the company's relationship with its employees.

However, my personal commitment issues with permanent ink aside, this could spell trouble for any staffers whose relationship with the company may sour in the distant future. It seems to me that having a competing company's logo etched into one's skin might be a lot like having "Brad" tattooed down your arm when you're dating a "Derek." I cannot imagine it going over too well with either the new employer or the new boyfriend.

Thank goodness for me, Ms. Scared-of-Needles, I think my firm will accept good ol' fashioned hard work in place of permanent ink as proof of my love for the job.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Snub in the Elevator

Every elevator ride is different and so is every elevator personality. I believe I've met them all at this point. Something about confined spaces brings out the best and worst in people. 

My own elevator personality is cautiously friendly. If someone speaks to me, I will speak back. I keep an open smile on my face in the effort to be friendly and receptive. I often look down, and when uncomfortable, I either play on my phone or clasp my hands in front of me.

Sometimes a group of people who know each other will step on, and I will feel outnumbered and shy. Other times we will speak awkwardly about the weather. Often I will meet a new face, and we will hit it off on the way to the first floor over shoes or purses or some other thing we have in common.

And sometimes, even in this adult world, in a city, in a big building full of professionals, in an apartment complex inhabited by young  adults, I step onto an elevator that immediately takes me back to high school, a time when I was less assured of myself, insecure, and too eager to fit in. They are the elevator equivalent of the cool kids at school, and they tend not to talk to me, the runt. They have perfect city-professional clothes and sleek hair. They carry portfolios or drag suitcases full of important papers behind them. They avoid looking me in the eyes, and they exude an air of business and importance. They wear expensive shoes. For an eternity of fifteen seconds, I forget my confidence and my worldview and shrink a little on the inside.

Then the doors open and I step into a sun-filled lobby. All of the tension spills into the open air, dissipating. I am myself again in an instant. I am good as gold. I am ready for the next ride up. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One for You, One for Me

There I stood at the copier, a stack of manila folders twelve feet tall, towering like some formidable beast before me. A beast from whom I had already received countless battle wounds - a paper cut here, a folder cut there. And the battle this day could only be won by making copies of each small stack in each folder... in triplicate.

Now, I know that at some firms, paralegals get to delegate some tasks to secretaries. Not so at my office. So I have been operating under the assumption that I make all of my own copies unless I have a copy job big enough to warrant sending it out. I don't mind making copies. In fact, at my former office, no one was above copying, not even the Boss himself. (You can only delegate so much with two people in the office.)

So as I was saying, there I stood before the copier, slowly opening a folder of originals, removing the staples, placing them on the machine, stapling the originals back together, stapling the copies together, and placing them in separate stacks, etc, etc. One of the secretaries at my firm walked up and said plainly, "Why are you making copies?" I tried to explain that I had a project which required triplicates, but she stopped me there. "You need to call Johnny* (name changed) and send that job out. It's much better for the firm to pay someone else for the copies than to pay you to stand here and make them."

Just like that, my eyes were opened.

For the past several weeks I have had personal qualms about getting other people to do my work. I don't like sending a runner out because I am perfectly capable of walking to the courthouse. I don't like ordering supplies from our receptionist because I am perfectly capable of going to Wal-Mart and purchasing white out. Since I come from a firm where I was responsible for just about everything, I am having a hard time letting go of some duties I formerly held. Especially if the job sounds particularly tedious, such as walking to the circuit court to make copies of fifty pleadings. I don't want to ask someone else to do that. I hate the idea of asking someone to do something that sounds less than enjoyable to me. And yet, here in the world of big(ger) law, we have more hands available. And some of those hands are waiting for an assignment that involves making copies or walking a half mile down the street to file a subpoena, just as I am waiting for an assignment that involves indexing a deposition or finding a pleading for my attorney to review.

How did yesterday's story end? I called Johnny, he took my stack away, and he brought back copies before the end of the day. I always knew attorneys had to know how to properly delegate tasks, but I'm starting to realize that it's a good skill for all of us to have.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Scottish Paralegals Take a Step Forward

Scottish solicitors are realizing the need for their paralegals, and the paralegals themselves are taking a giant step forward. In this article at, author Christopher Mackie explains that the job forecast is finally looking sunny for Scottish paralegals.

"'The initial redundancies were paralegals,' says Alison Butters, the joint president of the Scottish Paralegal Association. 'Then the solicitors realised they were struggling without them.'" According to the article, many legal staff were the first to take a hit when the economy turns south. Many solicitors thought they could do paralegal work, but were surprised to find out that they had forgotten how to perform small tasks, like filling out forms correctly. 

Meanwhile, along with the re-opening of the job market, Scottish paralegals are celebrating another milestone. "In a little under four months, the UK's first registration scheme for paralegals will be introduced to the Scottish legal profession."

This means that qualified paralegals will be able to apply for registration as paralegals. The registration program will set a minimum standard for ethics and training for those who desire the title "registered paralegal." 
The initiative is a validation of sorts for professional paralegals in Scotland, a validation that the SPA has been working toward since its establishment in1993.

Ms. Butters describes Scottish paralegals in the '90s as caught "somewhere between a secretary and a solicitor and in a kind of no-man's land." Who here hasn't spent time in that land? 

Aside from bringing better definition and recognition to the paralegal role, the registration program will have the added benefit of weeding out those individuals who "shouldn't really be described as paralegals," according to Ms. Butters. 

Even recently, before the implementation of the registration program, paralegal salaries have risen in Scotland. While Ms. Butters insists that this is not the specific aim of the program, I would guess the paralegals are not complaining. My guess is that the SPA has helped provide Scottish paralegals with a cohesive professional identity during its several years of existence, and that it is the group identity that makes them more valuable to the legal world. A professional identity helps enforce standards within the group, and higher standards will inevitably lead to higher monetary value. 

Our Scottish friends have the right idea. High standards and a unified identity promote the inherent value of any profession. All over the world, the similar paralegal news stories are popping up - from registration to certification, even to licensure of paralegals. The rising value of nonattorney legal professionals is hopefully driving down costs and allowing easier access to justice in countries that have implemented these programs. The comparison and contrast of the United States with all of these other countries makes me very interested to see where our justice system will be in relation to all the rest twenty years from now. I know one thing: I want to be right in the middle of it when I find out.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Today I had a revelation. As I was sorting my growing task list, and as my attorneys brought me various and sundry assignments, I realized that I was digging my feet in. Because of the nature of a new job, I have been easy, wide-eyed, passive, and free-moving at the office. I have been soaking up firm culture but shying away from making my own mark.Taking it all in and working hard, but playing catch-up.

Until today. Suddenly, as my newly assigned attorney was explaining to me how he wants me to present my research on possible expert witnesses, I felt as if my feet had stopped sliding, as if some small part of me had taken root. I can't say that I feel home yet, or that I ever will. But the new firm and its inhabitants are starting to grow on me. From the quirky partner who planted beautiful spring flowers all over our balcony and is making an associate water them, to the friendly runner who says she doesn't mind that I sent her to the courthouse to make copies of 60+ pleadings, to the smokers who parade through my office several times a day to get to the balcony (the door is in my office). If I can't be working for the Boss, then I might as well be working here. And though it may not seem like it, that is quite the compliment.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Have Yourself a Very Happy Administrative Professionals Day

One year ago tomorrow, I walked into the office to find a box of a half dozen glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts on my desk. I was delighted. I just knew they were left there for me in honor of Administrative Professionals Day. That the Boss even remembered something like that made my day. The next day, when I arrived at the office, I found a vase of orange roses, a hand-written note, a DVD, and a lil' bonus to top it all off. That's when I realized the Boss had gotten his days mixed up and the doughnuts had just been one of his normal niceties.

This year, three weeks into my new job at the Memphis firm, I know I will go under appreciated. I accept it. No one knows me well enough to see me as an asset yet. But nevertheless, I do get a free lunch and a paid half day off tomorrow. It isn't flowers and a card, but I suppose it'll do.

Now, onto the business of the day. I'm in my third week at the new firm, and like I said, I haven't yet made myself indispensable. I am trying, but I am also learning that there must be a balance regarding office politics.

Happy Administrative Professionals Day!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Paralegal Misconceptions

If you have been following Mr. Mongue at The Empowered Paralegal Blog, you may have read his entry regarding community-based paralegals in Sierra Leone. In that post, he references Sonkita Conteh, LLM, LLB (Hons), BL, Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of Sierra Leone, a man with a mission of providing legal empowerment to the poor of his country. This, of course, is a goal of many legal professionals and associations in our own country, providing access to justice for those without means. 

Mr. Conteh has been advocating the use of paralegals as low-cost legal aid in Sierra Leone, but he is finding that not everyone is on board. In his article entitled "10 Misconceptions About Paralegals in Sierra Leone," he discusses those most common issues that members of the legal profession in his country seem to express when it comes to using paralegals in legal aid to the poor. I was intrigued to find that citizens and lawyers in Sierra Leone share the same misconceptions about the paralegal profession that we find in the United States. I have listed below the misconceptions most shared between our two countries, as well as my own response to them. 

1) "Paralegals will impersonate lawyers." - Mr. Conteh disputes this impression wisely. While the requirements for paralegals in Sierra Leone are different, as well as more stringent, than here in the States, he argues that while there will always be criminals who will gleefully take advantage of unwitting victims, gainfully employed paralegals who meet the required paralegal standards are far less likely to impersonate lawyers.

3) "Paralegals will want to appear in court." - Okay, you got me. I do want to go to court. I want to see the culmination of all our efforts played out before a judge or jury. But I do not want to appear before the judge. I can only speak for myself, though. However, if a paralegal does want to appear in court, he or she should go to law school, take the bar, and get the credentials to do so. Or move to one of the few states that allow limited paralegal practice. Or become a lay advocate before those few federal administrative agencies that allow it. As for Sierra Leone, states Conteh, "Organisations providing paralegal services never intended for paralegals to represent clients in court, that is why they employ lawyers to do legal representation. In terms of litigation, paralegals can and do provide lawyers with support services- filing and serving documents, chasing up witnesses, taking down notes during court sessions and more." Sounds an awful lot like my own job. To state the same sentiment in American terms, law firms don't hire paralegals with the hopes or expectations that we will take the place of lawyers. They hire us with the hopes and expectations that we will assist lawyers in a way that maximizes profit while keeping costs (for the firm and the client) as low as possible. At least, they should.

4) "Paralegals are not properly trained." - I can't speak for Sierra Leone paralegals, but here in the States, training and education seem to be top priorities for new paralegals. Clients have begun to demand better credentials of all time-keepers, not just their lawyers. And associations like NALA, NALS, and NFPA have been very successful with efforts at promoting continuing legal education among non-lawyer legal professionals. While there is more to be done, we are getting there. At the same time, paralegals do not need lawyer-level education, especially if their attorney supervision is satisfactory. As Conteh says, "Giving every actor in the justice sector training that is commensurate to a lawyer’s is both a waste of time and resources and indeed very unwise." 

8) "Paralegals are unsuccessful people." - Writes Conteh, "I have heard colleagues claiming that paralegals are nothing but failures and rejects who had ambitions to become lawyers but for some reason failed to realise their dreams and are now using backyard routes just to be associated with the law." Now where have I heard that one before? I understand this misconception about as well as I understand that nurses used to put up with the same kind of attitudes. The truth is that not everyone who loves the law wants to go to law school, has the means to go to law school, or wants the responsibility and time-consumption that often comes with being a lawyer. Having different priorities while still enjoying employment in an interesting field would seem to me to make someone the opposite of unsuccessful. However, the "unsuccessful lawyer" myth can easily be promoted by paralegals who view themselves as "less than" lawyers, or who do not believe the paralegal role is important or rewarding. If you are one of these paralegals, I urge you to find something you love doing. Going through life feeling less than anyone or doing something that feels useless and unimportant can be depressing. 

Only time, education, and consistent good examples will help prevent these common misconceptions of paralegals, whether here in the United States or abroad. 

Conteh's article provides more insight regarding the proposed role of paralegals in Sierra Leone, so please visit the link above to read more.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Calm After the Storm

After last night's less than enthusiastic post, I figured I should follow-up with a lighter, more pleasant one. 

When I came home from my third day at the new firm, my hopes were admittedly dashed. It seemed to me that all I had worked for over the past two years was to be thrown away for an office with a city view. I cringed when I was told that my assignments would be less substantive and more administrative. I suddenly imagined my life ten years from now, gray, boring, and virtually useless after a decade of pushing paper in cases that I cannot connect with. 

But today I awoke with a passion. I took my college degree and my paralegal certificate to work. I hung them on my wall. I took a most useful book, The Empowered Paralegal, by Robert Mongue, and sat it on my desk for inspiration. It came in handy at my last job, and I am sure it will be even more useful in my current position. Then I got down to business. 

Since Tuesday, I had been  organizing a file for an attorney who will likely become one of my favorites. While it was simple file organization, the file was new enough and small enough that I was able to grasp the narrative and get an idea of where we are in relation to trial. I spent the morning finishing up the project. Of course it took me a day and a half to complete a task that should have taken at most half a day, but I'll have to cut myself a little slack here at the beginning. 

When I completed the first file, I began working on two more that I inherited from the paralegal I am replacing. (No worries, he didn't leave the firm, just took a new position as IT manager.) The file organization, though it could become mundane in a few weeks, is actually keeping me interested and helping to familiarize me with the numeric filing system. 

I kept my head down and worked today. I asked questions when I needed to. I maintained a positive attitude, and I shoved off the negative emotions from the first half of the week. I decided today that my job will be what I make it. I rediscovered that - oh that's right! - I love legal work. I love becoming immersed in a case, so what if my part is only a tiny piece of the massive puzzle? 

You see, I am not a normal person, and I long ago reconciled myself to this. My job must mean more to me than a paycheck (though a friend of mine has pointed out that a pay raise with less responsibility is never really a bad thing). I must feel passionate about it all the way down to my toes. I want to love the way I spend the majority of my waking hours. Mere satisfaction is not enough. For the past two and a half years, I didn't even have to work at loving my job. I just did. It kept me on my toes. My Boss was a riot sometimes. The clients could be so gracious. And the judges... kept us working as hard as we could to read their minds. For two and a half years I never once though to myself, "I don't want to be here." Even when I had headaches. Even when the judge asked, "Have you read Rule 4?" (Meanwhile, at the new job, I will likely never speak to a judge.) Even when clients cussed and opposing counsel whined and even the time the creepy guy dropped by the office when the Boss was out and started saying creepy things. Not one of those times did it occur to me that I would rather not be at work. 

Back to my original point in the above paragraph: I have realized that I have the power to make my job mean more. After all, it is what it is, and perception is subjective. If the task doesn't have inherent meaning beyond completing step 42 of steps 1,894, then I will grab my magic paralegal wand, wave it in the air, and remind myself that every step in the long litigation process is one move toward the end game. 

This is what it's like to be a small town paralegal in the big city. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Invitation to Publish - @Law Magazine (NALS)

Because I am on the @Law committee with NALS, I am posting here our request for articles. If you are interested in submitting an article for publication, please feel free to contact me. I know some of my readers must be experts in their fields. You know who you are.


@Law Magazine, a quarterly publication for legal professionals published by NALS … the association for legal professionals, is inviting submissions of 1,000-word articles for publication in the upcoming issues of @Law.  

Each issue of @Law contains articles chosen by an editorial board of individuals employed in legal professions.  The content of @Law is completely expert written. 

Submitted articles must be succinct, and the reference lists relatively small.  In essence, the articles should provide legal professionals with a brief understanding of the area of law covered, explain current trends in the area of law covered, and/or describe the relevant application services to a particular area of law, as well include as a few key resources for follow-up.

NALS...the association for legal professionals has been publishing @Law (formerly The Docket) for over 50 years.  It has been the membership publication for NALS members and other legal professionals, providing them with educational and professional development articles. 

@Law has a circulation of approximately 8,000 readers nationwide and reaches a broad audience of legal professionals ranging from legal assistants, legal secretaries and paralegals to attorneys, judges and legal administrators.

If you are interested in submitting an article to be published in @Law, please contact Cindy Squier, PP, PLS, by phone at 918.588.7947, via fax to 918.588.7971 or by e-mail to  More information about @Law and a sampling of recently published articles can be found online at  Information about NALS … the association for legal professionals can be found at

And We're Off...

Well Band o' Followers, I am humbly supposing that you await my initial assessment of the new life in Memphis. I have been holding off for the first few days, trying to adjust, before giving you the dish on my present situation.

First things first, the Memphis firm is no JNL, P.C. I always took for granted paralegals everywhere were drafting pleadings and motions, performing legal research, and advising their attorneys on local court procedures. As it turns out, paralegals in defense firms seem to perform a ton of file maintenance and follow-ups of document requests. The associates are doing my job! At least, that is how I felt these first few days.

I have come to realize that at least for awhile, I will not be privy to the true status of some of the rather large cases. I must accept that I will not feel personally invested in the outcome of a case or constantly worried about how our client will fair at trial. Defense work is long, and slow, and some of the files could form their own solar systems. I could be nothing more than a comet passing through, nicking one of these planet-files so lightly that you would never know I was there. Gone are the days of telling the (or any) boss what needs to be done. I have eight bosses now, and I'm almost certain that none of them are concerned with my personal brand of case management.

Yet in a way this is freeing. I will have no trouble leaving after an eight-hour day, and I have no incentive to work a minute over 40 hours in my week. The assignments will come, and I will complete them, and... no no no.

What I believe will actually happen, what I hope will happen, is that I will work hard on even the easy things. I will become proficient at it. I will (try) to develop relationships with my attorneys that extend beyond assignment memorandums. My hope is that at least one of those relationships will develop into trust and mutual respect, not only because I want better assignments, but also because I've learned that I enjoy my work more when I form a bond with the person I'm working for with  for(?).

I hope I do not sound too negative. I am hopeful that my role will expand before my eyes. However, the larger part of me knows that I have to come to terms with the way bigger law firms run. In a world bustling with named partners, senior partners, junior partners, associates, secretaries, paralegals, and then me, I'm a little fish in a much bigger pond. Perhaps part of growing up means realizing and accepting one's own insignificance in the greater world. I would like to say that I believe I could have a true and positive impact on the role of paralegals at my new firm. I would like to say that. But I'm not sure yet that I can.

On a positive note, everyone at the office seems nice and amicable. The paralegals took me to lunch today, and we enjoyed ourselves. They are a good group, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. It is also nice to know that I have one good friend at the firm. A friendly and familiar face goes a long way in making the day seem brighter (even a hazy, dark day like today).

On yet another positive note, my first assignments have been interesting if not challenging. I have a lot to learn about Tennessee law and federal court. And as my office has a door out to the balcony, I'm making quick friends with the smokers, who have to travel through my office to reach their designated smoking area. And I get business cards.

I guess you could say that anyone would be instantly happy with this new job. The work environment is pleasant, and it seems like a good place to spend eight hours a day. But unfortunately, I have had the previous experience of working closely with the Boss, and that relationship will long be the standard by which I judge my newer supervising attorneys. For now, I'm chalking up my current worries to the adjustment period and trying to focus only on familiarizing myself with the firm.

So onward and upward with fingers crossed. With a hopeful heart and a mind all too bent on reality.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beginning of an Era

For all my hand-wringing, all my worries, and the heaviness of the guilt sitting firmly in my chest, I made it to Memphis. Within a day, the worries and the guilt faded. I am still concerned this week with the Boss's welfare, but I continue to reassure myself that he will be fine. He found a fine replacement, and I know they will work well together.

Since I have not written for over a week, I need to update you on a few comings and goings of the past several days. Last Thursday we had an impromptu going away party at a local pub. Friends and family were there. Times like these teach me one important lesson: I am a blessed girl to have so many caring people in my life. Though it was neither requested or expected, some people brought parting gifts.

Once such parting gift was from the Boss: an aquarium. I admit that I was slightly puzzled. The Boss had threatened to give me our office fish as a going away present, but I had not believed him. Even when presented with an empty aquarium, I did not believe him. After all, it's not like he had delivered the fish in a baggie or anything. But throughout the night he continued to promise me that I would be taking our office fish with me when I departed.

A side note on this fish: We started out with four fish. Two blue guarana, one bigger fish, and one algae eater. The algae eater died first, though by the time we found him, he was merely bone. The bigger fish was then bullied to death by the two smaller guarana. Finally, a few weeks ago, one of the guarana went missing. He simply vanished from the tank. I dredged the bottom, but came up empty handed. Now, another note: our office tank was completely overrun with algae. We would clean the tank and it would immediately turn green again. At some point we gave up all together on cleaning the tank. One last note on the fish: On my last day I asked the Boss if he had been feeding our last little guy. The Boss said, "I thought you were feeding him." Oops.

Knowing all this about our final fish, I did not want him. He turns water green and seems to enjoy killing other fish. Still, true to his word, the Boss snuck the fish into my U-Haul trailer the morning I was packing to leave. In a water jug. I just knew the little fella' wouldn't last one day in there, but he somehow survived three days (that  is how long it took me to get his tank set up). Now he's the happiest little unkillable fish in Memphis.

Other than the addition of a new pet, this move has provided several new experiences for me. I went from living in a tiny triplex in Silverhill, Alabama to a roomy twelfth floor apartment in down town Memphis. My view, while not the best city view out there, is still a view of something. I see buildings and glimpse the Mississippi River through my large windows. While I have the convenience of walking to my bank, my stores, even my job, I have learned a few of the inconveniences of city living too. Pedestrians, one-way streets, and parking. My parking garage is across the street from my building, and it took me three miserable trips to and from my car on Monday to bring in several heavy bags of groceries.

But yesterday I literally went "walking in Memphis," and concluded that the benefits of this city life will outweigh the hassles, at least for now.

I start my new job on Monday, and I. Am. Ready. My friend at the firm tells me I already have an assignment waiting for me. I can't wait to jump in and hit the ground running. I also can't wait to be wearing something business-y when I hit the elevator in my building. So far everyone I have met in my building has been wearing a suit. I wonder what they think of the T-shirt-and-jeans-on-a-weekday girl they are meeting. I bet they are jealous, actually.

So I will slip through this week's vacation relaxing and being lazy. Then on Monday, I will be off to the daily grind. Stay tuned for the new adventures of the same paralegal. Or perhaps the little fish in the big-ish city?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I must have spent the past several weeks in a haze. All of a sudden, it has come to my attention that I really am moving. Not in some distant future. In two days. On Friday I will pack everything I own into a U-Haul and make my way north and west to the great city of Memphis. I still have so much to do. I've known for weeks that I would be leaving soon, but soon was never two days from now. Soon isn't tomorrow until it is.


I just tried imagining what my first day at my new job will be like. Learning an entirely new system, forging new relationships, reinventing my career persona. It seems taxing. But when I look at it through brand new eyes, it seem exciting and fresh, just like the bamboo floors in my new apartment. Still, until I am actually there on Memphis soil, the move seems daunting and dangerous.

And the Boss! My daily worry is that he will break into a million pieces without me there doing all the things that keep him together. Obviously he's a grown person who will have another assistant to help with all the little things, but my brain hasn't grasped such a rational concept yet. Note to self: I have a phone and an email address. If he really needs to know the where or how of something, I can get that information to him in the blink of an eye.


If only my brain would slow down for a moment. I am so looking forward to the week between my old job and the new one. A week to get settled into my new place. A week to discover all the places I will need to know. A week to shed the worries and step into a new life. And a week to update my profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and of course Paralegalese.

Monday, March 22, 2010

End of an Era: Part III

Three full days left in town, and I'm numb. I have packed almost everything I own. My walls are bare, my refrigerator empty. 

As for the office, I am starting to realize that I am simply unable to leave everything prepared for my absence. There is too much information to impart on someone new, and I will only have four hours on Thursday to try. My replacement is coming in for training that day. One half day of training. Poor thing. 

But the Boss is in fair spirits. Or at least, he hasn't had too much time to think about it. Last week was full of hearings and meetings. This week is, too. The work is anesthetic, at least to me. Today our computers failed us, and that, too, helped me forget that my last day is looming before us. Still, the sense of urgency I feel in the pit of my stomach, though unacknowledged most of the day, is only due to one thing - my dwindling time. 

Tomorrow I get to go to court with the Boss. This will mark the second time in two years I have graced the courtroom with my presence. I asked to go this time because the trial is one we have been working toward for the past two years. After months of preparations and musings, I want to see how the judge rules. I want to hear the testimony and silently root for my home team. I want to be there when the final piece of the puzzle is laid. It will be my good-bye present to myself, and I'm hoping it's a good one. 

Then, on Thursday night, there will be a more public good-bye party. I will gather with family and friends at the little pub down the street to celebrate the past three years we have had together. Though I fought it at first, coming home to this small community was the best thing I could have done after college. I've matured both as an individual and as a paralegal during this time. I guess you could say that I found myself. 

Friday will mark the beginning of an era, and I'm already looking ahead to it. No doubt I will miss every single speck of dirt I am leaving behind, but there is so much to discover in a new city. And after weeks of fretting, grieving and preparing, I am ready to make those discoveries. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

End of an Era: Part II

Time passes and the guilt passes. I seem to have transformed from the paralegal who knows her move is negatively affecting the Boss to the paralegal who is working like crazy to make the transition as trouble-free as possible for him.

I still understand, of course, that my move is not a good thing for him. But we've put on our brave faces as we work toward the approach of the inevitable future. The Boss has been interviewing candidates to take my place. I've been disecting their resumes and personalities. I don't want to stare into the face of the person who will take my place on the team, but I do want to help him find the best possible fit. Is it narcissistic of me to believe that the best possible fit is the person who is most like me? In trying to shy away from that assumption, I've offered positive reviews of some stand-out individuals who are not like me at all, but I worry that he won't be able to get along with anyone the way he gets along with me. And don't even get me started on the trust issue.

In preparation of the end of this era, I have made a list of my regular administrative tasks with directions describing how to do them. It isn't rocket surgery, but in my first two years as a legal assistant, I learned a few things about efficiency. Now that the Boss will have toperform some of my tasks, he needs to know the most practical ways to do so.

I wonder what our job candidates think when they come to our little office for interviews. Most of our furniture is antique and in fair shape. Our welcome mat has seen better days. Our office plant is dying a slow death at my brown-fingered hands. And our fish tank remains in a continual state of greenness in response to the constant sunlight streaming in through our large front windows.

When they walk into the Boss's office, they see scattered accordian files and a 12-inch tall To-Be-Filed stack. I try not to take guests back to our kitchen/copier area. It isn't dirty, but it can get cluttered.

It feels like inviting people to your home to live. You love the place. It is comfortable and welcoming to you, but you know it's faults and worry that another person will not be able to appreciate it the way you do. I mean, who else will understand how silly yet necessary it is for us to keep our boxes of closed files in the bath tub? (Yes, we have a real bath tub in our office, which we have converted into storage space.)

Oh, the things I will miss when I'm gone. And the things I will worry about! Deadlines and final orders will keep me up at night for awhile as I contemplate the outcome of a trial or the possibility that the Boss might miss a court date. Thank goodness for the internet age, though. As I've told him multiple times (mostly so that I can hear the words outloud), if he needs to know how I do something or where I've placed an item, even in Memphis I will be one phone call, email or text message away.

Monday, March 8, 2010

End of an Era: Part I

This month marks the sad end of an era. I have been ignoring this blog for the past two weeks, as if non-acknowledgment of the coming change would somehow force everything to remain the same. Alas, it isn't to be. 

You may be confused by that opening paragraph, so I will explain. You see, I spent the last weekend of February in Memphis, TN... interviewing for a job. Actually, only a small portion of the weekend was spent interviewing. The largest part was spent struggling with a decision I was not prepared to make. 

The interview had sprung up rather quickly after a friend of mine told me his firm was looking for "above average" paralegals. I was not looking for a new job. I suppose a part of me just wanted to know what I was worth, whether I was above-average enough to work at his downtown Memphis firm. As a small-town paralegal with just over two years in experience, I imagined that either a) I would not be hired or b) they would not make me an offer I couldn't refuse. I was wrong on both accounts and suddenly was forced into a situation I had not truly expected. Looking back, I realize that I had made the decision before I even left the office. I just didn't know it yet. 

My BoyfriendTheLawyer was happy, of course. A Tennessean himself, he knew that this move would place me hours closer to him, and that the threat of having to take the Alabama bar exam would fade into a vague memory.  

I struggled with my decision for two long days. I am a small town paralegal. I am hardworking, focused, and above all, loyal. The loyalty part gave me qualms. Over the past two years, the Boss has opened his practice up to me in so many ways. I am his right hand gal. I am the office expert on filing procedures, record-keeping, and more. I have slowly been creating administrative policies that make us more efficient and more client-oriented. The Boss has given me the freedom to do so. When I try to imagine how to explain my job, my brain crashes. My job description is "do what is necessary." It took me over two years to figure out what that encompasses - how do I teach someone else in only two weeks?

I sat on my decision all day Monday. It was painful and emotional. I was grumpy. The Boss thankfully did not notice. On Monday night, I was asked, "Would this move to Memphis be a step in a positive direction?" The only answer was yes. It was then that I understood that the only reason not to move was my loyalty to my current job. I was giving this loyalty so much weight that it was blinding me to all of the possibilities for growth, the opportunity that was being offered to me. 

On Tuesday, as soon as the Boss walked into his office, I plopped myself down in a chair at his desk. I couldn't get the words out, so he said them for me. "You're leaving." I nodded my head and tried to explain that I hadn't been looking, that I was perfectly satisfied with my current position, that it was just too good of an opportunity to turn down, etc. He took it well for someone who knows how much he depends on his paralegal. I tried to explain that I'm sure whoever takes my place will be better, more experienced, more organized. He simply said, "Are you giving me the employee version of the 'there are more fish in the sea' line?" I had to laugh. Breaking up is hard to do, whether it's with your significant other, your family or even your boss. Leaving those who depend on you is always difficult. 

After a few days of self-doubt and wishing someone else could make the decision for me, I finally settled down. The Boss will find someone to take my place. Though it saddens me to imagine someone else sitting in my chair, if I can't be there it is my hope that the person who is will be a step up from me. 

I'm embracing the future now and whatever it will hold. I am jumping from one supervising attorney to nine. From a solo practice country office to a mid-size downtown law firm. From cases that last months to cases that last years. From a new and growing firm to a stable, established firm. I will miss all of the things I have know for the past few years. I will miss the clients, the Boss, and the sweet freedom I have working with a small town lawyer. But it is time to step forward, to challenge myself with a new place and new work, and hopefully to realize my true potential as a paralegal professional in the greater legal community.