Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How Do You Define "Office"?

What does the word "office mean to you?
Is it just space you're occupying while you wait for something better to come along ... or until it's time to retire?
Is it just a place to go each day, put in the required hours, do the necessary work, head out at quitting time, and pick up a check on payday?
Or is it your home away from home? A very personal space filled with memories, laughter, and co-workers who seem like family? A place with a feeling of community?
The time you spend at your office is one of the biggest investments you will make during your lifetime. Whether you are in a corner office with a fantastic view or among a labyrinth of cubicles offering little privacy, your office should be more than four walls and a desk. It should be a place that seeps into your heart, a place that becomes your home away from home.

Whatever your space, you will be happier, more content, and (perhaps) more productive if you make your office a place that reflects your personality and a place you enjoy being. How do you do that?

Here are some suggestions:
Personal Items: Fill your office with meaningful items that make you smile or bring back great memories. While you must be careful not to clutter your space, you should display your awards and framed certificates. You could add significant pictures of your spouse, children or grandchildren -- or your last vacation. 
Collections: Do you have a nice collection of water globes or paperweights you've picked up at conventions? Or a collection of medals you received at races you ran? Or maybe several mugs you purchased to remind you of a happy event? Display them with pride and smile when you see them. 
Plants: Adding a bit of green to your office can work wonders to lighten your mood and (I've heard) have a positive impact on memory retention, focus, accuracy and concentration. They promote a more relaxed atmosphere. You say you don't have a green thumb? Choose something easy to grow (an ivy, a cactus, a terrarium, a Fairy Garden) and do the best you can. Or find a co-worker with a green thumb who's willing to help. 
Participate: Is your department participating in a fundraiser for a worthy cause such as a walk for breast cancer, doing a pro bono project, or dressing up for an office-wide costume contest? Don't be left out! When you participate in office activities, you build relationships and get to know your co-workers better. AND you'll have fun. Orange County Paralegal Association President Vicky LaCelle, ACP, posted this picture on Facebook of her fellow workers in the Legal Department that won the Beckman Coulter Halloween costume contest! BEST TEAM - "Legal Holidays". (Beckman Coulter Inc., is an American company that makes biomedical laboratory instruments.) 
Celebrate: Is someone in your office having a special birthday, expecting a baby, getting married, retiring? Join in to make it a big deal! This builds camaraderie and friendships. You'll be happier and feel more at home when you take part in the fun. An example is this picture of Sandy Lavender whose Clark Hill co-workers recently celebrated her birthday. They decorated her office, brought in a cake, and pulled other stunts to make it a day she won't forget. While I'm stressing celebrations, please don't ignore the office holiday party. Go, even if you are hesitant. Your absence will be noticed.
Your Challenge: If your office isn't already your home away from home, a special place where you spend nearly one-third of your life, think about the steps you might take to change that. By adding things that reflect your personality and make you happy, a bit of greenery to improve the atmosphere, participating in office activities and celebrations, you'll soon find your office is a place where you belong and where you want to be.
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© 2015 Vicki Voisin, Inc.  Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it:

Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She is the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. Vicki publishes Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.

More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com where subscribers receive Vicki's 151 Tips for Your Career Success.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Five Law Firms Named to Fortune Magazine Top 100 List

Fortune magazine has released its latest list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.  Fortune based its rankings on a survey sent to a random sample of employees, as well as a "culture audit" that gathers information about pay, benefits and workplace programs.

The five law firms that made this list (and why) are:

Baker Donelson (No. 30). Its Fortune description: “Southern law firm has a five-to-10-minute meeting called the Daily Docket every morning to keep everyone on the same page. The company also offers a flexible work schedule and, in some instances, paid sabbaticals, letting employees structure work around their personal needs and goals.”
Alston & Bird (No. 41). Its Fortune description: “BigLaw without big egos is how employees describe this international law firm. Job seekers who are rude to receptionists don’t get hired. And project presentations by attorneys often end with a slide crediting not only lawyers but staff such as an audio-visual specialist or librarian.” 
Cooley (No. 42) Cooley rose 58 places this year. Its Fortune description: “Support staff is treated well at this international law firm. A contribution of 7.5 percent of pay is made to eligible employees’ 401(k) accounts and is fully vested after only two years. And if staff members fail to sign up for a 401(k), Cooley will automatically enroll them at the 5 percent level.” 
Perkins Coie (No. 46). Its Fortune description: “Law firm bills itself as the ‘legal counsel to great companies’ (clients range from Amazon to Microsoft and Starbucks). Recently celebrated its 100th anniversary by giving every employee a book of the firm’s history. It also gives awards based on candy bars (a Nestle Crunch bar for ‘You helped me out in a crunch!’ a Power Bar for ‘You really helped us power through’). An anonymous Happiness Committees leaves gifts at workstations. New attorneys in some offices are asked to write and put on a funny skit, always creating as ridiculous a role as possible for the managing partner.” 
Arnold & Porter (No. 75). Its Fortune description: “Law firm passed out longevity bonuses ranging from $1,250 to $5,000 to staffers with more than 10 years of service. Other great benefits: 18 weeks paid maternity leave, $10,000 adoption aid and coverage for gender [reassignment] surgery.”
All of these law firms were on last year's list. Cooley gained the most in rankings, moving from No. 100 last year to No. 42 this year.

To access the full list, follow this link: http://fortune.com/best-companies/.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Paralegal Profile: Heidi Stephens

Heidi Stephens is a freelance paralegal who resides in Griffin, Georgia. Her clients include Imerys, eMerchantBroker.com, and various other companies. Heidi has an AS/Paralegal Studies from Liberty University and will receive her BS/Paralegal Studies from Liberty University in 2015.
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1.    What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?  I love the research. I love the writing. I love the challenge. I actually fell in love with the idea of it during jury duty. Seriously.

2.    What is your favorite part of your job?  The research. I love legal writing, but I love the hunt of finding information that is hidden away. 

3.    What professional associations do you belong to?  NALS.

4.    How has your membership benefited you?  I love the online education. Webinars and recordings are great at providing an added element when something is confusing on paper.

5.    If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be?  Love reading and writing. I lost count of how many people I was in class with who complained that they hated reading and writing. Also, read, re-read, and re-read again. A lot of times the information you need (be it for class or for work) is found the second…or third…or forth…time you read the information.

6. What is your favorite kind of music? Eeek…I’m a mixed bag, I like classic rock…Rush, The Doors, Pink Floyd, but I also like “catchy” tunes, like those from The Sleigh Bells and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

7. What electronic device can you not live without? Laptop… tablet… desktop… anything that I can access my email from.

8. What’s your favorite food? Coconut cake. We have a family friend who makes the most amazing coconut cake!

9. What is the one thing you wish you were better at? Patience. I’m not patient.

10. What is your favorite hobby? Crocheting. I have a callus on my hand to prove it ;)

11. Speaking of your iPod, anything on it that has you hitting the repeat button?
Simon & Garfunkle’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters

12. I understand you make a mean oven-fried okra. What's your secret? Italian breadcrumbs and hot sauce.

13. What TV channel do you most often have on? CNN International. Or whatever channel the Atlanta Braves game is on. 

Bonus Question: What are your favorite Web sites? RT…Huffington Post…Corporette blog.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Paralegal Dilemma: Should Mary Demand a Raise?

A plea for advice came to me this week from a paralegal I’ll call “Mary.” Here’s the story (note, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!):

"Mary" graduated from an ABA approved paralegal program and has worked at Mega Lawyers in Anytown, USA for five years. Her title: paralegal.

“Susie” is Mary’s co-worker. Susie graduated from the same ABA approved program as Mary. She has worked at Mega Lawyers for 3 years. Her title: paralegal.

The issue? Mary knows she and Susie receive the same compensation, even though she (Mary) feels Susie spends more time on the telephone and Facebook than she does working. Also, Mary thinks she has more responsibility than Susie and her additional experience should translate to her making more money than Susie.

Mary is frustrated, unhappy, angry, annoyed, and irritated because she doesn’t believe this is fair. She thinks she should make more money than Susie. She asks, “Do I have a right to complain about this? Should I demand a raise?”

Does she? Should she? Here’s my answer:
“No, Mary, you don’t have a right to complain. You agreed to the pay you are getting and you are doing your job according the way your character and integrity dictate.  The fact that you believe Susie is a slacker doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of your compensation. Susie is the firm’s problem, not yours.
"Demanding a raise is never a good idea. 'Demand' translates to 'ultimatum.' Be careful what you wish for and always be prepared to follow up with your ultimatum. Employers usually do not like 'demands' or being backed into a corner. If you say you will leave if you don't get a raise, be prepared to do just that."
If Mary sincerely feels she deserves a raise because of her value, effort and performance she should meet with the appropriate person in her firm and make a logical, rational, and reasonable argument as to why she deserves more money. For example:
  • Has she met or exceeded her billable hour goals for every year she’s been with the firm?  
  • Is she the go to person for the firm’s technology issues?  
  • Has she drafted user manuals for the new software the firm recently purchased?  
  • Is she able to prepare a trial notebook with little or no input from her supervising attorney?
During this discussion, May should not bring up Susie and what she earns or what she does/does not do. The only relevant topic is Mary's worth and the value she brings to the firm. Mary may be able to get a bump in her salary, but only on her own merits. Complaining about a co-worker (I work harder than that lazy Susie!) should never enter the picture.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Paralegal Profile: Jaye Koch, ACP

 
Jaye Koch, ACP, is a Senior Paralegal at the Virginia Beach Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney where she enjoys doing any type of research (especially legal) and trial preparation.

Jaye has a B.A. Political Science, from Virginia Wesleyan College 1982 and a Paralegal Certificate, from Tidewater Community College, 1986. She earned her NALA Certified Paralegal designation in 2004 and her ACP-Trial Practice (NALA), in 2009.
  
She is a member of Tidewater Paralegal Association (TPA), Local Government Paralegal Association (LGPA),  Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA), Virginia Trial Lawyers Association (VTLA) and National Association of Legal Assistants/Paralegals (NALA). She says the greatest benefit of her professional association membership is definitely networking, meeting paralegals in her specialty area as well as other areas of practice,  and many opportunities to earn CLE credits.

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1.    What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?  I was entering my senior year of college and considering law school. 

The college guidance counselor told me about this “new” paralegal profession, which peaked my interest even more when I became engaged to my (first) husband.  Then I started an internship in the Victim/Witness Office of my current employer.  That was it.  I knew I wanted to be a Paralegal!

2.    What has been the highlight of your career?  Earning the CP designation, passing the ACP-Trial Practice exam and serving on the NALA Certifying Board; and guilty verdicts on any cases that included me working in the courtroom with the prosecutor

3.    What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry?  eDiscovery, courtroom technology and back to focusing on soft skills

4.    Is there a quote that inspires you?  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

5.    What was your first car? Rambler (we called it root beer because it had a tan top and a brown body)

6. What fad do you regret being a part of? Balloon pants!

7.   What advice would you give yourself if you met you as a first-year paralegal? Never stop learning, look for training opportunities

8.    If you could not be a paralegal, what would be your dream job? Coordinating and leading mission teams

9.    What makes you lose your patience? Rude people

10.    Is there one thing in the world you wish you had the answer to? Curing cancer

11.    What fad do you regret being a part of? Balloon pants

12.    The riskiest thing I ever did was... Go zip lining in El Salvador (fun!), followed closely by taking a motorcycle class that didn’t go well

13.    Is there a philosophy you live by? Be nice to people, you don’t know what is going on their world

Bonus Question: You've been given a chance to have dinner with anyone living or dead. Who is it? My Dad. He passed away in 2007.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paralegals: 6 Steps to Happiness

It’s time to do some soul searching. Do you see the glass as half empty? Are the majority of your posts on Facebook negative? Do you hold a grudge forever when you think you’ve been wronged? Are bad things always going to happen to you?
If you answered "Yes" to those questions, you're probably not a happy paralegal.  Do you want to be happy? Absolutely! But how? 

A person can’t just decide to be happy. So how are happy paralegals different from their miserable, pessimistic counterparts? They take actions that add up to a happy, well-lived life. 

These seven actions make the difference:
  1. Happy paralegals laugh often. Laughter generates positive emotions and sets the mood for your day. So lighten up, relax, and laugh to enhance your mood, as well as that of the people you associate with.

  2.  Happy paralegals F-O-C-U-S! Stop doing so many things at once. Happy paralegals can focus (not just on work, but on their family and friends) for extended amounts of time. When you multitask, your brain leaps from one unconnected thought to another, piling stress on your shoulders.

    Log off Pinterest and quit posting cute pet videos on Facebook. Happy paralegals understand that not everything is important. Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang said, “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”

  3. Happy paralegals don’t obsess over the small stuff. Happy paralegals take a take a long view of life and don’t obsess over every short term setback or problem. Are you having a bad day? Tomorrow will be better. You didn╩╝t win that election? Nobody will remember this time next year – and you may even get another chance. You didn’t pass the certification exam? Just try again. No one needs to know how many times you tried...passing is the big news.

  4. Happy paralegals engage in meaningful activities. Physical activity will reduce stress and boost your mood. There are many other “meaningful activities” that will also help with happiness. Time spent practicing yoga or meditation may work for you. For others, religious activities will be important. Reading, writing, quilting, knitting, scrapbooking, volunteering, etc. will give you a sense of calm.

  5. Happy paralegals develop positive relationships. Companionship and love create a sense of belonging that will enhance your life. When you have compassion for the people in your life and know you are cared for in return, you will be happy. Be sure you share quality time with others and nurture your friendships – reconnect with that friend you haven’t seen in years; plan a movie night; invite friends for dinner.

  6. Happy paralegals manage their expectations. Do you remember being terribly excited about an event (say a New Year’s Eve party) and, once it was over, you were disappointed because it didn’t live up to your expectations? Managing expectations is about eliminating the gap between what you expect and what actually happens. Focus on simply enjoying the moment.

    Managing expectations isn’t easy but when you are realistic about what will probably happen, you will save time, energy and disappointment should your expectations not be met. Consider your expectations and determine what areas of your life are frustrating. Perhaps you should manage your expectations for those areas.
While you can’t decide to be happy, you can decide to engage in actions that will bring you happiness. Do your soul searching. Consider this list and decide what is missing in your life. Then choose to take steps to fill that gap. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
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© 2015 Vicki Voisin, Inc.  Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? Feel f'ree to make your life easier and do that! Just be sure to include the following blurb with it:

Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She is the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. Vicki publishes Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.

More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com where subscribers receive Vicki's 151 Tips for Your Career Success.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Why Writing Skills are Necessary for Paralegals

Paralegals and paralegal students often have difficulty developing their writing skills to the level expected in the legal industry.

Legal professionals rely heavily on both verbal and written communication, so writing skills are essential  for both lawyers, paralegals, and legal secretaries.

Because the other employees in a law firm will not tolerate inadequate writing skills, all paralegals need to learn to write in a concise and precise manner with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But how do they acquire those skillw?

In this episode of The Paralegal Voice, I interview Virginia (Ginny) Koerselman Newman, attorney and paralegal educator, about the importance of proper legal writing for paralegals and how they can improve their skills. Ginny provided the following tips:
  • Start by writing down everything you can think of regarding the case then choose only the important facts later to adapt to a legal framework;
  • Take classes on structure, grammar, and punctuation;
  • Purchase "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White; and
  • Practice! Use a practice textbook, edit mistakes in a magazine, and keep a daily journal.
She concedes that learning to write is particularly difficult, especially since technology has made us complacent, but it is better to improve your ability now than struggle throughout your paralegal career.

Ginny finishes the podcast with tips for demonstrating writing skills through a resume, cover letter, and a developed portfolio.

Follow this link to access this important free resource.

Virginia Koerselman Newman, Esq. graduated from the Creighton University School of Law and practiced for many years in banking and commercial litigation in Omaha, Nebraska before she “attempted” to retire in South Carolina. Before Law School, she worked as a paralegal for a number of years and was the first CLA in the state of Nebraska. Koerselman Newman is a frequent speaker at seminars and workshops and has authored, co-authored, and edited several other paralegal texts, study guides, and instructor manuals. She teaches communications, legal research, estates, and legal analysis at NALA school for paralegals.

Special thanks to our sponsors, NALA and Serve Now