When I came upon the above quote I had to have it for this article. Some of you may be aware that I am being interviewed for a legal publication, this is all I will say about for now. Anyway…… a lot of the questions related to what I believe to be some of the most important skills a paralegal should possess. I don’t think I make this a secret at all. As most of you already know I believe reading is one of the most important skills a paralegal must develop. Believe me, you will be reading a lot of stuff. Some stuff is interesting, some stuff…… well, not so much. However, you will have to read it.
Usually what I tell my paralegals is that they should get into the habit of reading and making sure they comprehend what they are reading. I always ask that they read, at least, one newspaper per day. I like to recommend books but I realize that sometimes time is short and many people don’t like to read books. Newspapers are important though….. Make sure you read those.
One of the things I do, when I read an article is to try to summarize it in as few words as possible. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t do this every day….. I’m not that much of a nerd but I do it often. So, I sit down and read an article and then I try to summarize it. Let’s say there is someone who has not read the article and I pretend that I’m telling them what it’s about. You can do that movies or even music. Try to summarize it both verbally and written. See how much shorter you can make it and still have it make perfect sense.
The above quote is right on point with what I am trying to do when I summarize the articles or the movies or even the songs. I believe that if I am not able to explain the issue to a third-party it means that I have not understood the article. I go back and read it again until I can figure out what it means. Am I always right? Nope…. Sometimes my understand of the article is off. That can also be fun. Usually that leads my husband and I down the path of a discussion about the issue and eventually one of us will be able to persuade the other.
There I have no developed three skills…… reading…… writing and speaking.
Now, let me share some of the things I have been reading lately.
As far as blogs I have really been enjoying The Bloggess. Her real name is Lisa Belkin and she is funny and some would say loud. She blogs about everything from funny conversations with her husband to grocery shopping. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing she won’t blog about. Her posts have a great attraction factor to me and I feel like she’s sitting right there talking to me. Her personality comes through loud and clear. If you haven’t already checked out her blog, please take a moment….. I’ll wait…….. ………………… …………………… you back? What did you think?
If you happen to be a lawyer reading my blog…. first of all thank you for your support and second here is something you may be interested in. This was something I found on the ABA website about how paralegals can help your practice.
Like any woman… Sorry don’t mean to generalize…. but most women, I am a fan of fashion. Do not be surprised if some posts are about makeup, perfume and fashion. As far as I am concerned these are female necessities, sometimes almost as important as water and food. One article I read this month in Harper’s Bazaar was about Queen Letizia of Spain. I’m Portuguese and as such I am a fan of anything taking place in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). She’s become such a fashion icon. Here is the article for those of you that didn’t see it. The first pants suit is to die for.
As far as magazines. I am a fan of Town & Country. I know, most find it to be a little stuffy and I admit that sometimes it is. However, when it’s not, you can actually see the reason why it one of my favorite magazines to read. The writing is on point and so clever. Have you ever been at a dinner party when you suddenly hear the strangest comments? Here, this article made me laugh. About the things you should never say at a dinner party.
Last but certainly not least. I hope you have all taken the time to read The Estrin Report. A blog created for paralegals, about paralegals and anyone who deals with paralegals. Chere Estrin is a great advocate for the profession and I count her among my many mentors and role models. I read her blog as often as I can and it’s definitely on my Feedly.
Ok, this should be enough for now. I must go and start enjoying my weekend with my husband. We finally have the house to ourselves and we’re both very excited about it. The sun is amazingly hot around here and it’s time to go float around in the pool with my watermelon cocktail.
I hope you all have an amazing weekend. What have you been reading lately. Let me know. Always ready to discover new places.
I don’t know about you but for me there is no Summer without watermelon. Not only do I find red to be a really happy color but I also love the sweet taste of watermelon. It’s also mostly water which is great for my diet.
I could not resist but to post this watermelon cocktail for you guys. What do you think? Don’t you just love the color?
I currently hold my MBA; however, I am interested in obtaining a paralegal certificate. With your current expertise and experience, what could I do with the two????
I’m going to preface this response by saying that I am always going to be a strong proponent of education. I think school is great and if you have the money and the time I can’t think of anything better than getting an education. Having said that, I also believe that getting some times just because you hold certain degrees or certificates, you are not going to be guaranteed a position. I don’t know where you live but I can tell you that in New Jersey and a few other states a paralegal certificate is not a requirement to get a paralegal job. A college education, however, is required by most employers.
My suggestion to any paralegal who lives where a certificate is not a requirement and has a college degree is to go and find a position at a small law firm where you will be exposed to a variety of areas of the law. When I started my career I worked in a two lawyer firm and did everything from legal secretary work to file clerk to paralegal. I figured out pretty quickly what area of law I was interested and began improving those skills. I would also recumbent that you read, read a lot and write a lot. Start a blog, write short stories, summarize newspaper articles. Once you are comfortable don’t be afraid to ask your attorney to let you get your feet wet in summarizing depositions for him or draft motions. Learn what each of the documents looks like and start drafting your own. Then ask your attorney to review them. Impress the attorney and you will get to where you want to go. Being a paralegal is hard work and you can never just sit still, keep moving.
The above reader also told me that, not only does she have an MBA but she already works at a bank. So my advice in her case would be to look internally. Apply for an internal position in the legal department and learn everything you can. Since you already have your MBA why don’t you consider taking the Certified Paralegal Exam.
I am not discrediting an education in paralegal studies. However, I am saying that if you already have an MBA. What you will get out of a paralegal course will be no more than what you will receive from on the job training. I am a strong proponent of regulating the profession via a national certification and I will discuss this at a different time.
I encourage you to work with a law firm or in-house at the bank you are currently employed. Get all the experience you can for a few years and then reassess if you still want to be out on your own.
Have you ever felt as if you are working and working really hard and no one even knows you exist? Having visibility to the partners and other employees at the firm is crucial to your professional growth. Strategies to overcome paralegal invisibility is a great read published by Carolina Paralegal News.
Recently, I have had to quickly overcome my fear of public speaking. I usually do really well with a group of people but as soon as I feel like the spotlight is on me I tend to panic and can’t remember the simplest things….. Heck I’ve even been known to forget my boss’ name…. not cool. Chere Estrin, from Estrin Report published a great article about overcoming your fear of public speaking.
Have you checked out the Muse? When I have a few minutes I look through their Twitter feed and find some fun articles. The 21 things you wish you didn’t know about your co-workers was one of those things I found on Thursday night while I waited for my dinner to heat up. I have to admit that it had me thinking of things that I do to pass the time when I should be working. We all have those moments don’t we???? Come on, you can admit it. I won’t tell.
I still have not picked up any books to read this Summer, I know the time is flying by and eventually I will have to decide on something. I’m really picky about my books and although I know I want to read the Stress Test I’m not sure that’s the type of book I want to read in the Summer. For suggestions I usually go to Good Reads…. Have you checked out that App? If not you should. It’s great and if you like to read, there are a whole lot of people with great book suggestions. It’s a social type thing where you can find friends and share book reviews. You can friend me, I would love to see you there.
The weather is finally nice enough to go swimming so I’m on my way now. Time to put the computer down and go play.
Hope you all have a great weekend. I’ll see you all next week with some more thoughts from this paralegal lost in compliance land.
The weather here in the North East is rainy. It’s been raining for three days and they are expecting rain all through Friday into Saturday. Although it hasn’t been really cold the temperature has not been as warm as it should be in the month of June.
Rainy days always find me looking for a comfortable place to sit and read or … heck… sometimes a comfortable place to sleep while listening to the sound of the rain against the windows.
What better way to enjoy a rainy evening than curl up on your most comfortable couch, kick off your heels after a long week at work, pick up a fashion magazine and sip a warm one of these? Just the picture is making me salivate.
Happy Friday everyone. We deserve a drink. We survived another crazy week at the office.
You are not going to believe what I found. Like any other woman I am always looking for something new to add to my work wardrobe. I especially like dresses and tend to wear them a lot. However, the problem with dresses is that you wear them once and everyone remembers them. There is very little you can do to make it look like a different dress short of wearing different color jackets. However, that can get a little expensive.
My solution to this issue is to look for dresses on sale. Check out this one below. I love the collar and I love the price.
If you have sworn dresses and skirts out of your life, there are also some very nice pant suits that fit the budget quite nicely. These days, even the most conservative law firm does not frown on women wearing a nice pant suit. In my constant search for professional looking clothes that won’t break the bank I came across these really great Evan Picone Black Label , pant suits and what’s even better is that you can get the jacket in red or yellow.
I’m also eyeing this other Evan Picone mono color suit which is a little bit more classic but still feminine and not black (shocking for me I know). Then again, I always gravitate to the black, so on my list is this herringbone pant suit also by Evan Picone.
Files seem to take on a life of their own and the problem is that most of them are not happy creatures. Left to their own devices files can grow into these incredible monsters. Trouble is that with so many other things creeping up on us every second of the day the time we have to dedicate to these monsters is very short. The file monster is not very forgiving either. It totally demands your attention, at least a few hours a week.
More often than not we can find new paralegals sitting on the floor of their office (or the paralegal area) totally bewildered looking down at a bunch of papers not knowing which end is up. How could this file have gotten like this? Good question. The attorney must have gotten to it. But he only had it for a couple of hours……. Yeah, it usually only takes them a few minutes. Especially if they are looking for something in a hurry, on the way to court or on a call with a client….. it doesn’t take much to get a file looking like it’s been through a hurricane.
Usually what I do is sit down on the floor with them and encourage them to cry if they have to. It’s ok….. I’ve cried too. Heck sometimes I still do!!!!!!! All those non-billable hours spent organizing a file to find it back at my desk looking like that? Anyway….. it wasn’t done on purpose. Filing and organization is not one of the classes in law school. That’s why they hired you. You got this.
First things first: Let’s separate the papers into piles that make sense. A legal file is made up of a few subsections:
1. Correspondence – you know what that looks like right? usually has a date up at the top with the name and address of the lawyer or sender way at the top of the page. Don’t worry about the dates for now. That’s not important, not at this stage.
2. Pleadings – This can be confusing for a new paralegal. Sometimes discovery can look like a pleading so the way I explain the difference to new paralegals as well as the way I learn it and keep it straight is by knowing that all pleadings get filed with the court. So, if it has a court stamp at the top or if it’s something that was sent to the court clerk for filing you can bet it’s a pleading. That goes into a second pile. Make sure you have all the pages. Usually the last page is the signature page and all pages are numbered. Easy enough right?
3. Motions – This is one is a tricky one. Some law firms file the motions along with the pleadings. After all, they are filed with the court. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. By doing it this way your pleading file will tell a story. Making it easier to figure out why a pleading has been filed with a court. However, I like to keep motions separate from the rest of the pleadings. My reason for that is that usually he attorney will need to pull motions out of the file or respond to a motion and he/she doesn’t necessarily need the whole pleading file. Also, sometimes the attorney needs to go to court to argue a motion. There is no need to have the complaint and the answer (it’s only going to cause the same chaos you are now facing if the attorney has to pull papers out of a file for one little motion). So for me, keeping it separate is key. If necessary I can make copies of the motions, mark them duplicate and note where to find the originals. Then I put a copy in with the pleadings and the original in a motion folder….. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
4. Discovery – This is going to be all the other things that look like a pleading but don’t get filed with the court. These are answers to interrogatories, responses to document requests. The funny thing is that sometimes some of these may look like correspondence. So you will have to read the first and second paragraphs of the letters to make sure it’s not a letter supplementing answers to interrogatories.
5. Misc. – Depending on what type of file these could be anything so you will have to label the folder accordingly. If it’s a personal injury file this is probably going to be your medical records, your accident report, the retainer agreement (very important that you find this one) and all other papers that do not fall nicely into any of the above four categories.
Ok, you see, not so bad. Now you have a more organized chaos on your floor and a little bit more room to move around. So we can move to a different area to dry our tears.
Next you are going to one pile at a time. Let’s say you picked the correspondence file. I usually pick this one because it’s usually the largest pile and because after reading the correspondence I’ll more of less know what should be in the other piles. I will also know the story of the file a little bit better. So go ahead, read on. It can be fun. I have found some really funny letters written by the clients or the adversaries and it always makes for some good humor while doing a really boring job. While you are reading this file make sure you put it chronological order. At this point, if it’s a very old file, I start making piles with the correspondence. I separate it by year. Make sure you start with the oldest correspondence. Work your way to the present. Now the correspondence is done. Have you noticed? There aren’t that many more papers. All the other stuff is just bulky but usually not as much as the correspondence.
By doing the largest pile you will feel more accomplished and you will feel like you can conquer any other task thrown at you. Be ready, other tasks will be thrown at you….. Just a thought.
Now pick up the pleadings. You also want to make sure you file these in chronological order. Most firms file pleadings in pronged folders. If this is the way your firm operates then go ahead. They are less expensive than three ring binders so usually that why they do it that way. I like the three ring binder because if I have to get a pleading out of the file I don’t have to get all the other pleadings out. Anyway, in this case you have to go with what you’re given. Wait… Don’t put them in yet. At this point, punch holes in the the papers and organize them. Next sit at your computer and let’s start the pleading board.
For those of you who don’t know what a pleading board is….. it’s not a scientific term. Yeah, I know, lawyers like to speak in their own language. I find it interesting. A pleading board is a table of contents. Begin by entering the name of the first pleading and with number tabs separate each of them. So your pleading board will look something like this:
1. Complaint ………………………………………… January 1, 2014
2. Answer to Complaint ………………………….. March 15, 2014
So on and so on and so on….. continue until you’ve listed all the pleadings. This always gives me such satisfaction. By the time you’re all done it will look so pretty and the file starts to take shape. It’s starting to look more like a legal file and not so much like a crazy pile of papers and you are taming the monster.
Once you are done with the pleadings move on to the motions. For me, each motion resides in it’s special folder. I worked at a law firm where the motions had a special color folder….. actually all documents had special color folders. I liked that very much. It made it easy to find the documents you were looking for. However, if that’s not what you have then a regular manila folder is fine. Just make sure you label each folder appropriately and include the date the motion was filed with the court. All corresponding documents go into that file. So when you pick up the motion file you have the entire history of that motion.
Same thing goes for discovery. The only difference is that discovery (answers to interrogatories, responses to document productions) will have to be broken apart. Reason? Well, answers to interrogatories and responses to production of documents come with large documents. If this is a personal injury file you will have medical records and these are very bulky at times. So what I do is keep the responses neatly in the folder and then right behind those I put in files for each of the records received with the responses. So I will have hospital records, doctors’ notes and records, auto accident…. etc.
The last thing you have left on your floor will be the misc. stuff. These can be anything. There will be attorney’s notes, which I suggest you keep in a separate file. Attorneys sometimes take notes on post-it notes, napkins anything they can get their hands on when they’re on the phone or speaking to a client on the way out of the court house. make sure you put all these in the folder. I normally make a copy of the post notes so they are the same size as the other papers in the file. It ensures that these little papers are not going to get lost and the file looks neater.
You will have deposition transcripts and these although not necessarily misc. stuff need their own folders. Most of the time there will be a manuscript and a regular transcript. I keep both together with my summary.
There you are. In a few hours we have organized a file. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer than a few hours. My suggestion is that you do it when it’s a quiet in the office and you have a few straight hours to do it. Remember most of it is going to be non billable time so make sure you can afford to do that. It needs to get done so you will have to find the time to do it. Maybe it can be done over the course of a few days. This way you are not losing that much time on your billable hours. Also remember some of it can probably be billed.
1. Are you reviewing the medical records as you go along? If you do, remember to bill for review and analyze medical records pertaining to …..
2. Are you going to respond to document productions? or Interrogatories? Then bill time for the review of documents (name the documents) to assist in the preparation of responses to…..
Most of all, have fun. Organizing a file is a boring job but you can make it fun. See if you can tell a story. See if you find something no one else has found. I would always compete with some other paralegals when working on large files to see who could come up with the best story or the better angle.
Being a paralegal can be and is fun if you take pride in what you do. I have been doing it for 20 years and I still think it’s one of the best career choices I ever made.
Let me know how you do and if you have questions, please feel free reach to to me. I’d love to hear from you.