Paralegals and Depositions

Many experienced paralegals sit in on depositions not to ask questions but to take notes and assist the attorney in “reading” the witness.  By this I mean; while the attorney is asking questions, usually prepared questions, the paralegal’s job is to take notes about what the plaintiff answered as well as pay close attention to the demeanor of the plaintiff while answering the questions.  Is the plaintiff fidgeting?  Did the plaintiff say something “new” something that was not mentioned during is responses to discovery?

The attorney’s job is to ask questions, follow up on original questions in order to get additional information out of the witness when the plaintiff’s answer is vague, and pay close attention to what is being said so that he or she can object or follow up with another question.  The paralegal’s job is to scan the room constantly and keep a close eye on the witness and the adversary attorney(s).

As a paralegal, one of many suggestions to you, is to learn to take very good notes and learn to interpret non-verbal communication.  Those two skills will make you an invaluable member of your legal team.

As an example: A few years ago I was sitting in a deposition with my managing attorney.  We were deposing a plaintiff in a personal injury matter.  During the initial discovery process of the case we had been getting medical information from the plaintiff by using the social security number he had provided us with his answers to interrogatories.

During the deposition the attorney asked the plaintiff for his social security number.  When I heard the number, it didn’t make sense to me.  I made a note of it and while the attorney continued to follow his line of questioning I took a look at plaintiff’s answers to interrogatories. I noticed that the social security number we had been provided was different from the one plaintiff was giving us at this time.  During one of the deposition breaks I informed the attorney. When we got back to the deposition the attorney was able to question plaintiff regarding that other social security number and we found out that the plaintiff had come to the country illegally and received an illegal social security number.  When he obtained his legal status he received the legal social security number.

After the deposition I went back to my desk and, after speaking with the attorney, I sent out requests medical records.  However, I used the new social security number. A few weeks later I received the new medical records informing us of a completely different accident.

We were able to show that the injuries of which plaintiff was complaining were pre-existing conditions and the plaintiff had been involved in an earlier personal injury action which he settled a few years before ours.

I’m not saying that the attorney would not have been able to pick this up at some point.  However, because I had all the documents with me and was taking notes, the attorney was able to concentrate on his line of questioning and put the witness at ease by making eye contact.

The witness had no reason to believe that we had just caught him in a lie because the attorney’s demeanor did not change and the attorney did not have to take  time out to write anything down which would have caused the witness to be able to “recover” from the lie or think about an excuse.

Make sure you work on your note taking skills.  It sounds like a boring task but it can be invaluable to your attorney.

FINRA Regulatory Notice 09-67 Changes to the fee for the Regulatory Element of the continuing education requirements of FINRA

Beginning January 4, 2010, FINRA is raising the fees for the CE requirements of certain registered persons.  The affected registrations are:  The General Program (S101), the Series 6 Program (S106) and the Supervisory Program (S201).  The fee is going from $75.00 to $100.

For further information see:  FINRA Regulatory Notice 09-67

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving

As most of us get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your mentoring and for taking the time to read this blog and posting your thoughts.  I have learned so much from all of you and I hope you have also been able to take and use some of my insights into the paralegal world.

Ana Pierro, The Paralegal

Billing for the Paralegal

Some of you have written to me asking for ideas on how to bill and how to word your billing entries.  I will say this; every attorney and/or law firm is different.  So please keep in mind that the billing descriptions on this blog may not be acceptable billing descriptions at your particular law firm.  I suggest that you check with your paralegal manager, the attorney or the partner on the file to make sure the billing entry is in accordance with the retainer the client signed and with your firm’s policy. With that in mind, let us begin.

As I stated in a previous post, a billing entry is like a story.  I am sure you remember your professors saying that one of the most of important things when writing anything is to keep in mind who your audience is.  If you keep this in the back of your mind as you write your billing entry you will be able to tailor it to the person who will be reading it.  The other thing that I keep “filed away” in the back of my mind is that my billing entry is probably the first time the client is going to see how much work is actually involved in getting the case “worked up.”

Clients are not always aware of how many steps are involved in getting their cases settled or even getting their cases to go to court.   So, again, as I mentioned in an earlier post remember to make your billing entry as descriptive as you can by answering the following questions:  who, what and why.

Most clients are ok with paying your fees as long as they see that there is a reason for you to charge them as much as you’re charging.


A meeting with an attorney regarding an expert my billing entry would be something like this:

  • Conference with attorney’s name regarding expert’s name, type of expertise to assist with deposition preparation/response to discovery.

A meeting is almost always stated as a conference.  It just sounds better, in my opinion.  But again, that may not be the case at your law firm.

When reviewing medical records and preparing the package to be sent to our expert.

  • Review and analyze medical records to assist in preparation of expert witness. If this was a particularly voluminous medical file, I sometimes list the medical records individually.

As a personal injury paralegal on the defense side you will have to request records from the physicians.  I use these to compare to the ones received with the adversary’s responses to discovery or answers to interrogatories.  I always request medical records at the same time I review plaintiffs’ discovery responses.  Therefore, my billing entry would look something like this:

  • Review and analyze plaintiff’s answers to interrogatories/document production in preparation for supplemental discovery demands.

Telephone conversations should also always be very specific.  Always be specific about whom you spoke with and why you had the conversation.

  • Telephone conversation with name of the party regarding issue to assist with why you had the conversation.


  • Prepare correspondence to party you’re writing to regarding why you’re writing.
  • Correspondence to plaintiff’s attorney regarding outstanding answers to discovery.
  • Correspondence to medical expert, name of the expert and specialty regarding additional information received from where you obtained the information to assist with preparation of expert report.

Basically, I look at my billing entries as a chronology of what I am doing on each file.  I have at times looked at my billing entries to remind me if I completed a task on a file.

My last bit of advice to all new paralegals is to not be afraid of billing for all the work you do on a file because the bill may be “cut.”  Billing adjustments happen in law firms and it is not a reflection on you or your work.

I hope this helps.  If I can be of further help please write me a comment and we can work it out together.

Thank you for all your comments and I look forward to hearing from you all.

The Paralegal

Ana Pierro

Calorie Count on Menus

The State Health Committee in New Jersey passed a bill to the full Senate to require restaurants with more than 20 location to include calorie counts on their menus.  The Bill was approved by a 7-0 vote.

See article in NJ.Com