Saturday, August 29, 2009

A 6 Step Formula to Get the Results You Want

As a busy paralegal with family and social obligations, you will constantly be faced with challenges. Some will be tougher than others.

Meeting and overcoming the challenge is a lot less stressful if you have a clear formula or process to follow. You need to follow a formula that will save you from becoming bogged down and paralyzed by indecision...a process that will guarantee you will get the result you want.

Use this 6 step formula to move forward when you are faced with a challenging decision.

1. Change your attitude. Attitude is everything! A can-do attitude rather than a defeatist attitude will instantly eliminate much of the resistance to finding a solution. Think of the analogy of a viewing a glass as half full or half empty, depending on your attitude. Optimism will go further toward solving problems than pessimism. Optimism will open you up to more possibilities and help you make better decisions.

2. Take practical steps to uplift your spirits. If your problem is weighing heavily, change your surroundings -- take a walk, read a good book, play with your kids or your pet, listen to your favorite music. Do anything that will lift your spirits and raise your energy so you can be more effective.

While you're in your different surroundings, remember a time when you faced another problem, made a good decision and got the outcome you wanted. Connecting with that feeling will empower you to meet challenges and make good decisions every time.

3. Be clear about the outcome. Before you move toward a solution, you must be totally clear about the result you want. If you don’t have a clear, precise vision of the outcome, you will waste a lot of time and energy in the process. Ask yourself this question: what is the result I want to create? Once you are clear about the outcome, it’s time to focus on the solution.

4. Focus on the solution, not the problem. There is always more than one solution but you won't see any of them if you are only focused on your problem. Begin by brainstorming the possibilities and writing them down. If you get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, you will literally ‘take a load off your mind’ and find the focus you need to clearly consider your options.

5. Consider your options. Once you are fully focused on the solution, it's time to consider your options so you can decide which course of action to take. In order for your options to become clear, list the criteria that must be met to guarantee you will be happy with the result...that you will get the outcome you want. Identify your criteria and write them down.

When you've made your list check it over to be sure you don't have criteria that are unreasonable or can't be met. Delete the unimportant ones. If you don’t have enough criteria, there may be too many options to choose from. In this case, add more criteria to eliminate options that may result in mediocre results. Your ultimate goal is to get the results you want.
6. Make a decision and determine your action steps. When you complete steps 1-5 of this formula, your best choice...the decision you should make...will be clear. Once you’ve made your decision, outline the steps that will get you to your optimal result. Then determine when those steps must be taken to reach the result you want. This may be a one week process, one month or even one year. Whatever the time frame, begin those steps immediately.

Your challenge: Use this simple 6 step formula to meet your challenges head on and keep moving forward. Making your decision and taking action is the only way to do that. Remember that your car parked in the driveway is capable of taking you anywhere you want to go. It will not get you anywhere, though, until you put it in gear and follow your map to your destination.

©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

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Paralegal Profile: 13 Questions for Michelle Erdmann ACP, Fargo ND

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I work for the largest “firm” in the United States -- we have multiple offices in every state and territory. I am a Paralegal Specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of North Dakota.

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? I’ve always been intrigued by the law.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? Discovery/research. It’s one of the best educational tools to learn something new, and I love finding those little gems that can make or break a case.

4. What professional associations do you belong to? The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). I was a member of the Western Dakota Association of Legal Assistants (WDALA) until I moved to Fargo.

5. How has your membership benefited you? Networking opportunities have been fabulous - both personally and professionally, improved leadership skills, heightened awareness of the issues affecting the profession, and stellar continuing education.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? Yes. I am an advanced certified paralegal (ACP).

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Receiving NALA’s 2009 President’s Award. Oh, and working on cases that necessitated trips to Europe.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Legal podcasts, networking via social media, and online education.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? If not, do you see that in your future? Not yet, but I have finally been convinced to join Facebook - so look for that soon.

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? If you are anal about organization and details and can multitask and prioritize you are halfway there.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you?I’m a quote collector, so am inspired by many. One of my favorites is: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? Richard H. McGee II, Esq. - supervising attorney, mentor, friend. He shared his knowledge and expertise, and always encouraged and challenged me to expand my capabilities.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Seize every opportunity to learn something new.

Bonus…Just for Fun Fact: In my next life I want to be Giada De Laurentiis. I love to cook and I love Italian food.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Oprah's Got Nothing on You!

Michelle Erdmann ACP has dubbed me The Oprah of the Paralegal World so it seemed fitting to pass along this article by nationally known speaker Mark Levin, CAE CSP. I've had the privilege of hearing Mark speak at several conferenes for legal professionals...he's a riveting speaker who mixes humor with the important information for servicing your association's membership. Mark has great leadership tips at his Web site

Oprah's Got Nothing On You!
Mark Levin, CAE CSP

Have you ever wondered why Oprah Winfrey always shows up on those lists of “Most Admired Americans” or “Most Influential People?” After all, Oprah’s not a world leader or famous scientist, she’s a Talk Show host! Why would that make her “admired” or “influential?” (Of course, giving cars away to your audience doesn’t hurt your ability to be liked and admired).

One of the reasons that she’s so esteemed is that, if you really analyze it, Oprah doesn’t have a talk show- she has listening show. Watch her on her show, then compare her to other “talk show” hosts like David Letterman or Conan O’Brien (who is no Jay Leno, much less a Johnny Carson, in my opinion). Anyway, guests on the Letterman or O’Brien show sit on a chair off to the side while the host sits center stage behind a (raised) desk. There’s no question about where the “power” is on those sets.

Now watch Oprah. Her guests are on a couch, literally inches away from Oprah. She gets eye to eye with them, and then she uses one of her most powerful secrets to success. Frequently, after her guest has made a comment, Oprah will begin her comment with something like “well, you said….,” – and then she uses her guest’s exact words before she starts to give her opinion. When someone hears you use their exact own words back to them, the only conclusion they can draw is – she must have been listening!

And that’s what people value, what they treasure - the feeling that what they say to you is important enough that you really listen to them. It’s a simple technique, and you don’t need to use it every time you want to say something, but if you want to build some real trust and effective communication in your workplace (or your home, for that matter), then build a reputation as someone who listens – to everyone.

Oprah does it, and it seems to be working out pretty well for her, don’t you think?

Mark Levin, CAE, CSP, is an internationally respected speaker and author who specializes in leadership development and membership consulting to hundreds of organizations throughout the world. He can be reached via his website at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Which comes first: Paralegal Job or Paralegal Experience?

Looking for a job following graduation from a paralegal program can be daunting. Firms won't hire you because you have no experience. You can't get any experience unless you get a job. In other words, you can't win for losing!

I received this question from a subscriber this week:

Dear Vicki,

I enjoyed listening to your broadcast on the Legal Talk Network and I found your show/advice very informative and helpful. I have a bachelor's degree and earned a paralegal certificate from an ABA approved paralegal program in 2008. My job search for a paralegal position has not gone well because all the paralegal jobs in my practice area of interest, Intellectual Property (Patent Law), require work experience. My paralegal program did not have an internship program.

How do I get the work experience in my practice area of interest?
This not an unusual situation to be in. Here's my response...the advice would be the same regardless of the practice area.

Thanks for your kind words about The Paralegal Voice...glad you liked it.

Your question about getting work in your practice area without having practical experience is a common one. You have the education, but no way to demonstrate that you can do the work in the very specialized area of Intellectual Property ... made even more specialized if you're looking at patent law.

Patent firms are not inclined to hire people right out paralegal school to work in patent law. Quite frankly, they do not usually hire attorneys to work in this niche unless they have some patent law classes under their belt or an engineering degree. They expect any paralegals they hire to bring strong skills to the table.

The best path is to get some experience...any experience and in any practice area...first. Do not hold out for a patent paralegal position. Target a firm that does IP or patent law work and take any paralegal job they offer. If that doesn't work, you should get a job with any firm you can just to get paralegal experience.

If you do work in a firm that does IP or patent law, you can ask for extra assignments in that area. This may have to be on your own time, but it will be worth it. If you have no access to IP work, do your job well and take every classes you can that will help you learn more about the practice area. Continuing education is key.

Good luck with your paralegal career! As always, I'm...

Dedicated to your success!

Vicki Voisin, ACP
Your Paralegal Mentor
Ethics Expert, Speaker and Author

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ethics Tips: How Do You Close and/or Destroy the Client Files:

Are the filing cabinets at your firm filled to capacity? Is the closed file storeroom (aka dungeon) bursting at the seams with over-stuffed Bankers Boxes? Is the cost of offsite storage playing havoc with the budget?

It may be time to re-think your firm's closed file policy. Transitioning from paper files to digital files may be the answer - destroying files may be another. There are ethical considerations for both and they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

It is the general consensus, though, that every law firm must have a file closure and destruction policy that is in writing, understood by all employees, and followed at all times.

As with everything legal, there are ethical duties to be considered when you close or destroy client files. For purposes of this article, discussion focuses on the American Bar Association's Model Rules. They include:

  • Rule 1.6 Confidentiality of Information
  • Rule 1.15 Safekeeping Property

Before tackling the Model Rules, please note the following excerpts from ABA Informal Opinion 1384 'Disposition of a Lawyer's Closed or Dormant Files Relating to Representation of or Services to Clients:

A lawyer does not have a general duty to preserve all of his files permanently.

Clients and former clients reasonably expect from their lawyers that valuable and useful information...will not be prematurely and carelessly destroyed...

The Code of Professional Responsibility does not set forth particular rules or guidelines on the subject. (...there is not a specific time during which a lawyer must preserve all files and beyond which he is free to destroy all files.) Do note that some state bars have specific retention periods for files.

Model Rule 1.6 Confidentiality of Information states that a lawyer may not reveal information related to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent. It is for this reason that the client's files cannot be unceremoniously dumped in the trash. Instead, the lawyer must take steps to shred or burn the file contents.

Model Rule 1.15 Safekeeping Property states that the lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons in a lawyer's possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer's own property. Valuable client property must be promptly delivered to a former client or safeguarded indefinitely. The best practice is to return this property at the time the file is closed. It MUST be returned before the file is destroyed. This includes all original documents such as notes, mortgages, estate planning documents, and other personal property.

If any unrecorded documents are discovered at the time the file is closed, the lawyer should take immediate steps to correct this oversight.

The client's property should be returned when representation is terminated because this will be the time when it is easiest to locate the client. This may not be simple five, ten or fifteen years down the road. If the client cannot be located and the property cannot be returned, it must be kept indefinitely.

Rule 1.15(a) states that records of trust account funds must be kept for five years. This time period varies from state to state.

Note that Model Rule 1.16(d) Declining or Terminating Representation also applies here.

The time to obtain the client's consent regarding the destruction of the client's file is at the beginning of representation. The firm's policy should be clearly stated in the engagement letter and it should be signed by the client. It would be best if engagement letters were kept in a separate location from the clients' files so that there would be a permanent record of consent.

The time to prepare for the destruction of the file is when it is actually closed. At this time, the lawyer or an experienced paralegal should review the file and draft a memo noting the review has taken place. The paralegal can also be sure that all client property has been returned and, if necessary, obtain a receipt for the property. The date for destroying the file should be logged. If this is all done properly, no further review should be required at the time the file is destroyed. By following this policy, a great deal of time will be saved. It is not fun...and it is also time review a nasty thirty-year-old file.

Some files should never be destroyed. This would include information the lawyer knows may be necessary for the assertion or defense of the client's position when the statutory limitations period has not expired. The lawyer may also want to keep a file that would help with similar matters in his practice or assist the lawyer if the client should allege malpractice or professional misconduct in the future. Some states require that files related to issues involving minors not be destroyed.

A closed file log should be maintained. This log should also indicate when the file is destroyed. This information should be kept indefinitely.

Conversion of files to electronic format is an option. However, Model Rule 1.15 still applies and the attorney must preserve original documents that were provided for safekeeping. In addition, the file may have to be turned over to the client at some time in the future so old versions of software may have to be maintained to be sure that the electronic records may be accessed or printed.

Your challenge: The rules for closing and/or destroying client files vary from state to state. Be sure to review your state's Model Rules and ethics opinions regarding this issue. Then determine if your firm has a policy that sets forth its procedure for closing and destroying files. If it does, be sure the policy is followed by all employees. If it does not, take an active part in drafting that policy and putting the procedure in place. This is an important issue and one in which a paralegal can play a vital role.

©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

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yes...Courts Can Demonstrate Humor

I love it when the Court demonstrates a sense of humor.

The following is from Fisher v Lowe, 122 Mich App 418, 333 NW2d 67 (1983) and came to me via
We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.

A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree's behest;

A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy's crumpled crest;

A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;

A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.

Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court's decree.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Paralegal Voice: "Virtual Paralegals"

The second episode of The Paralegal Voice: "Virtual Paralegal”, co-hosted by Vicki Voisin and Lynne DeVenny, is now available at LegalTalkNetwork.

This episode, featuring virtual lawyer Stephanie Kimbro, owner of Virtual Law Office Technology and Kimbro Legal Services, and virtual paralegal Denise Annunciata, owner of Virtual Paralegal Services and LeapLaw, as the expert guests, explores what it takes to work as a virtual paralegal or legal assistant, and provides insight into the qualities that you need to succeed in this growing specialty area.

In this episode:

■ Why Stephanie Kimbro started her virtual law practice
■ How Denise Annunciata started her virtual paralegal business
■ Desired traits for a virtual paralegal, including education & experience
■ Recommended basic software applications
■ Maintaining confidentiality & attorney supervision
■ Practice & social media tips

Special thanks to the show's sponsors: Teris, Clio, NALA and West Livenote.

As a bonus, we are providing the following Internet resources:

“Financing Your Virtual Legal Assistant Business” by Halo Secretarial Services

“Getting by with a little help…from a virtual assistant”, Your ABA

“Home Office Lawyer” blog by Grant Griffiths

International Virtual Assistants Association

International Association of Virtual Office Assistants

“Outsourcing for Solos and Small Firms: Virtual Paralegals

“The Virtual Assistant: Every Lawyer Needs One”, Law Practice Today


“Virtual Assistance for a Virtual Law Practice” by Virtual Law Office

“Virtual Help: An Outsourcing Relationship With a Virtual Assistant Can Complete Your Team”, Law Practice Today

“Virtual Paralegals Manage Cases at a Distance”, Legal Technology