Thursday, October 22, 2009

Leadership Tip: What Do Your Members Want? Ask Them!

A key responsibility of leaders of any group is to provide its members with what they really want. If their needs and goals aren't met, they'll let their memberships lapse and new people probably will not join.

How can you determine those needs and goals? It's simple: use a survey to ask them!

Surveys provide a way to ask all your members, even prospective members, what they're looking for so you are able to design your programs and services to meet those needs. You can do this with little effort and without spending a dime.

There is a f.r.e.e site you can use: Survey Monkey has a no-cost service that allows for up to 100 responses. It's simple to use. You just set up your account, choose your survey template, enter your questions and then provide a link by email for responses. It's that easy.

While this is a simple process, there are some things you should give some thought to before you send the survey.

Think about ONE outcome you want from the survey. Do you want to know which newsletter title resonates best with your members? Do you want to know which location for your annual meeting they prefer? Do you need to know what educational programs they think would best benefit them?

Once you know the outcome you're seeking, you'll be able to design questions that provide you with insight into their thoughts and opinions.

This is important because you want your survey to be brief and to the point. People are busy and don't want to spend a lot of time answering your questions, nor do they have that time to give you.

Don't overdo it! There is only so much information your members can give you. Don't abuse their good nature by sending surveys every week or even every month. Send no more than one survey every three months. Every six months is really best.

Don't send surveys that are too long. Ask just enough questions to get the information you need and no more. A one or two question survey will be enough if you ask the right one or two questions. If it's short, they won't hesitate to begin it and they'll be more likely to finish it.

Design your questions so that answering them takes minimal effort and thought. You might begin with a multiple choice question, then a simple 'yes' or 'no' question, and the perhaps one open-ended question asking them to share their thoughts.

Don't underestimate the importance of thoroughly thinking through the questions you ask. You want to be sure you get everything you need at one time since you can't send another out the next day when you realize you 'forgot' to ask something.

Review and proofread carefully. Once you've designed and set up your survey, be sure to take a break and come back later to look it over one more time before you distribute it. It's a good to have someone else look at it, too. Mistakes and typos are distracting and diminish the credibility of your survey.

Distribute the survey to your members. This step is as simple as sending an email to your membership list with a link to the survey. Let them know what you want to accomplish with the survey and also let them know how long it will take them to complete it. If they know that there are only "X" number of simple questions that will take them less than "X" seconds to answer, they'll more likely to respond immediately.

What do you do with the results? First, the entire Board should analyze them and then they should be reported to your membership. Your next step depends on the nature of your survey. If it's a survey to choose the name of your newsletter or the location of a seminar, go with the majority. If your survey asks about educational programs your members want or if they will tolerate an increase in dues, remember that they have their individual interests in mind. The Board must determine what is in the best interests of the entire membership.

Surveys can be a wonderful tool for determining your member's needs and goals. If you design your questions carefully and keep them simple, they will tell you what they want. This is a wonderful way to keep your members happy and to attract new members to your organization.

©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 weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. More information is available at

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Thirteen Questions for Cindy Arvanites RP PACE Registered Paralegal

Cindy Arvanites, RP PACE Certified Paralegal, is an active member of the San Francisco Paralegal Association. Thanks, Cindy, for your contributions to the promotion of the paralegal profession...and for letting everyone get to know you a bit better by answering the Paralegal Mentor's Thirteen questions!

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I work for a technology company in Northern California and I am a Senior Litigation Paralegal.

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? It chose me! I started as a temp doing document coding, but was so intrigued by what I saw the paralegals doing that I decided to take the steps necessary to become one.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? I focus mainly on the discovery process so I absolutely love interacting with company employees from all over the world, interviewing them and collecting data. I have met so many diverse and wonderful people that it makes the difficulties of information collection well worth the effort.

4. What professional associations do you belong to? I am a member of the San Francisco Paralegal Association (SFPA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

5. How has your membership benefited you? To me, being successful and staying contemporary in my job is all about networking with my peers. And there is no better way to do that than by attending functions put on by local and national associations – I try to participate as much as possible.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? I am a PACE Registered Paralegal (“RP”).

7. What has been the highlight of your career? I was very honored to win the NFPA Paralegal of the Year award in 1998 and the SFPA President’s Award in 2008. Both awards mean a great deal to me.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? In my world of litigation, eDiscovery trends and computer forensics are the hot topics right now.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? I absolutely LOVE Facebook (but always try to follow Vicki’s guidelines about being mindful of who might see my public information and so I always try to use common sense rules in my postings.)

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? Always stay current – don’t rest on your “institutional knowledge” or your standard ways of doing things. Stay on top of the trends, finding ways to challenge yourself and to keep your skills fresh.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? “You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” (Rosalynn Carter)
12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? I think the secret of my success comes through my clear and concise communication style, which can be traced back to one particular High School English class.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Take heed of the old saying “Do what you love and love what you do”. Make sure that you find your niche in the legal world…and then own it!

Bonus…Just for Fun Fact: I am an avid scrapbooker and I love to spend time in my crafts room creating fun pages that capture the wacky antics of my two kids.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Small World? Make It Big!

If you've attended a Paralegal Mentor Mastermind Call, you've heard me describe how 'I live in a small town and work in a small law office...yet I made my world large through my membership in my state and national association.'When I became acquainted via social networking with Melissa Hinote CP, I realized that her she is just beginning her paralegal career and her experience mirrors mine somewhat so I asked her to write about 'making her world large.' I think you'll enjoy her excellent article. Also, be sure to note Melissa's blog at and connect with her on Twitter as @melihi.

By Melissa Hinote, CP

I am a small town, small firm paralegal. If you have ever worked as a paralegal in a small town, you understand just how tiny your world can be. Some days, my attorney is the only legal professional with whom I have any contact.

Thankfully, I have learned that a small physical location does not necessarily mean small connections.

I majored in English in college, so the research, writing and analysis my job requires are all right up my alley. I enjoy my role, but I am the only paralegal in my entire town. Sometimes, this fact makes me feel cut-off from and insignificant to the rest of the legal community. I realized shortly into my career that I would have to put in extra effort if I wanted to stay connected.

My first step in doing so was an accident. I joined Twitter to communicate with friends but was almost immediately introduced to the active online legal community. In fact, Twitter introduced me to Vicki Voisin and several other paralegals, lawyers, and other legal professionals with whom I am now acquainted. I signed up for Vicki’s free Paralegal Mentor Mastermind calls and began reading legal blogs.

Before long, I started my own blog, Paralegalese. Just like that, the online legal community opened up to me with all of its vast information, knowledge and perspective. The Internet has allowed me to add my voice to nationwide conversations regarding the direction of legal services, the role of paralegals, and breaking news in the legal world.

In May 2009 I achieved the Certified Paralegal designation offered by NALA. Then I joined NALS. I am now a member of my local affiliates for both organizations. These groups keep me connected with legal professionals who I may not see every day, but with whom I can share information and experiences directly.

Both organizations have proved fruitful. If I have a question, need a form, or just need to vent, I now have a local legal family for these things. From my first awkward moment as the new girl at a meeting, these people have been there with open and inviting arms, an array of advice, and hard-won experience.

My firm is not large, nor is my lawyer’s practice. But my legal community is quite expansive. If I had never fallen into the Twitter legal world, never started a blog, never joined my local professional organizations, I might still be that lonely paralegal in my small town, disconnected from the many opportunities and connections out there. As it stands, I have a small but loyal group of blog readers, online friends who offer advice, encouragement and news, and several local paralegals who care about my success the same way I care about theirs.

With a little effort and sincerity, you can find great networks to act as sources of encouragement, information, and advice. If ever your world seems small, just add effort. It will double in size.

****Melissa Hinote is a NALA Certified Paralegal working for a solo practice attorney in a rural Alabama farm town. Her blog 'Paralegalese...promoting, encouraging, and discussing the role of the paralegal through a daily dose of anecdote" is at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Paralegal Perception: Does the stigma of 'simply failed lawyers' apply?

Two of my favorite paralegal bloggers recently posted articles with similar themes that really made me think.

Before I tell you about their posts, you should be aware that both are college graduates and both have paralegal certifications. They’re literally paralegal dynamos who have passion for the paralegal profession. They could never be considered ‘second rate’ professionals.

Melissa Hinote CP penned The Compliment That Wasn’t at her blog, Paralegalese. Melissa is a paralegal (the only paralegal) in a small town in rural Alabama. Recently a well-meaning person tried to pay her a compliment: You are too smart for this job!

Actually, Melissa was too smart to interpret this as a compliment:

“You are too smart for this job”, however nicely intended, still comes across as slightly insulting when the person you are saying it to loves the career she has chosen and finds her daily work both challenging and interesting.’
Then, more recently, Lynne DeVenny NCCP who blogs as ExpertParalegal posted UK Paralegals Struggle to Overcome Perception as “Failed Lawyer” where she quoted an editorial written by Husnara Begum at Lawyer 2B regarding the view of the paralegal profession in the United Kingdom:

Paralegals have always been regarded as the poor relations of the UK legal family. But thankfully the negative labels that have long been associated with paralegalling are gradually being peeled away.

The article continued:

Isn’t it about time that paralegals were seen as professionals in their own right ant not simply as failed lawyers?

Lynne noted that Begum acknowledges she’s re-thinking her perception of paralegals as ‘not good enough to secure training contracts’, and that being a paralegal is a valuable and valid alternative to becoming a lawyer.

Husnara really needs to re-think this issue, as does anyone else who thinks considers ‘paralegal’ to be a to be a label that says 'not quite good enough.'

This is how it is really is: paralegals are paralegals because they have chosen to be paralegals.

Paralegals love the law but do not want to practice fact they do not want to practice medicine, nor do they want to be accountants or firefighters or policemen or...the list goes on and on.

They haven’t ‘settled’ for the job of paralegal, they have chosen a challenging profession that requires a great deal of skill, discipline and dedication. Are they ‘not smart enough’ to be lawyers? That's not the issue. They have chosen to be paralegals.

Are nurses 'not smart enough’ to be doctors?

Is a teacher who chooses to teach in elementary school ‘not smart enough’ to teach at the college level?

Is a lawyer who chooses to practice in a small firm ‘not smart enough’ to work at a large firm?

Is a lawyer who chooses not to practice law at all but, instead, to pursue a different course of work that utilizes his or her lawyer skills, ‘not smart enough’ to practice law?

'Smart enough' has nothing to do with it. It’s all about choices. Choosing to work as a paralegal is not an alternative to becoming a lawyer, any more than choosing to work as a nurse is an alternative to becoming a doctor. Instead, these are valid choices to work in valid professions.

As Melissa says so well, “ job requires me to become proficient in areas where my attorney supervisor may not be so proficient. He should be an expert on the law, absolutely, takes more to run a law office than legal expertise. While I work under his supervision...if he knew it all or could do it all, he would never have hired me.”

Lynne ended her post with this thought:

To see the words ‘stigma” and “failed” associated with the choice to work as a paralegal in any country is an unpleasant eye-opener for me, and means there is still a lot of work to be done to recognize the integral role that educated, intelligent and highly skilled paralegals play in the practice of law today.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if only lawyers worked in law offices? That idea makes me smile! It takes a team to run a law practice...and paralegals are an essential part of the legal team.

The general public may forever be in awe of lawyers (and doctors, too) and regard anyone who works with them as someone who couldn’t quite cut it as a lawyer. This just isn’t so. First of all, not everyone in this world wants to be a lawyer. Second, the law firm is a team of equals who do different work. Every single person working on the legal team is a crucial contributor to the firm’s success.

What can paralegals do about this perceived perception? Continue to pursue continuing legal education, continue to act as a professional, and, above all, continue to stress their dedication to the success of the legal profession.

The paralegal profession isn’t about failing; it’s about choosing...and doing a darned good job at what we do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Are You Using Lists to Organize Your Time?

Writing things down is an important step in time organization. It is especially important for busy paralegals who may be juggling lots of cases and tasks.

This helps your memory do a better job and it frees your mind for big picture thinking. Once you have things on paper, you won't worry so much about the details.

There are three types of lists you absolutely must use to organize your time effectively:

1. Master Lists. Use master lists as a ‘brain dump’ where you put ideas you want to pursue in the future, projects you may need to tackle, deadlines you may need to meet, or goals you might want to reach.

You may have several master lists going at one time and you may work off them for a long time. For instance, I have a master list of things to do in our house that is ongoing. As we cross things off, new things are added.

2. To-Do Lists. Your to-do lists have a time deadline and may be for things you’re doing monthly, weekly or weekly.

You might use your monthly to-do list for broad goals, such as ‘locate all expert witnesses for the Smith case.’

Your weekly to-do list would then include 4 or 5 steps you need to take to locate the expert witnesses, with the idea being that if you do the 4 or 5 steps each week, you’ll meet your goal of having the expert witnesses lined up by the end of the month.

Your daily to-do lists would then include the 5 or 6 steps you intend to complete in the week, but spread out on a daily basis so you have only one or two steps to do in a day.

Be careful with the to-do list, though, and limit it to no more than 6 items so you don’t become overwhelmed by all you have to do. A list that is too long may keep you from starting the list at all or leave you frustrated when you don't get everything done.

3. Checklists. Checklists are for items you can check off. They’re ideal for anything you do on a regular basis, such as routine business tasks. They’re excellent for packing for trips or steps that might need to be taken in your absence from the office.

Checklists are used on an ongoing basis so you’ll need to keep them where they’re easy to find, such as in a spiral notebook or a three ring binder.

The goal is to use the right list for the right task. Once you're in the habit of making lists and then focusing on the items on your list, you’ll find that three things will happen:
  1. Your time will be more organized.

  2. You’ll be focusing on important things that need to be done .
  3. You’ll be getting more done in less time.

3 checklists + 3 results = getting out of overwhelm and enjoying more peace in your life.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paralegal Pens 'This Night Wounds Time'

This Night Wounds Time: The Mysterious Disappearances of Stacy Madison and Susan Smalley is a recently released self-published non-fiction/true crime book by Shawn Sutherland, a Dallas TX area paralegal who has worked in patent law for 16 years.

Madison and Smalley were seniors at Newman Smith High School in Carrollton TX when they disappeared on March 20, 1988. Sutherland, a 1982 graduate of Newman Smith, was home on break during his last semester at Abilene Christian University when he heard police were searching for two missing Newman Smith Students.

Sutherland didn't pay a lot of attention to the case until he returned home a few months later and saw one of the many missing posters that were plastered all over Carrollton. He recognized Susan Smalley, the restaurant hostess 'whose smile and friendly conversation made him forget his worries about grades, tests, graduation and the hope of finding a job.'

“Staring back at me from that piece of paper was a blonde I did not recognize. The other face, though, I knew instantly,” Sutherland wrote in the first chapter. “The smile was unmistakable. It was the same one that had lifted my spirits that freezing cold night earlier in the year.”

Sutherland's chance restaurant encounter with Susan Smalley left such a lasting impression on him that he felt compelled to write the story of her still unsolved disappearance. He researched all available information and newspaper articles and also interviewed Susan and Stacie's families and friends.

While he admits he hasn't solve the mystery, it is Sutherland's goal to focus attention on their story in the hope that someone somewhere will remember something that will lead to the apprehension of the person responsible for their disappearance. He went the self-publishing route and is selling the book at cost, meaning he will make no profit.
“Somebody out there knows what happened to these girls. Somebody knows where they are. I think it’s obscene they’ve been missing this long,” he said. “My thoughts are parallel with the officer I interviewed. He would just like to have a little closure for the family. That would be my reward.”
As for the title of the book, Sutherland offers this poignant explanation:
Time is ultimately that place within the human psyche where hopes regarding the future, concerns for the present, and memories of things past reside in tandem. If ever there was a night in which time was forever wounded, it was the night on which Stacie Madison and Susan Smalley disappeared.

The girls’ community has never been the same and, in the 21 years that have elapsed since March 20, 1988, Stacie’s and Susan’s families have existed in the inescapable shadow of a mystery that remains unsolved.Their lives are unjustly and irrevocably altered by the unexplained events of that night.
Information on how to purchase the book can be found at (Source Carollton Leader Star; article by Senitra Horbrook)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lessons Learned from 30 Days of Blogging

If my math is correct, I'm slipping this post in with just four hours to go in Sandra Martini's 30 Day Blog Challenge. And what a challenge it's been!

As with all challenges, this one both taught me lessons and brought me revelations. Here are a few thoughts about both:

1) When I say I'm going to do something, then I do it no matter how tough it is. I've always known that but it was nice to see that that drive is still there.

2) It's time I dove into that huge file of 'blog ideas' and get them posted. My head is always spinning with ideas and I'm always making notes...time to do something with all of those.

3) I can post six articles in one day! While I'm not so sure this is a good idea because readers have a difficult time keeping up, it was nice to know that I can do this...and there's no reason why I can't sit down and write several posts in one afternoon.

4) It's OK to get a little help with those in re-purposed articles, guest articles, co-authored articles, and paralegal profiles.

5) The articles don't have to be perfect. For instance, I had soooooo much more to say about boosting your LinkedIn presence but seven strategies were enough. I'll save the others for another day.

And now that this post is more than 100 words long, I can it...and consider Sandy's challenge met. I'm done...and done is good enough.

Experts say that it takes 21 to 30 days to form a habit. I think I've formed the habit of blogging more...instead of just thinking about what I could blog. Thanks for the wake-up call, Sandy!

Seven Strategies to Boost Your LinkedIn Presence

This article is written under the assumption that you already have a LinkedIn account. If you do not, head on over to and set one up immediately.

It is important for everyone who wants to increase their professional visibility, whether they’re looking for a job or their goal is to network. Here are some tips for ensuring that your profile will be found by people searching LinkedIn:

1) Complete your profile 100%. None of the sections of your profile should be incomplete. Everything in your profile will increase the likelihood of your being found in the search results.

2) Be sure to display your personal photo. This shows that you are a real person and gives you social media credibility. Photos of your pets or your kids have no value on LinkedIn.

3) Use your profile headline for ‘branding.’ The space underneath your name is your ‘professional’ or ‘profile’ headline. It appears in search results next to your name, as well as next to any questions you ask or answer. If you are only putting your title and company name here, you are wasting the most important piece of real estate on your LinkedIn Profile. When someone finds you in a search result, this is the information they will use to decide whether or not they want to look at your profile.

4) List all Employers and Schools. When you’re listing your employment and education history, be sure to go beyond your current status. You will be located on LinkedIn through searches for company names and schools. If you use only your current employer or the university you graduated from, you may be missing out on a huge opportunity to be found. For this reason, go all the way back to high school.

5) List all your Websites. You can list three Web sites on your LinkedIn profile. Be sure to take advantage of that. Begin with your business or company Web site, then move on to your blog and then another social media Web site, such as Twitter or Facebook.

6) Add quality connections. Again, your connections lead to your being found on LinkedIn. When you do a search, you’ll see results from your network and vice versa. The more connections you have, the more search results you will appear in.

7. Update your status bar frequently. It’s preferable that you update your LinkedIn status bar every day or two, and certainly don’t let a week go by without doing this. LinkedIn suggests the following starts to your status: ‘working on...’ ‘traveling to...’ ‘looking for advice for...’ ‘reading...’ ‘looking for a job...’. The status bar demonstrates that you are serious about your profession...after all, this is the reason you’re on LinkedIn!

LinkedIn is the most important of all your social media networking sites. You should spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day on the site updating your profile and your status bar, joining groups, making connections and entering into discussions. Your daily investment of time on LinkedIn will give you the professional edge you’ve been looking for.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No Friends? No Tweets?

Tresa Baldas authored a terrific article titled ‘Companies say no to friending or tweeting at work’ published by on October 7, 2009.

Baldas points to studies that show a large portion of Corporate America is banning the use of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook in the workplace.

This ban has been slowly gaining ground and it’s no surprise. How can anyone get any work done if they’re constantly checking their Facebook profile or Tweeting about their lunch? Is there really time to play Mafia Wars or write a blog post? Probably not.

As Baldas points out:

According to the latest survey of more than 1,400 U.S. companies, more than half (54%) said they prohibit employees from visiting sites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace while on the clock. The survey, released on Oct. 6 by Robert Half Technology, a provider of information technology staffing services, was based on telephone interviews with U.S. companies of 100 or more employees.

Another recent survey delivered even graver news for the social media world. According to an August survey by ScanSafe, a Web security provider, 76% of companies are now choosing to block employees' use of social networking — up 20% from February — which is now a more popular category of sites to block than those involving shopping, weapons, sports or alcohol.

According to Baldas, law firms have also joined in the trend. Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg has blocked all access to Facebook but still allows access to Twitter. Gunster Yoakley & Stewart of West Palm Beach, Fla., blocks Facebook and Twitter for its entire support staff, including secretaries and legal assistants, but lets lawyers use the social media tools.

These bans have merit. Access to the social media sites leads to reduced productivity, possibile data theft, liability risk, and threats to an entity's image.

There’s one important issue here that's not mentioned in the article written by Ms. Baldas:

The social media sites firms are banning have become invaluable tools for researching and vetting. If paralegals do not have access to the sites, they will be unable to check the credentials of expert witnesses or jurors or clients. If only lawyers are allowed to use the social media tools, the firm is missing an important piece in the utilization of paralegals. This one area where paralegals can take on a huge amount of work, thus freeing the attorney to do other more substantive work. The is the true purpose of the employment of paralegals.

The answer? All or nothing just will not work. Every law firm should put a policy in place that clearly states how the social networking sites are to be utilized and the policy must be enforced. Employees should not use social media as a means of play until they are off their employer’s clock and on their own time and dime. However, access to social media sites should be allowed in the work place for legitimate purposes.

Why Am I Following @ChristeWilson?

Of all the social media sites, Twitter is my favorite, especially since I downloaded Tweetdeck (it's free, folks!) and learned to better manage the barrage of Tweets that come my way every day.

For the unitiated, Twitter is a social networking service that allows users to send messages (called 'tweets') that are 140 characters in length to their friends (called 'followers'). This 140 word format is unique to Twitter and allows for quick, informal sharing of information with people you wouldn't normally include in emails or instant messages. This expands your circle of contacts to a community of like-minded people. That community is growing by leaps and bounds...Twitter has well over 5 million users.

Once your Twitter account is set up and you get the hang of sending your Tweets, you will be inundated by people who want to 'follow' you. At that point, you can make two choices: either allow or block the person and whether or not you will 'follow' the person back.
The decision to either allow or block the person is pretty simple: Do they look like a spammer?Do they seem to be offering information you're interested in? Are they fully clothed? Are their posts free of nasty words? You can check all of that quickly by clicking on the link in the message you receive about the follow.

The decision to follow or not is a bit more complicated. My example is a message I received recently that @ChristeWilson was following me. The first thing I look for is whether or not the potential follower uses his or her given name. @ChristeWilson passed that first hurdle, so I followed the link to check her out.

@ChristeWilson passed the second 'test' in that she had posted her picture. She was also following either people or sites that I was familiar with. When I first checked, @ChristeWilson was following less than ten people. Today she's up to 58.

Unfortunately, @ChristeWilson has Tweeted just four times. It appears she may be in school (a paralegal program?) in Ohio so she's probably busy. It's a good thing that I have a soft spot for paralegal students...and also note she is trying to quit smoking...YES!!!

There are other things I usually check when I'm deciding if I will follow someone:
  • Are their tweets relevant and interesting? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here (as I did @ChristeWilson) and check later to see how they're doing. It sometimes takes people a while to get started.

  • Are they tweeting about personal stuff or are they offering information and articles? Some personal information is good for relationship building but too much is a good reason not to follow.

  • Are they engaged in conversations? Do they share common interests? These are important to my decision.

  • Are they posting least once a day? Are they posting too much? Legal related peeps are my favorites.

  • Do they have a Web site or a blog link? I like to check that to see what they're writing. If their blog is interesting, I may subscribe to that.

  • What is their following to follower ratio? @ChristeWilson's was low but that was because she was just getting started. Some will have 10 followers but are following 1,114...that's a bad sign and I will probably block them. Some will have 25,321 followers and are following 25,322...that's a bunch and it's a sure bet that they're not going to be giving me much individual attention. I probably won't block them but I won't bother to follow, either.

@ChristeWilson is off to a great start. She's using her given name (no spaces and no symbols) and also her picture. Hopefully she'll get her profile posted soon and increase the number of Tweets.

I'm watching, @ChristeWilson, and wishing you lots of success with Twitter!

What Do You Really Want To Do?

This post is a reprint of and article I wrote for the July 10, 2008 issue of Paralgal Strageties. It featured my dear neighbor, Edith Gilbert. Sadly, Edith passed away on July 31, 2009 and I miss her terribly. She was a wonderful neighbor, friend and mentor. The consolation is that until her death at age 91, Edith lived in her own home and drove herself everywhere, was at her computer answering e-mail and writing every day, was still launching new products, and still had a merry twinkle in her eye. I've always said Edith Gilbert was a wonderful role model for aging gracefully.

Isn't it interesting that some of life's most remarkable experiences end up being right next-door? Edith Gilbert has been my dear neighbor for 30+ years and I long ago decided I want to be like her when I grow up!

Edith is an author who focuses on wedding planning, party giving and modern etiquette. Her articles have been published in the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Her books include The Complete Wedding Planner and Easy Entertaining, among others. Of course she's a fabulous hostess...dining at her home is like being invited to the White House! The food, the flowers, the china, the place cards ... everything is elegant and perfect.

After all that, she had every right to rest on her laurels and bask in her success...but not Edith! In her ninth decade, she launched a new product she dubbed Plum Crazy ...a conserve that is to die for when served with meats or over ice cream. This summer she's following up with Tiny Tim's Plum Topping.

Edith is one of the busiest people I know. She's spends hours at her computer writing, answering her e-mail and maintaining her web site. She's always setting new goals. Thinking about Edith, her accomplishments and her never-ending goals prompted today's feature article: What Do You Really Want To Do?

It's never too early...or too dream about your future and set goals. This helps you manage your time and think about your life. What would you like to do? What kind of person do you want to be?

Dreams are something you hope or wish for. Dreams may be practical or they may be outrageous and out of reach. Perhaps you'd like to learn to speak Italian. That would be practical. Perhaps you want to fly with the Blue Angels. That may be an impossible dream.

While a dream may turn into a goal, goals are different from dreams. A goal is something you want to achieve. Perhaps you want to own your own business, run for the House of Representatives, get an advanced certification or a Masters Degree. A goal may be more practical than a dream, but both are important.

Visualization is an important tool for reaching your goals and dreams. Visualization allows you to picture yourself in that moment. You visualize what the goal or dream will feel like, sound like, even smell like. Experts say that the better we are at visualizing, the more likely we'll reach our goals.

Making your goals a reality takes planning. Once you decide what you really want to do, you can't just leave your goals and dreams floating out in space. You have to plan how you will achieve them. Here's a piece of information about me that many of you may not know: I've run the Boston Marathon, not once but twice. In fact, I've run a total of twelve marathons. Did I just decide to run Boston and show up at the starting line in Hopkinton on Patriot's Day in 1991 and again in 1996? No! I established a goal, planned a training schedule, followed it to the letter, and gradually achieved a level of fitness that would allow me to complete the 26.2-mile course.

Another example of planning for a goal: My friend Christie recently hiked 110 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Did she just drive to Hot Springs NC, march to Clingman's Dome and then on to Fontana Dam? Hardly! She established a goal, she planned the route, and she trained by walking at least an hour every day. With a thirty-pound pack on her back, she put one foot in front of the other until she conquered the trail and achieved her goal.

What are your goals and dreams? Ben Stein (actor, comedian, all remember him from my very favorite movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off) said it best: "The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT." Right on, Ben!

To help you decide what you want, complete the following:
I want to improve ...

I want to get better acquainted with ...

I want to be better at ...

I want be more involved in ...

I want to visit...

I want to learn how to ...

In five years, I want to be...
How to 'unravel' your goal. It would be my hope that you would achieve every one of your goals and dreams. You can, of course, but for this exercise, I want you to pick one. Then ask yourself, "What do I need to do to make my goal happen?"

For instance, your goal may be to improve your trial practice skills. That's the large goal that must be broken down into smaller goals to accomplish it. I call this 'unraveling' your goal. You might take an on-line course, you might volunteer to assist at a trial, you might do some research or ask a co-worker for tips.

Then take one of those steps and unravel it further. If you decide to take an on-line course, you will need to research available courses, chose the one that best suits your needs, register, set aside time for participation and study, complete the course and then let your employer know about your new skills.

Once unraveled and broken into manageable steps, you can move on to accomplish your goal by scheduling each step in your planner.

Choose a goal and unravel it so you know what steps you must take to achieve it. Then schedule appointments with yourself to complete those steps. In other words: Decide ... Plan ... Unravel ... Schedule ...Go for it!!!

One more thing: Does anyone know how I join the Ben Stein Fan Club?

Working Overtime May Not Be The Best Use of Your Time.

Are you always the last one to leave the office at night? If you are, you may need to re-think how you spend your work day. Are you using your time wisely or are you wasting time needlessly because you think you can finish it later?

There will always be occasions when you will have to work overtime. Deadlines, rush jobs, special projects, and trials are a fact of life and often require professionals to work beyond 5:00 p.m. These special circumstances are not a problem. They happen, they pass and life returns to normal.

When these 'special circumstances' become habitual, when you're working overtime whether it's needed or not, when your whole life revolves around being at the office or texting on your BlackBerry, you may need to take a leap off the merry-go-round and reclaim your life.

Is your ego tied to working overtime? Sometimes we feel better about ourselves if we're giving 150% to the team, whether anyone else notices or not. Please give this some thought. Working long hours can lead to increased stress and burnout. This habit may also send you on a guilt trip because of it conflicts with family time. Weekends and evenings happen for a reason. Use them to restore your spirit and your energy.

Working overtime may foster procrastination. You may find that you're not productive during regular working hours because you have the option of finishing the work later. Your inclination to put off your work because the whole day and evening stretches before you will only lead to procrastination.

You may make more errors. You simply can't be your best 24/7. If you're consistently working overtime, the quality of your work may suffer. What's more, if you are working late on your own time, you may feel you're being taken advantage of and, therefore, justified in turning in a second rate performance.

Working overtime leads to increased interruptions. You'll always find something to do to fill the time you have, whether it's putting your nose to the grindstone and churning out the work or drifting around the office to chat about Big Brown's loss at the Belmont. When your work day has no definitive end time, you may also be more apt to tolerate unnecessary telephone calls and e-mail or interruptions by your co-workers. These all waste your time and keep you from getting your work done.

Other people's procrastination may rule your overtime. Some people simply cannot do their work unless they are up against a deadline. If your supervising attorney has this tendency, you're going to find yourself in Overtime Land all too often. If at all possible, do what you can to head off the crisis by completing some parts of the project ahead of time. You usually know what the procedure will require. Also, if you don't tolerate constantly being asked to work overtime, you may find that the last minute behavior changes.

There are two things you should consider:

First, you'll always fill the time you you'll probably get the same amount of work done whether you're working eight hours or twelve.

Second, you've heard that no one has ever had "I wish I'd spent more time at the office!" engraved on their tombstone. Life is simply too short to spend it all at work.
If you have no 'quitting time' your day will stretch on and on. You need a deadline. Make 5:00 p.m. your new deadline and stick to it.

How to Say 'Yes' Without Losing Your Sanity

When we were children, saying 'No' was never an option. Think about this: when you were a child, did you dare tell your parents or your teachers 'No'? Absolutely not! So it's ingrained in us to never refuse anyone and to always say 'Yes' when we're asked to do something.

Then came that awful 'Pick Me!' stage. This hit us in about the third grade when we gladly raised our hands and waved them wildly, just hoping we'd be picked by the teacher...even if being picked meant we had to do some work for her. We were pleasers. We wanted to be liked. Volunteering became a way of life.

Adulthood brought a whole new set of issues. Suddenly we were swamped with too much work and too many responsibilities. Most of us operate in a constant state of overwhelm and the demands for our help keep coming...from family, from friends, from co-workers and from the boss. We are pulled in a million different directions. We know the only way to untangle this mess is to stand up and say 'NO' very clearly and emphatically but we choke on that tiny word because, deep down inside, we think we have no right to say it.

What should we do? The answer is simple: Just say 'Yes' and make everyone happy!

I can hear all of you now: "Vicki...Are you crazy? I already have so much to do, I'm going bananas...and you want me to say 'Yes' to everything else?"

This is exactly what you should do. It's much easier to say 'Yes' but when you do that, you have to set boundaries. In fact, if you don't set boundaries, you will lose your sanity and any control you have over your life.

Consider this situation: It's the end of the month and you have huge deadlines looming. One of the partners in the firm shows up at your door with a project that has to be done immediately. Here's how you can say 'Yes'...

Yes...IF you give me access to a secretary.
Yes...BUT I can't work on that until this afternoon.
Yes...AND someone else will have to take care of the exhibits.
Yes...WHEN you give me all the information I need to do the job.
Yes...WILL YOU be able to help with some part of this?

This works in all sorts of situations. 'Yes, I can work at the registration desk at the seminar IF a slot is available for me on Friday from 9-11 a.m.' or 'Yes, I will donate food to the school festival BUT baking 100 cupcakes won't fit in my schedule so I'll have to bring something I can pick up at the deli.'

The key is to be cooperative and, at the same, come up with a situation that will work for you. This is much easier than saying 'No' and following that with an excuse. Now, I know excuses aren't required but there's hardly a person who can say 'No' without giving a reason. And no one wants to hear you're too busy or you don't have time. They will be much more willing to work with you if you give them options.

Don't forget to say 'Yes' to yourself. This 'Yes' is the most important one. We are all presented with opportunities and challenges that may seem scary or impossible because we'll have to step outside our comfort zone and leave our security blanket behind. Instead of accepting the challenge and embracing the journey, we hang on to the past and offer up excuses why we can't...not enough time, not enough ability, etc.

To move forward, to evolve, to become all that we can be, we have to say YES to the challenge. You may not be the person who can do this when you start but I guarantee you will grow and become that person. You do have the ability to reach the next level and you will rise to the occasion. But only if you say 'Yes' to yourself.

Be prepared to say 'Yes' the next time you're asked to help with a project...but be ready to set your boundaries and limitations. Then be open to new challenges and new journeys as they come your way. Choose greatness over mediocrity. Know that you have the ability and the capacity to take yourself to the next level, to do anything you want, to be anything you want...but only if you say 'Yes' to the journey. Do this for yourself.

5 Simple Tips to Add Hours to Your Day

The concept of time is both interesting and frustrating. There are 24 hours in every day, no more, no less. There is no way to beg, steal or borrow time. It cannot be saved or stretched or squeezed. Time is the same, day in and day out: it doesn't get any shorter, it doesn't get any longer.

Many people foolishly believe they can manage their time. This is impossible because time cannot be managed. All you can manage is the way you spend your time.

If you begin every day with a 'to do' list so long that you always run out of day before you run out of list, you need to take a step back and give some thought to how you can better manage the way you spend your time.

Here are five simple tips that will help you add more time to your day:

1) Determine what is important and what is not. Is your first inclination to take on additional responsibilities and then just scramble to get more done in the time you have? How can that possibly work? A day is still twenty-four hours long, no matter how much you have to do.

Time organization is not about getting more done in less time. It is about doing fewer things of greater importance in the time you have. You have to decide which things are important and which are not. Then eliminate the less important. Yes, this means deleting one obligation before you take on another.

2) Eliminate the 'leaks' in your day. Leaks are the distractions that sneak in and gobble up time that needs to be spent on those things you've decided are important. E-mail is one of the biggest distractions. Other examples are unnecessary meetings, telephone calls, cruising the Internet, and that co-worker who stops by your office with a question that will take "just a minute."

Quick...stop the leaks! The 'Do Not Disturb' button and 'Caller ID' program are there for a reason. Be sure to use them. Instead of checking e-mail as it comes in all day long, schedule a certain time for reading and responding to e-mail.

When someone wants 'just a minute' of your time, tell them that you have something important you are working on but you will get back with them later in the day. Every time you are interrupted or distracted, you are taken off task and it takes precious minutes to get back on course.

3) Have a home for everything. You waste precious time when you have to search for something that is lost. The items that travel with you wherever you go (your keys, cell phone, BlackBerry, purse, brief case, etc.) must be put in the same place every time, both at home and at work. If you do this, you will always know where they are when it's time to go.

It is also a good idea to staple papers together, rather than use paper clips. This avoids losing documents when the paper clips become tangled.

Never place large things on top of small things. I can almost guarantee that if you place a file on top of your daily planner, you will waste valuable time searching for that planner.

The key is to eliminate the need to be looking for anything.

4) Learn to say "No." It's not always easy to say 'No.' Often a request catches you off guard or you just hate to turn down someone you like and respect. Other times you may be confronted by people you just can't refuse, such as a boss or co-worker.

Remember, though, that saying 'No' to one thing allows you to say 'Yes' to something else. You do not need to offer excuses. Your time is yours and yours alone to spend how you want to spend it.

5) Take advantage of small bits of time. It is amazing what you can accomplish in five, ten or even fifteen minutes. Instead of wasting those small pockets of time, use them to make a phone call, write a memo, straighten your desk, etc.

You can also approach this from a different angle. If you have a large project you need to work on but don't feel you have the time to tackle the whole thing, start working on it for just a few minutes at a time. My personal favorite is a fifteen minute chunk of time. If you do this again and again, your project will be done before you know it.

Never forget that time is life! Time cannot be reversed or replaced. If you waste your time, you waste your life. If you master your time, you will make the most of every minute, every hour and every day. The minutes you save will add up to more hours in your day.

Grab a legal pad and write down all the things that take up your time every day. Include absolutely every activity. Once this is done, check off the things that you can eliminate. Make a commitment to get rid of the things that eat up major amounts of your day but are not important to you.

Remember, instead of doing more things, choose to do more important things. How can you save minutes that will add up to more hours in your day?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Top 10 Tips for Paralegals Working With Expert Witnesses

The October episode of The Paralegal Voice on Legal Talk Network focused on Working with Expert Witnesses and featured guest experts Brad Beehler, Esq. and Candy Reilly ACP. Following that episode, it seemed logical that my co-host Lynne DeVenny and I would collaborate on tips for working with expert witnesses for our readers. This article is the result of that collaboration.

For more information about the October episode of The Paralegal Voice, including a few great resource sites, follow this link. Guest expert Candy Reilly also responded to the Paralegal Mentor's Thirteen Questions here.

Top 10 Tips for Paralegals Working With Expert Witnesses
By Vicki Voisin ACP and Lynne DeVenny NCCP

Locating, vetting and preparing expert witnesses for trial is a crucial and often exciting part of a litigation paralegal’s job duties. Paralegals can provide substantial assistance when it comes to trial experts, including locating them, identifying and gathering documents for their review, and preparing them for trial.

Obtaining the best possible expert witnesses to support your firm’s allegations or defenses, and ensuring the best trial outcome possible, requires a concentrated and well-coordinated team effort on the part of the attorney and paralegal.

Working with expert witnesses is a complex aspect of litigation. Here are 10 basic tips to get you started:

1. Decide if experts are needed as early as possible in the case. Meeting with the attorney in the pre-litigation phase is the best time to do this. The most reputable experts are often booked months in advance. Waiting until the last minute can result not only in difficulty finding a qualified expert, but in much higher expert witness fees for emergency turnaround of case reviews and reports.

2. Determine exactly what kinds of experts are needed. In medical cases, it is especially important to hire an expert, usually a doctor, often with the same specialty or sub-specialty training as the doctor accused of malpractice, and who has knowledge of the standards of care in the community where the alleged negligence incurred.

3. Thoroughly vet any experts your firm is considering hiring – as well as the opposing party's experts, including via Google and social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Search any proposed experts' names in your firm’s legal case software and obtain a list of all cases where an expert’s name appears. It might be helpful to contact attorneys who were involved in those cases to get their perspective on the expert. Check your own experts' civil and criminal records to avoid nasty surprises. Ask your own experts if they know the opposing party's experts.

4. Keep a database of experts that your firm has worked with (and would work with again), as well as highly recommended experts from other sources, such as listservs; discussion groups; legal, medical and scientific publications; and referrals.

Just because you don’t use a highly recommended expert in one case doesn’t mean you might not want to use him in a future case. In addition to their contact information, save experts’ curriculum vitaes (“CVs”) that your firm has received, in a place where you can access them quickly for future reference.

5. Immediately ask for potential experts’ rate or fee sheets, CVs and a list of all cases they have provided testimony in. Provide the expert with a list of all parties involved in your case, including hospitals and corporate entities, and ask if they have any conflicts. Don’t reveal any information about your case that has not been approved by your supervising attorney.

6. Have your supervising attorney approve all written communications to expert witnesses, including letters and emails, as these may be discoverable. Do not send any materials to an expert that your supervising attorney has not reviewed and approved first. This is critical because unlike correspondence protected as work product, information sent to experts may be discoverable.

7. Send materials to experts in well-organized, easy-to-review formats, including indexes and tabs if sending materials in a notebook format. Remember, they are billing for their time, often at very high hourly rates, for case review. Ask the expert what he needs for review.

If the expert wants or will benefit from a summary of facts, evidence and/or deposition testimony, work with your supervising attorney to prepare it. Be aware that omission of critical documents may adversely affect the expert’s credibility and testimony.

8. Be aware of potential Daubert challenges regarding the relevance and admissibility of an expert’s testimony. Not only obtain copies of the expert’s published research, but find other applicable publications including peer reviews and research by other experts regarding the issue in dispute.

Don’t just look for information that supports your expert’s opinion and scientific data, but information that may not support it. You don’t want your attorney to be unpleasantly surprised if the other side produces information that may harm your expert’s testimony.

9. The attorney makes the final decision as to what opinions, if any, to obtain in writing from the expert. If one of your job duties is interviewing the expert, prepare questions pre-approved by your attorney, but don’t ask for any written opinions, even short emails, from the expert without the attorney’s instructions. Take detailed, accurate notes during any expert interviews and give them to the attorney for review.

10. Keep experts informed about the status of litigation and follow up with them regarding all relevant court deadlines, including submission of expert reports. Establish a good working relationship with your experts and offer assistance that makes their work on your firm’s case go as smoothly as possible.

BONUS TIP from Candy Reilly, ACP, a recent guest expert on The Paralegal Voice podcast "Working with the Expert Witness": Familiarize yourself with Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 26 – specifically Rule 26(a)(2) – Disclosure of expert testimony and Rule 26(a)(4) Trial Preparation: Experts and Rule 26(e)(2) Supplementing Disclosures and Responses.

©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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Thirteen Questions for Candy Reilly ACP

Candy Reilly ACP appeared as a guest expert on a recent episode of The Paralegal Voice on Legal Talk Network. The topic was 'working with expert witnesses.' Show notes are available at this link.
1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I work for the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of North Dakota as a Paralegal Specialist.

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? I have always loved the law and started out in the legal secretary program (way back in the 80’s) until my instructor encouraged me to join the ranks of the “new profession” known as “paralegals.” She was my first mentor.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? I like all aspects of my job but investigation and the discovery process are my favorites. I love trying to find the “smoking gun.”

4. What professional associations do you belong to? This year I am on “hiatus” and contemplating which memberships to renew. With my hectic work schedule, I need to find a balance in that aspect of my life as I have a hard time saying no to projects.

5. How has your membership benefited you? My membership in state organizations as well as NALA has benefited me by creating numerous networking opportunities, excellent educational opportunities and improved my leadership skills as well as generated friendships throughout the United States.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? CLA and CLAS in Litigation.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Being able to work on high-profile cases.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Technology, electronic discovery and the electronic courtroom.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? If not, do you see that in your future? Yes, I have a few social media sites I use as well look at others for discovery purposes.

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? Always think outside the box – dare to go one step further than you normally do on a project and above all, be organized. You will not only learn more but your attorney will appreciate the extra steps you take to accomplish a task.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? I love to collect quotes and have many favorites – this week my favorites are: “What you get by achieving your goal is not as important as what you become by achieving your goal” and “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? I attribute my success to the first attorney I worked with. He was my mentor and friend and taught me so many practical skills. He was always willing to let me take on any project and learn along the way.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Never stop learning or exploring opportunities within our profession.

Bonus…Just for Fun Fact: I love to design and create jewelry.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Thirteen Questions for Beth Nellis ACP

Beth Nellis has been active in the promotion of the paralegal profession for a number of years. Thanks, Beth, for letting everyone get to know you a bit better by answering the Paralegal Mentor's Thirteen questions!

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I am a self-employed paralegal contractor who has been working for Craddock Davis & Krause, LLP as the Oklahoma representative for Vanderbilt Mortgage & Finance, Inc. concentrating in foreclosure cases.

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? Since I was a young girl I had intended to pursue a legal career and fortunately was employed at Legal Aid of Western Oklahoma when the University of Oklahoma Law School opened its Paralegal Studies Program. Due to encouragement and support from the attorneys at LAWO I was able to continue working full-time while completing my courses.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? Variety—as a freelance paralegal I have enjoyed exposure to interesting cases and exceptional individuals throughout the US.

4. Do you belong to any professional associations? Yes: NALA, Oklahoma Paralegal Association and the Tulsa Area Paralegal Association.

5. How has your membership benefited you? Membership has provided contacts and networking relationships that have resulted many times in lifelong friendships and it has also enabled me to benefit from tremendous educational opportunities.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? Yes: I have completed the Advanced Certified Paralegal designation (Social Security Disability) and Certified Paralegal certification through NALA.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Being responsible for a Social Security Disability case from initial Intake Interview through the Appeal process and finally personally reporting the very positive outcome to the client. Not only was I able to assist someone in exceedingly difficult circumstances but I was allowed to use my education, training and experience as a paralegal to the utmost as a representative within the Federal Administrative System.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? I have noticed a marked increase in contracting (for obvious economic reasons) and as this has become a more accepted practice in my geographic area it has also led to an amazing dialogue between attorneys and the Courts concerning the possibility of limited “appearances” by paralegals at (unopposed) Motion Docket Hearings, etc.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? I am just beginning to explore this exciting resource and I want to thank you, Vicki, for your excellent presentation at the recent NALA Convention which has prompted me to become more involved. I am currently trying to develop a FaceBook account using (also my regular e-mail address).

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? Obtain as much education and practical skills especially any internship (even if it is on a strictly volunteer basis) as possible.

11. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? There have been so many remarkable people and influences in both my personal and professional life that it is impossible to select a particular event or person that is solely responsible for my success. However, completing the Legal Services Corporation’s Fundamental Advocacy and Skill Training in Washington, D.C. placed me firmly on the path that I have continued decades later—it gave me the tools and mindset to accomplish goals that originally were only dreams.

12. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Always challenge yourself by continuously raising the standards and revising the goals that you have previously set for yourself.

13. Is there a quote that inspires you? “I am still learning” Michelangelo

Bonus…Just for Fun Fact: I am horsecrazy: still “showing” usually in the Rusty Stirrup Division that I helped create for riders 35 and over, continuing as a Board member for the Oklahoma Hunter Jumper Association and caring for all three horses including my 32 year old retiree in the back pasture.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Paralegal Voice: Working with the Expert Witness

The latest episode of The Paralegal Voice “Working with the Expert Witness” with my co-host Lynne DeVenny, is now available at LegalTalkNetwork.

This episode, featuring attorney Brad Beehler, a managing partner at Morley Law Firm and a Board Certified Trial Specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and the Minnesota State Bar Association, and paralegal Candy Reilly, ACP, a paralegal with over 25 years of experience in civil litigation, as the expert guests, discusses working with expert witnesses and includes helpful advice regarding this key aspect of trial work.

In this episode:

■ The paralegal’s role in working with experts
■ Ways to locate expert witnesses
■ Checking for conflicts of interest
■ The Daubert standard and how to avoid Daubert challenges
■ Practice tips for working with experts

To listen to the recording of the show, follow this link.

To download the program to your MP3 player, click here.

In addition, here are several Internet resources about expert witnesses that you may find useful:

“The ‘Lectric Law Library’s Expert Witness & Consultants Reading Room”,

“A Paralegal’s Guide to Experts, Understanding Daubert and tips for finding qualified witnesses”, Legal Assistant Today,

“Tips Paralegals Can Use to Select Expert Witnesses”, SEAK,
“Working with an Expert Witness, the Seven Deadly Sins”,,

“More Tips for Working with Expert Witnesses”, The Trial Practice Tips Weblog (see also “experts” category for this blog),

Expert Witness Blog,

“As Easy as 1-2-3: Working with Financial Expert Witnesses”, Sequence, Inc., (for ABA members only)

The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Teris, Clio, West LiveNote, George Washington University Online Master’s in Paralegal Studies Program and Skyway Communications.

Please share the link ( with your friends and colleagues.

If you have a request for a future show topic or a question for the hosts, please send it to

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't Skip This Step in Your Virtual Business Startup

Working as a Virtual Paralegal is the talk of the industry right now. In a recent survey of readers, 90% of participants responded that they had considered working virtually. Of those, more than half wanted more information establishing this type of business.
To answer your questions, I interviewed six stars of the virtual paralegal world and the result is a Virtual Paralegal Interview Series. The four CD set will be available soon. Watch for announcements.

The following article is submited by one of those 'stars' ... Cathy L. Ribble, CP of Guthrie, OK who has recently launched her new business, Digital Paralegal Services, LLC.

You have spent months researching a new phase of your paralegal career. You have chosen a business name. You outlined a business plan, designed a web site and have a marketing plan. You even have business cards and letterhead!

But, in all your excitement, did you forget one of the most important startup steps of any new business? Did you consult your insurance professional?

As a small business owner operating a home office, you should conduct a comprehensive review of all insurance coverage for you, your family and your business on an annual basis. While insurance requirements and laws vary from state to state, Business.Gov outlines some basic insurance guidelines for small business owners.

Professional Liability Insurance (a/k/a Errors & Omissions Policy). You are probably most familiar with professional liability insurance for attorneys or physicians. This coverage is required for some professions in some states. Professional liability insurance protects your business against omissions, malpractice, or negligence in providing services to your client/customer.

Umbrella Personal Liability Policy. If you maintain all of your policies with one insurance company and you have a good claims record, ask your agent about an umbrella personal liability policy. You may be able to obtain coverage for $1,000,000, or greater amount, which supplements your other coverage for any type of claim against you, your spouse, or other family members.

Worker’s Compensation Policy. If you are planning to have employees with salaries paid through your company, you will likely be required to provide Worker’s Compensation Insurance for your employees. The policy amounts will correspond to the projected salaries of your employees. You will submit periodic payroll audit reports to the insurance company reflecting actual payroll amounts. Premium adjustments will then be made by the provider.

Equipment Policy. You may think that you are already covered for your office equipment because your office is located in your home. Check with your agent. For a small fee, you can likely get better coverage which also protects your mobile phone and miscellaneous mishaps to your office equipment. In the event you do have a claim, this policy might get you back in business quicker than waiting on a homeowner’s policy claim to be processed.

Other Policies. Also review your auto coverage if you will be using your personal vehicle for your new business. Again, you can possibly add supplemental coverage at a very reasonable rate which gives you added protection in the event your spouse is involved in an accident while driving a company vehicle owned by his employer. You should monitor the health care reform issues which are being discussed. These changes may impact small business owners in the future.

BUSINESS TIP: Be sure to ask your agent if you qualify for multi-line, multi-policy or claim-free discounts.

Anyone interested in reprinting this article should contact Cathy L. Ribble, CP for permission. She can be reached at