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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.

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.