Saturday, February 28, 2009

Paralegals: Are You Committed To Your Career?

Something I read recently made me curious:

I have a penchant for legal novels and just read A Cure For Night by Justin Peacock. Here's a brief description of the book from

Yale Law School graduate Justin Peacock's legal experience serves him well for this intense novel in the tradition of such genre luminaries as Scott Turow and Richard Price. A Cure for Night features Joel Deveraux, a former corporate-law hotshot whose downward slide finds him plying his trade at Brooklyn's Public Defender's office. Thrust into a high-profile case involving black-on-white crime, Joel quickly discovers he is in over his head.

What the review doesn't tell you is that Beth, the paralegal working with Joel Deveraux, dies in the second chapter of Mr. Peacock's book. Beth is romantically involved with Joel Deveraux and introduces him to heroin. When Beth dies of a drug overdose in the bathroom at Walker Bentley, the prestigious firm where they both work, Joel's personal and professional life falls apart. He ends up with a six-month suspension from the practice of law and then takes a job at the Public Defender's office where he becomes involved with a murder trial....and, of course, another woman.

But back to Beth who is 22 years old and fresh out of Barnard College. Here's the comment Joel makes that has me thinking:

"There were two distinct kinds of paralegals at Walker Bentley. On one hand were the lifers, people who had been working as paralegals for years and were making it a career. On the other hand were recent college grads testing the waters for a year or two before either heading off to law school themselves or dropping the idea entirely and moving on to something else."

Now I'm wondering if this statement is true? I understand that people change their minds and decide to take other career paths. However, I find it difficult to believe that the young people entering the paralegal profession are really only 'testing the waters' and planning to move on from the get go. I'd like your opinion. Please participate in the poll in the sidebar and let me know what you think.


Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind? Handle Paper And Files With Three Easy Decisions

Do the piles of paper and stacks of files on your desk seem to multiply
and take on a life of their own?

Are you afraid to put anything away because you might forget about it?

When you open your mail, do you think, “I’ll just put ithere for now”?

Does the 'put it here for now' pile keep growing?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the above, you are delaying making decisions.This delay results in increased clutter on your desk. The clutter leads to overwhelm. Overwhelm leads to decreased productivity. You can see that this all leads to nothing good.

There are only three decisions you have to make:
Decision No. 1: What to do with your mail. When your mail comes in, go over it by your trash can and take one of the following actions:
  • Toss it. If you don't need it, throw it in the trash (which may include shredding or recycling). The more you throw away, the less you've got to take care of. You win!

  • Delegate It. If someone else can do it, pass it on.
  • Do It Now. If this is something that can be done in two minutes or less, do it NOW. This may mean actually doing the task or scheduling the task in your planner or putting it on your ‘to do’ list.
  • Do It Later. If this is something that you will need later, can’t take care of right now, or it will take you a while to finish it, move on to Decision No. 2.
  • Keep It Forever. If this is something you need to hang on to, move on to Decision No. 3
Decision No. 2: When do you need to see it again? When you'll need to refer to the paper in the future (such as an invitation or a map) or you need to remember to take action on a specific date, you'll need a tickler file. This is what you do:
  • Gather these supplies:

    * A drawer or a box that will accommodate hanging files

    * 43 hanging file folders

    * 43 hanging file folder tabs, 31 of one color and 12 of another color

    * Your favorite pen or Sharpie

  • Take these steps:

    * Write the twelve months on 12 tabs of one color; insert them down the left side of 12 hanging folders.

    * Write the numbers 1-31 on the 31 tabs of the other color; insert them in the remaining 31 hanging folders, staggering them in positions other than the left so you’ll be able to see them at a glance.
    Put the folders in your drawer or box:

    * Whatever month you’re beginning with (as I write, this is February), put that month tab in the front of the drawer with the numbered folders for the rest of the month behind it (ie 27 through 31, even though February does not have 31 days).

    *Behind those is the folder for the next month (March) followed by the files numbered 1-26.

    * Behind that are the folders for the remainder of the year.

    *File your papers according to when you will need them, allowing time to finish the project. For instance, if your deadline is March 25th and you think the job will take two days, put the paper in the March 23rd folder. If you just need to remember to do something in June, drop it in the June file.

    *Begin every day with the folder of the day and then move it. When you’re through with a day, move it to the back of the next month.

    *Near the end of each month, go through the papers that have been dropped in the next month’s folder and put them in the appropriate date. Again, allow for time to finish your project.

Decision No. 3: If you need to keep it forever, file it. Here are some hints for your filing

  • Do you really need to keep it forever? Organizing experts say that you refer to only 20% of what you file. The remaining 80% is unnecessary and never looked at again. Don’t fill your filing cabinets with that 80%....this includes multiple copies of the same document.

  • Don’t overstuff the file drawers. Keep two inches of empty space in each drawer so that you can get files in and out without landing in the emergency room.

  • Use an incline desktop sorter. If you have stacks of files on your desk that can’t be put away because you’re working on them, put them in an incline desktop sorter. They're available at any office supplier. This will keep the files visible and easy to find. You’ll also be less likely to lose them or forget them.

Your challenge: Resolve to make a decision about every piece of paper when it comes into your office. Do not ‘put it here for now.’ Making decisions will lead to huge benefits. When you walk into an office that is free of clutter...when you no longer waste time looking for papers and files...when you no longer miss will feel less stressed and you will get more work done in less time. Take the time you save for continuing education, a vacation, or to just chill out. You’ll be a better paralegal in the long run.

© 2009 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 publishes a bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. More information is available at

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Justice Alito 'Imagines' John Lennon

It seems that the Supreme Court Justices are fond of music. In my humble opinion, that's a good thing!

The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times reports that last year Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. won praise for quoting Bob Dylan in an opinion (a dissent, actually, in Spring Communications Co. v. APCC Services.) Now, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. has quoted at length from John Lennon.

The reference appeared in Alito's major ruling in Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum, which redefined monuments placed on public land -- such as a Ten Commandments monument -- as a form of government speech, rather than private speech that can run afoul of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Some briefs had argued that if a memorial was to be regarded as a message conveyed by government, the government ought to be forced to embrace the message through a formal resolution.

In knocking down that argument, Alito, 58, makes the point that public monuments can convey multiple messages, or messages that change over time. The Statue of Liberty, for example, came to New York as a symbol of friendship between France and the United States, Alito said, and only later became viewed as a beacon welcoming immigrants.

Similarly -- and here's where Lennon comes in -- the mosaic in Central Park in New York City that displays the word "Imagine" as part of the memorial to John Lennon conveys several messages. "Some observers may 'imagine' the musical contributions that John Lennon would have made if he had not been killed," Alito said, while others might think of Lennon's song by that name, which imagined "a world without religion, countries, possessions, greed or hunger."

Alito then drops a footnote that offers the full text of Lennon's lyrics to the song "Imagine." The Court's newest justice also makes a number of other Central Park references, including the 1876 controversy over a memorial to Daniel Webster, and a monument to Balto, the sled dog that brought medicine to Alaska during a diptheria epidemic.

Here's an interesting paper titled [Insert Song Lyrics Here]: The Uses and Misuses of Popular Music Lyrics in Legal Writing written by Alex B. Long, Oklahoma City University School of Law.

The use of song lyrics in briefs and opinions would certainly make them much more entertaining and easier to read.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Paralegals Note: How To Do It All!

The Paralegal Mentor
Mastermind Series Presents...

"Doing It All!"

With Special Guest Expert

Lynne J. DeVenny, NCCP

Paralegal, Author, Speaker, Blogger and much more!

Winston-Salem, NC

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 8:00 pm Eastern Time

For sixty Minutes Lynne and I will discuss...

  • How we integrate work with outside interests...
  • How we manage to balance our personal and professional lives...
  • How we use social networking sites to increase our knowledge and build our professional connections...
  • The importance of giving back to the paralegal profession...
  • The paralegal's role in the area of Workers Compensation Law...
  • And much more...

Whether you've been in the work force for a long time, are just beginning your career or your're somewhere in between...

No matter what kind of work you do and no matter where you work (tradtional law firm, corporation, government entity) ...

This is important information you must have...

Register Now!

The Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Series is presented as a f'ree special bonus for all professionals who want to create lasting success in their careers. can sign up for this presentation whether you attend the live class or not...ALL registered participants will receive a recording of the call.

Go to this page RIGHT NOW to reserve your 'front row seat' for this important event. You'll see how easy it is to secure your spot when you click here.

More information about Lynne is available at LinkedIn and you can follow her terrific blog at . My profile is available at LinkedIn and follow this link to my blog.

There is an additional Paralegal Mentor event you must put on your calendar now: March 19th Seven Secrets That Will Increase Your Billable Hours (follow this link)

'See' you soon, Until then, I remain...

Dedicated to your success!


Monday, February 16, 2009

Paralegals Note: LSSU Releases 2009 List Of Banished Words

Paralegals take notice: 'It's that time of year again!'

Word-watchers at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan have released their 34th annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. I look forward this announcement every year mostly to see if words and phrases I am totally tired of make the list.

Turns out there are quite a few...including the one I am most done with: GREEN.

The list begins with the phrase 'It's that time of year again!' Kathleen Brosemer of St. Ste. Marie, Ontario nominated this phrase for its meaninglessness. As she says, "When is it not 'that time of year again?' From Valentine's sales to year-end charity letters, invitations to summer picnics and Christmas parties, it's 'that time' of year again. Just get to the point of the solicitation, invitation, and newsletter and cut out six useless and annoying words."

Here are a few more:
  • Carbon Footprint or Carbon Offsetting
  • Maverick
  • First Dude
  • Bailout
  • Wall Street to Main Street
  • Staycation

One word that is not mentioned and should be is CHANGE. I've heard enough of that one to last through the adulthood of my youngest grandchild.

As Paralegals complete their writing assignments, they may want to refrain from using the these tired words and phrases. For the complete list and reasoning behind this year's list, go to

And I'm wondering: what words do you think are most overused?


© 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, 'The Paralegal Mentor,' delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create career success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determing the direction their career paths will take. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. Vicki publishes the bi-weekly ezine ‘Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence.’ Get tips and information at no cost at

Sunday, February 15, 2009

You Might Have A Conflict If...

American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules 1.7 through 1.10 address conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest refers to a situation where someone, such as an attorney or public official, has competing professional or personal obligations or personal or financial interests, that would make it difficult to fulfill his duties fairly.

Generally, a conflict would include a relationship with the client or previous involvement with the client's business. The existence of a conflict may result in the disqualification of the attorney and the firm. For this reason, conflicts of interest must be identified and avoided.

Since paralegals are subject to the same ethics rules as attorneys, conflict situations may also apply to paralegals. For this reason...

You might have a conflict are working on a case where a close relative is on the other side. 'Close relatives' include parents, children, siblings, spouses and sometimes grandparents. Some states include friends, roommates and significant others. For instance, if your Aunt Sally is suing your firm's client, Anytown Construction, you may have a conflict.

You might have a conflict have information about the client on the opposite side of the case. For instance, prior to your current employment you worked at a firm that represented John Doe in his divorce from Jane Doe. Now, in your current employment, your firm's client, Anytown Construction, wants to sue John Doe's building supply company. You may know nothing about the new case but you have a great deal of information about Mr. Doe's business from your previous employment, thereby putting him at a disadvantage. You may have a conflict.

You might have a conflict want to enter into a business relationship with a client. For example, you decide to purchase an interest in Anytown Construction. You may have a conflict. In this situation, the client must give written consent, the transaction must be fair and the client should be advised to seek independent counsel. This rule covers taking an interest in a client's business in lieu of fees.

You might have a conflict if...your client decides to make you the beneficiary of his estate. General ethics princip les indicate that paralegals would not accept such a gift but you may still receive the inheritance IF the client seeks independent counsel and you have absolutely nothing to do with the drafting or signing of the documents. You must take every possible step to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Note: The general rule is that a paralegal would refuse anything but a token gift from a client.

You might have a conflict are changing jobs and the new firm represents a client who is on the opposite side of a case you worked on at your old firm. To avoid disqualification, your new employer may (1) decline to hire you; (2) request your former employer consent to your hiring; and (3) establish a screen that will prevent you from access to the client's file and any involvement in the case at your new firm.

Your challenge: First, as always, review the ethics rules in your jurisdiction and learn to recognize conflicts. I have just scratched the surface here. When you believe a conflict exists, inform your employer immediately. The attorney will then decide how to handle the matter. Attorneys are prohibited from representing clients when there is a conflict unless the attorney reasonably believes the representation will not affect either party adversely and each party consents. The consent should be in writing. It is possible that you will also need to be screened from work on the case. If you and your employer take the appropriate steps, the conflict can be avoided and there will be no adverse effect on the client or the firm.

© 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, 'The Paralegal Mentor,' delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create career success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determing the direction their career paths will take. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. Vicki publishes the bi-weekly ezine ‘Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence.’ Get tips and information at no cost at

Friday, February 13, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Lynne J. DeVenny

Lynne J. DeVenny, NCCP, of Winston-Salem NC has generously agreed to join me on for the Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Call on Tuesday, February 24 2009 at 8:00 pm Eastern time.

Lynne is a busy paralegal who works in the area of workers compensation law. She is a co-author, a Mom, and a friend to all. I know when you read her following profile, you will want to be on the call. Be sure to register here. And read on to learn more about Lynne.

Job Titles: North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal, Co-Author of Workers' Compensation Practice for Paralegals (Carolina Academic Press, 2008) and Author/Blogger at Practical Paralegalism,

Employers: Elliot Pishko Morgan P.A. and Self-Employed

Years of Paralegal Experience: 22

Specialty Areas: Workers' Compensation, Personal Injury, Civil Litigation and Employment Law

Career Highlight: I feel like I've been very lucky in my professional career, and with the support of many wonderful employers, colleagues and mentors, have enjoyed a lot of "career highlights". But to be honest, my "professional baby" is my blog, Practical Paralegalism, which I started in October 2008, after months of working up the courage to try it (never mind that I still haven't read the instructions for blogging yet). I love having the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of paralegals all over the country, because I do not think that the profession gets enough recognition in the few publications available to us. Plus, my blog gives my "National-Enquiring" mind a place to roam and muse. While I'm always disappointed when a fellow legal professional exercises poor judgment or abuses his or her fiduciary duties, some of the cautionary tales I've shared have simply been too good to make up!

Paralegal Practice Tip: Be a resourceful and innovative problem solver. Do some research before posing questions to superiors and colleagues. It always sounds better to say, "I have a question and I've done some research to answer it. Did I find the right answer, or do I need to go in another direction?"

Favorite Internet Resource: I'm stumped (there are so many). I'm also a news junkie, but for law news I have fallen in love with The National Law Journal and the ABA Journal. Facebook and LinkedIn have enriched my professional and personal life immensely.

Fun Fact: I collect travel mugs from professional colleagues, legal vendors and legal associations. I have been fortunate to do a number of volunteer speaking engagements and sometimes am given "swag", which is not necessary but much appreciated. Travel mugs are my favorite. The Institute of Paralegal Education surprised me last week by sending me a gorgeous red IPE travel mug. I could not have been any more excited to open that box than a kid at Christmas getting a new bike!

Public LinkedIn Profile:

Thanks, Lynne...see you on February 24th. Until then, I remain...

Dedicated to your success!