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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, 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.