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About Me

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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, 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.