Finally Here

It’s been a very very very long time since I have posted here.  I am pretty sure it was something I did but for over a year I was not able to find the blog.  I’m not sure what I did but I most likely clicked when I should have kept myself from clicking ….. the blog went missing.  I kept seeing your comments and your questions but I was not able to interact.  I’m so sorry.

Again…. not sure what I did today but here I am.  I have regained access to the blog and I am ready to go.

So……… without dwelling in the past and trying to figure out what happened, I want to concentrate on the future and figure out where to go from here.  I know I want to post more about what it is that we, as paralegals do.  I want to help you navigate the career development maze and help you learn from my mistakes so that hopefully it won’t take you as long as it has taken me to get ahead.  Most of all, I want to work with you and be here for you.  Please continue to send me your emails and your thoughts and your requests.  I am sincerely happy to be back and I can’t wait to have a cup of coffee and a chat.


What Makes a Good Paralegal????

Today I was asked a great question by one of my readers. “What makes a good paralegal?” Hmmm, simple question and yet I have no words to explain it. Imagine me at a loss for words.

I don’t want to leave this reader thinking that I am ignoring the question. So I kept thinking about this most of the night. So far this is what I have: in my humble opinion… Ok, not so humble. Being humble is not one of my best qualities. I can’t even fake it :). I’m a good paralegal, in fact, I have at times felt that I am a great paralegal. Why is that? Well, I think it’s because I know who I am and what I do. I take pride in my work and my biggest accomplishment is making my attorney look good. I don’t particularly care for the spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it when it is on me. However, when I walk into the office my focus is how to make my attorneys’ life easier.

So how do I accomplish that? I work long hours. Not necessarily in the office. I often take work home and continue my research or file organization while sitting in front of the television. If I am tasked with finding a particular case on Lexis I will stop at nothing to find it. Sometimes it’s not there, but I don’t give up until I have exhausted all possibilities. I call Lexis, I ask questions. There is a free service for subscribers where a Lexis customer service representative, often an attorney, will help you find what you’re looking for. I use all that’s at my disposal. If, in fact, there is nothing, I often find other cases that may be helpful. I read all of them. I highlight important points for my attorney and then take the time to summarize them. I’m not always asked to do this but I understand that an attorney’s time is limited and anything I can do is appreciated.

If I’m doing a document review or organizing a file, in my opinion these two tasks are often the most boring and mundane of a paralegal’s job, I take the time to learn every little bit of information. I take notes. You never know when you’re going to find something that had been overlooked when the documents first came in. My notes then go into a folder labeled “paralegal notes.” when the attorney gets the file for review my notes often are a summary of the case where I highlight important points. It may seem like a mundane task and unnecessary but it can be a time saver for the attorney. That is always the goal. Serving the client by ensuring that the lawyer has the time to concentrate on the law and not have to read every piece of pap are in the file.

I make calendar notes. Some people call this a tickler system. I have one for myself and one for my attorney. I have worked with attorneys who remember every date but I have also worked with attorneys who don’t even remember their names, at times. I don’t discriminate. I will remind both of all dates whether they like it or not. That is my job. I am the master of the file and the first line of defense for my attorney. Missing a filing date may not be the end of the case, but it will cost the client more money if the attorney has to file a motion of call the adversary for extensions.

So, to summarize, I think each one of us is different. However, I think there are a few things that every good paralegal shares:

Curiosity – an innate need to get to the bottom of things and tell a story.
Attention to detail – remember that sometimes good enough is not always good. Take a second look, even a third. I promise you, you can always improve.
Organized – being able to find every piece of information in a file that has grown to be three drawers full. Making sure pleadings are filed when they need to be and discovery is propounded or responded on time.
Self-starter – not waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Just do it.
Writing skills – ability to tell a story from the thousands bits of information in the file.
Reading skills – I can spend hours reading case law or, in my case, very boring financial documents.
Research skills – being able to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. Can be the most tedious as well as the most gratifying job.
Patience – dealing with different personalities and cases.

Can you think of others? I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list.

My turn to ask for help

yesterday was not a good day. Well it started out good, they always do and went down hill from there. At the end of the day, just as I was about to get out of the office, a pleading came in. There were two paralegals left in the office and I asked them both if they could please just do some quick research. (can’t really go into it).

Then it started…. One of them began to complain that she worked through lunch and she should have left the office at 4:30 and the only reason she was still in the office was because she was finishing something up. “why do I always get stuck with things when I should not have been here?”. I could not believe she was actually saying this. I turned around, took the pleading off her desk and told her to turn her computer off and go home. I’ll deal with it tomorrow, I thought. I went to the other one’s desk, mind you this paralegal #2 is completely swamped, and asked her if she could take this pleading and take care of responding to it.

She immediately looked at me and said “this is not fair, she complains and doesn’t have to do the work. When did I ever complain?”. It dawned on me that she was right. She never complains, about anything. This must have felt really unfair to her. I asked her to pack up and go home, it was already late, and told her we would talk the next day (today)

I could not sleep last night. I’ve been up forever. I made a decision to take that pleading and give it back to paralegal #1. It is after all part of her job and she should be handling it. I will have conversations with both of them today and explain that sometimes things aren’t fair but, as much as I hate the saying, it is what it is.

I’ve come to realize that reporting to me is difficult for them. I was “one of them” not long ago. It hasn’t been that long since I was promoted to manager and have had to reassess the relationships I have with each of them. I don’t want to stop being their friend, but ultimately, I am their boss.

Have you been faced with s situation like this? How did you handle it? How do you remain friends with the paralegals you supervise and get them to not cross that invisible line that must be drawn in the sand?

Associate or Paralegal

when you graduated law school and hung that proverbial shingle outside of your small office you hoped against all hopes that one day you would find yourself in the situation you are in today. There was a very small chance that your practice would grow so much that you had to face the decision of hiring some help.

Yes, you have a secretary. She’s great. You really lucked out when you hired her. You have a great relationship with her. You hear the horror stories about some secretaries and thank your lucky starts that yours is professional and always willing to help. However, there are things that she just can’t do. Not because she’s not intelligent enough to do them but that’s not what’ she’s been trained to do. Draft motions, review discovery, research and write memos, all the things you did before this huge client hired you to represent him. You really hit the jack-pot this time. You have arrived.

You need to find someone to do all those things. Otherwise you will be in the office 24 hours a day with no hope of ever seeing day light again and, worst of all, not being able to drum up business and keep the momentum going. There are business meetings to attend, conferences to prepare for and travel to and … horror of horrors, there’s that trial starting in a few weeks that may take a month or more in court. What will you do then? How will you work on your other cases? You have, after all, more than one client. Shhhhh don’t tell that one client. He/she doesn’t know that yet.

So now you have two choices. You can hire a first year associate and bill him/her out at $300. The clients will think it’s a bargain. After all, it’s less than what they are currently paying you. Sounds good doesn’t it? You’ll have to hire someone right out of school because you can’t pay them that much and after all, you’re running a business and the goal is to have more money coming in the door with both of you billing. Or you can hire a paralegal. You can’t bill her as high as you would a first year associate and you will have to supervise her work and still spend some time at the office. However, you can hire an experienced paralegal because paralegals make less than attorneys and with your budget you can pay a pretty competitive rate. You can then bill her out at $200, and all you have to do is review her work and supervise her activities in the office and with the rest of your time you can drum up more business.

Recently, while you were sitting in court you heard someone talk about the paralegals in their office. Even the guy down the street has one first year associate and two paralegals working for him. He seems to be doing well and his practice seems to be growing at a much faster pace than you. He also seems to have more time to go to seminars and meet with clients. You’ve always wondered how he did that.

Paralegals That’s how he did that.

Let me put into perspective for you. Let’s compare what you can do in both scenarios.

Remember when you first graduated law school? How many motions had you filed? Did you know how to navigate the court system? What clerks to call? Response schedules? Filing dates? You know, all the procedural stuff that you learned while working at that other law firm for the first two years of your career? Yeah, that’s what you’re going to get when you hire a first year associate. You will have to fully train that person. When you hire an experienced paralegal you don’t have to spend your time doing that. The paralegal already knows how to navigate the system, which motion to file when, what documents to sent with which motion, how to e-file and even, at times, which clerks are easier to work with.

Has your choice become easier now? How about this? The paralegal can prepare all the pleadings you need, reach out to clients and interview witnesses, draft your memos, organize your medical files, have all your discovery ready and organize before you come back from court at the end of the day. The beauty of that is that you will be paying this individual, with experience, probably half of what that first year associate would be asking.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that eventually you will and should hire that first year associate. Next year you can hire the associate and the paralegal can train him/her and the office will never miss a step.

Now, to develop a program where a paralegal can thrive? That’ll be my next post. Stay tuned.

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,

Just an observation…..

Sometimes being a part of management is not so much fun.  I keep a very small case load just to keep my skills sharp.  As a manager I spend most of my day busy running reports, doing trend analysis, trying to figure out how to manager with less people and more work, attending meetings, re-distribution of work, and my least favorite  — HR problems.

However, being a manager has its rewards.  I like to know that I make a difference in someone’s career and that I have taught someone some thing they did not know before.  One of the best things about my job is the look on a young paralegal’s eyes when she/he discovers a new way of doing something or makes a decision based on a fact that they wouldn’t have known before.

Recently I received a call from a client about a paralegal in my team.  The client felt it necessary to take the time to call me and advise me that the paralegal about whom he was calling me had been a pleasure to work with.  He told me how she went above and beyond to get him the answers and information he needed and how responsive she was at all times.  I can’t begin to express how proud I was at that moment.  I don’t mean to sound condescending, but I was very proud of her.  For those of you who are managers, you know what I’m talking about and you know the feeling that you get when someone on your team gets the recognition he/she deserves.

I asked the client to send me an email detailing this conversation and I told him that I was going to send it to my manager.  That same day the client sent me the email and I forwarded it on to my manager with a note explaining my telephone conversation with the client.  I cc’d the paralegal and thank her for her hard work.

I’m not sure if this happens with all of you.  But being a manager I don’t get the feedback I sometimes need.  Sometimes I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere.  Then something like this phone call happen and I remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.

I have learned that when my team wins, I win.  I don’t have to be the person in the front line doing the work.  It’s sufficient to know that I am the person who provides the young paralegals with the tools for the job to be done well.  When they win I win.

I love being a paralegal manager.