Paralegals in New Jersey Taking Baby Steps

It’s no surprise that New Jersey rules for paralegal utilization are probably some of the most restrictives. On March 28, 2011, the New Jersey State Bar’s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (“ACPE”) and the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee (“CUPL”) issued an opinion which lifts the long standing restrictions of allowing paralegals to sign non-substantive correspondence. Opinion ACPE 720/CUPL 46. For now this opinion will stand, unless the court overturns it. The opinion modifies the long standing ACPE Opinion 611, which goes back to February 18, 1988, and restricted paralegals to “…sign only routine correspondence that is not directed to clients, opposing lawyers or courts.”.

Although it may sound like Opinion 720 is still restrictive and not such a great cause to celebrate, if you live and work in New Jersey, this is great news and a step, albeit a baby step, in the right direction.

Are Law Firms Using Fewer Paralegals?

Recently the Florida Bar Association put out a news article which claims that law firms are hiring fewer paralegals.  I see two reasons for this:  First there are a lot of recent law school graduates out there looking for a job and while being a paralegal was probably not at the top of their list, it is still better than being on the unemployment line or "pounding the pavement" looking for a job.  Law firms now have the luxury of hiring a first year lawyer to do paralegal work at paralegal rates, which makes the client happy as the law firm can also get the lawyer working as a paralegal to do lawyer work.  This seems to work for the law firm, not so much for the paralegal professional or the first year law student.  Second, because the states still have not all come to an agreement on paralegal certification and/or registration for paralegals, it has become difficult for a firm to figure out what it is that a paralegal is capable of doing.  Because currently any one can claim to be a paralegal, an employer has a really difficult time distinguishing from those that can actually handle the job and those that do not.

The solution:  Well, as far as the first issue, it should be resolved as soon as the economy gets better and the job market opens up.  Once the first year law student, working as a paralegal is able to get a lawyer job, he/she will be gone to the next opportunity.  The second issue depends on the paralegal profession and the States.

I have spoken with some paralegals that are against certification and/or registration.  One of the reasons, they tell me, is that once paralegals are forced to be certified their billable rates will go up.  Probably true.  There will be schooling and certification or registration fees to pay.  My question is... is this a good enough reason to avoid registration all together?

Our profession is supposed to be one of the fastest growing professions in the 21st century.  As paralegals we need to ensure that the above fact remains true.  There is nothing we can do about the economy.  However, we can ensure that the services we provide are  par excellence.  We should aim for certification or at the very least registration so as to give our employers the comfort that we are what we claim to be.  How can any law firm argue with the fact that a good paralegal can and will perform at a lower cost than a first year law student.  Once a law firm is confident that their paralegals are able to perform the job and that it is more cost efficient to hire a paralegal to perform a paralegal's job, the profession will again be one of the fastest growing in the 21st century.


An In-House Paralegal….

I am often asked about the differences between being an in-house paralegal and a paralegal in a private law office.  One of the main difference is the fact that the client is the firm.  The lawyers in a corporation represent the firm.  This is actually a difficult concept to get used to.

As in-house paralegals, most of our work is pretty mundane.  There isn’t a lot of variety.  Most of our day is spent either responding to subpoenas, demands for documents, third party request, request for financial information from the various government entities, responding to tax levies, etc.  The work is varied but it tends to be routine.  There is the occasional exciting case but that is not not the norm.

As in any law office each paralegal has one or two specialities.  Some handle all the government subpoeanas, some handle third party subpoenas or demand for documents (most of you are very familiar with these…. these are the requests that you send us when you are getting discovery together for your cases).   As I have mentioned earlier, as in-house paralegals we (I’m an in-house paralegal) are hired by the firm and therefore the firm is our one and only client.  When the legal department receives a request for the government (SEC, FBI, etc…) obviously, we want to cooperate as best as we can and as expediently as possible.  The paralegal in this position is normally the one who has the most tight deadlines as obviously the government is working on time sensitive matters.  Normally, these requests are very routine but there is the occasional time when we, the paralegals, are asked for information that we may have never heard of or are not even sure they exist.  In these particular cases we can go outside of the legal department and find someone in the business (one of the other employees of the firm) who can explain what a particular report is and how we can get it.  We have to be careful as to not share the content of the government request because, remember, the client is the firm and we are still bound by attorney client privilege.  Under no circumstances should you ever get another employee, a business, involved in a conversation with a requesting party.

Operational people can be very technical and some have a hard time explaining what things are and how they work to someone who does not know the systems.  To make matters even more complicated, outside parties often do not know what it is that they are looking for and therefore, cannot formulate the questions or the requests in a manner that we understand what they are looking for.

In an in-house department we are a team and that is what I try to instill in my paralegal team.  Use everything at your disposal when you are responding to any type of request.  Use the knowledge of other paralegals before you go outside of the department where, without meaning to, you may say something you are not supposed to be saying or share some information that you are not allowed to reveal.  If the above fails, then I suggest you go to the requesting party.  Try to find out what it is that they are looking for.  Sometimes, if you know what the case is about you can make suggestions as to what types of information would best assist the requesting party.  Sometimes the requesting party may be asking for something that at first glance looks really easy to produce.  However, when you really think about it, it may take days, sometimes even months to be able to create a report that would extract the information being requested.  However, there may be something else that could respond to the question just the same without wasting so many hours of manual work.

Moral of this story:  Use your team.  Share your story.  Be aware that different people working on different issues may have another perspective which may help you produce the desired results.

Let’s Help Japan

I am just a paralegal who goes to work every day.  Some days I’m really excited about going to work and there are days that I’m not so excited.  However, I have a place to go every morning and do something that I cho0se and love to do.

While I sit here tonight, after a very long day at the office, I am trying to relax and watch the news about the latest occurrences in Japan.  Earthquake, Tsunami and now the fire in the nuclear reactor.  There’s a reporter on the news talking about how the after-shocks have not stopped and how stressful it is for the Japanese people.  I cannot help but think about all the young women that would give anything to be able to get up tomorrow morning and head to the office just like I will.  I have always heard about “paying it forward” and “he to whom much is given much is expected.”  I cannot help but think that it is my time to finally pay it forward and give some hope to those who I’m sure are feeling like hope is lost.

I made a decision, sitting here on my couch.  At the end of April I will be donating some money to help the people of Japan.  I have a proposition to make to all of you.  I will be opening up a PayPal account (I will let you all know when that’s done) and would like it if you sent money, it doesn’t have to be much, as much as you can spare, and I will send it to an organization of our choice.  I would ask that with your donation you send me the name of your blog or website, in whose name you would like me to send the donation, and what organization you would like to have the money sent to.  During the last week of April I will post all the organizations and the one that gets the most votes will be the one to whom we will donate.

As a thank you for your donation I will add your blog and/or website to my blog as well as invite you to be a guest blogger on my blog or I can be a guest blogger on your blog.  Let’s see what we can do together.

I know this is unorthodox but I feel like we need to do something.  Thank you so much in advance for participating and for the inspiration.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at or post a comment below.

Thank you so much

I’m not sure how many of you know, since I’m not going to assume that most of you are as fascinated by new gadgets as I am, that yesterday Apple launched a software upgrade for the iPad.  The upgrade was not supposed to go live until March 11th but it appears Mr. Jobs took pity on us poor souls who purchased the iPad a few months ago and now are feeling totally jealous that the iPad 2 will be out tomorrow will have more fun stuff to play with (well, I’m jealous).  But I digress…. I came home and ran to my computer to download the software.  I don’t have to tell you that by now I’m starving, I’m tired and all I want to do is sit in front of the television and veg.  Some nights, when I’m feeling particularly adventurous I may even sit on the couch with a glass of wine and read a book.  These days I’m reading GMAT prep stuff so that may be why I want the television…. I’m digressing again.

Imagine my shock when I plugged the iPad to the computer and realized that it would be three hours before I could test out the new upgrade…. what to do, what to do…. I don’t want to leave the computer as if by sitting here and staring at the screen will make things go faster.  So, here I sit.  Since I have nothing else to do and I want to forget about food for the time being, I decided to come and check out my blog.  I know, I know, I haven’t written anything in a while.  It’ll come, you wouldn’t be writing either if all you could think about was this foreign thing that I’m forcing myself to learn, calculus and algebra.  It should really be re-learning but I’ve been out of school so long that I don’t think I ever learned that.

I looked at an empty screen for a while trying to figure out what to write about and then did something I don’t normally do.  I checked out the stats.  I promised myself I wouldn’t do that.  Although I always hoped to help or encourage other paralegals or others thinking of becoming paralegals I never expected it, the blog, to really go anywhere.  I always just thought of this blog as a place where I could think out-loud.  I knew some were reading it since I get some comments once in a while and I’ve had some schools call me to ask if they could use some of my writings on their websites.  I have always looked at these occurrences as a happy coincidence, to use my favorite word in the English language, a serendipity.  Someone just happened upon the site and liked something I wrote.  Well, today, I was in for a surprise.  I realized that I actually have subscribers.  Not just one or two but quite a few.  I know most of my blogger friends have a lot more than I do I honestly never expected to get as many as I have.  I am humbled.  Thank you all so much for making me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and giving me the opportunity to express myself and my love for my chosen profession.

Please, let me know what you would like to see the blog grow into and I will try to figure out a way to provide it.  Keep in mind that is a bit hectic and I may not post as often as I would like to.  However,  my schedule and the pressures I have recently put on myself are self-imposed and certainly not your fault.  Nevertheless, these pressures and time constraints are a big factor in my lack of sleep and apparently eating habits… Still waiting for the darn thing to download and then I have to do the phone.

Anyway, again, thank you all sooooo much and I hope I can continue to give you all what you have come to expect from me.


From Paralegal to MBA

After 15 years of being a paralegal and, no doubt, enjoying what I do, it’s time to move on.

Wanting more has always been a part of who I am.  That’s what brought me here, to where I am today.

I started in this industry as a file clerk and quickly moved up to legal secretary. I remember not even knowing the difference between a complaint and a motion. Heck I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a motion. I remember my first attorney sitting me down in his office with a Special Civil Part Complaint and a Superior Court Complaint and explaining the basic differences to me so that I would be able to file these documents properly. I remember reading interrogatories and the New Jersey Court Rules just so I could move out of the file room quickly. At that time all I wanted was to be a legal secretary. That was my goal and I was determined to work day and night to make that happen.

As a legal secretary, I remember looking and “studying” every motion I could find in each file. I didn’t just type and take dictation. I wanted to know how to draft the motions and when to draft the motions. When I felt comfortable that I would be able to do prepare a motion on my own I remember asking my attorney, at that time a different attorney, if he would mind my drafting the whole thing for his review. I learned when it was appropriate to file motions and what type of motion was required. Today these all seem so intuitive, however at that time I remember being scared of failing.

When the firm I was with refused to promote me from legal secretary to paralegal I was determined to find a firm that would hire me as a paralegal. Within a year I was working at a different firm as a paralegal. I missed my old firm and hated the new one I joined. But I was not going back as a secretary. I wanted them to accept me as a paralegal. It took a little convincing and lots of meetings with the partners and HR. Eventually they took me back.

My goals were never to make more money. Money was not and still is not my primary motivator. Don’t get me wrong, money is a motivator but not the most important motivator in my life. *Keep in mind that if you’re looking to hire me you still have to pay me hahaha. I’m not totally crazy yet.

So for over twelve years I worked in law firms where I learned all I could. Took on additional assignments. Some came with some glory and some did not. I won some battles and lost some. I made friends and I’m sure some enemies. I left some firms for others where learning was encouraged and was laid off from one (I really liked that firm. It still hurts to think about it).

Three years ago I found myself at a cross-road. I enjoyed the cases I was assigned, I worked with one of the most respected attorneys in the firm and I was sought out by other attorneys. There was nothing wrong with that firm. There was something missing, however. I had stopped learning. The cases and the work was no longer challenging and I felt I had nothing else to learn. I began to think of my next move.

I had never done anything with finance. I would live to learn about it. Learn about what makes our financial system work. So I began looking for a position in the financial industry. Without experience, but armed with my curiosity for the new adventure I was offered a position and began working for one of the largest custody banks in the US. I threw myself into my work. I arrived at work at 7:30 am and I was always the last one to leave. Within 2 years I was promoted to paralegal supervisor.

Currently I am still at this bank. I handle a full work load and supervise seven paralegals soon to supervise one or two in another state (I still don’t know how I’m going to manage that). I still love what I do and I feel accomplished almost every day. Some days are an up-hill battle and some are easier. I love the people I work with. Every one is a joy and every one is very willing to help when the going gets tough. I can honestly say that we are a small family.

I have been at the Bank for the past 4 years and recently have been feeling that it may be time to try something different. Something that I have never done before. I feel as if I have reached the top of this mountain. The top of the paralegal mountain and although the view is amazing, I have no other mountains to climb. I don’t want to change employers. I like the Bank. So the next step is to change career paths. Leave the paralegal world behind and trust that what I leave behind will allow others to continue and prosper.

This weekend, I decided to begin studying for an MBA. To try my hand at a different area of the financial industry. I will still be here, for now, as a paralegal and, if my employer will have me, I will still be working with them and the paralegal team to make it better than we already are. But I will be looking for a different ending to this story.

I have truly enjoyed the journey and I hope you have to. I also hope you will join me in my new journey …. I’ll call it “From Paralegal to MBA.”

I hope you will travel with me.