Friday, February 27, 2009

Latham & Watkins Lays Off 190 Associates, 250 Staffers | ABA Journal - Law News Now

Setting new records for layoffs, rumor has it that Latham & Watkins has let go of 190 associates and 250 staff members. However, they are offering an unheard-of severance package that includes six months' salary and medical coverage, capped at $100,000. The cuts are 12 percent of the firm's associates and 10 percent of paralegal and other staff. New York and Los Angeles offices were hit the hardest.

(Source: ABA Journal - Law News Now)

Paralegals Bond in Baghdad

Following parallel career paths, Roxanne Johnson and Tamara Smith prioritized family over career, marrying and raising children before serving in the United States Army. On February 21 at the Multi-National Division - Baghdad Justice Center in Camp Liberty, Iraq, both women took one more step forward in their military careers as they were promoted to private first class. Johnson is a military justice paralegal from Smithfield, North Carolina, and Smith is a paralegal assistant from East St. Louis, Illinois. The two are best friends and are both assigned to Alpha Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. The two have known each other since basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Both have found that the paralegal occupational specialty has been a good fit. Smith wanted to be in admin to help her fellow soldiers.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Nita Serrano, RP

Being a paralegal is a second career for many in the field, and the transition is often jarring as the new paralegal works to apply skills from her previous career to her budding legal career. For Nita Serrano, RP, a paralegal at Morgenstern & Herd, P.A. in Tampa, Fla. with almost 13 years of experience as a paralegal under her belt, her switch from the medical field to the legal field was not without its difficulties, but she has learned to navigate her career map and has found confidence in her skills as a paralegal.

Serrano had always been interested in the law, especially criminal law, but she began her professional life as a Certified Health Unit Coordinator in the Emergency Room/Trauma Center and Maternity Ward for two large Tampa Bay hospitals. Seeking more of a professional challenge, Serrano researched several career paths before she decided on becoming a paralegal. When she went to register for her paralegal courses, she overheard a student speaking with his advisor about a criminal law class. An admissions officer allowed Serrano to sit in on a class, and she was able to evaluate the criminal law course, which was taught by a state attorney. Serrano graduated from Florida Metropolitan University with an Associates degree in Paralegal Studies.

Despite her interest in law, Serrano was anxious about making the switch. "When I started out, I thought going from the medical field to the legal field would be next to impossible," she said. However, her previous medical career served as a bridge to her new paralegal career, especially since her first paralegal job was with a medical malpractice defense attorney, according to Serrano. "My medical background helped me tremendously, and when I was looking for a full time paralegal position, I got the first interview because of the medical background," she said.

Like most new paralegals, Serrano was nervous when she started her first job, but found that the longer she was in the field, the more confident she became. "When I first started working as a paralegal, I was green and was very shy and self conscious about my work, [and] I was afraid to ask questions and even more afraid to make a mistake," Serrano said. "Over the years, I have learned that there really are no dumb questions. I am no longer shy and quiet, and I am much more assertive now than I was 13 years ago. I am very confident in my work and feel that I am respected in the legal community. I have actually had attorneys call me up and ask me about statute of limitations and what I think of a particular case."

Serrano is confident now that she has made the right career move. "I absolutely love being a paralegal," she said. "I love a challenge, and I like to work with people and help people out." She notes that "[e]very day brings a new challenge, but that is one of the things I love about this career, [that] no two days are the same."

Her role models have played a part in her career success, and Serrano credits close friends who have been paralegals for many years as those role models. "[They] have provided me with great advice and guidance," she said.

Now working in civil litigation, personal injury, medical malpractice, and nursing home negligence in a small law firm with only two attorneys, Serrano also ran a successful freelance paralegal business for nearly five years. She considers that one of her most memorable career accomplishments. Serrano was the recipient of the Tampa Bay Paralegal Association's Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) scholarship in 2006, and on March 16, 2007, Serrano took PACE and successfully became a Registered Paralegal (RP) through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

Serrano's experience as a paralegal has taught her valuable lessons to help her produce quality work. "I learned several years ago to make a list of the '6 Most Important Things to Do' each day, [and] I still make a daily list of things to do. Sometimes there are more than 6, but I rank them in order of importance and carry over whatever I did not complete that day," she said. "I have also learned to repeat things back to an attorney to make sure I understood directions and what she wants done. I have completed projects the way I thought was logical, only to find out [that] he or she actually wanted it done differently, so when doing something the first time, I will show her how I am setting up a particular project early on so I am not wasting time redoing it later." Serrano also prides herself on her ability to find the proverbial needle in the haystack, the key document that sometimes the attorney overlooks.

Even with all her current success as a paralegal, Serrano still hopes to further her education and earn her Bachelors degree. In the meantime, she is an active member of the Tampa Bay Paralegal Association (TBPA), serving as the Second Vice President - Membership Chair, Luncheon Chair, and PACE Ambassador. As Chair of TBPA's Membership Committee, Serrano handles recruiting and retaining members, including distributing applications, sending retention and welcome letters, and speaking to members and non-members about the benefits of becoming a TBPA member, among numerous other duties. As the Luncheon Chair, Serrano is in charge of planning the association's monthly luncheons, from coordinating the menu to disseminating the information to TBPA's members. Serrano also served on the Planning Committee for the 2007 NFPA Annual Convention, which was held in Tampa in October. In addition, she is also a Florida Registered Paralegal under Florida's new Florida Registered Paralegal program and a member of the Florida Justice Association, an association that strives to protect the rights of individuals and consumers and hold corporations accountable to a high standard of ethics.

Serrano is married with three children. To supplement her income, instead of going the traditional Tupperware or Avon route, she launched her Gold Canyon business, stemming from her love of candles. Her debut party as a Gold Canyon Independent Demonstrator was on March 9, 2008, and she has found that being a Gold Canyon Independent Demonstrator has fit nicely around her full-time paralegal job and her family's schedule. In addition to candles, Serrano sells decorative home accessories, personal care products, and fragrances as part of her Gold Canyon business.

With her myriad of activities, full-time paralegal position, part-time business, and busy family, free time may seem scarce, but Serrano is an avid reader, and she takes advantage of Tampa's temperate climate by swimming on a regular basis. Her favorite time is spent with her family, though. "There's nothing more important to me than the time I spend with my family – watching my children play in the backyard, enjoying a quiet dinner with my spouse or everyone sharing popcorn during the latest animated DVD release," she said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Paralegal Virtual Interview from Monster Career Advice

If you're looking for a new paralegal position, or just wondering if your interviewing skills are up to speed (not a bad thing to test in this economy), check out this virtual interview from It presents you with several different scenarios and potential answers for some tough interview questions.

Paralegal Virtual Interview from Monster Career Advice

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Radical Employment Law Changes Will Create Lots of Work for Attorneys, Paralegals

Here's another great specialty that may be booming soon: employment law. With the plethora of proposed legislation, including the employee free choice act (EFCA), a new, pro-union president, and the economy, new employment litigation is bound to increase. Add in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the brand-new Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and it's a recipe for employment security, if you're an employment law paralegal.

(Source: The National Law Journal)

Layoffs Hit Connecticut Law Firms

The bloodshed hit close to (my) home Thursday, as two of Connecticut's largest firm announced layoffs. Day Pitney laid off 66 staff members, 31 of whom are in Connecticut. Hartford-based Updike, Kelly & Spellacy has laid off three secretaries and two first-year associates in the Hartford office.

Boston firms, including Choate Hall & Stewart, McDermott Will & Emery, Fish & Richardson, Cooley Godward Kronish, and Foley Hoag have already made their staff and lawyer cuts -- for now.


Meanwhile, at the Central Connecticut Paralegal Association luncheon Thursday afternoon, the economic storm cloud could be felt over the heads of attendees, despite the delectable chocolate cake. Several paralegals I spoke with worked at firms that had already laid off employees; others had stories of paralegals with 18+ years at a firm being laid off; still others were happy just to still be employed.

Incisive Media's Layoff List

Think you might be next? Read the Top Five Ways to Prepare for Layoffs.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Employers Not Hiring Laid-Off Lawyers as Paralegals

With all the law-firm layoffs, attorneys are finding themselves looking for new jobs -- any new job, even if it's a paralegal position. Ellie Trope of Mid-City in Los Angeles, near La Brea, is an attorney who was laid off in February 2008. After a five-month stint filling in for a maternity leave, Trope found herself growing desperate: "she reluctantly decided to lower her expectations and began applying for jobs as a contract administrator, an office administrator and a paralegal. But she struck out there too, in part because other lawyers were trying the same thing."

On the upside for paralegals, the paralegal job listings started including "No attorneys." Trope speculated that it was because companies and firms guessed attorneys would leave the paralegal positions as soon as they found lawyer jobs.

In some cases, not having a JD can work to your advantage.

(Source: Los Angeles Times

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Kramer Levin Lays Off 18 Lawyers, 21 Staff | JD Journal

As expected, more layoffs today, this time from New York-based Kramer Levin. The casualties amount to 18 lawyers and 21 staff members.

(Source: JD Journal)

Union Bank Promotes Former Paralegal to Chief Compliance Officer

UnionBanCal Corporation and its primary subsidiary, Union Bank, N.A., announced that Lynn A. Sullivan has been promoted to Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer.

Sullivan joined Union Bank in 2003 as vice president managing deposit operations and was quickly transferred within Compliance to oversee all Bank Secrecy Act, Anti-Money Laundering and Office of Foreign Assets Control (BSA/AML/OFAC) initiatives. In 2006, she was promoted to senior vice president and became the designated corporate BSA/OFAC officer for the bank. Sullivan currently manages a team responsible for BSA/AML oversight and policy direction for the bank and its subsidiaries and affiliates.

Prior to joining Union Bank, Sullivan was a senior compliance officer at Providian Financial Corporation in San Francisco. She began her career as a paralegal at two well known Bay Area law firms. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UC Santa Barbara and a paralegal certificate from the University of San Diego.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Former Paralegal Is New Mall GM

The Independence Mall in Kingston, Massachusetts has a new General Manager, one with 20 years of property management experience. Doreen Lang, a doctoral candidate and former paralegal, has been in charge since last month and is seeking new ideas to keep the mall competitive in the midst of a recession.

“We have the River Run condominium complex being built in the spring and Plymouth Rock Studios coming in soon, and eventually 1021 Kingston Place.” Lang said. “I think we’re in a fantastic spot for shoppers and I think the people who can hang in there are going to reap the benefits.”

Lang has experience “hanging in there.” Now in her late 40s, she has her real estate license and has also worked as a paralegal and a notary. She has been in the property management business for 20 years. This week she spent time at a nearby mall to learn more about the business. Lang also teaches business courses at a local community college in the evenings. She’s also pursuing a docorate in educational leadership.


Easy Soft Launches Easy HUD 3.0

Easy Soft has launched their real estate closing software product, Easy HUD 3.0. The product has been updated to meet all RESPA Final Rule requirements that took effect January 16, 2009 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The process for buying a home has been the same since 1974. Now, HUD-1 and HUD-1A have been modified so that for the first time ever borrowers can easily compare promised versus actual settlement charges. In addition, HUD will require lenders and mortgage brokers to provide borrowers with an easy-to-read standard Good Faith Estimate early in the loan process to facilitate comparison of the loan terms from multiple lenders.

For more than 20 years, Easy HUD has been simplifying the closing process with automated HUD-1 (purchase) or HUD-1A (refinance) settlement statement preparation, disbursement checks preparation/printing and 1099-S electronic filing. It also allows closing transactions to be automatically exported to Easy Trust or QuickBooks for trust account bookkeeping.

All prepared documents, including the HUD settlement statement forms, can be saved in PDF or Word format (letter or legal size) and emailed right from the program. With Easy HUD, users only have to enter the required information once, and the calculations including embedded transfer charges for 40 jurisdictions will be done for them.

To learn more about Easy HUD and these regulatory requirements, visit

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Looking for a New Specialty? Think Foreclosure

Foreclosure rates are increasing in the wake of the recession, and 5.9 million foreclosures are expected for the next four years, according to BusinessWeek. Brunswick County in North Carolina has seen an 85% increase in foreclosures since 2007.

(Source: WWAY News Channel 3

Former Paralegal Runs for Re-Election as Town Clerk and Treasurer

In her own words, why she should be re-elected:

Experience counts

Editor of the Reformer:

Dear Westminster Residents,

We will be voting March 3 for our town officials, board and committee members. Two of those votes will be to elect our town clerk and treasurer, positions I have held since my appointment by the Selectboard in April 2005, and subsequent elections in July 2005 and March 2006.

I was able to 'hit the ground running' in 2005 because of my extensive experience in the legal field and involvement in local government. My 24 years' experience as a real estate paralegal enabled me to fill the shoes of the clerk on a moment's notice, and with 10 additional years working in areas of management, bookkeeping, human resources and administrative support, I had the ability to assume the financial responsibilities of a treasurer or finance officer.

My involvement in civic organizations, activities, schools and government is an indication of my commitment to this community. A native of Bellows Falls, I graduated from Bellows Falls High School in 1966 and returned to the area in 1978. Coming into the town clerk and treasurer positions with several years' experience recording the minutes of School Board and Selectboard meetings and serving as a Justice of the Peace, I was familiar with how government and schools work, and what is important to our residents.

As your clerk and treasurer, many accomplishments have been realized, including working through the transition of town managers, assuming the task of collecting delinquent taxes and defining the responsibilities and best practices of the financial aspect of town government; strengthening and instituting financial safeguards as recommended by our professional auditors; and defining strategies for the investment of funds to maximize the town's income possibilities. Having been a real estate paralegal, I came into this job familiar with the needs of those who research our records, and created a comfortable working environment for the public, while utilizing the existing space and furniture.

Being mindful of the difficult economic times around us, I developed a combined budget for the clerk's office, the treasurer, the finance officer and elections that results in an overall decrease of 1.15 percent in spending for the next fiscal year.

My goal for the next three years is to move beyond what we've already done, and begin to focus on improving the vault and record storage system. By installing lateral mobile shelving, we can expand the existing vault space to almost double its present capacity, and by purchasing an indexing and imaging software package, we will be able to scan our land records and current index system. With the addition of a computer station in our research area, the public will be able to access our records through an online database. The cost of these improvements will come from funds that have been accumulating in our Restoration Reserve Fund that, by statute, is to be used for restoration, preservation and conservation of municipal records.

Please exercise your right to vote on Town Meeting Day. Stop by or call our office to request an absentee ballot if the polling hours (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.) are not convenient. I welcome your inquiry into my candidacy, and ask for your vote as I seek re-election.

Doreen Woodward,

Westminster, Feb. 8

(Source: Letter box - Brattleboro Reformer)

ABA Midyear Meeting: CLEs Abound, Judiciary Discussed

Attendees at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Boston last week had their pick of CLEs to choose from, as sessions ranged from Student Rights to Health Care for Immigration Detainees. Also included was a panel entitled "The New Administration, the New Congress and the Federal Judiciary: Judicial Appointments, Compensation, and Judicial Retention," featuring Dean Kenneth W. Starr, Pepperdine University School of Law, Former Solicitor General and Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Moderated by Professor Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School, the panel also included Honorable Eleanor D. Acheson, Vice President and General Counsel of Amtrak and former Assistant Attorney General for Policy Development in the Clinton Administration; James C. Duff, Director, Administrative Office of the United States Courts; and Honorable D. Brock Hornsby, United States District Judge, United States District Court, District of Maine.

Hornsby opened the panel by describing the changes in the Federal Judiciary. "It's not your father's Federal Judiciary," he said, elaborating that changes in the career trajectories of judges, the changes in sentencing, the change of the business of being a federal judge, and a change in the growing politization of the bench were responsible for the new judicial landscape.

When Duff took the microphone, he introduced the problem of judicial salaries – namely, that Congress must affirmatively vote for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to judges' salaries, that there needs to be a higher COLA, and that the judges' salaries need to be brought up to speed with today's salaries. Most realistically, he said, a general COLA schedule would be created.

Starr was optimistic for the prospects for the federal judiciary, citing that the new Attorney General is a former judge. He emphasized that the constitution said part of the perfect union was establishing justice, and that the federal judiciary is a key player in that establishment. "What matters is the administration … of justice," he said.

Acheson pointed out that most Americans experience justice on the state level.

Pointing out the massive amount of activity in the courts and the shortage of funds and staff, Resnik asked the panelists what they would want at the legislative level to deal with the current problems. Hornsby responded by requesting no sentencing legislation – returning sentencing to the discretion of judges – and judicial salary restoration. "The judiciary is the most important part of the infrastructure" in the United States, he said, using the Minneapolis bridge collapse as a metaphor.

The panel also discussed how the news media has hindered their progress. Resnik pointed out articles in the New York Times that referred to PACER and CM/ECF fees as things that should be free. Duff countered that these charges are mandated by Congress, and in any case, the fees are waived for law schools, parties to the cases, and indigents. He also said that these fees only recoup the costs of running these programs. Duff had also noted that the last federal judiciary COLA had been bundled into the auto bailout bill, but that the media had immediately run headlines that read, "Judicial Pay Raise Hidden in Auto Bailout Bill," when the reality was that the increase was just a COLA.

Atchison noted that the judiciary should fight back against Congress for the increases and resources it needs to preserve justice. Justices in the audience agreed. Justice W. Scott Bales of the Arizona Supreme Court said that, on the state level, this is not just about judge salaries and staffing; it is about way for the public to access justice: protective orders and child custody, for example.

Associate Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson of the North Carolina Supreme Court had been informed of a hiring freeze in the North Carolina courts, and immediately she thought about how this would affect domestic violence victims. "We will be affected very much by the economic crisis," she said.

In addition to social services, the commerce in the United States is also affected by inadequately-funded state courts, said retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Horowitz. These courts are where business is litigated, disputed, and transacted, he said, and "if you wish for the economy to proceed effectively, you must fund the state courts effectively."

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

CBS Writers Missed Ethics Course Regarding Paralegals

With the addition of a character played by Lennie James on a yet-untitled pilot set at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, writers seemed to have missed a basic ethics course. James's character is a disbarred ADA working as a paralegal.

Any self-respecting U.S. Attorney's Office would not hire a disbarred attorney as a paralegal just for the ethics issues alone. However, TV does require a certain suspension of disbelief...

(Source: Hitfix)

Friday, February 13, 2009

800 Law Firm Jobs Lost Yesterday

Yesterday, 800 people returned home jobless from eight different law firms across the United States. The one firm not previously reported is Cozen O'Connor, axing 61 staff members and no lawyers.

Predictions are dire for law firms, and layoffs are likely to continue. Firms have cited an unprecedented downturn in demand as the reason for layoffs.

"It is now apparent that this downturn will be deeper and broader than past recessions, and all business sectors will be adversely affected in some way," Goodwin Procter Chairwoman Regina Pisa wrote in a memo announcing that the firm would lay off 38 associates and 36 staff, about a 4 percent reduction.


Ken Starr Speaks on Panel at ABA Midyear Meeting

Dean Kenneth W. Starr, Pepperdine University School of Law (yes, THAT Ken Starr) at the ABA Midyear Meeting sits on a panel discussing the possibities for the judiciary in the new administration.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Holland & Knight Lays Off 243

Yesterday, Holland & Knight was part of the fray, laying off 70 lawyers and 173 staff members across their 21 offices. Managing partner Steve Sonberg announced the cuts in an email Thursday evening.

THE AM LAW 100: Revenue Down at Holland & Knight; Firm Lays Off 70 Lawyers

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Bloodshed: Bryan Cave Lays Off 134

Adding to today's carnage is Bryan Cave LLP, laying off 58 attorneys and 76 staff today. There will be no salary increases in 2009.

In addition, Epstein Becker & Green PC let go 23 attorneys and 30 staff members firmwide today.

(Source: JD Journal)

Bloody Thursday: 4 Major Law Firms Ax Attorneys; More Layoffs at Others?

The legal sector is reeling from the economy, as evidenced by what the ABA Journal is calling "Bloody Thursday": four well-known law firms have announced attorney and staff layoffs. Here's the rundown for today:

Firm AssociatesStaff
DLA Piper 80100
Faegre & Benson29unknown*
Goodwin Proctor3836

*An unknown number of staff members were offered "voluntary" separation packages.
**Dechert laid off 72 staff members, or 12.5% of the administrative staff, late last year.

(Source: ABA Journal - Law News Now)

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E-Discovery for Government Agencies Increases in Size, Scope

IE Discovery released results yesterday of its 2008 Benchmarking Study of Electronic Discovery Practices for Government Agencies. The survey is designed to gather opinions and experiences from various government attorneys, records managers, paralegals, and information technology (IT) personnel regarding their perception of e-discovery preparedness within their government agency.

“This year’s survey results confirm the upward trend in the size, scope and effort required to deal with electronic discovery,” said Chris May, CEO of IE Discovery. The survey participants reported an increase of 8% in the time they spend dealing with electronic discovery issues, with 71% of respondents spending up to 25% of their time on these issues. More than 30% of agencies have either hired or designated an “e-discovery attorney.”

Participants also reported an increase in the percentage of the litigation budget that is now used for electronic discovery, although most participants did not list budgets as their biggest challenge. “Internal systems and processes” was listed most often (38%), followed by “Communication with the IT department” (20%); “Finding good e-discovery staff with the right mix of IT and legal knowledge” (18%); “Finding the budget to put systems and tools into place” (15%); and “Getting buy-in from upper management” (10%).

“Our participants reported increased comfort with many aspects of the electronic discovery planning process with significant increases in confidence in the areas of document retention, collection and chain of custody,” said Bill Detamore, IE Discovery’s Chief Legal Officer. Survey results overall show a recognition of the importance of planning, as participants indicated increased efforts in the standardization of litigation holds and 30(b)(6)-witness designation and preparation, as well as meet-and-confer protocols.

The survey was conducted in over a 9-day period from Wednesday, September 24, 2008 to Tuesday, October 7, 2008. A total of 77 government attorneys from 31 government agencies participated.

An executive summary of survey results can be found at

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

ABA Midyear Meeting Is Missing Something

In all the commissions and sessions planned for the ABA Midyear Meeting this week, there is something missing: non-lawyer assistants, legal assistants, and/or paralegals. With the rising cost of legal fees, the layoffs across the country (Nixon Peabody just laid off 20 lawyers and 36 staff), paralegals are key to keeping the legal profession alive.

Taming the ESI Monster

Electronically stored information (ESI) is quickly becoming the bane of e-discovery as it spans everything from computer hard drives to iPods and cell phones. As illustrated by recent cases ranging from Quaalcomm and Bear Stearns, missing any of this information in the discovery process can result in sanctions.

Mark Diamond, CEO of Contoural, Inc., attempted to demystify ESI and explain best practices for dealing with it on January 22, 2009 at the Central Connecticut Paralegal Association's monthly luncheon. He explained that, while organizations should have document retention and document deletion policies, overly strict deletion policies can result in "underground archiving," or essentially, employees forwarding themselves their work emails to preserve them. This opens up a whole new world of ESI hassles in attempting to retrieve data from the employee's personal computer.

Diamond emphasized that archiving data is about control, and part of that is having a good data map of what is accessible and what isn't. Having a strong, clear retention policy that is followed by users is also important. Courts want reasonable, good-faith efforts, he said, and attempting to have a perfect policy can be the enemy of a good policy that preserves necessary data.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book Recommendation: Please Don’t Just Do What I Tell You!*

In addition to being hardworking, organized, intelligent, and patient, paralegals are also expected to be proactive, especially in this economy. Bob Nelson's Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You, Do What Needs to Be Done: Every Employee's Guide to Making Work More Rewardingdescribes just how to be proactive in order to make yourself more valuable – and in the process, be a happier employee. While not specifically geared toward paralegals, Nelson breaks down being proactive into simple strategies and techniques. He includes anecdotes on thinking what needs to be done, preparing, acting, and persevering, and he includes a section geared toward concerns about what happens when you are proactive, i.e. fear, frustration, and failure.

Best of all, Nelson breaks down his tips into easily digestible, one- to two-page chapters. The size of the chapters – and the size of the book overall – make it a quick lunch-hour or lazy afternoon read, but you won't feel lazy after reading Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You. You'll want to get right to work finding ways to expand your job responsibilities, implementing a plan to fulfill a need your company or firm has, or looking for the positive in problems.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Wendy Fuller, RP

For some, the Berkshire area of Western Massachusetts is merely a beautiful vacation spot, a place to indulge in spa treatments in Lenox or delight in numerous outdoor activities. For Wendy S. Fuller, RP, the Berkshires are where her legal career has flourished, beginning directly out of high school and resulting in a commitment to her education and the profession that still allows her to spend time with her favorite person, her husband of twelve years.

Fuller has always been interested in law, and volunteering at a law firm during high school cemented her desire for a legal career, pushing out a brief flirtation with a career as an airline stewardess. However, Fuller said, "law school was not an option for me when I first graduated from high school." Instead, she began working full-time at Curtiss, Carey, Gates & Graves in Greenfield, Mass. in 1981. Her position as a paralegal gradually developed as she worked her way through college and sought more responsibility at work, and by the late 1980s, her paralegal responsibilities were firmly in place.

Originally attracted to law because of the opportunity to help people, Fuller never particularly cared about the title of "paralegal." She said, "I have always been more concerned with the content of my job. As long as I remain challenged and given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the success of the project I am working on and the firm in general, I am happy. It is the skills and education required to be a paralegal, and specifically the ability to obtain the PACE certification and satisfy the CLE requirements, that has afforded the opportunity to achieve my goals and work at a challenging and rewarding occupation/profession."

After obtaining her B.S. from Skidmore College University Without Walls, majoring in business and minoring in government, Fuller did consider attending law school. "My firm was very supportive of my desire to continue my education. In fact, the firm urged me to continue on to law school," she said. "I did take the LSAT, applied to law school, and was accepted, but decided not to make that commitment when I became engaged, which was the absolutely right choice for me."

In 1996, Fuller married and moved to Belchertown, Mass., a commute that, on a good day, would take at least an hour each way. She took a two-year break from CCG&G, but came back in 1998 with a new schedule that allowed her to telecommute two days per week, easing the commuting burden and allowing her to tend to her responsibilities outside the office.

"I had some fairly extensive knee surgery and would have had to be out of work for quite awhile. During that time, my firm was involved in a very difficult federal matter. With the benefit of technology and my home office, I was able to continue to work on the case and meet necessary deadlines," Fuller said. "It has also worked to my advantage because I am often able to adjust my days in the office so that my husband and I can take advantage of other opportunities. Certainly there are times when I work [seven days a week], but the flexibility has been mutually advantageous and because we each respect the other, neither side makes unreasonable requests of the other."

Meanwhile, CCG&G allowed Fuller to develop her position as her skills increased, increasing her responsibilities. Currently, Fuller works primarily in litigation, with a few commercial real estate projects thrown into the mix. She has also remained committed to her continuing education, and as part of her PACE certification achieved in 2000, has taken graduate-level courses to maintain that certification. In addition, Fuller holds a Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist certification from the American Institute for Paralegal Studies (AIPS), is working toward her Human Resource Specialist certification, and authored a seminar for AIPS on Federal discovery. "It was particularly rewarding to know that I had enough 'expertise' to accomplish that," she said.

While Fuller loves living in a small community and having a flexible schedule, she does see downsides in her current position. "Because I live in a small community, it has been very difficult and challenging to gain recognition as a paralegal. Honestly, I believe there are a lot of legal staff people that identify themselves as paralegals who, in fact, are not - neither in terms of education or skills," she said. "That is why I think PACE is so important. ...The Bar Association in this area does little, if anything, to recognize the distinction between paralegals and other legal staff members. Even in my office, other staff members cannot bring themselves to recognize the distinction. Nor do the attorneys do a great deal to recognize the distinction (other than assignment of responsibilities), which has, at times, been very disappointing."

While taking PACE was Fuller's decision, she was disappointed that her firm did not reward or acknowledge her success, nor have they acknowledged her Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist certificate or other professional recognitions. "Upon reflection, ...I have come to realize that I have taken those steps for personal growth, not necessarily professional growth," Fuller said. For her, the rewards of a small community and flexible schedule have outweighed the difficulties she has had earning recognition for her hard work in obtaining her Registered Paralegal status and completing the required CLE.

In 2005, Fuller's hard work resulted in national recognition when she received an award from NFPA for her pro bono work. "It was truly an 'added bonus' as the project that resulted in that award was something that I truly believed in and wanted to be involved in," Fuller said. "I never had thought of receiving an award for my efforts."

"My long-term goal is to be the best paralegal I can be and help to tutor the legal community in this area about paralegals and PACE," Fuller said. Her short-term career goals have shifted, however, as her firm entered a transition. The three senior partners are in the process of handing over the reins to the two younger partners, which has turned out to be more difficult than originally anticipated and impacted the staff morale. Fuller now finds herself at a crossroads, debating whether to continue to work through the transition and help the new partners establish themselves or to evaluate if the firm can still allow her to satisfy both her personal and professional goals, which are equally important to her.

Either way, Fuller will always think of Jack Curtiss, one of the partners, as a role model. While she continued her education and found her footing in the firm, she worked closely with him, and she describes him as "always very supportive of my efforts and willing to let me undertake as much responsibility as I thought I could handle[,] and sometimes find my own way through a project when it might just have been easier to do it himself."

Her parents are also her role models for their selflessness. "Everything they did while their children were growing up was for the family with never an inclination that they wished they could splurge on something “just for them.” I have only very fond memories of my childhood," Fuller said. "They are now at a very difficult stage of their lives where they require a great deal of attention, so it is nice to have those nice memories to look back on."

If Fuller had to do it all over again, Fuller would still become a paralegal. "If there was nothing else to be considered, I might have re-evaluated my decision not to go to law school. However, this is the best balance for me. My job can be very challenging and rewarding, but still allows me to devote an appropriate amount of time to other responsibilities," she said.

During the summer, Fuller and her husband are avid boaters. Their boat is anchored at Lake George, N.Y., where they spend most of their down time in the summer. "Actually, sometimes I work from Lake George also," Fuller admitted. "There is nothing like anchoring out overnight and waking in the morning to peaceful sunshine." They also enjoy camping, in both tents and RVs.

Summers are full of activity for Fuller and her husband, but the western Massachusetts winters are often long and cold, and Fuller and her husband are always looking for an activity to sustain them through those winters. Staying active is key for Fuller's husband, who has had significant back surgeries. On a whim, they tried bowling, which turned out to be the best therapy for his back. They now bowl three times per week at the second oldest candle pin bowling alley in North America. "We've met some great people, and come home every night with something to laugh about," Fuller said.

Fuller's personal and professional lives bring her a great deal of joy. She can't believe that she has reached middle age, most likely due to the enjoyment she receives from her life and from her husband. "I am ... most happily married to the world's greatest guy," she concluded.

Sunday, February 8, 2009 - Legal Sector Lost 1,300 Jobs in January

In the "more bad news for paralegals" category, 1,300 legal jobs were slashed in January alone. In the past three months, 14,500 legal jobs were cut.

As grimly reported by the Am Law Daily, layoff announcements were rampant at law firms across the country in January. Morrison & Foerster cut 201 jobs, Cooley Godward Kronish axed 114, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld shed 65.
Other firms to announce job cuts last month included Blank Rome, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Foley Hoag, Fish & Richardson, and McDermott, Will & Emery. Recruiters on both the East and West coasts report that associate hiring at law firms has largely stopped, and firms are now mostly targeting partners with portable books of business.

As if that weren't dismal enough, the 1,300 figure is "seasonally adjusted." Otherwise, the legal sector would have lost 3,100 jobs in January. - Legal Sector Lost 1,300 Jobs in January

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Housing, Racism to Be Explored at ABA Midyear Meeting

The housing crisis and the role of lawyers in securing housing justice; examining the psychology of prejudice; and insights into the new administration, Congress and the federal judiciary are among issues to be discussed in programs featured at the 2009 American Bar Association Midyear Meeting, Feb. 11 - 17 in Boston.

In addition to the more than 900 events, the ABA House of Delegates will consider policies affecting the legal rights of military personnel, immigrants, and the elderly; the criminal justice system treatment of juvenile sex offenders; habeas corpus petitions of detainees at the Guantanamo Navel Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and measures that would reduce harm and litigation after catastrophes.

A Paralegal's Blog will be covering the ABA Midyear Meeting on Friday, February 13. Keep reading for more information from Boston!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In Praise of Paralegals in Western Massachusetts

It is so heartening to see an article like this in BusinessWest, the business publication for Western Massachusetts.

Bacon & Wilson, Cooley Shrair, and Skoler Abbott & Pressler were all profiled for this article describing how critical paralegals are to the success of these firms.

Stacee Crane, who has been in the estates department at Bacon & Wilson in Springfield for over ten years (and is a very nice person), has also given seminars on estate planning and administration with the head of the Estates department, Hyman Darling.

“I started with guardianships and did noting else for a year and a half,” she continued. “Then, Medicaid or asset-protection planning became a big area when all the Baby Boomers’ parents started going to the nursing home; I became a guru at Medicaid and guardianships. I then moved on to estate-planning work, so I’ve covered all the bases of our department.”

Christine Parylak at Cooley Shrair is a bankrupcty specialist working under John Davis.

Davis meets with the client to review his or her situation to determine the best course of action, she said. With a bankruptcy, this would include deciding when and if to file and what type of bankruptcy to pursue: chapter 7 (liquidation) or chapter 13 (restructuring.

Returning to his thoughts on that collaborative relationship that must exist between a paralegal and a lawyer, [Peter] Shrair[, managing partner at Cooley Shrair,] said there are two vital keys for successfully serving any client — “communication and information.”

(Source: BusinessWest)

Book Recommendation: Lessons from the Top Paralegal Experts: The 15 Most Successful Paralegals and What You can Learn from Them

There are only so many times you can read about procedure before you start to ask yourself, what should I be doing, really? It's one thing to know the rules; it's a whole different ballgame when you're talking about the day to day aspects of a paralegal career. Most paralegal books are theoretical “How-To” books but offer few words in the way of practical applications. Not this one.

In Lessons from the Top Paralegal Experts: The 15 Most Successful Paralegals and What You can Learn from Them, Carole Bruno found fifteen paralegals who know what they're doing and were able to flesh out the job descriptions and fill in the details that somehow were missed in paralegal courses. I've found all sorts of useful information, and I end up flipping through it on a regular basis. Something new always jumps out at me, and I'll take that tidbit to work and implement it and think, "Why didn't I think of this?!" Bruno picked paralegals in a variety of specialties: litigation, intellectual property, commercial and residential real estate, bankruptcy, corporate and business, and family law, and wrote concise, useful tips from each of these paralegals that can be practically applied to the job.

Even better, the profiles are broken down into bite-size pieces of information, which makes it easy to read in a busy schedule. This is a useful book that is a fantastic reference for any paralegal.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Paralegals Can Serve the Public as Well as Lawyers

A fantastic piece that ran on on Friday, Paralegals can service the public as well as lawyers these days, describes the role of legal document assistants in Arizona.

Today there is an intermediate level of professional, not a lawyer for certain but more than a secretary. He or she is the paralegal, licensed by the Arizona Supreme Court. They are required to take a series of courses to educate them specifically to prepare documents. This is far more economical for the client, and depending on how they are used, relieves busy lawyers of the more routine work that is required so often.

Most astoundingly to me, paralegals are licensed to offer their services directly to the public and many can and do so without legal supervision. As non-lawyers, they cannot give legal advice but if you know what you want to do, they can prepare any forms you might need to do it. The more professional offices will file your documents with the appropriate court or agency.

Many times you know you need a will or a trust, a divorce, a corporation, any of the many family law adjustments, real estate documents, living wills, or some other clear-cut action. This is perfect for the paralegal who is well-educated and experienced in creating these documents for a lot less cost than an attorney who would do the same thing.

In my mind, the paralegal is about in the same relationship to lawyers as a nurse practitioner is to a physician. They may not have the same education, background or foundations of their work, they are not experienced in doing surgery or trying cases in court. But they know the practical nuts and bolts of routine events that constitute the majority of the medical and legal activity most people are involved in.

Paralegal Profile: Elisabeth Hiser

In Kansas, paralegal Elisabeth Hiser originally went to college to become a high school math teacher. However, once she took Calculus II, her mind changed quickly. Instead, she embarked on a career as a paralegal, starting with a receptionist position at a small law firm consisting of just two partners right after her high school graduation in 1998. The idea of a legal career that did not involve a J.D. was not even on her radar, but she found herself developing a career as a paralegal shortly after she was hired.

"About two months into the job, one legal secretary quit, and a few days later, the other was fired," Hiser said. "I was the only employee left[, and] I had to learn quickly." Hiser rose to the challenge.

The two partners took about a month to hire a new, trained legal assistant, who helped Hiser tremendously and gave her a lot of on-the-job training. While the new assistant worked for one attorney, Hiser worked for the other. The office focused on domestic law and criminal law, and at the time, she enjoyed it. But things went downhill in the firm quickly, and Hiser knew she had to leave. Quietly, Hiser began searching for a new position. After three months of steady hunting and numerous interviews, in March 2000, Hiser began at her present position, working for Alan Joseph, a solo practitioner specializing in real estate in Wichita, Kansas. "It was the best career decision I've ever made," she said.

Hiser currently loves working in law, but ironically was not even interested in a career as a paralegal until she started the receptionist job in 1998. "I really didn't have any huge expectations when I first entered this field," she said. She did not know that there was even a degree for paralegals, and she thought that they were, essentially, glorified legal secretaries.

"Boy was I wrong," she said. "I was really surprised to learn what... a paralegal can do and how far they can advance in their careers. I thought I would do this for a few years or so, get bored with it, and move on to something else. Not anymore. I can honestly see myself in this profession for the rest of my life." Hiser said that the more she did, the more she learned, which resulted in her interest in becoming a career paralegal.

Hiser holds two Associates degrees. She received an Associates of Science, General Studies from Butler County Community College, a large community college located in El Dorado, Kansas, and more recently, she earned an Associates of Science in Legal Assistant from Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. She received her second Associates in 2001, which is when she considers herself as technically becoming a paralegal.

Over the last eight years, Hiser has watched her job grow into a career. She is the only employee in her office, and Joseph employs a bookkeeper that works in another office about one hour away. As the only employee, she has been able to take on more responsibility and learn every aspect of her job. "With each passing year, I get handed more responsibility in my job and more freedom to take control of things," she said. "There are certain things that I could handle now with my eyes closed that five years ago, I would have needed step-by-step directions."

Learning on the job and in her classes, Hiser has become confident as a paralegal and is able to complete her assignments with aplomb. "When I first started taking paralegal classes, I was ...quite overwhelmed. There was so much to learn and remember. I was very nervous because my memory is horrible," she said. "But I've learned that nobody remembers everything. I am constantly looking at old files or documents to remember how I did something. The key is knowing where to look. ...It doesn't matter how much you know or how smart you are. It's knowing how to use what you do know and knowing that it's [okay] to ask for help." This, she said, is what her job has taught her, a valuable lesson for anyone new to the paralegal field.

With her confidence comes a desire to further advance in her career as a paralegal with the title of Certified Legal Assistant or Registered Paralegal, and to further her education by obtaining a bachelor's degree. "My ultimate goal is to take one of the paralegal certification tests, and pass, of course," Hiser said. "I have my degree, but I would really love to be able to add that CLA or RP title to the end of my name." Hiser also plans to get her Microsoft Word certification within the next few years, and she wants to go back to school to earn her bachelor's degree in business.

"I love being a paralegal," Hiser said. She would become a paralegal if she had to do it over again -- "Of course!!" -- and she loves the profession itself. "The law is changing every day. I am constantly learning new things and meeting new people."

Hiser recently finished her most memorable project, closing a very large real estate transaction. In smaller assignments, Hiser prefers to handle all the details, but in this transaction, she knew that it would be impossible to do everything herself. "I had to delegate tasks, which is very hard for me," she said. "I'm usually the one being told what needs to be done. I've never been a good leader. This project taught me that it's [okay] that I can't do it all. It's okay to say, 'Yes, please do this,' when someone asks if they can help." While it was a large obstacle for her to overcome, Hiser is glad she did, because she also learned that it is okay to tell people what needs to be done and not worry about what they think of her when she is in charge, something that often is difficult for new paralegals. She learned leadership and delegation skills, which will certainly help her in the future.

In the meantime, Hiser has been busy building her satisfying personal life and a wonderful family, which keep her very busy. At 28, she has been married to her husband for over five years, and they have two children, a daughter who just turned four, and a son who is 17 months old. "They keep me on my toes and keep me laughing," she said. Spending time with her husband and children is her favorite way to spend time outside of work, she said.

Hiser has recently taken up loom knitting. Often, loom knitting is relaxing for those who enjoy it. She has also found that loom knitting has another, bonus benefit. "I find [loom knitting] also works great as a weight loss tool," Hiser said. "By keeping my hands busy in the evening, it keeps me out of the kitchen."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Courts Utilizing Newest Gadgets

Technology is everywhere, and it is pervading every courtroom. In Mobile County, Alabama, a Federal grant has enabled information to be displayed to the jury at the flip of a switch.

"We finally went from the 20th century to the 21st century," said Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Graddick. ...

Graddick said it would behoove lawyers — old hands and rookies alike — to learn to wield the high-tech toys with proficiency. "If I can figure it out, anybody can," the judge said.

Images and sound clarity have been greatly improved by the equipment purchased with the grant.

(Source: Press-Register)