Monday, September 29, 2008

Paralegal Touted for County Treasurer

In Pittsylvania County, Virginia, M.K. "Kate" Berger is one of the candidates for County Treasurer, and she's getting a hearty thumbs-up from a county resident.

The first thing cited in the opinion piece is Berger's paralegal experience:

[Berger] has a general practice paralegal certificate from the Paralegal Institute of Silver Springs, Md. This has assisted her in successfully operating her own paralegal service company since 1987. She has acquired a broad knowledge of federal and state tax laws, as well as experience in understanding and interpretation of those laws through her paralegal services with numerous legal firms in Pittsylvania County and Danville.


It is heartening to see paralegal skills touted as a reason to elect someone to a position of such high responsibility. The knowledge and skills gained from being a paralegal extend far outside the law office.

(Source: WWW.WPCVA.COM)

Yes to Creating an Entry Level Paralegal Exam

At the 2008 National Federation of Paralegal Associations' (NFPA) Annual Convention, being held next week in Rogers, Arkansas, several agenda topics that will shape the future of the paralegal profession are being discussed. One topic, submitted by the Arkansas Paralegal Association (ArPA), is the creation of an entry-level exam for paralegals.

Currently, there is no entry level examination for paralegals -- from either NFPA or the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). However, NALA does have their Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal exam, which can be taken directly out of school. NFPA only has its Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE), which requires experience in addition to the completion of a degree. ArPA proposes the creation of a committee to devise a plan, including costs, questions, and as many details as possible, for such an exam.

The committee would be composed of Registered Paralegals in good standing, and it would meet, mine test banks, and make this entry level exam a reality for the profession, which is one of the many things paralegals need. Many entry level paralegals are being steered by their schools to the NALA exam, which is a grueling two days. NFPA would seek to create a much shorter exam, more in line with PACE, that would truly test the skills and knowledge of paralegals with their newly-minted certificates and degrees. It would also give employers a way to measure the readiness of their new paralegals.

Let's face it, we don't always learn everything we need to know in school, but if we can demonstrate a basic level of competency, it will be that much easier for skilled, serious paralegals to land the challenging jobs they want.

If you are a member of NFPA and your Primary Representative is attending the convention, be sure to tell her (or him) that you do want NFPA to create an entry level exam. It has the potential to go a long way toward changing the profession and furthering the image of paralegals as actual professionals, and I strongly support this agenda item.

Friday, September 26, 2008

From Paralegal to Hip Tranquil Chick

In her 20s, Kimberly Wilson took up yoga to handle the stress from her job as a paralegal. The harmony, health, and balance of yoga propelled her to open her own yoga studio in her living room, shortly after she took a new job running the paralegal program at Georgetown University.

This small practice, graced with Wilson's extra touches - tea, cookies, aromatherapy, and inspirational readings - blossomed into ten classes per week on top of her 40-hour workweek. After two weeks at a yoga instructor training course, she quit her job.

Meanwhile, as an alert and budding entrepreneur, Miss Wilson observed hordes of young professionals living in the District who, like her, were working themselves to death and yearning for a sense of community. Creatively meeting this need, she envisioned a warm and thriving yoga studio that would heal stressed-out bodies while nurturing lonely souls. Embedded in that vision was a sense of adventure and a new life for her, draped with her own style and flair.

...

Today, Miss Wilson leads a hip yoga enterprise called Tranquil Space in the metro [Washington, D.C.] area, with studios in Dupont Circle, Arlington and Bethesda that serve more than 1,200 people each week. She recently outgrew her Dupont location and built out a new eco-friendly studio that spans three floors, including a new showroom for the TranquiliT "eco-luxe lifestyle" clothing line she designs and a spa.

She runs the business and its spinoff nonprofit, the Tranquil Space Foundation, which focuses on empowering young women, and has written a book, "Hip Tranquil Chick: A Guide to Life on and off the Yoga Mat." Besides all that, she gets to do what she loves every day: build a community of people who share similar passions and values, and help them find renewal amid their otherwise frenetic lives. Miss Wilson is writing another book — "Tranquilista: A Girl-on-the-Go's Guide to a Mindfully Extravagant Life" — and does a column, blog and podcast on the yoga lifestyle.


(Source: Washington Times)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Essential Tech Tools for Paralegals

As a paralegal in a small firm, I cannot afford to be afraid of technology. There are times when I will be asked to troubleshoot an issue or recommend a product, and in order to do that properly, I need to stay on top of the latest trends. My technology toolkit consists of:

Gadgets

  • BlackBerry Curve. I recently upgraded from a separate PDA and cell phone, and I am enamored with the Curve. My contacts, calendar, task list, and memos are all integrated, and I can read my e-mail or get directions using Google Maps, which is almost as good as a GPS service. Bonus: the 2.0 megapixel camera, which can be used to take pictures for work and play. I consider a smart phone a must because of the integrated PDA functions.



  • My laptop, a Dell Inspiron 1525 with an Intel Duo Core processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive. It allows me to work from home (from any room in the house, thanks to built-in wireless connectivity), read up on technology trends, and teach myself office productivity programs (I have the Office 2007 suite.) I also recently used it to give a demonstration of Outlook features to the rest of the office by hooking up a monitor for one side of the room to use. The other side was able to view the demo on the Inspiron's crisp 15.4" screen. Buy the best technology you can afford (i.e. more memory, not necessarily a fully-loaded gaming machine, unless you're a gamer); the investment will allow you to keep the machine longer. I have been using Vista with SP1, and I've found it to be relatively stable and user-friendly.


  • Apple iPod nano. Mine is a 2nd Generation; the one pictured here is the latest, which includes a video screen (great for those commuting on public transit). I listen to podcasts on technology, litigation, and other topics of interest during my commute by plugging my iPod into an adapter in my car. Ok, and it's just plain fun.


Magazines

  • Legal Technology News, which is geared toward IT professionals but has interesting tidbits about the latest hardware and software for law practices. If you're looking to bridge the gap between the legal department and the IT department, LTN will help you speak their language. It also publishes an annual resource guide, with products divided into categories, i.e., document management.

  • PC World, which my office subscribes to and which publishes great tips and ideas for computing. PC World has shown me some of the best free programs available and helped me wrangle Vista.


Technology is not something to fear, especially in this rapidly changing world. By investing in your own technology education, you invest in your career.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hire a Paralegal, Keep an Attorney

Lumberton City Attorney Robert Price agreed to stay on until March, partially because the City agreed to hire a paralegal to ease his workload. The City hasn't had a paralegal for two years, but hiring a paralegal is definitely in the City's budget.


(Source: FayObserver.com)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Female Paralegals Paid Less Than Male Counterparts

There is currently a pretty big kerfluffle over this American Community Survey report released by the U.S. Census Bureau. At the heart of the controversy is the finding that female paralegals receive lower salaries than their male counterparts. The study revealed that the median salary for female paralegals is $42,600, and the median salary for male paralegals is $45,700 -- in other words, female paralegals make 93 cents on the man's dollar.

The knee-jerk reaction is a resounding, "What?" After all, the paralegal field is dominated by women. Are male paralegals really doing a better job than their female couterparts? It's sexism, is the outcry.

In thinking it over, though, I wonder how much of it is women who are unwilling or unable to negotiate their salaries. With the lessons of Debra Condren's amBITCHous ringing in my head, I am certain that we as women are not asking for salaries befitting our worth. Blaming men, the good old boys' structure of the legal field, and firms for not being conscious of the pay gap is easy. What is hard is to ask for the raise that is deserved, the salary that is fitting, and take ownership of your career. Simply put, it is up to women to assert themselves in salary negotiations, no matter how difficult it is. Playing the victim is not going to result in raises; action is.

Furthermore, the survey does not take into account maternity leave or education levels. Male paralegals are deliberate; they typically are not promoted from secretarial positions but have started as paralegals. It truly is a career for them, and they typically have the credentials to back that up, which may explain some, but not all, of the pay gap.

Right now, we as paralegals have much bigger fish to fry than a pay gap. We are fighting to be recognized as professionals, and complaining about a gender pay gap is not going to give us that recognition. What will give us this recognition is mandatory regulation. Not one single state out of 50 in the United States thinks that a paralegal's job is so important that it requires mandatory regulation. Not one.

Complaining about a pay gap isn't going to change that. In fact, it will create discord between male and female paralegals when what we really need is a unified front in our quest for being recognized as professionals. And if male paralegals truly are more valued than female paralegals, alienating the men (inevitable if we resent them for higher salaries) probably isn't the best strategy.

By the way, if you haven't already, read amBITCHous. It's a fascinating and very useful look at how women subconsciously sabotage themselves, and how they can break that pattern.

The study in PDF is below; click to enlarge.


acs-09 - Get more Business Documents




Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fios Adds Registered Paralegal to Consulting Team

Fios, Inc. has announced that Cynthia Bateman, former global privacy and e-discovery director from Georgia-Pacific, is one of three new additions to their team.

Bateman comes to Fios after spending more than 13 years with Georgia-Pacific, most recently serving as the global privacy and e-discovery director. Bateman is adept at developing and implementing e-discovery programs that are legally defensible, cost efficient and in compliance with regulatory and court-defined rules. With nearly 20 years of industry experience, she earned her paralegal certification from the National Center for Paralegal Training in Atlanta and is certified by the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). Bateman is a frequent speaker and contributor on best practices and challenges related to legal holds tracking, data accessibility and collections. She is an active member of The Sedona Conference, participating in both Working Group 1, focused on electronic document retention and production and in Working Group 6, focused on international electronic information management, discovery and disclosure.


Monday, September 15, 2008

When Social Events Override Professional Development

Across the country, national involvement takes a backseat for whatever reason. I have heard anecdotal evidence from other former board members across the country, and it prompts me to ask why national involvement isn't a priority, why so many paralegals seem unable or unwilling to see outside their geographic area.

In some cases, boards plan programs like pizza lunches and social events. It prompts another question: how many other paralegal associations are sacrificing professional development for purely social reasons? Is this actually attracting paralegals or repelling them? Or is it attracting a certain type of paralegal, the person who believes that being a paralegal is just a way to pay the bills and nothing more?

Certainly, I have nothing against socials. When I first relocated to Western Massachusetts, WMPA held an after work social gathering every month, an informal way to get to know fellow paralegals, in addition to dinners featuring educational speakers. My favorite part of the conventions are the social events; there is an amazing sense of camaraderie, and being with people who are as enthusiastic about being paralegals as I am is exhilarating and inspiring.

At the same time, though, we as paralegals are struggling to be seen as professionals. Across the country, we're watching paralegals' efforts at regulation be thwarted. Just this year, the Supreme Court ruled that paralegal fees are recoverable at market rate, rather than just the cost to the attorney. With this climate of contrasting attitudes, it is imperative that we band together nationally to present a united front, to carefully watch legislation in other states, and to be involved in our association at the national level. Social events are nice, but they are not going to transform us into professionals, nor will they project the image of paralegals as professionals.

There is no magic bullet that will ensure paralegals will be viewed as professionals, but keeping on top of our professional development goes a long way toward that goal. The local association -- and the board of that association -- should lead the way, guiding its members toward professional development and national involvement. Without that guidance, what is the incentive to join a local paralegal association? What is the incentive to be involved in the local association? I ask myself that question, and I fervently wish that an association existed in the same town as my firm so that we could hold meetings and educational sessions during lunch and be involved on the national level.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Preparation Key to Making Yourself Recession-Proof

"Recession" is an ugly word, but it's a word that has become part of our daily vocabulary. With "recession" comes an even uglier word, "layoff." It can happen to anyone, no matter how hard-working.

While no one is truly "recession-proof," here are some tips to become "recession resistant":

1. Be informed. Watch what is going on in your department. Is there tension? Have there been layoffs or a lack of new hires? Are expenditures being cut? Staying on top of these indicators is important in order to assess the health of your firm, and in turn, your position.

2. Make yourself invaluable. Take on assignments from other attorneys in your department or even outside your department, if work is slow. Let the powers that be know that you are ready, willing, and able to tackle that next challenge. Partners especially like to know that they are getting the best value for their dollar in a versatile paralegal.

3. Know where you stand. Take a long, hard look at those performance reviews. If there is something that needs improvement, now is the time to do it.

4. Make sure your work product is the highest quality and that you can stay on top of deadlines. Be flexible, be the go-to person, and take advantage of any opportunity to strengthen your skills.

(Source: lawjobs.com Career Center)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Book Recommendation: The Paralegal's Handbook



The Paralegal's Handbook: A Complete Reference for All Your Daily Tasks, written by Anita Haworth, RP and Lesley Cox, RP is an excellent resource for paralegals, both novice and experienced. This is the first book I reached for to learn how to handle a personal injury case, and I know that I will use it many times in the future. Using straightforward language, Haworth and Cox cover investigations, fact checking, document management, discovery, trial preparation, and different areas of practice. All the information is neatly organized, and as a bonus, they included a section of forms at the end. It's a fantastic resource, one that is finally the how-to manual needed for succeeding in the day to day tasks of the job.

There was some concern when the book was first printed, as Haworth had insisted that Kaplan not use her title as NFPA President on the cover. When Haworth first received copies of the book with her title on the cover, she was shocked and horrified. (Haworth would not use her position as NFPA for personal gain.) Behind the cut is her letter to NFPA leaders and members, and Kaplan's letter acknowledging their error.



Leaders,

I want to bring something to your attention. It is a personal issue, but one that also affects me professionally and in my position as NFPA President. About a year and a half ago, I agreed to co-author a book for Kaplan Publishing. As part of the negotiations, Kaplan wanted to list my title as President of NFPA on the front cover of the book. I discussed it with the Board because I was uncomfortable with that idea. I felt it was inappropriate, and the Board agreed. I felt it would give an appearance of impropriety in that someone might think I was using my position as NFPA President for personal gain. I also did not want it to appear that NFPA was endorsing the book. While I understood Kaplan’s desire to use that for marketing purposes, I told them to remove the title from the cover. They agreed to do that. This was on June 14, 2007.

The final manuscript was provided to Kaplan this spring. Part of the agreement was that I and my co-author would have the right to review the final version of the book before it was printed. However, that did not occur as Kaplan was in a hurry to get the book to print. Although we kept asking to see the book and were told we’d get to see the initial press copy, I did not know it had been printed until I received a box full of books yesterday. To my horror, they did not change the front cover, and my title is listed on the front cover of the book right under my name. I immediately informed the NFPA Board of this.

I also immediately contacted my editor and brought this to his attention. I forwarded to him the email exchange wherein I asked them to change the front cover and remove my title – and his agreement to do so. I asked him what Kaplan was going to do to correct this very serious error. He informed me that Kaplan has already printed and shipped to suppliers a total of 3000 books. They cannot recall the books without totally cancelling the book. Kaplan will provide me with a letter that I will provide to you acknowledging that it was their error and accepting full responsibility for the error. Further, they will change the front cover of the book so that all future printings do not list my title.

I am extremely upset about this and horrified at the position in which Kaplan has placed me and NFPA with their error. Please accept my sincere apologies. Further, please feel free to share this email, and the letter from the publisher which I will provide, with anyone you desire.



Letter from Kaplan to A. Haworth - Get more Legal Forms

Monday, September 8, 2008

Indiana Supreme Court Rejects Voluntary Paralegal Regulation

In yet another blow to paralegal regulation, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected a proposed Rule 2.2 to include the voluntary regulation of paralegals. While I support mandatory regulation, not voluntary, it is still a blow to paralegals who are working so hard to be recognized as professionals.


Rejection Letter - Proposed Paralegal Regulation in Indiana - Get more Business Documents

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sending Large Electronic Files With Ease

Corporate firewalls and e-mail safeguards can make sending large electronic files, such as audio and video files, next to impossible. Often, the e-mail will bounce back to you, and you're left burning the file to CD and shipping it via FedEx in order to meet a deadline.

Fortunately, YouSendIt has a solution: upload your file to their servers, and e-mail the link to the recipient. They have a tracking feature to let you know who was accessing your file, and they are HIPAA compliant. With a Pro account, you get 40GB of download bandwidth per month. You can also control when the file is no longer available for download. The Pro account also features a drop box where clients, vendors, or others can upload files to send to you, and it doesn't require your recipients to register to download their files.

And for now, you can get a FREE Trial Offer. Send, Receive and Track digital files up to 2 GB each. TRY IT NOW!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Does Outsourcing Put Private Data at Risk?

Here's an angle that I didn't even think about in my original opposition to outsourcing: the risk of exposing private data. A partner at the Maryland firm of Newman, McIntosh & Hennessey, Joseph Hennessey, filed suit against Acumen Legal Services, a legal process outsourcing company based in India. The basis of the complaint:

Given that the federal government now monitors some communications between citizens here and foreign nationals, LPOs can't guarantee that a client's personal information is safe from such surveillance.


Hennessey voluntarily dismissed the suit in response to a motion filed by Acumen's legal team, but for him, the battle is still active.

Food for thought for proponents of outsourcing...

(Source: Law.com)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

inData Corporation Releases DepoView DVD

inData Corporation, the developer of TrialDirector® software, has released a new product called DepoView® DVD. DepoView DVD allows attorneys, paralegals, and other litigation professionals to view video depositions and associated transcripts on a standard DVD player or computer.

Utilizing patent-pending technology, DepoView DVD is the only product that displays the transcript in addition to video footage on DVD, which enables litigation professionals to review transcripts on a television when a computer isn't readily available. When played on a standard DVD player, DepoView DVD provides three options: (1) review the video deposition; (2) read the entire transcript, or (3) jump directly to a selected page in the transcript or video.

DepoView DVD supports MPEG-1 and MPEG-2/VOB video files, the choice of which is at the user's discretion. A user can import the video files from a DepoView DVD to other litigation support applications, such as inData TrialDirector®, CT Summation®, and LiveNote®.

Each DepoView DVD comes with a complimentary download of DepoView software for viewing and editing the video on a computer. Using DepoView software, legal professionals can search for keywords in the transcript, create video clips for trial, print condensed transcripts, and send selected segments to Microsoft PowerPoint.

For more information, visit www.indatacorp.com.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Paralegal Speaks Out Against LSUC Regulation

While paralegal regulation is certainly necessary, it does need to be very well planned. In this opinion piece by Marshall Yarmus, an independent paralegal operating in Toronto and the former vice president of both the Paralegal Society of Ontario and the Paralegal Society of Canada, reasons why the Law Society of Upper Canada's paralegal regulation is hurting paralegals and consumers are detailed. Paralegals in Canada do represent clients in court, however, unlike paralegals in the United States.

Paralegal fees have risen this year as the law society imposed two unnecessary expenses on paralegals. [They] are now required to carry $2 million in error-and-omissions insurance.

This is the same amount that lawyers must carry. ...This just adds extra costs, which the consumer ultimately has to pay.

Since paralegals charge less then lawyers, they often need to work on a greater volume of files to stay profitable. Since May 1, paralegals have been required to operate the same trust accounts as lawyers.

Operating trust accounts properly is labour-intensive and expensive, whether paralegals do the accounting themselves or hire a bookkeeper.

When a consumer gives a retainer to a paralegal they need to know that their money is safe, but the law society had other alternatives. A low-cost fidelity bond, which other professions use, protects the consumer without adding the cost of administering a trust account.

Paralegals are not the same as lawyers. Just because a system is in place for lawyers, doesn’t make it right for paralegals.


(Source: Law Times)

Making September Count

Welcome to September. I haven't been in school for years, but there is something about September that makes me want to clean up my desk, sharpen my pencils, and start jotting in a notebook.

At work, the end of vacation and the beginning, once again, of routine schedules brings excitement. My workload will be filled with more substantive assignments. I'll be examining ways in which I can be more efficient, more productive, more valuable to my firm.

September is also a great month to do a goal check. How am I progressing? What areas could use improvement? Certainly, it ties into my current position, but it also applies to my long-term goals. I'll head into the winter with a target in mind, whether it's the type of assignments I receive, the hours I bill, or the way in which I complete assignments.

And to satisfy my yen for learning, I'll take a (free) online language course at Livemocha.com, which features reading, writing, listening, and speaking exercises.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Natick, Mass. Lawyer to Use Paralegal to Collect Back Taxes

The town of Natick, Mass. hired David DeLuca, an attorney with Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane of Quincy, to assist in collecting money owed to the town in back taxes. The combined figure of outstanding taxes is $1.5 million, but the town realistically expects to collect around $500K.

DeLuca will be paid an hourly rate of $115 per hour. Much of the work, however, will be done by a paralegal who will bill the town for $85 an hour. [Emphasis added.]


The town will have to file litigation in state court to collect the taxes, but the actual court appearances are minimal. It is the tracking and due diligence that comprises the bulk of the work, and assigning a paralegal will keep costs down for Natick.

(Source: The MetroWest Daily News)