Sunday, June 21, 2009

How To Get The Most Bang For Your Buck At a Convention, Conference or Seminar

Continuing education and networking are vital to career success. Opportunities for both are available when you attend a convention, conference or seminar.

With the opportunity, though, comes an investment of time, energy and money. You may even have to use your precious vacation days to be there. In the grand scheme of career advancement, this is all worthwhile but you must be sure you make the most of your time while you're there.

Here are a few tips that will help you get the greatest return on your investment:

Get the details out of the way early. As soon as you decide you'll attend an event, set up a file for all the miscellaneous information you'll receive. Then send in your registration and make your airline reservations or other travel plans. Next, make your hotel reservations so that you meet the deadline for special room rates.

What will you wear? Find out how you're expected to dress. Will business casual work? Will you need something for the closing banquet? Is a costume suggested for a reception? And remember, regardless of the convention location (i.e. New Orleans in July), you should bring along a sweater or jacket because meeting rooms are notoriously cold in spite of the outside temperature.

Be sure you bring business cards. You'll be exchanging business cards with convention attendees and also providing them to vendors so you'll want to be sure to have a good supply with you. If your employer doesn't provide them, either print your own or order them yourself. I highly recommend for ease of ordering, prompt service and their many f.r.e.e offers.

  • Hint: If you're unemployed, bring cards anyway. Design some with a clever phrase or two that highlight your expertise and experience. You never know where this will lead.
  • Hint: Make notes on the back of the business cards you collect to help you remember the person and what you might like to follow up with them about later.

Bring a notebook. You should bring one notebook for all your seminars and workshops. This is for your notes and your 'to do' list for when you return home. Who will you want to thank? Who will you want to congratulate? Having all your notes in one place will help you to be more organized later.

Pick up your registration materials as soon as you arrive. This is your chance to go through the meeting materials and familiarize yourself with the convention schedule ... where you have to be and when. Put your name tag in a place where you can always find it when you leave your room. If you have tickets for lunches or dinners, put those in a safe place, too. If a list of attendees is provided, review that to see whom you already know and whom you'd like to meet.

Do something neat in your destination city. You may not have a lot of time for sightseeing, but be sure to visit at least one of the city's distinguishing features and have dinner in a memorable restaurant. If you don't, you might as well stay home and get your continuing education over the Internet.

Meet as many new people as you can. Start practicing right now: put out your hand and say "Hi, my name is Vicki and I'm not sure we've met." Was that so hard? No! Be sure to march up to as many people as you can and introduce yourself. They may be having a difficult time doing the same and will be grateful that you've taken the first step.

  • Hint: It's very easy to get a conversation started with comments like 'What do you think about so and so?' or 'How has X or Y affected your job?' or "How is the job market in your region?' You are asking someone for their advice or wisdom or advice and you will always be able to make a connection. Every single person at convention has an interesting story. Be prepared to seek them out.
  • Hint: Networking may offer you the most value from your conference. Please don't waste this opportunity by just hanging out with people you already know.Hint: Don't pull out your cell phone and spend every break making calls. Take advantage of breaks to do some more networking.

Visit the vendors. Vendors come with loads of interesting information regarding their programs and products. They also contribute to the cost of the convention, helping to keep your own costs down. Be sure to visit their booths, give them your full attention, and then make every effort to utilize their services once you're home. For instance, I always use a local court reporting business when I'm scheduling depositions in my state. When I have to go out of state, I call SetDepo simply because I know they support my convention.

  • Hint: If you read my article titled "Free Clutter v Clutter Free" that was published in the November 2007 issue of Facts & Findings, you know that I advocate never taking a give-away from a vendor unless you can use it. If that yoyo or stress relief ball is just going to gather dust in your office, you don't need it. Your luggage is probably already filled to the max anyway.

Watch what you eat and drink and try to get some exercise. You'll be attending receptions and early-morning 'breakfasts' where the much of the food is high in calories. Try to make good choices as in fruit and vegetables over chips and dip. Would you eat that Danish at home? Probably not...choose the bagel instead. As always, drink in moderation so you're up and alert for the next morning's educational events.

  • Hint: Try to take at least a half hour every day to visit the hotel exercise room or to go for a brisk walk. A walk (or even a run) is an excellent way to see some of the city, too.

This is not the time to relive your college Spring Break! You may view the convention as a vacation but that doesn't mean you're there to party down. If your firm or your association has paid your expenses, you have an obligation to attend the meetings and educational events. Remember that your behavior will reflect on your firm or association, so closing the hotel bar every night is definitely not a good idea.

The wrap-up. As soon as you return from your conference, take an evening to wrap up loose ends: write those notes to people who want to thank or congratulate, tally your expenses and submit them for reimbursement, and start your file for 'Convention 2009.' Place the list of attendees for this year's convention in the file, along with any brochures you brought home with you. Let the planning beginning!

Your challenge: First, prepare a "Seminar Tool Bag" that includes a notepad, notebook, business cards, two pens and anything else you think you might need. I'd also add granola bars, lip balm, sticky notes, tissues, mints, a camera and, perhaps, your favorite tea bags. Next, head to your convention and have a great time!

© 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 achieving 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, June 4, 2009

[Paralegal Strategies] Ethics: What About the All-Important 5 C's?

When you consider ethics issues, there are five areas that you must pay attention to...and each begins with the letter 'C'. Ethics are covered by the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct ( and also by your state's Model rules. For purposes of this article, I will refer to the ABA's Model Rules.

1. Conflicts: Model Rules 1.7-1.11 refer to conflicts of interest that attorneys may encounter. Here are some tips to avoid conflicts:

> Have a system in place to check conflicts. This should include both former and current clients.

> Who's the client? Be sure it is clear whom the firm is representing. Is it the husband, the wife, or the husband and the wife? Is it the insurance company or the insured? The corporation or a corporate employee?

> Never use information you have gathered during the representation of a client to later sue that client.

> Pay attention to new hires, both attorneys and support staff. If they have a conflict, the firm may avoid disqualification by obtaining waivers from opposing parties and by screening the employee from contact with the matter.

2. Confidentiality: Model Rule 1.6 refers to the duty to keep all information related to the representation of a client confidential.

> Never discuss client matters with anyone outside the office. This includes billing information and factual situations...even if you don't mention the client's name. 'Outside the office' includes the hallway, elevator, restrooms, courthouse hallways, restaurants, parties and seminars.

> Be careful when you're using electronics. Conversations on a cell phone have an expectation of privacy but only when the parties take steps to keep the conversation private. Keep careful watch over your lap top...if it's stolen, a wealth of data could be lost or compromised.

> Emails and faxes also have an expectation of privacy but you should always have the client's permission (preferably in writing) before communicating this way. Be sure the client is available to receive the email or the fax so that the communication is not intercepted by a third party.

> There are some exceptions to the confidentiality rule: to prevent the client from killing or seriously harming someone; to prevent the client from committing a crime; to bring or defend a claim against a client. In each of these situations, the attorney may disclose only information essential to the matter.

3. Cash. Model Rule 1.15 covers the duty to protect the client's property.

> Know your state's rules regarding this duty as it varies from state to state.

> The client's funds cannot be commingled with the firm's funds.

> The firm can't 'borrow' from the client's funds, even with the intention of repaying the money before anyone finds out.

> The client's money may be transferred to the firm's business account only at such time as the fees are earned.

> Every firm must maintain a separate trust account which is also referred as an IOLTA account. (IOLTA = Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts)

> There are strict rules for reconciling the trust account and also for persons who are allowed to handle the account. Again, check your state's rules for more information.

4. Competence. Model Rule 1.1 refers to the duty of the attorney to possess the legal knowledge and expertise to handle the client's issues.

> Have the resources and the time to handle the client's case, including properly trained staff and the necessary equipment.

> Be sure to attend appropriate continuing education events.

> Manage time effectively so that deadlines are met.

> Assess staff workload regularly to be sure work is getting done.

> Delegate work according to ability.

5. Communications. Model Rule 1.4 covers the duty to adequately and appropriately communicate with clients.

> Be sure clients understand that the attorney is not always available for immediate response and provide alternative personnel for the client to use to relay messages.

> The so-called "Blackberry Culture' has clients expecting attorneys to be available 24/7 and to respond immediately. Explain to clients that their issues are important and that they will receive a response once the matter has been given the careful consideration it deserves.

> While the attorney may delegate much client contact to paralegals, the attorney is obligated to maintain a direct relationship with the client.

> Clients must be kept reasonably informed of the status of the case and provided with enough information to make decisions.

> Withdrawal from a case requires special steps. The client must be informed and, in most instances, their file must be made available to them.

One last rule: Model Rule 5.3 refers to the lawyer's duty with regard to nonlawyer assistants:

(a) a partner, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that the person's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer;

(b) a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the person's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and

(c) a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of such a person that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer if:

(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or

(2) the lawyer is a partner or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the person, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action.

Your challenge: Familiarize yourself with the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as the rules that have been adopted by your state. The ABA also has Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services that can be reviewed at The attorney's ethical obligations are your obligations, too, and you should thoroughly understand the all-important 5 C's: Conflicts, Confidentiality, Cash, Competence and Communication. In the end, though, trust your instincts: if an action doesn't feel right or ethical, it probably isn't. Every state bar association maintains an ethics hot line. Call yours if you have questions.

©2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

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, ethics issues, organizational tips, 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 (Subscribers receive a free special report titled ‘Is Your Computer Talking Behind Your Back?’ and are invited to attend free monthly Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Calls that feature guest experts discussing issues of interest to the paralegal field.)