Posted in CLE, Ethics, Houston Events, Networking, Paralegal, Paralegal Zone

Paralegal Zone Event Review: HMPA’s November CLE Luncheon

The Houston Metropolitan Paralegal Association (HMPA) is one of the largest paralegal associations in the United States. It is no wonder they are well known for frequently hosting successful networking and CLE events for professional Houston area paralegals.

The HMPA November 2019 CLE Luncheon took place at The Houston Center Club. The food was excellent and the room was full! Just the sort of environment to which inquisitive and social paralegals are attracted. The speaker was Michael “Tate” Barkley of Bain & Barkley. Let me tell you, this man was extremely entertaining, intelligent and knew exactly how to keep the crowd engaged in his discussion about ethical decision making.

I attend these events to remain sharp within the legal field while connecting with similar professionals in pursuit of that same mastery. For the paralegals of Patrick Daniel Law, these events have become a part of our team routine. Whether you attend as a member or as a guest of a member, HMPA Luncheons have proven to be fun, social, entertaining and extremely informative.

For information about the next event, visit houstonparalegals.org.

Contact:
Your Fellow Professionals at HMPA
Houston Metropolitan Paralegal Association
855-614-HMPA
hmpa-aa@houstonparalegals.org

Posted in Career Advice, Employment Trends, Job Duties, Paralegal, Paralegal Zone

Paralegal Profession: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Sheena Foley, PHP

The paralegal profession can be highly stressful and fast paced. The entire court system operates on strict deadlines and schedules that are mandatory in order for legal disputes to reach timely resolution. It is therefore no surprise that paralegals must possess the ability to control their time and work loads. This legal “calendar climate” is only one of many triggers that lead to a paralegal’s high level of career related stress.

Being a paralegal is not for everyone and it is certainly not for those who may be sensitive or unable to receive constructive criticism. Depending on the type of law firm a paralegal works for, there are many contributing factors with the potential to create a stressful work environment.

I have compiled a list of some of the most common contributing factors that often deter entry-level legal assistants or add stress upon experienced paralegals. I am not the type of person to only have complaints without solutions; so, I hope my list either encourages an “on-edge” legal assistant to keep pushing or educates an experienced paralegal to seek resolution to their work stress.

1. Job Titles and Job Duties

The paralegal title is used very loosely in the legal industry. While one attorney may hire a paralegal to handle both pre-litigation and litigation work, another may hire a legal secretary to handle the pre-litigation work and a paralegal to handle litigation. Often times, the title or position a paralegal/legal assistant applies for may not match their actual assigned daily job duties.  Given this flexible sphere of legal titles and duties, a paralegal trained in litigation, pre-litigation and appeal may feel a way about receiving a legal secretary title.

Solution:             Be clear with your employer about your job-title requirements and concerns. Be clear about your capabilities and provide clear facts and reasoning behind your request for a change to your duties or title.

2. Resume Fluffers Beware

A common mistake entry-level paralegals make is the “resume fluff.” Some people have a tendency to over-embellish their strengths on their resume to unsuspecting employers. However, in the legal industry, a hiring attorney can spot you coming from a mile away! If you have never drafted discovery or you have never drafted a legal pleading but your resume says you have trial experience, you will be found out sooner than later. This is not a “fake-it-til-you-make-it” industry. Either you have the juice or you don’t. Pretending to have experience will usually lead to a stressful work environment.

Solution:             Highlight the experience you do have without providing falsehoods to a potential employer. If you are a fast learner, quick study and are eager to learn, express this in your cover letter.  Many firms prefer entry-level paralegals that are trainable as opposed to seasoned paralegals who may be set in their ways.

3. Lack of Upward Mobility

Depending on the size of the law firm and structure of legal staff job roles, a paralegal normally has very little upward growth within a law firm. Outside of moving to firm operations, HR, marketing or becoming an attorney, there is very little growth available to most paralegals.

Solution:             The legal universe consists of a plethora of different industries and specialty areas. There is contract work available for paralegals who may want to perform work outside of their everyday, mundane duties. The career possibilities are endless! Never limit yourself.

4. Tenure and Lack of Recognition

A paralegal’s work is never recognized because our only purpose is to assist the attorney. You could draft an excellent petition for damages but it would go unnoticed because we cannot practice law; so the attorney obviously receives the praise. Therefore, if a paralegal’s work is never recognized or commended within a firm, newer staff members may not be aware or have the appropriate respect level for your work or tenure.

Solution:             When it comes to not receiving recognition for your work; that just comes with the paralegal territory. Our recognition and accolades are dependent upon the level of success reached by the attorneys we work for, period. If that is a deal breaker for you, this is not the industry for you. It is your employer’s responsibility to educate all staff of both successes and failures. This is what promotes your recognition within the legal community as well as your tenure within the firm. If you work for a firm that does not operate in this fashion… you have some decisions to make.

Bottom line, the paralegal profession is not for the weak-at-heart. We face extreme deadlines, heavy workloads and varying job duties. We work long hours and oftentimes find ourselves in difficult situations requiring free-style problem solving capabilities. This life is not for everyone.

Posted in Career Advice, Employment Trends, Legal Technology, Paralegal, Paralegal Zone

Paralegals becoming obsolete? Not a chance!

by: Sheena Foley, PHP

With all the technological advancements in the legal field nowadays, it is no wonder that there exists a growing fear among paralegals and legal assistants. A fear that we will someday be replaced by a computer or some automated process meant to perform some of the mundane job duties currently handled by trained paralegals. Per Marc Davis, a blogger for ABAJournal.com, while the demand for entry level paralegals is declining, the need for trained paralegals is on the rise! Check out the following article by Marc Davis titled, “Technology has not replaced need for paralegals.”

Five years ago, it seemed like the paralegal industry was about to become obsolete. A January 2013 Associated Press report claimed that an increasing number of lawyers were using computer software and technology to do the work paralegals once did.

The report hit the paralegal industry like a sucker punch. The market had been red hot—the Bureau of Labor Statistics had previously predicted an 18 percent growth in paralegal jobs through 2020. In 2014, however, the bureau revised its projections, forecasting an 8 percent growth from 2014 to 2024.

The bureau then adjusted that figure to a 15 percent growth from 2016 to 2026—a decrease of 3 percentage points from its original projection.

So was the AP report about lawyers relying more on technology much ado about nothing? Not necessarily. While solo and small-firm lawyers have increasingly turned to technology, they haven’t completely turned their backs on hiring paralegals.

“In the past, with the big firm I was with, I used paralegals to issue subpoenas for documents, to organize them, file them electronically,” says Deborah G. Cole, a Chicago-based solo practitioner who specializes in commercial litigation and employment law and is among the growing number of lawyers who perform the work paralegals typically do. “Now I do it all myself, including documents searches; I know exactly what I’m looking for.”

Cole doesn’t use a secretary or office administrator either. She uses computer software to handle the usual tasks, including case management. “Still, I have a manageable caseload,” she says.

A major benefit of not using a paralegal, Cole points out, is the significant cost savings for solos and small firms. “Depending on the case, by my using software rather than a paralegal, I can save anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000,” she says.

Despite reports of the slow disappearance, “there will always be a need for paralegals,” says solo attorney Megan Zavieh, who has offices in Alpharetta, Georgia, and the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in defending lawyers who face ethics investigations and state bar prosecution.

HELP ON TAP

Zavieh performs the work of paralegals, but on occasion she hires one on a per-need basis. The work, facilitated by technology, that she or a paralegal might do includes scheduling, creating tables of contents and documents, and preparing client intake forms and files.

But technology can’t provide the human touch, Zavieh says. “A large part of my job is being a counselor to my clients. I listen, I understand their stress [and] they can vent on to me,” she says.

Attorney Jill Vereb tells a similar story. Although she never wanted to be overwhelmed by paperwork, she declined to hire a paralegal or a secretary. Vereb, who runs a solo family law practice in Sugar Land, Texas, does all the work a paralegal might do.

“I do all the document research,” she says, by way of example. “When I do that myself, I’m less likely to miss something important that might be missed by a paralegal.”

By using a software program that converts PDFs, emails and other documents into searchable versions, she’s able to bypass much of the tedious work of reviewing what she describes as reams and reams of paper. “I enter a search word and it streamlines the process,” she says. “But when I’m superbusy, I may hire a paralegal on a temporary basis.”

By contrast, paralegals are part of attorney Luis Salazar’s legal team. But he doesn’t use as many as he did before. He is head of a small firm in Coral Gables, Florida, specializing in corporate compliance law, bankruptcy law and complex commercial litigation.

“Paralegals can’t appear in court as representatives of a client, but they’re with me in court when I’m litigating a case,” he says. “They’re familiar with the documents I might need and the exhibits. If I ask for something, they snap it up right away and give it to me.”

At one time, Salazar used nine paralegals. Now, however, he’s got just three.

“Maybe demand for entry-level paralegals is declining,” says Amy McCormack, co-president of Chicago-based McCormack Schreiber Legal Search. “But the market for trained paralegals is strong.” 

Davis, Marc. “Technology has not replaced need for paralegals.” http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/technology_has_not_replaced_need_for_paralegals. Accessed 30 September 2019.


This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title “Holding Steady: Although more lawyers are performing the work of paralegals, job prospects for trained assistants seem good.”

Posted in CLE, Houston Events, Networking, Paralegal, Paralegal Zone, Top Paralegals

Houston Metropolitan Paralegal Association: 2019 October Luncheon and CLE

The Houston Metro Paralegal Association (“HMPA”), is one of the largest paralegal associations in the United States. HMPA’s goal is to promote the professional advancement of paralegals in the Houston metropolitan area. This, of course, is what caught my attention about this association.

I am currently a voting member and I am very impressed by their structure, CLE event offerings and the vast resources available to members! Check out the event flyer below or visit HMPA at http://houstonparalegals.org/ for more information.

Registration is now open! Don’t miss this CLE Luncheon, featuring guest speaker Taylor Gissell of Transocean presenting on “General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).” Attendees will earn 1.0 CLE credit while networking over a delicious lunch buffet, plus a chance to win door prizes provided by this event’s sponsor: Veritext Legal Solutions! Visit TinyURL.com/2019OctoberCLE to secure your seat. Don’t wait, registration ends at 12PM on October 4th!

Posted in Career Advice, Job Duties, Law, Paralegal, Personal Injury, Top Paralegals

Personal Injury Law: Job Duties of Top Paralegals

By: Sheena Foley, PHP

There are many different avenues of specialty available for paralegals to build solid job experience and strong resumes. This article will focus on the job duties of a personal injury paralegal. Depending on the size of the firm and the actual job duties assigned to a paralegal by the handling attorney, the following responsibilities must be mastered by any top paralegal.

Intake and Client Contact

Paralegals must possess the ability to properly screen and interview potential new clients (PNCs). This means knowing what questions to ask during the initial intake and with which tone to ask them in. A useful paralegal will already have a questionnaire on hand to ensure that no information is omitted. It is the paralegal’s job to be as patient and thorough as possible in order to gain all information required for the attorney to review the claim effectively.

Medical Records

Personal injury paralegals understand the importance of medical and billing records being organized, on file and admissible in court. As a paralegal, you may be required to order, summarize, supplement and produce medical records to opposing counsel, insurance adjusters, experts, etc. throughout the case. A useful paralegal understands what to look for within the medical records and how to determine whether they are insufficient.

Ordering and receiving is only a small portion of the overall goal in reviewing a client’s medical records. Familiarity of medical terminology is critical to a paralegal’s ability to identify various injury types and any long-term effects those injuries may cause. This data is critical in the process of effectively moving personal injury cases along. A paralegal must understand medical jargon and have the ability to follow treatment recommendations and orders from treating physicians. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding medical terminology in order to determine whether surgery or future medical care and expenses are required.

Non-Medical Records

In addition to mastering the art of ordering medical records, a paralegal must also understand what non-medical records may be required to move a case along. Depending on the initial intake, some of these record types may include employment records, academic records, financial records or a declaration page from an insurance adjuster. Useful paralegals also understand FOIA requests and the importance of performing legal, scientific, technical and medical research relative to the claim.

Legal Drafting

The primary purpose of a paralegal is to make their attorney’s job easier and to assist in the process of effectively moving a case along to resolution. Therefore, it is a paralegal’s job to prepare legal motions/pleadings, demands, settlement proposals and discovery for attorney review. Top paralegals can equally draft discovery and discovery responses, inclusive of all relative objections, for their attorney’s final review and modification. Most importantly, top performing paralegals will have these items already drafted, prepared and saved to the file for the attorney’s review based primarily on staying current with the pleadings thereby staying ahead of the game. Always overachieve.

Docket Control and Calendaring

Regardless of the area of specialty, it is understood that a litigation paralegal is responsible for monitoring all deadlines and calendaring all items of importance. This item was included based only on its general importance to any paralegal’s job duties.

Expert Retention and Medical Scheduling

Upon review of a client’s medical records from treating providers, a paralegal may be required to retain and thoroughly vet a medical expert as assigned by the attorney. This will also involve obtaining dates, scheduling treatment and arranging transportation if required. This will be required for any defendant medical examinations (DMEs) as well.

Trial Preparation and Trial

Paralegals organize exhibits, trial documents and evidence into trial binders to prepare for trial. Many paralegals are responsible for setting up any peripherals and exhibits in the courtroom and they assist attorneys in preparing witnesses, submitting bench books, issuing subpoenas and assisting with voir doir. Top paralegals may also be required to assist the attorney during trial by controlling the flow of exhibits, usually with a trial software like Trial Pad. Trial paralegals are the primary intermediaries between the clients, witnesses, attorneys and court staff throughout trial.

Regardless of your current job duties or responsibilities at this stage in your career, there should never come a time when you stop learning and striving to be a better paralegal. Always utilize your peers and share information that will lead to the growth of your team. I have worked with some amazing paralegals during my career and from them all; I have gained something substantial, inspiring, thought provoking or informative at the very least. Being trainable, approachable, flexible and self-starting are all traits which will lead to a successful paralegal career.

Posted in Career Advice, Job Duties, Mediation, Paralegal

Preparing for Mediation: What Useful Paralegal’s Should Look For

By: Paralegal Sheena

When entering into litigation, the primary goal is reaching successful settlement and resolution on behalf of the client. It is the paralegal’s job to ensure that special care is taken and attention to detail is heightened when preparing a client’s file for mediation. The following short task list includes important items that a useful paralegal should keep in mind.

  1. Confidentiality, Cost and selection of a mediator: Sending a flexible written agreement to mediate which sets forth the procedures of the hearing and who is responsible for the costs will prevent issues down the line.
  2. Pending discovery and investigations: Review all discovery requests and the responses of any lay, expert and character witnesses to ensure all materials and evidence has been produced to opposing counsel (including exculpatory evidence) well in advance of mediation.
  3. Pending medical records and bills: Review the file to ensure that all certified and admissible medical records and bills from all post-incident treating physicians are on file. Make sure the billing itemization is current and accurate so the opposing party can properly value the claim.
  4. Performing legal research: Research any pending or potential motions for summary judgement that opposing counsel may use and determine the legal and factual weaknesses. Be ahead of the game!
  5. Pending motions: Review the file for any pending motions and whether or not that motion has the potential to prevent successful settlement negotiations until it has been ruled upon. These pleadings include discovery disputes, motions to bifurcate, summary judgments or other dispositive types of motions.
  6. Compile all liens and verify all litigation expenses: Verify all amounts and confirm that contact information for any adjusters for any liens asserted against the client. If the lien holder’s consent is a required prior to settlement, they will need to be invited to mediation. Review the file for following types of liens:
    1. Medicaid/Medicare liens;
    1. Health insurance/ERISA liens;
    1. Medical payment liens;
    1. Disability insurers; or
    1. Hospital liens.

Additionally, it is important to confirm and account for all case/litigation expenses. These expenses may include attorney fees, record retrieval fees, investigation costs, filing fees, expert fees, deposition expense, videotaping charges, filing fees, witness fees, exhibit preparation, coping costs, and other expenses which will come out of any settlement.

  • Confirm the presence of indispensable parties: If there are other parties who may share responsibility for the harm being litigated, confirm whether they were joined as a party. It is important that all parties and financial decision makers be present during mediation.
  • Determine all mediation participants, parties and speakers: The attorney will need to determine which plaintiffs, attorneys, defendants and/or insurance representatives will be attending mediation and which will be speaking. For example, an eloquent and smart client may be allowed to make a brief statement as a tactical strategy to show the adjuster how compelling the testimony could be at trial.
  • Confirm all audio/video exhibits with the attorney: Determine the format desired by the attorney for all exhibits to be used during mediation. This includes deposition excerpts, imaging films, photos, diagrams, etc..
  • Schedule a teleconference between the client and attorney: The attorney will prepare the client for mediation and explain the processes and procedures for mediation. A detailed mediation packet inclusive of all pertinent mediation information should be mailed to the client soon thereafter.

The attorney typically handles many of these tasks but the main purpose of a paralegal is to aid the attorney in every phase of litigation. A highly skilled and useful paralegal understands that all his/her work must be performed under the supervision of the handling attorney anyway; so, there is no harm in being ahead of the curve and providing the attorney with a jump-start to their research and preparation.

Remember, paralegals rule the legal nation!

Posted in Career Advice, Paralegal, Paralegal System, Project Management

Why Top Paralegals Possess Meticulous Project Management Skills

By: Paralegal Sheena

It is no secret that most high-performing paralegals tend to possess an impressive knack for managing heavy workloads. Dependent upon a paralegal’s particular job duties and the size of the firm, the ability to organize, manage and execute daily responsibilities and tasks is critical to a paralegal’s job security and professional reputation.

Think about the most skilled paralegal you have known or worked with during your career. I could bet a sizeable penny that paralegal had a “system” he/she lived by and a methodical approach to organizing his/her daily job duties. The fact of the matter is this, in order to be a successful and useful paralegal (we will discuss why this is important later); you will have to possess some form of O.C.D. with respect to organizing case files and controlling dockets.

I can hear my co-workers and peers laughing aloud right now at this public admission. You see, my O.C.D. comes from a productive yet sometimes “extra” place (I am the way I am, lol). For example, I have been hailed “the spreadsheet queen” because of my requirement for detailed, sortable data. From the way new files are opened to the way documents are saved and trial binders organized, I have particular methods for completing these tasks efficiently and correctly the first time. In turn, my employer can always depend on my consistency.

As a top tear paralegal, you will need to create your own methods for organizing and streamlining your case load. The entire point of the paralegal profession is to be of substantial assistance to the attorney. You cannot be useful if you have not decoded the organizational method to your success.

Make sure your method includes but is not limited to the following;

  1. Calendar everything;
  2. Maintain a detailed “end of day report”;
  3. Create word templates for commonly used forms;
  4. Create a daily schedule to arrange for task completion; and
  5. Create daily routines and stick with them.

Calendar Everything!

Typically, when discussing calendar entries, paralegals automatically assume you are referring to docket control. The calendar can be used for so much more! Use your outlook calendar to set task reminders and appointments on a daily basis. This way, if your attorney calls a meeting, you can print your calendar for the week/month and have up-to-date information to provide upon inquiry. Stay on your toes.

Maintain a Detailed End of Day Report

Depending upon the type and size of the firm you work for, detailed end of day reports provide proof of your productivity. Attorneys are not always aware of just how much work their paralegals produce on a daily basis. These reports also serve as a “checks & balance” system for the paralegal to spot check any items which may not have been handled the day before.

Create Word Templates for Commonly Used Forms

For experienced litigation paralegals, it should go without saying that you must compile a reservoir of properly formatted templates to be used for form pleadings, legal drafting, correspondence, record requests, etc. I even have templates for fax cover sheets and items I mail to clients. Working smarter and not harder is the key.

Create a Daily Schedule and Productive Routines

Following a set daily schedule consistently almost guarantees that a paralegal will get into the habit of accomplishing specific tasks at specific times of the day. For example, on Mondays & Tuesdays, the hours between 8am – 10am are spent drafting discovery requests and the hours between 10am – noon are spent responding to discovery, etc.. Routines create habits.

The stress associated with paralegal life can be hectic and overwhelming for even the best paralegals. One moment you can be completely caught up, and the next, you could be drowning in new cases and tasks. Trust me, the last thing a paralegal needs is to be drowning in work while simultaneously dealing with a stressed out attorney. This is why it is critical that you consistently and methodically manage your workload so that you are always ready to provide an update on any particular task at any given time.

Best wishes to you all! If you are as “extra” as me and want to share your methods for managing your insane workload or provide us with some super paralegal tips,  please feel free to comment and share.