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, 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.

Posted in Career Advice, Law, Legal Advice, Paralegal, Unauthorized Practice

Paralegals And Unauthorized Practice Of Law

LawCrossing.com

Paralegals are prohibited from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, and, if they do so, can be fined or even imprisoned. The purpose of this prohibition is presumably to protect consumers from being advised by unqualified individuals. The courts are also concerned about lay people engaging in legal practices when they are not governed by the same ethical restraints that apply to attorneys. Some, however, believe that the true purpose of this prohibition is to protect attorneys from competition by lay people who can provide comparable services for less money.

The state statutes prohibiting non-lawyers from practicing law do not clearly define “practice of law.” The Model Code (see below) defines it as any activity that calls for the exercise of professional judgment, which is defined as “the educated ability to relate the general body and philosophy of law to a specific legal problem of a client.” (EC 3-5) The courts have struggled with the ambiguity of these definitions and have concluded that certain tasks are prohibited. Paralegals cannot, for example, appear in court to present cases or argue motions. They can, however, represent clients at certain administrative hearings, such as those at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Social Security Administration, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Patent Office.

Lawcrossing.com

They also cannot give legal advice, although what constitutes legal advice is not always clear. Generally speaking, any advice about how to achieve a particular legal result or how to resolve a specific legal problem is giving legal advice. In other words, paralegals can provide information of a factual nature but cannot offer information involving subjective judgments. They can respond to questions such as “What happens now that we have filed a complaint?” by talking about the timelines that must be adhered to, the court papers the defendant must file, the options available to the defendant, and so on. They are not permitted to respond to a question such as “What do you think our chances of prevailing in this lawsuit are?” other than suggesting that the individual contact the attorney assigned to the case. In small offices, in particular, paralegals are often tempted to walk the edge of law practice by clients who want them to give information, make projections, and discuss strategies. Clients turn to paralegals because they cannot get what they want from attorneys who are either unavailable or unwilling to speculate. But paralegals must resist the temptation to inappropriately advice clients, even when they are desperate for information.

Paralegals can draft legal documents, but these documents must be reviewed by an attorney before they can be seen by anyone outside of the office. Lay persons can also prepare standardized forms that are incidental to their business, especially when they are simply filling in the blanks on forms prepared by attorneys. Real estate agents, for example, are allowed in some states to draft sales contracts. Paralegals cannot, however, give clients guidance about what to put in the form; they can only use the information the client provides.

Paralegals are not allowed to set fees or accept cases. The two are inextricably interrelated. Because only a lawyer can establish a lawyer-client relationship, only a lawyer can enter into a fee agreement with a client.

Paralegals can perform legal tasks, to some extent at least, if they are under the adequate supervision of an attorney. Such legal practice is not unauthorized as long as the “lawyer maintains a direct relationship with his client, supervises the delegated work, and has complete professional responsibility for the work product,” according to the Model Code. The problem is determining what constitutes “adequate supervision.” To what degree must an attorney review a paralegal’s work? Is the attorney required only to give general instructions? With no firm guidelines in place dictating what an attorney is required to do, individual attorneys must assess the amount of supervision necessary and usually base their degree of supervision on the paralegals experience level and the complexity of the task assigned.

Other tasks paralegals can perform include contacting clients and individuals outside the office (as long as they identify their status as paralegals), relaying instructions, informing clients about the status of their case, and interacting with third parties on behalf of clients. They cannot, however, offer their opinions. In some states, paralegals can supervise the signing of wills, appear in court to answer calendar calls, and make routine motions in court.

Paralegals must always take great care in disclosing their non-attorney status so as to never mislead anyone to believe they are authorized to practice law. They must never misrepresent their status to other attorneys, government officials, the courts, or the general public. Paralegals must clearly reveal their non-attorney status on business cards and on correspondence.

Source: LawCrossing.com

Posted in Paralegal, Paralegal Zone, Top Paralegals

What The Paralegal Zone is All About

The paralegal profession is on the rise across the country. Women and men from all walks of life and backgrounds are finding work with attorneys in the ever-present legal world to be an exciting and rewarding career path. This industry can be competitive and oftentimes outright difficult for some to grasp; therefore, it is the responsibility of all paralegals to share the useful information and insights learned along our journeys.

This blog was created to become a “collection,” if you will, of informative materials – which I have stumbled upon throughout my career – that could potentially be helpful to another legal professional in some form.

Nothing bad could come from camaraderie between peers or from sharing information and resources. This blog will provide links to other useful articles and blogs, links to networking events for paralegals, career tips, industry highlights and news relative to paralegal work.

Regardless of your experience or your present level of experience, if your job involves assisting attorneys, then this blog was created for you! Feel free to contact us relative to networking opportunities or to be featured with our blog.

I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Regards,

Sheena Foley, Senior Litigation Paralegal (Houston, TX)