Self-Asessments and Year End Reviews

We all hate them. Walking around the office I can feel the tension not to mention the moaning and groaning coming from every cubicle about having to complete your self-assessments for the year end reviews. 

I don’t particularly like it either. On a scale of my most disliked tasks, year end reviews fall somewhere between filing and billing. However, just like filing and billing, year end reviews must be done. The good news is that your self assessment is also your opportunity to let me know how much you contributed to the department and in some cases, tell me what you need from me to be more productive next year. 

If you’ll allow me, let me give you some “tricks” to help you make this process a little less painful. 

1.  Keep a folder, either on your computer or in your personal folder in your desk, with all emails you receive from clients or attorneys thanking you for a job well done. 
2.  Keep a list of all the classes or seminars you attended throughout the year and describe things you’ve done in the office to implement what you learned.
3.  Keep a list of all the extra projects for which you volunteered; if you took advantage of the pro bono work your office does, keep a list of the cases you worked on and the name of the supervising attorney; if your company participates in community service keep a list of the volunteering activities you in which you took part. 

I guess what I’m trying to tell you is not to sell yourself short. We are all involved in many different things and each one of them will give me a little glimpse of who you are. If you can handle your workload and still find the time to give back and make someone smile I, as you manager, want to know. 

Keep in mind that I have 5 or 6 other paralegals (some offices more) to remember. I cannot remember all that they did. Believe me, I have enough trouble remembering what I did. Think of your self assessment as a little reminder for me. Don’t worry about whether I’m going to think you’re not modest. I don’t want you to be modest I want you to give me reasons and prove to me that I’m not wrong for thinking that you are the best paralegal EVER. 

This is your opportunity to tell me and show me that I was absolutely right when I hired you. I couldn’t have made a better choice. 

Now, get going on that self assessment.  You don’t have much time. Toot that horn. 

Happy holidays if I don’t see you all sooner. 

Help Me Help You

As a manager I have always prided myself in keeping an open-door policy. I always make the time for anyone and everyone who just wants to ask a question, or even just chat. Even if I am in the middle of something. I never turn anyone away. I truly believe that, even though I am the manager, I am, first and foremost, a paralegal. I am one of you. Not that long ago I was where you are and I do not want to forget that for a minute. I believe this is what makes me a successful manager. At least I think I am a successful manager. 

So I write this post, first to apologize for not having as much time as I once had and second as an explanation and a request for your help. 

Lately I have found that my time is less than enough to meet all the deadlines I have been assigned. In today’s economy and the land of small budgets and small staff, I am faced with having to take on more and more of the day-to-day paralegal work as well as my other managerial responsibilities. There are millions of phone messages and e-mails to return and, as usual, the end of year means more work for the legal department. In the end, the amount of work coming in is too much for my small group to handle without me putting in a full day, or almost a full day of case work. I’m not complaining, I love what I do. However, for me to put in a full day of case work means that the managerial aspect of my work gets placed on the back burner and piled up to be done later. Later means either doing it at home or staying really late to complete it. The past few weeks this has happened every day.

In thinking about ways to stretch my day one of the things I thought of was to stop having such an open door policy. I thought about discouraging my team from coming in and talking. The small interruptions can take up a lot of my day. Then the word TEAM repeated itself in my brain.

We are a TEAM and as such, there is nothing wrong with me asking all of you for some help. I promise I will not add to workload. So here is what I came up with. This is how you can help me be a more efficient manager/paralegal:

1.  Come into my office prepared with a problem and a few solutions worked out in you head or your notepad;
2.  Bring in a few questions at a time. Save a few files and bring them in once a day or even twice a day. 
3.  Instead of just coming to my office, what about sending me an email, if it’s not an urgent matter. 
4.  You don’t have to justify or recount everything you did during the day. Believe me, I trust you to do the right thing.
5.  If you scheduled some time to meet with me, please make every effort to show up. If you cannot make it, let me know. Having me sit in my office waiting for you is very unproductive. Also if you are going to be late, please call me. I may have another meeting scheduled and may have to reschedule our meeting. Sometimes five minutes can make a lot of difference. 

So these are some of the small ways in which you can help me. How can I help you?

Your Paralegal Supervisor,

On a Personal Note

It’s 6:30 am and as usual I am on the train, heading into work, trying to catch up on all the blogs and articles on my RSS, Twitter and Facebook. 

Things have been so busy at work lately, the past few days I haven’t left the office until 8:00 pm. This makes for some very long days a very messy house and my neglect of my writing.  

As I was saying. As I’m sitting here, on this train, fighting the urge to just take a nap until I get to my destination instead on catching up on the news, I realize that some of the paralegals I have recently become friendly with are extremely busy as well and yet they find the time to post every day, and have a great attitude about all the things that have piled up on their plates. I have to admit that I am a little jealous. How do they find the time?

Yes, Lynne DeVenney, author and blogger at practical Paralegalism, Jeannie Sapp Johnston, founder and CEO of Paralegal Gateway, Vicki Voisin, author, speaker and blogger at The Paralegal Mentor, and last but not least, my newest friend Sue Ann Jaffarian, author of Odelia Grey mystery series and blogger. Sorry I don’t have access to all the links right now.  You can look these women up. I promise, you will not be disappointed.  

Personally, I want to know how they all do this and still manage to keep their sanity.  To you, my readers, I suggest you take some time to go check out their websites and/or blogs. Get to know them. They all have great lessons to share with each of us. I don’t care how long you have been in the business, these women can teach us a thing or two about dedication and determination.  I for one have them all on my RSS feeder. I don’t want to miss a thing they have to say 

Well, I’m almost at my station and my day crazy work day will begin very soon. I just hope I can perform with the grace these women have and at the end of the day I will have some good lessons to share with all of you. 

Stay tuned!!!!!

Paralegal or Inspector Poirot????

Being a paralegal is almost like being a private investigator.  You know those murder mystery books we all love to read?  Agatha Christie, Scott Turow, James Patterson… etc.

Ok, so maybe I’m not going to be chasing after a murderer or a drug dealer or in a jail cell interrogating a criminal.  But I am going to be getting to the bottom of other issues.

As a personal injury paralegal, my job was to get to the bottom of why the plaintiff was so hurt and was the plaintiff really as hurt as he/she made it out to be.  Yeah, I get it, reading medical record after medical record is not very glamorous but your diligent work can make or break the case.  Most of the time it’s just going to be a boring exercise of figuring out what is actually ailing the plaintiff and sitting on the floor of your cubicle or office going through box after box or file after file of medical records.  However, there is that one time when the review of a hospital record can produce the adrenaline rush of a murder case.

A long time ago…. Gosh, it really feels like an eternity ago.  In my past life as a personal injury paralegal I received a case where a plaintiff had gotten rear-ended.  The complaint alleged that plaintiff was not able to work and could not even walk up a flight of stairs without pain and getting short of breath.  Due to the pain plaintiff claimed he was not able to exercise and therefore gained weight and all the maladies that come from being extremely obese.  Plaintiff alleged that following the accident he had developed high blood pressure, asthma as well as other accident related pains.

I began my investigation by requesting medical records from the hospital where the plaintiff had been taken immediately following the accident.  Those medical records revealed that at the time of the accident the plaintiff was already heavy and a 2 pack a day smoker.  I also found out that plaintiff had been seen at the emergency room prior to that date following a previous auto accident and all the complaints were the same at that time.

Needless to say, this became my favorite case for a while.  I could not wait to receive the next medical record or schedule plaintiff’s deposition.  I knew this case inside and out.  I became a true Erin Brockovich, or so it felt hahaha.

I guess my point is, you never know when one of your “boring” cases can turn out to be the new Agatha Christie best seller so you better review all documents as if all cases have best-selling author potential.

Hope you’re having a great weekend.

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Solving the Billable Hour Monster

Billing has always been the thorn on the side of most paralegals.  It doesn’t have to be as painful as some make it out to be, but it is annoying.  One of the big pluses, for me, about working in-house, is that I do not have to bill my time anymore.

Some of you have asked me to show you how I used to keep track of my time.  I’ve always been really bad at remembering things at the end of the day and I quickly figured out that I needed to keep track of what I was working on as I was working on it.  So I developed my own system.

The chart below is a chart I kept on my desk throughout the day.  Sometimes I would even take it with me into meetings so I could write notes to remind me what topics were discussed during the meeting.

If the law firm where you work does not give you a way to track your time manually and instead requests that you enter your time in whatever computer system is used to track time, I still suggest that you try to use a method similar to the one below in order to fully capture your day or at least come as close as possible to fully capturing your day.  There are always going to be a few minutes and sometimes hours missing.  Generally, those missing minutes or hours can be captured in what is usually known as non-billable number.  Your practice area manager or human resources should give you the non-billable number when you start your employment.

DATE: _________________


.2 Smith v. Smith 2010-999999 Prepare correspondence to adversary regarding outstanding answers to interrogatories.
1.3 Wilson v. Roger 2008-999999 Review medical records received from Hospital X to assist with preparation of answers to interrogatories.

Throughout the day I would keep little post notes with the time I started a particular project and the time I ended the project and then at the end of my day I would input the amount of time spent on each task in the first column.  The reason for the post-it notes was because inevitably I would have to stop what I was working on and do something else only to have to go back to the original task.  It was easier for me to keep all the start and stop times on a post-it note with the case number on it and then at the end of the day add everything up and just enter the time I actually worked on a matter.  There were days when my chart would look like a Christmas tree with post-it notes as ornaments.  You’d be surprised what a couple of .2’s can do for your billable hours.

I got into the habit, very early in my career, of tracking my time in this manner. I was never very good at relying on my memory at the end of the week or, worse, at the end of the month.  It just never worked out for me.

I hope this was of some help.  Please post a comment and let me know.

Things have been busy here at The_Paralegal

I thought I would write a short note to you, my subscribers/readers.

I have been busy with lots of ideas recently running through my head and I am finally going to put them into motion.  Let’s see where they all bring us.  Why wait until the first of the year to start a list of things you want to accomplish?  Here is a list of things that The Paralegal is planning:

1)  The first thing I have done was create a Facebook page for The Paralegal.  Please go and keep me company by becoming a friend.  The plan is to keep you annoyingly (is that a word?) updated on what is going on in my day-to-day as well as what I am planning for the blog.

Now we have 4 ways to keep in touch, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and this blog.  I’m sure I’ll think of other ways.

2)  I am working on starting a podcast for The Paralegal.  This will take a little bit of time, since I really have no idea how to even start one. I’m starting now to figure out what and how to do it.  Maybe you can use Facebook and Twitter to comment what you would like to hear in the podcast.  I want to keep it fresh and relevant so your input is really important.  We can create this together.

3)  Develop a seminar series.  This is an extremely ambitious goal for me but I think we all need a goal that will really make us step out of our comfort zones.  This is mine for the year 2011.  I am determined to be exactly what you need me to be, a mentor, a teacher and a friend.

I know that with your help I will be able to accomplish all these goals and then some.  So, if you still haven’t had enough of me, go and friend me on Facebook, go and follow me on Twitter and sign up for this blog.  The podcast?  Well, that I’ll have to learn a bit more but I promise that I will keep you posted as to the progress and I will let you know when I publish the first episode.  I’m counting on you all to keep me honest and help me achieve my goals.

Thank you so much for reading this blog and allowing me to come into your lives one blog at a time.


Ana Pierro, The Paralegal