Saturday, January 31, 2009

Are You Sabotaging Your Career?

If you could foretell the future, you'd know if you'll be staying in your present job or looking for another one down the road. Or maybe you don't have to be a psychic because almost everyone will be in the job market at one time or another. When that happens, will your online presence sabotage your career move?

Do you have friends on Facebook? Are you Twittering with your Tweeps? Are you connecting on LinkedIn? Have you made MySpace your space? Do you bare your thoughts on your blog? These (and other) social networking sites usually allow you to post as much information about yourself as you like...your education, work history, favorite music and books, political leanings, and religious preferences. You can upload pictures, post videos, join groups and causes and become a fan of many. There are also 'status updates' that offer information about how you're feeling right this moment.

You are, in essence, dropping clues right and left about yourself and you may be offering too much information. Many companies (that includes law firms) now use social networking sites to screen prospective hires. They may also use them to check on the behavior of current employees. A simple entry of a name in the Google search box can reveal all kinds of information...some of it may be embarrassing.

Social Networking isn't just about you. You really have little control over who sees your information. Your contacts have access to it. Their contacts have access. Those contacts have access. You can see how the web widens.

How much should you reveal about yourself? That's the $64,000 question and depends on your circumstances. It would be best to err on the side of caution. It's probably not good to post the picture of you dancing on a table at Senor Frog's in Cancun. Does a recruiter need to know that you are 32, single, Catholic, have a mad crush on Hugh Jackman and would throw your Jimmy Choos at a political candidate if given a chance? Probably not! You might also want to refrain from commenting about your boss and co-workers.

There are other things that are probably best kept to yourself:
  • Medical information
  • Plans to quit your current job
  • Your love life/sexual preferences
  • Politics and religion
  • Salary/financial information
  • Gossip
  • Racially charged jokes and profanity
  • Confidential work information

You might give this some thought: Remember the last time you had a conversation with someone, perhaps a friend, family member or maybe a total stranger...and you found the conversation going south when you were given way too much information? Perhaps you learned more than you needed to know about the person's financial situation, their marital problems, or their last surgery. Your view of the person was changed forever. The same thing can happen when you reveal too much information online but you may not even know whose opinion you have influenced.

Your online presence is a virtual resume. Craft your profile very carefully so you reveal only positive information. Don't use a screen name that gives a poor impression. Don't post pictures or videos you wouldn't want your mother to see. Delete any photos your friends might post that show you drinking and partying. If any off-color comments are associated with your posts, delete them immediately. Choose your Facebook friends and followers on Twitter wisely. You don't have to accept every request.

Your challenge: Do continue to enjoy your social networking. It's a great way to connect with friends and colleagues. It's a fabulous networking tool. Just remember to exercise caution so that your social networking presence will make you the person everyone will want to hire.

© 2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, e-zine or website? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, also known as The Paralegal Mentor, publishes the bi-weekly ezine 'Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence' where she offers tips for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. Get tips and information at no cost at

Thursday, January 29, 2009

ABA To Consider Rule Change Re: Conflicts Of Interest. Will This Affect Paralegals?

Two amendments are before the members of the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates when the 400,000 member association holds its mid-year meeting beginning February 11th.

The recommendations deal with movement of attorneys from one law firm to another that could create a conflict of interest.

Recommendation 109 offers a looser restriction than the current conflict rules regarding this movement. It requires the new firm to confirm that it has properly screened the income attorney.

Recommendation 110 does not permit firm-to-firm screening. Instead, it requires client consent. Supports say that Recommendation 110 is a compromise for members who are concerned about restrictions on attorney mobility.

Because Paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney, they are subject to the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct. A conflict of interest can be created when a Paralegal (or any other member of the law firm support staff) moves from one firm to another. Therefore, the recommendation adopted by the ABA membership will most likely apply to paralegals who are changing jobs. Read the full article here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Practice-Of-Law Definition Hits New Roadblock: Exemption Includes Paralegal Services

The practice of law remains difficult to define. This article appeared in today's issue of the Pacific Business News (Honolulu):

The issue of crafting a new definition for the practice of law in Hawaii is once again before the Hawaii Supreme Court, but state Attorney General Mark J. Bennett has spoken out against the revised rules, dealing a new blow to the efforts led by the Hawaii State Bar Association.

The bar association submitted its revised draft of a new definition for the practice of law last month after more than a year of occasionally contentious discussions in which professionals such as accountants, insurance agents and real estate brokers accused the lawyers of trying to steal their work.

The new four-page draft makes a point of saying that the rules are not intended to restrict anyone from doing their usual business. The public has until April 27 to comment.

After reviewing the rules in November, Bennett wrote to the bar association saying he could not support the revised rules because they were laden with exceptions and exclusions that were overly broad, ambiguous or do “not make sense.”

Bennett also quoted former state legislators who decided that defining the practice of law was “fruitless because new developments in society, whether legislative, social or scientific in nature, continually create new concepts and new legal problems.”

The new draft contains a dozen exemptions, including the preparation of real estate contracts, purchase and lease agreements and tax returns; selling or soliciting insurance and annuity products; performing paralegal services; and selling legal forms to the public. There are other exemptions for individuals who choose to represent themselves in court, who participate in labor negotiations and arbitrations or who lobby at the Legislature.

Groups including the Hawaii Association of Realtors, Hawaii Insurers Council and the Hawaii Society of Certified Public Accountants were heavily involved in retooling the new draft.
The bar association said it was surprised by Bennett’s position since several state deputy attorneys general from his office were intimately involved in the discussions and reviewed various drafts of the rules as they were being written.

In a letter to the court, Jeffrey Sia, immediate past president of the bar association, wrote that the exemptions strike a balance between the concerns of all the stakeholders involved in the discussions.

“It was not the [association’s] intent to take away the lawful livelihood of nonlawyers or hinder the public’s access to legal services,” Sia wrote. “These types of exceptions are not novel.”
Only licensed attorneys can practice law in Hawaii, but there is no definition that describes precisely what the practice of law is. So the Hawaii Supreme Court asked the bar association to write an acceptable definition of the law business.

Its goal was to protect Hawaii residents and businesses from untrained, unlicensed and unregulated individuals offering advice on legal matters.

At least 25 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted similar rules or statutes defining the practice of law or protecting consumers from amateur legal advice.

If the Hawaii Supreme Court approves the rule changes, the earliest they would take effect would be July 1. The proposed rules are available on the Hawaii State Judiciary’s Web site:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Billable Hour Goals? Do The Math!

Most firms set annual billable hour goals for attorneys and paralegals and reaching those goals is very important for a variety of reasons, the primary one being to demonstrate value to the firm.

If you do not break down the billable hour goals into 'chunks,' it's a good possibility that come next December you'll find yourself falling short of the goal or scrambling to do two months' time in one month. Neither is good, one is virtually impossible. Instead, you need to do a bit of math and some simple planning NOW to be sure you meet your goals eleven months from now.

I'll be revealing how to do the math and the planning this coming Thursday, January 29th at 1:00 pm Eastern time when I present Seven Secrets That Will Increase Your Billable Hours. For more information, follow this link.

Thursday, January 22, 2009 Are Associate Cuts a Better Solution?

It seems that there are announcements of law firm staffing cuts every day.

According to an article circulated today by, in December alone, major law firms laid off at least 300 staffers -- spanning from secretaries and paralegals to marketing and technology support. Those announced cuts included 115 at Reed Smith, 90 at White & Case, 35 at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and 40 at Goulston & Storrs. Firms have quietly cut even more positions, and the layoffs show no sign of slowing down.

The argument is made that perhaps it would be make more sense economically to keep paralegals and, instead, cut associates. The argument for this is that as paralegal staff is cut, associates may be picking up the paralegal work. In the end, associates may earn higher salaries and bill at higher hourly rates than paralegals. Therefore, firms expend more dollars for associate salaries than paralegal salaries. More importantly, clients are charged at the associate's rate, rather than the lower paralegal hourly rate.

Be sure to follow this link to read this important article.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

UPL? Watch For These Red Flags!

Generally, the practice of law is defined as giving legal advice or opinions to others or representing others in legal matters. However, there is no single complete definition of the practice of law. Every state defines the practice of law by statute. These statutes, as well as the rules and cases that define the practice of law, are continually changing and evolving.

It's interesting to note that an ABA task force specifically directed to prepare a model definition of the practice of law abandoned its task in March 2003. The members of the task force could not come to an agreement on the definition.

While the actual definition is difficult to pin down, one thing is certain: the unauthorized practice of law is a criminal offense and usually a misdemeanor. UPL does not apply only to nonlawyers who deliver legal services directly to the public. Attorneys can commit UPL. Paralegals working under the supervision of an attorney can commit UPL as well if they are not properly supervised, set fees, give legal advice or appear in court.

Attorneys must be licensed by the state where they practice law. An attorney who practices law outside the jurisdiction where he or she is licensed is committing UPL. Thus, if a client wants to transfer title to real property in Florida but the attorney is licensed to practice only in Minnesota, you should seek assistance from counsel in Florida.

Only attorneys may represent clients in court. While some administrative agencies allow nonlawyers to represent persons before them, this is not so with most courts. There was recently a case involving a New Jersey Attorney who actually sent his paralegal to a court hearing where she advocated for a client. The Disciplinary Review Board is urging censure for this attorney. This paralegal committed UPL while working under the supervision of an attorney. (See In the Matter of Neal M. Pomper, Docket No. DRB 08-237)

Only attorneys may set fees. Setting fees is an important step in establishing the attorney-client relationship. For this reason, only the attorney may decide what the client will be charged for his or her services. Even if there is a standard fee schedule, it is still up to the attorney to evaluate the case and set the fee. Nonlawyers may relay the information about the fees once the attorney provides that information.

Only attorneys may sign pleadings or correspondence that offers legal advice. Nonlawyers may sign correspondence that relays procedural information. An exception is the State of North Carolina where nonlawyers may sign pleadings in emergency situations.

Only attorneys may give legal advice. This includes directing or recommending a course of action with legal consequences (such as 'You should accept the offer of $1500 offered by the cruise ship for your broken tooth.'); evaluating the probable outcome of a legal matter (such as 'Your claim against XYZ corporation will probably net you a seven figure settlement.') or interpreting statutes, decisions and legal documents.

Your challenge: Know that you may relieve the attorney of many duties. You may relay the attorney's advice to the client, draft pleadings and do legal research that requires legal interpretation. In these situations, it is the attorney who makes the legal judgment. Your are involved only in the assessment of the situation and implementing the attorney's decisions. Be sure to study case law in your jurisdiction and be familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct, Ethics Opinions, and case law. Also, attend ethics courses annually so that you will be up to date on the latest ethics education. All of this knowledge will help prevent you from being involved in the unauthorized practice of law.

© 2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, e-zine or website? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, also known as The Paralegal Mentor, publishes the bi-weekly ezine 'Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence' where she offers tips for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. Get tips and information at no cost at

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Diversity Quote...

John F. Kennedy said, 'If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.'

Join the Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Series on Tuesday, January 13th, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time as we discuss 'Let's Talk Diversity' with guest experts Jessica Gard (Vice President for Human Resources, REDICO, LLC, Bloomfield Hills MI) and Vicki Kunz (Insurance Risk Manager, MDU Resources, Bismarck ND).

This is a f'ree special bonus for all professionals interested in studying the ability to appreciate the similarities and differences between and among people.

For more information and to register:

See you Tuesday!


Friday, January 9, 2009

E-Mail: What You Need To Know Before You Hit 'Send'

It's no secret that law firms are communicating more and more by e-mail. E-mail is fast, easy and spontaneous. In 1999 the American Bar Association Issued Opinion 99-413 stating that confidential communication by means of unencrypted e-mail aren't a breach of the duty of confidentiality because the mode of transmission affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. This opinion does not relieve attorneys and staff from their ethical obligations.

Here are a few things you should give some thought to before you send your e-mail:

Do you have your client's permission to communicate by e-mail? Always be sure your client wants to receive e-mail from you. Some people check their mail so infrequently that sending a letter by US mail would be best. Others won't know how to download and review documents. It's best to have your client's permission in writing before you communicating by e-mail. Does someone other than your client have access to their e-mail? Perhaps your client shares the e-mail address with a co-worker or family member. If the family or co-worker receives the communication, confidential information may be disclosed.Will a third party see the e-mail? E-mail containing privileged information between your firm and the client is fine so long as a third party does not receive the e-mail. The disclosure of privileged information to a third party waives the privilege. This is also a concern if your client is copying third parties with e-mail to your firm.

Does your e-mail include a statement that it's privileged? Every e-mail message, whether it's routine or contains privileged information, should include a statement that it is privileged and if the recipient receives it in error, her or she shouldn't read it and should inform the sender immediately. While this disclaimer can't prevent someone else from reading the message, it can help your firm make the case that the disclosure was inadvertent and that the communication should retain the privileged status.

Are you using your personal e-mail account or your firm's account? The line between professional and private e-mail accounts is blurred. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow the discovery of any material relevant to the claims of a party so long as the discovery appears to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. It would be best if you didn't use your personal e-mail account to send business communications and vice versa. You do not want your personal e-mail account to be subject to discovery.

Are you using 'reply to all'? Be careful! It is unethical to communicate with a person who is represented by an attorney. You often receive e-mail from attorneys who have also copied their client with the message. If you respond with 'reply to all' your message will go to the client and you are technically communicating with the represented person.

Are you responding to every e-mail on demand? E-mail's extreme emphasis on responsiveness may jeopardize a very important attribute of professional excellence: judgment. Good judgment implies informed and critical thinking that leads to the optimal resolution of difficult and complex problems. This can't be rushed...but this is exactly what e-mail causes us to do. A snap answer may not be the best answer. Instead of shooting back an immediate reply, it might be best to respond that you understand the importance of the problem and will give it the time and attention it requires. If you do this, the client is getting a response but not an immediate answer.

Your challenge: Use e-mail with the same caution you would use with any communication. E-mail may seem impersonal and be more spontaneous. However, this doesn't relieve you and your firm of the ethical responsibilities of confidentiality, privilege, and good judgment. Get your client's permission to correspond by e-mail. Be sure your client understands the ramifications of copying a third party with his or her messages. Be cautions when you choose the 'reply to all' function so that you do not communicate directly with a represented person. Resist the urge to shoot off quick responses to e-mail messages. Instead, take the time to use the good judgment the response deserves.

© 2008 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, e-zine or website? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, also known as The Paralegal Mentor, publishes the bi-weekly ezine 'Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence' where she offers tips for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. Get tips and information at no cost at

Friday, January 2, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

As 2008 ends and 2009 begins, it's tempting to make resolutions for the New Year. Organize your office? Increase your billable hours? Lose weight? Be on time for work? Sit for a certification exam? Whatever you have in mind, read on...

It's common knowledge that resolutions rarely work. Yes...that's the unfortunate truth. All those good intentions seem to fall by the wayside by the middle of January...all that's left are the guilt and regret that once again you're not able to keep your resolutions. By next December you'll be making the same resolutions all over again.

It's time to change the pattern. Resolutions don't work because they're usually very broad statements: This year I'll lose 20 pounds. This year I'll learn to speak French. This year I'll look for a new job. You've got the 'what' know what you want to do. The problem is that you're only looking at the big picture.

Instead of making resolutions, set goals. A goal is something you commit to fully and work toward all year long. Take a few minutes right now to visualize your top three goals for 2009. Then take out a piece of paper and write those goals down.

Make a plan. Once your goals are set, decide what you have to do to reach each goal and then plan each step toward your goal from beginning to end. For instance, if you want to learn French this year your first step might to be to search for a class. The next step might be to enroll in the class. The next step might be to buy your study materials. Your next steps would be to attend each class and do your homework. Do you see how each step you take helps you reach your end goal? This process will work for any goal you might want to reach.

Take this one step further. Schedule each step in your planner...make an actual appointment. This ensures that you will set aside the time to accomplish each step. Don't make the mistake of putting the steps on 'to do' lists because a 'to do' list is just a wish list and you will invariably run out of day before you run out of list. The 'to do' list just goes on and on. Your planner is a real guide for accomplishing your goals.

Your challenge: Plan to make 2009 your best year ever. Take a few minutes to set your goals. Break the goals down into achievable mini-goals. Decide when each mini-goal must be accomplished to reach the main goal by the end of the year. Enter those mini-goals in your planner. Make appointments with yourself for completing each one. If you do your planning and then do your scheduling, you can accomplish absolutely anything you want and this time next year you'll be celebrating the fact that you actually reached your goals. Here's to out with the with the endings and to beginnings. Happy New Year!

© 2008 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, e-zine or website? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, also known as The Paralegal Mentor, publishes the bi-weekly ezine ‘Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence’ where she offers tips for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. Get tips and information at no cost at