Sunday, November 29, 2009

Patti Clapper ACP NCCP: My Top Ten Internet Resources

Thanks to Patricia Clapper, ACP NCCP, for submitting this guest article that was originally published in the 11.25.09 issue of Paralegal Strategies.

In my almost 15 years of working as a paralegal, I’ve learned a lot! When I first started “paralegaling”, we had no Internet or email. It makes me feel pretty old to say that, but I know many of you reading this can relate.

When the Internet finally hit, there were many times I would take work home with me because I had Internet at home (although it was dial up) and not at the office. I finally talked my attorneys into getting with the times and getting Internet and email at the office. When I think back, I don’t know how I existed before the Internet and email!

There’s so much information out there - if you know where to look. Below I have listed a few sites I’ve run across that can be helpful to legal professionals. (medical cost treatment estimator) of Lamb Law Offices, a summary of medical record copy statutes from all 50 States) (print any calendar from 1901-2100) to locate what county a city is in, covers all 50 states) (custody status for criminal offenders in state, county or city custody) to county real estate records for all 50 states) cost person finder/asset search, run by Lexis, only available to attorneys, police, insurance investigators, etc.) English law dictionary) to vital records offices in all 50 states) – low cost access to filings in all Federal cases)

I have a blog where I post sites I use in my job - Many of these sites came from fellow legal professionals who have shared them with me. If you know of any useful sites, I would love to hear from you so that I can then share with others.

Patricia F. Clapper, ACP, NCCP has been a paralegal with the general practice firm of Levine & Stewart in Chapel Hill, NC for almost 15 years. Her areas of practice include civil litigation, domestic law, criminal law, estate planning and contracts. Ms. Clapper earned her Associate Degree in Paralegal Technology from Central Carolina Community College in Sanford, NC. She is on the advisory board for the paralegal curriculum at Central Carolina Community College and currently serves as President of the North Carolina Paralegal Association. Ms. Clapper is also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants and the Advocates for Justice - Paralegal Division

Friday, November 27, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Thirteen Questions for Melissa Klimpel ACP

Melissa Klimpel ACP is one of the rising stars of the paralegal career field, something she simply can't help because, after all, she is from the great state of North Dakota where paralegal leaders seem to sprout naturally. They are good, solid, honest, hard-working people who do what they say they will do and keep their word....all of which are must-have leadership traits.

Here are Melissa's answers to The Paralegal Mentor's Thirteen Questions:

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I am a paralegal at the law office of Smith Bakke Porsborg and Schweigert in Bismarck and have been employed with them for 14 years.

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? My career actually found me. When I was in high school, I was assigned a school co-op job at a law firm in my hometown by one of my instructors. I have been working in a law firm ever since.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? I truly enjoy everything about my job from the discovery process to preparing medical record summaries.

4. What professional associations do you belong to? The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the Western Dakota Association of Legal Assistants (WDALA). I currently serve on the Continuing Education Committee of NALA and I am the President of WDALA.

5. How has your membership benefited you? NALA and WDALA have both made a huge impact on my life. I have benefited a great deal from these associations by getting involved. The networking has also been great. My involvement in both organizations has helped me improve my public speaking skills to the point where I can now speak in front of a group (large or small) without being nervous. I have really grown a lot as a person by getting involved with both WDALA and NALA.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? Yes. I received my Certified Legal Assistant designation in 2004 and my Advanced Certified Paralegal designation in 2006.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Definitely passing my CLA exam. It was a wonderful feeling when I found out I passed the exam that I had worked so hard at studying for.
8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Technology. I think it will be interesting to see where technology takes us in the future.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? I have been using Facebook for a few months. However, our three girls (ages 10 months to 9 years old) keep me very busy outside of work so my time on Facebook has been very limited

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? I would try to give them a sense of what I have found enjoyable about the work throughout my career and encourage them to look for opportunities to work in a law firm to see if the field interested them. As I mentioned before, I had an opportunity to work as an intern at a law office and found that I really enjoyed it!

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. ~Unknown

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? There are several people/events that I attribute my success to.

First of all, if it hadn’t been for my high school teacher assigning me a co-op job in a law firm, I know I wouldn’t be where I am at today.

Second, my involvement with NALA and WDALA has also had a huge impact on my paralegal career. It is amazing how much I have grown as a person by getting involved with these two wonderful organizations.

Finally, my husband and children. I receive a tremendous amount of support from my family from encouragement, to taking care of things when I am busy with work, NALA, and/or WDALA, to cheering me on.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Always keep looking for ways to improve your skills and get involved in professional associations.

Bonus 'Just for Fun' Fact: I am new to running but recently completed my first race (about 4 miles) in a marathon relay that I ran with my husband and some friends. I am planning on running another race on Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Doing the 'Fee Limbo'? Paralegals Can Help Attorneys Lower the Bar!

In response to today’s rocky economy, law firms are desperately seeking ways to bring in new business. One solution they’ve created is to offer a ‘loss leader' and it seems that price wars have broken out among large law firms.

Legal business consultant Jim Hassett writes at Legal Business Development Blog that he learned of the price wars when he threw in a “loss leader” question in an alternative-fee survey of AmLaw 100 firms. He included the following question on just 15 surveys, and all 15 firms responded that they had seen the price wars, he writes on his blog.

“There is a lot of price pressure these days, and some say it is leading firms to bid on projects as loss leaders in a way that is not sustainable. Have you seen any examples of this?”

How are firms establishing these ‘loss leaders’? Apparently by offering “drastically” lower hourly rates and other fee-cutting proposals.
“Some firms will do all of the discovery in a case for free, and then take the case on a fee basis from there, or will charge half of their hourly rate for the first phase of the case,” the firm manager reported. “We’ve also heard about some firms that have actually said that they will do [motions] for free, or they will do the motion work at 30 percent, or some other drastically discounted rate like that, because they’re really hungry to get work.”

In other words, these firms are playing ‘Fee Limbo’: lowering their fees to the point where the bargains are not sustainable...and may even hurt their business in the end because consumers will become accustomed to the new fee structure and may not tolerate future increases. Clients, too, are feeling the financial crunch.

How can firms win the ‘Fee Limbo’ without totally destroying their bottom line? How can they do this without offering their services at hourly rates that shout, “We’re not worth what you’ve been paying us!”?

There is a simple solution: Maximize the appropriate utilization of properly trained paralegals and include in their marketing materials that paralegals are utilized as a cost-saving benefit for the client. Give these points some thought:
  • Since the hourly rates of paralegals are always much less than that of the attorneys and most associates, all of the work they do is a cost savings to the client. In fact, this is the primary reason for utilizing paralegals in the first place.

  • According to the 2008 Salary Survey by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), paralegal hourly billing rates average $97 per hour, depending on the expertise of the paralegal and the geographic area of employment. This is significantly lower than the attorney’s hourly rate.
  • The paralegal’s hourly billing rate is usually much higher his or her hourly rate of pay, often at least three times as much.

  • So long as they work under the direct supervision of an attorney and the attorney assumes the responsibility for the final work product (after thorough review, of course), paralegals can do anything an attorney can do except:

*Form the client relationship

*Set fees

*Exercise legal judgment

*Appear in Court

Here are six ways (and there are many more) that attorneys can tap into the strengths of paralegals that will result in reduced costs to clients:

1. Paralegals can handle much of discovery, including the drafting of interrogatories and summarizing of depositions and medical reports;

2. Paralegals can draft a majority of the required pleadings and correspondence;

3. Paralegals can conduct witness interviews and assist with preparation of witnesses for trial;

4. Paralegals can locate expert witnesses and provide them with the materials they need to assess the case;

5. Paralegals can assist with preparation of trial notebooks and jury selection;

6. Paralegals can handle much of the communications with clients and others related to the case, including both telephone and e-mail communications.

The list goes on and on...and extends beyond litigation to all areas of the law.

If law firms properly utilize paralegals, taking full advantage of their training and their strengths, they will be able to offer quality services to their clients at reduced costs to the client without drastically reducing their own hourly rates to attract those clients.


© 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 Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice on Legal Talk Network. More information is available at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ethics Tip: Hey! Those are MY Billable Hours!

I receive lots of mail from paralegals. One recent message really deserves some attention. 'Anonymous' writes:

Dear Vicki:

I am a Paralegal Strategies subscriber, as well as a paralegal in XXX, USA. I wonder if you would offer some advice on a problem I have at the small firm where I work.

My boss, the owner of firm, has developed a habit of having me draft letters or short pleadings and then bill it to the attorney's time, at the attorney's rate, which is, of course, significantly higher than the paralegal rate.

The other day I was also forwarded an email from another paralegal where the boss asked her to do several things on a case and then bill it to the boss's time.

Obviously, Vicki, this is ripping off the client, unethical, and I feel it exploits the use of paralegals. I have thought about making an anonymous complaint to the state bar.

Just wondering if you have any advice for a paralegal out here in the trenches.


Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for subscribing to Paralegal Strategies and for taking the time to send your question. This is not the first time I've heard of this practice and I share your concerns.

First, I must say that my goal is to provide paralegals with information that will help them to better perform their work and to increase their career satisfaction. It is NOT my goal to interpret Model Rules as they apply to attorneys or to tell attorneys how to practice law or manage their law businesses.

That said, the circumstances you describe are disturbing because they are dishonest and unfair to the client. They also diminish the professional status of the paralegal. It is a practice that is probably more prevalent than we know. It is a practice that should be exposed but I believe that would best be done by clients and by Judges.

There are, however, some important points that every paralegal (and every attorney) should be aware of and pay attention to. Are you ready? It's long!

The purposes for hiring paralegals. Paralegals are hired for several reasons:

  • free up attorney time for other substantive work;

  • provide legal assistance to more clients than he or she could do without a paralegal;

  • increase firm profits; and

  • provide quality legal services to the public at a fair rate.

Paralegals and supervising attorneys must be aware of the specific rules, decisions and statutes applicable to fees and to paralegal utilization within his or her jurisdiction.It goes without saying that if an attorney is going to charge for paralegal time, the paralegal must meet the standards set by the definitions adopted by the American Bar Association, various states, and all paralegal professional associations.

What does the ABA say about fees? There are two specific ABA Model Rules that apply to fees and to paralegals:

Rule 1.5: Fees

a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:

1) The time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal services properly;

2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;

3) the fees customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;

4) the amount involved and the results obtained;

5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;

6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;

7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and

8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

Rule 5.4 Professional Independence of a Lawyer

Prohibits the sharing of legal fees and states that a lawyer shall not form a partnership with a nonlawyer if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.

The ABA also has Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services.

Guideline 8: A lawyer may include a charge for the work performed by a paralegal in setting a charge and/or billing for legal services.

Comment to Guideline 8

In Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274 (1989), the United States Supreme Court held that in setting a reasonable attorney’s fee under 28 U.S.C. § 1988, a legal fee may include a charge for paralegal services at “market rates” rather than “actual cost” to the attorneys. In its opinion, the Court stated that, in setting recoverable attorney fees, it starts from “the self-evident proposition that the ‘reasonable attorney’s fee’ provided for by statute should compensate the work of paralegals, as well as that of attorneys.” Id. at 286. This statement should resolve any question concerning the propriety of setting a charge for legal services based on work performed by a paralegal. See also, Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 79; Florida Statutes Title VI, Civil Practice & Procedure, 57.104; North Carolina Guideline 8; Comment to NALA Guideline 5; Michigan Guideline 6. In addition to approving paralegal time as a compensable fee element, the Supreme Court effectively encouraged the use of paralegals for the cost-effective delivery of services. It is important to note, however, that Missouri v. Jenkins does not abrogate the attorney’s responsibili­ties under Model Rule 1.5 to set a reasonable fee for legal services, and it follows that those considerations apply to a fee that includes a fee for paralegal services. See also, South Carolina Ethics Advisory Opinion 96-13 (a lawyer may use and bill for the services of an independent paralegal so long as the lawyer supervises the work of the paralegal and, in billing the paralegal’s time, the lawyer discloses to the client the basis of the fee and expenses).

It is important to note that a number of court decisions have addressed or otherwise set forth the criteria to be used in evaluating whether paralegal services should be compensated. Some requirements include that the services performed must be legal in nature rather than clerical, the fee statement must specify in detail the qualifications of the person performing the service to demonstrate that the paralegal is qualified by education, training or work to perform the assigned work, and evidence that the work performed by the paralegal would have had to be performed by the attorney at a higher rate. Because considerations and criteria vary from one jurisdiction to another, it is important for the practitioner to determine the criteria required by the jurisdiction in which the practitioner intends to file a fee application seeking compensation for paralegal services.

Don't forget the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court has been asked on two occasions to decide whether paralegal time may be reimbursed at market rates under fee shifting statutes. Twice the Court has provided an unequivocal “yes.” In doing so, the Court has recognized that paralegal time should be billed the same as other professional staff.

Missouri v Jenkins, 1989: The Court addressed the recoverability of paralegal fees under §1988 of the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fee Awards Act of 1976. The Court recognized that everyone (attorneys, paralegal employees and clients) benefits from the proper utilization of paralegals. In its opinion, the Court stated:

By encouraging the use of lower cost paralegals rather than attorneys wherever possible, permitting market-rate billing of paralegal hours “encourages cost-effective delivery of legal services and, by reducing the spiraling cost of civil rights litigation, furthers the policies underlying civil rights statutes.”

Richlin v Chertoff, 2008: The question before the court was similar to Missouri v Jenkins except that the court was asked to review if paralegal fees could be reimbursed at market rates under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The court again stated that paralegal fees may be awarded at market rates.

What are 'market rates'? The market rate is the typical charge for a person of comparable education and experience performing a certain level of task in a specific area of law and geographic locale. For this reason, the billable hour rate for a paralegal in Cedar Rapids IA may not be as high as in Los Angeles CA. The billable hour rate for a paralegal working in real estate may not be as high as the rate charged for a paralegal working in intellectual property.

The client: Clients have historically been concerned about the delivery of cost-effective legal services. Today's economic circumstances have increased their concerns. Attorneys can counter their concerns and meet their needs by providing a high caliber work product at a lower cost through the use of paralegals. Again, those paralegals MUST be qualified through education, work and/or experience to perform substantive tasks that, in the absence of the paralegal, would be performed by the attorney.

Fee Petitions: This is where the issue of fees gets particularly sticky for attorneys. They must not commit a fraud upon the court. Therefore, when they submit fee petitions where they have absorbed paralegal time as their own, they are not being truthful. Instead, the fee petition should set forth the time spent by the paralegal and also the time spent by the attorney. These are separate.

The fee petition must itemize the date the work was performed, the identity of the person doing the work, detail of the task performed, and the time spent. The amount charged must reflect reasonable local market standards. It is also helpful to provide the court with information regarding the credentials of each billing professional. The lack of this data may result in the denial of fees.

The court should closely scrutinize these petitions. The opposing party should also. If there is no paralegal time on the petition, and the Judge or the opposing party is aware that the firm utilizes paralegals, questions should be asked.

Courts have denied attorney fees because the work should have been done by paralegals. In the matter of Metro Data Systems, Inc. v Duranao Systems, Inc., 597 F.Supp 244 (D.Ariz.1984) the Court refused to authorize compensation for lawyers performing services that could have been performed by a paralegal. As was so aptly put in the decision rendered in Urisic v Bethlehem Mines, 710 F2d 670 (3rd Cir.1983), the Judge said:

"Michelangelo should not charge Sistine Chapel rates

for painting a farmer's barn."

Usually paralegals do not set their billing rates. The matter of setting billable rates for every member of the firm, including paralegals, is usually left to the firm’s administrators and/or attorneys. In fact, because paralegals are prohibited from setting the client's fees, they probably should not make any decisions regarding charges to the client. The majority of paralegals are responsible for keeping track of their time, as well as meeting billable hour goals which are, again, determined by the firm’s administrator’s and/or attorneys.

Ethical obligations. The tasks and services that are performed by the paralegal and for which compensation may be sought must be substantive and NOT clerical in nature and, also, consist of tasks and services that would otherwise be performed by an attorney.

The paralegal should ensure truth in billing by describing the task accomplished accurately and honestly, including the records of actual time spent on the task.At this point, truth in billing becomes the attorney’s ethical obligation because the attorney has the direct relationship with the client. The attorney has the ultimate authority concerning methods, amounts and descriptions used when clients are billed. This may vary from practice to practice. Still, truth in billing is every attorney’s obligation.

What can paralegals do?

1) Be sure the attorney you work for fully understands the criteria a paralegal must meet in order for the paralegal’s time to be billed to the client, including the fact that the paralegal’s work must be substantive in nature;

2) Be sure the attorney you work for understands that paralegal fees can be recovered but they must be presented in a properly drafted fee petition.

3) Be sure you are your time recording practices. Record only the time you work and never for work that is clerical in nature.

4) Be sure to maintain a high degree of personal and professional integrity.

5) Watch those fee petitions submitted by opposing parties. Should they include paralegal time? Do they? Your firm may be able to object to the fees on this issue.

In conclusion: Beyond maintaining your own high ethical standards as you enter your time for work done for clients and making the attorney aware of ethical obligations regarding paralegal fees, there is really little the paralegal can do.

If your situation is intolerable, you should look for other employment but that may not be a viable option. Sometimes you just have to remember which side of your paycheck you're signing.

It is my hope, though, that the practice of attorney's billing paralegal time at their own rates will be squelched by attorneys themselves realizing that this is a dishonest practice, by savvy clients who ask why they are not being charged for paralegal time, and by judges who are aware that paralegal time should appear on fee petitions separately from the attorney's time.

©2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc. Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a bi-weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies. More information is available at

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Paralegal Voice: Getting Back on the Right Track

By Vicki Voisin and Lynne DeVenny

Following a recent episode of The Paralegal Voice on Legal Talk Network, Lynne DeVenny and I were very pleased to hear from one of our listeners, Andrea, who had a question about getting into the paralegal profession after graduating several years ago, and then experiencing difficulty landing a job post graduation.
"I earned my A.A. Degree in Paralegal Studies in 2002 from an ABA approved school. Unfortunately, I ran into several road blocks since I had no experience in the field. The legal field is what I see myself doing as a career. I do have experience in the Criminal Justice field. For the past four years I have been a volunteer officer. How do I get back on the right track? Do I need to go through NALA to obtain a certification that will update my educational background? I appreciate any advice you can give."
Lynne and I were happy to provide Andrea with this advice:

Andrea, thanks for listening to The Paralegal Voice and for sending a question about your paralegal career.

We are not sure if you are currently working in a law office or not. If not, we recommend that you obtain an entry-level job in a law firm so that you can acquire on the job experience. Consider legal secretarial, administrative assistant and/or receptionist positions.

If you can't find a job immediately, look for a volunteer or internship position with a small law firm or a legal non-profit organization. Work on obtaining practical skills and getting current references.

We also recommend that you further your education by working toward a bachelor's degree. You might also consider taking computer classes if you do not have the technology skills that employers are seeking. If you do have a strong set of computer skills, including advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office, emphasize them on a well-done one-page resume.

You should be sure to join a professional paralegal association to take advantage of networking opportunities and continuing legal education classes. If you are a student, those classes are usually offered at a substantial discount.

We urge you to consider professional certification (you mentioned NALA's CLA/CP program) some time in the future when you feel comfortable taking the examination. This credential certainly won't hurt and will offer you the credibility you are seeking. However, locating a law-related job and obtaining legal experience should be your first priority.

Andrea, be sure to let us know if you have any other questions. We wish you much success as you pursue your paralegal career.

Do you have questions for Lynne and me? Send them to And be sure to stay tuned for our December podcast featuring the world's most famous paralegal and environmental activist, Erin Brockovich!

Friday, November 13, 2009

How Can Paralegals Set Boundaries?

Note: Today's Guest Author is Bobbie Rathjens whom I fondly refer to as 'My Web Designer' and also call 'Friend.' Bobbie listened when I told her of my dream to launch The Paralegal Mentor and understood exactly what I wanted to do. Not only did she design my Web site, but she has been an enormous support to me, answering all my 'technologically challenged' questions, teaching me when I wanted to take over some of the Web site updating myself, and quieting the panic when there are issues with the newsletter or uploading my teleclass information.

While she's not a paralegal, Bobbie faces the same challenges. She's a busy wife and mom of three young children who is constantly juggling all of her responsibilities. Thanks, Bobbie!

Setting Boundaries
By Bobbie Rathjens

Are you a multi-tasking, phone call answering, people pleaser that always has a deadline to meet “now”? If so, you're a lot like me. The glaring difference between us may be our professions, but I'm sure there's little difference on how best to handle these types of situations - and prevention of future anxiety attacks.
Our website design business serves over 250 clients and fields continuous inquiries for new service. All of that work and responsibility falls on the shoulders of yours truly. Some work days used to be so hectic, by the end of the day I could only say I'd returned calls and put out fires but hadn't actually completed a project that needed to get done.
Setting boundaries that my clients and I can live with started out as a work in progress, but quickly turned into a methodology that has worked magically. By following these simple guidelines, I have saved myself from professional meltdown and added some control into my business life.
Projects & Time Estimates. If you don't know how long the project will take, don't give a time estimate. If the client or boss needs an estimated time for project completion, over estimate to be safe.
If the boss says he needs the work in one hour and you can't do it in one hour, be honest and tell him it's not possible - then and tell him when you'll have it done. If you are able to finish the project sooner than estimated, you look like a hero and your client (or boss) loves you for it.

Peak Productivity Time. Do you do your best work first thing in the morning or some other time of the day? Which activity requires your peak productivity time? Is it working on the computer or meeting with clients?
You'll need to determine the task that requires your highest energy and schedule it for your peak productivity time. In my case, I'm at my best from 9-12 and need my highest energy for web design, so I only do web design during those hours and schedule client meetings for later in the day.

Phone Management. If you find yourself fielding phone calls at your desk all day long (particularly during your peak productivity time), let the phone go to voice mail. Set up a window to return phone calls – say between 2-3 pm – and stick to it. After a few days of doing this, you will no longer feel guilty letting the calls go to the machine because you will be so productive, it will amaze your co-workers.

Don't be Such a Push Over. After spending my youth learning to be polite, respectful (and how to be a downright push over), I've learned how to stand up for myself. This isn't to be the big bad meanie, or to get back at that occasional client that I secretly loathe, but rather to make my work day productive and keep all of my clients satisfied.
Whatever the dilemma, you can be polite without being a push over. Stand your ground while being tactful and professional. Your client (or boss) will respect you more for it in the end.
Try these simple tips for setting boundaries. I guarantee you will feel better...and more in control of your work...if you do.

Bobbie Rathjens is the Lead Designer at JBR Graphics and is responsible for front-end design and web development for all client projects. When she's not working, you might find her watching one of those old Elvis movies - as she's a consummate fan.

JBR Graphics is a two person web design studio consisting of the husband and wife team of John and Bobbie Rathjens. They specialize in unique website design and professional web development and are committed to creating beautiful and highly functional websites, following the exact specifications of their clients. JBR Graphics strives to provide a level of services not possible from larger companies.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Paralegal Profile: Thirteen Questions for Kathy Sieckman, PP PLS CLA

Kathy Sieckman, PP PLS CLA, is a frequent participant in Paralegal Mentor programs and Mastermind Calls. Her viewpoints on paralgal issues are always refreshing and she is definitely a promoter of legal professionals.

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I work for DLA Piper LLP (US) in their Phoenix, Arizona office. My title is Legal Secretary.

2. What prompted you to choose a legal professional career? When I was in high school, a good family friend of my future husband’s family was working for the Arizona Attorney General’s office. She always dressed nicely and my mother-in-law always commented about how much money she made there. So honestly it was the promise of money that first drew me to a legal career.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? The diversity. I never know day to day what tasks I will be assigned, but I know they will be varied and will be different every day. I also love proofreading. It is a strength of mine and gives me a chance to learn about other cases being handled in our office that I’m not directly involved in and to learn about all kinds of legal issues.

4. What professional associations do you belong to? I belong to NALS . . . the association for legal professionals, which includes membership in NALS of Arizona and NALS of Phoenix.

5. How has your membership benefited you? Taking NALS’ certification exams gave me the courage and the belief that I could learn anything which helped me when I needed to switch my specialty from probate (where I had spent 15 years) to litigation.

The contacts I have made and the seminars I have attended helped make that transition possible. In addition, it gives me a network across the country of friends who can answer questions, suggest court reporters and messengers, and book conference rooms.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? Yes, I have my NALS PLS . . . the advanced certification for legal professionals which I received in 1994, my NALS Professional Paralegal certification which I received in 2004, and my NALA CLA certification which I received in 2007.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Certainly obtaining my legal assisting degree and my certifications have been a highlight, but making the transition to litigation and being able to go to trials around the country have certainly been a highlight of my career as well.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? All things electronic – from document production to trial presentation, I think technology will continue to develop and it will become more important for legal professionals to be well versed in using all of the software applications available to handle huge quantities of documents at a reasonable cost to the client.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? Oh yes. I have a Facebook account and have recently started to use Twitter, although I have a long way to go to figure out all the nuances of tweeting!

10. If someone contemplating a legal professional career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? The legal professional career is extremely rewarding and full of challenges. It is not for those who are looking for “just a job.” A good legal professional is constantly learning and growing. The career is what you make it – you cannot demand respect, you earn it – but once you do, it is very fulfilling.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

12. You've enjoyed a successful legal professional career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? There is not one single event or person who has had a hand in my successes. There are many events and many, many people who have touched my life in very significant ways.

Certainly the attorney I have worked with for over 14 years, who believed in me more than I believed in myself and was patient while she taught me about litigation, has been a very integral part of my success, as have the many people who have had faith in me and helped me grow through my 23-year membership in NALS.

13. What is the most important step a legal professional can take to keep his or her career interesting? Learn – constantly. Read everything you can. There are excellent resources on the Internet, training through professional associations, live and web-based seminars, podcasts, etc. The opportunities are endless and if you do not continue to learn, you will be left behind.

Bonus…Just for Fun Fact: I went parasailing and zip lining this past September. Both were something I never anticipated doing in my lifetime and both were a lot of fun. Now that I’ve been a little adventurous, I would do both (and more!) again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Paralegals Can Assist With Jury Selection

By Vicki Voisin and Lynne DeVenny

Dr. David Ball, a nationally recognized trial consultant, was the guest expert on a recent episode of The Paralegal Voice, the podcast we co-host on Legal Talk Network.

Discussion during the podcast focused on the paralegal’s role in jury selection.It is Dr. Ball’s opinion that attorneys under-utilize their paralegals during the jury selection process. He explained why he believes well-trained paralegals are essential to the trial team and how they provide much needed perspective and insight while seating a jury.

Providing assistance during a trial is one of the most exciting jobs a paralegal can have, and helping select a jury is a key element in that process. Here are some of the ways that paralegals can be an invaluable part of the trial team, especially when evaluating jurors:

  • Coordinate focus groups prior to trial. Some firms pay vendors to coordinate focus groups. However, an organized paralegal can help the firm economize, especially in smaller cases, by recruiting focus group participants and organizing in-house focus group sessions.
  • Obtain the list of potential jurors and any biographical data from the court, as soon as it becomes available. Use all available public data, such as civil, criminal, property and voter registration records to research jurors. Also, use the Internet and in particular, social networking sites to supplement information, including personal blogs, MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  • Review juror questionnaires. If juror questionnaires are provided, index and organize your firm’s copies, and help your supervising attorney summarize the data and locate them quickly during the trial.

  • Take extremely detailed notes. Dr. Ball says that the paralegal should be taking all of the notes so that the attorney doesn’t have to, and can focus on his main role – getting jurors to talk.
  • Maintain the jury seating chart and individual juror forms. Dr. Ball recommends using 2” x 3” yellow Post-It Notes which are not only easy to cover with a new Post-It as jurors are removed from a seat, but also to save for future reference, particularly in the event of a challenge.
  • Pay close attention as the attorney questions each juror, not only to the juror’s answers, but how each juror reacts to another juror’s responses.

  • Closely observe the jurors whenever you have the opportunity, in the hall outside of the courtroom, as they are coming and going in the courtroom and even at lunch if the opportunity arises. In particular, try to identify the leaders – and the followers.
  • Observe the jurors during the trial – without being obvious or appearing to stare. Notice who looks interested, who looks at exhibits, who looks bored – and who might be asleep.

  • Keep track of the number of juror challenges your attorney has used, including the type of challenge that was used. For an overview of jury challenges, including the Batson challenge that Dr. Ball discusses in the podcast, see this ABA Journal article.
  • Observe the attorneys for the opposing parties. When they take notes, be sure to make your own notes about what is going on at that particular point in the trial.
  • Know your jurisdiction’s laws regarding jury challenges, so that you will recognize potential causes to dismiss a juror and can take more detailed notes if potential cause arises while a juror is talking.

The paralegal is the trial team’s extra pair of eyes and ears when it comes to observing the jury, and according to Dr. Ball, even observing opposing counsel’s actions. You may be your litigation team’s personal Sherlock Holmes, the one who doesn’t miss the minute details that can make a world of difference at trial.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dear Vicki...

I receive mail daily from paralegals with a multitude of questions. With their permission, I feature them here so that we can all work to formulate solutions for the good of the paralegal profession. The following message comes from Barbara Parkes of Princeton NJ.

Dear Vicki,

I enjoy receiving your newsletters and find they are some of the most interesting and informative paralegal networking resources I've seen.
I wanted to comment on today's newsletter -- specifically, the section in which you repeat the ABA's definition of a legal assistant/paralegal. (Note: Barbara is referring to the November 5, 2009 issue of Paralegal Strategies and the feature article titled 'Paralegal Resource: The American Bar Association'; to view this article, follow this link)

Many secretaries are now referring to themselves as legal assistants, and that this is not only confusing to clients but damaging to the paralegal profession. It seems to me that most attorneys do not have a problem with this, and I wish somehow this distinction would be made more clear.

"Secretary" is now a title that many do not care to have and they prefer to be referred to as an "assistant," as it is with "waiter/waitress" and the more accepted title of "server." However, this is confusing since, as you point out in your newsletter, the title of legal assistant and paralegal is synonymous.

If secretaries are going to start referring to themselves as assistants, because they work for law firms, it is natural for one to assume they are a "legal" assistant. However, secretarial duties are very different from paralegal duties, and those who are titled as paralegals are usually more educated in the legal field having a degree, a certificate or certification.

I wish the ABA's House of Delegates and the entire paralegal profession would make a distinction between these two terms rather than refer to them as synonymous, and start referring to paralegals as paralegals and secretaries as legal assistants. This would satisfy the secretaries, make things much less confusing for everyone, and maintain the respect for the paralegal profession that it deserves.

I would be interested in comments from other paralegals on this topic. Thank you.

Barbara A. Parkes, Paralegal
Princeton NJ

My response:

Dear Barbara...

Thank you for writing and also for your kind words about Paralegal Strategies.

You are referring to my recent article 'Paralegal Resource: The American Bar Association' that is available for review by following this link.

In that article I referred to the definition of a paralegal as adopted by the ABA (this is also the same definition adopted by the NALA):

The ABA's policy making body is the House of Delegates. In 1997, the House of Delegates adopted the current definition of "legal assistant/paralegal." The definition reads as follows:

A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.

According to the ABA's Web site, "The current definition of "legal assistant/paralegal" replaces the definition adopted by the ABA Board of Governors in 1986. It adds the term "paralegal" since the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" are, in practice, used interchangeably. The term that is preferred generally depends on what part of the country one is from. The current definition streamlines the 1986 definition and more accurately reflects how legal assistants are presently being utilized in the delivery of legal services."

Your complaint is not uncommon, Barbara. You are correct that many attorneys are annointing their legal secretaries with the title 'legal assistant' though they do not meet the definition of a 'legal assistant or paralegal' as adopted by the ABA.

This not only confuses and misleads the general public. It is also unfair to the consumer when attorneys charge their clients for work done by this employee who is not trained to do substantive legal work.

In NALA's 2008 Utilization/Compensation Survey, 18% of respondents reported using the title 'Legal Assistant' while 75% use the title 'Paralegal.' This percentage has changed rapidly over the years. Ten years ago, the percentage would have been about 50-50 and depended largely on geography. For instance, in Michigan the term 'legal assistant' was most prevalent while in other states, it was 'paralegal.' There was a day when I said I would NEVER use the term paralegal. Well...that's a good lesson in 'never say never' because it's my preferred title today.

I do believe the change you propose is slowly taking place, Barbara. This is evidenced by the tremendous increase in numbers using the title 'Paralegal.' I believe, too, that the ABA's House of Delegates will eventually change the definition. However, 18% preferring the title 'legal assistant' is still significant and those members of the profession deserve recognition and representation.

There is something every paralegal can do, though, and that is to make attorneys aware that in order to use the title 'legal assistant or paralegal' the employee must meet the standards set by the ABA. In order to charge clients for the employee's time, the employee must meet the standards of the definition. This is reinforced by two significant Supreme Court cases: Missouri v Jenkins and Richlin v Chertoff. To read more about those cases and their significance to the paralegal profession, follow this link.

For the ABA's definition to change, paralegals and paralegal associations will most likely have to petition the ABA's Standing Committee on Paralegals with a request for this change. Again, our backs cannot be turned on the practicing legal assistants who meet the ABA's definition and wish (or their employer wishes) not to adopt the term paralegal.

That said, I must must MUST stress the importance of legal secretaries. They are the backbone of the law firm and attorneys absolutely cannot function without them. They, along with legal assistants and paralegals and all remaining staff, form an important team. Perhaps attorneys should take steps to show their appreciation for the legal secretaries' hard work.

Readers...please weigh in on Barbara's comments. Your opinions, as well as your suggested solutions, are welcome.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Paralegal Voice: Attorneys Tap Paralegal Talent for Jury Selection

The latest episode of The Paralegal Voice, “Attorneys Tap Paralegal Talent for Jury Selection”, co-hosted by Lynne DeVenny and me, is now available at LegalTalkNetwork.
This episode features Dr. David Ball, one of America’s most influential trial consultants and the author of several bestselling books about jury selection, including David Ball on Damages and his most recent book, Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution.
Dr. Ball has advised on more than 1,000 civil and criminal cases, and teaches CLEs and at law schools across the country. A passionate advocate for attorneys to better utilize well-trained paralegals at trial, he discusses how paralegals can be a valuable part of the trial team during jury selection.

In this episode:

  • How Dr. Ball became a nationally-recognized jury consultant
  • Why attorneys should allow paralegals to play a key role during jury selection
  • How paralegals can assist during the jury selection process
  • How to keep track of the jury pool
  • Resources paralegals can use to learn more about jury selection

The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Teris, Clio, West LiveNote, George Washington University Online Master’s in Paralegal Studies Program, and The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA).

Here are a few links to additional resources that may be helpful in jury selection:

The Voir Dire Process, American Bar Association

How to Pick a Jury, ABA Journal (This resource includes an overview of jury challenges, including the Batson challenge Dr. Ball discusses in the podcast.)

Blue’s Guide to Jury Selection (AAJ Press, 2008) (recommended reading by Dr. Ball)

The Florida Jury Selection Blog

The Trial Practice Tips Weblog

If you like The Paralegal Voice, we’d appreciate it very much if you shared the link ( with your friends and colleagues.

Do you have a request for a future show topic or a question for the hosts? Please send it to

Paralegal Profile: Thirteen Questions for Patti Clapper ACP

Patti Clapper ACP is the President of the North Carolina Paralegal Association (NCPA) and blogs at You'll enjoy her interesting answers to The Paralegal Mentor's Thirteen Questions...

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I have worked at Levine & Stewart in Chapel Hill NC for 14 ½ years. My job title is a little “iffy” – some days you might call me a paralegal, some you might call me a legal assistant. I don’t have a preference. You might call me the IT Department too (in fact I have a little orange hat on my desk that’s my “IT hat”).

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? I took a Law & Justice class in high school which got me interested in the legal field. My grandmother gave me an ad that had been in the newspaper for the paralegal program at a local community college, Central Carolina Community College.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? I work for a general practice so no two days are the same and I like that. I also enjoy meeting new people and making new friends.

4. Do you belong to any professional associations? I am currently serving as President of the North Carolina Paralegal Association. My past positions with NCPA include 1st Vice President, District Director, Treasurer and Public Relations Chair. I am also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants and the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

5. How has your membership benefited you? Definitely the networking and friendships. My boss likes to say “can you ask your people…” He knows that if I don’t know the answer, I can usually find someone who does.6. Do you have any professional certifications? I obtained my NALA CLA designation in 1996, my NALA CLA Specialty in Litigation in 2004 and became a NC State Bar Certified Paralegal in 2005.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Being a part of the movement to get paralegals and legal assistants in North Carolina certified by the NC State Bar.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Connecting and networking through social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Not only does this help keep you informed of current issues in the legal field, it’s a great way to network with other paralegals.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? How has that benefitted you? Before becoming President of NCPA, I was a frequent speaker for Half Moon Seminars and IPE in the areas of ethics and internet researching. I’ve backed off of that now, but I do have a blog where I share websites with other legal professionals. Readers can also find me on Twitter as @lglduck. I love sharing what I know with others as well as learning what others have to offer me.

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? Get at least an Associate's Degree and get your certification. If your State offers certification, get is a soon as you complete school. If you think you might want to sit for the CLA Exam through NALA, do it as soon as you complete school. Those test taking skills tend to fade after a few years. Also, don’t be afraid to apply for a position where you don’t meet the exact criteria. You never know when you may be the only or the best qualified applicant for the position!

11. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? Definitely Sharon Robertson. She is the one who got me started with NCPA which later led to my becoming more involved with the Association and the profession in general. A local community college was hosting a curriculum improvement project for the paralegal curriculums at NC community colleges. Sharon was part of that group. I don’t remember how the conversation got started but before I knew it, Sharon had roped me into taking the Senior Editor Position for NCPA’s FORUM. As they say, the rest is history. I should also mention my instructor at CCCC, Lisa Morris Duncan. She has always been a big supporter and nominated me to be a part of the curriculum improvement project which led to my meeting Sharon.

12. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Get your name out there and network with others in the profession. Get involved in your local association, if you don’t have one, start one! Do things for your profession besides just sitting at your desk every day.

13. Is there a quote that inspires you? "We have no control over what happens to us, but we have 100% control over how we deal with what happens to us" - Coach Kay YowBonus…Just for Fun Fact: I am a sports fanatic, mostly college (I am a diehard NC State fan); I coach a U5 soccer team and my daughter’s U12 basketball team.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Top Three Reasons for Teaching Paralegal Classes

Kathy Miller ACP CAS has been a friend and colleague for many years. I so admire how she manages a full time job and yet has hours left to promote the paralegal profession through her contributions to NALA, CAPA and OCPA, as well as through teaching paralegal classes. When I asked her why she continues with the grueling teaching schedule, here's what she said:

My Top Three Reasons for Teaching Paralegal Classes
By Kathy Miller, ACP, CAS

Over 20 years of teaching in the paralegal profession – where does the time go? Looking back, I realize why I continue to teach, even though I teach after spending long hours working as a litigation paralegal (for 25+ years at a traditional law firm and now in-house) my “day job”.

My top 3 reasons for teaching paralegal classes:

1. Teaching forces me to keep up to date on substantive law, legal procedures and technology. The law changes constantly. Every January, and often in July, new laws and court rules take effect. New cases are decided that can overrule existing law and/or set precedence. As I prepare to teach courses scheduled for the next quarter I review the syllabus carefully to make sure that the course material reflects these changes. I also attend seminars to keep current.

The biggest changes I have seen are in the technology arena. Technology affects every aspect of the legal profession. Staying current is challenging and often requires me to go back to school to learn the latest software programs. For example, even though my office was still using Office 2003, I needed to learn Office 2007 because the paralegal program’s computer lab was updated to 2007. Recently the new Federal and my state’s e-discovery rules required me to get up to date and check out the new programs.

Because I must keep up to date with changes in the law, legal procedures and technology, I am more valuable and efficient in my “day job.” I also find that in order to be an effective teacher I find myself in the role of student – taking courses in the classroom, at seminars, via webcasts and online. I try to take notice of “what works” and “what doesn’t” and modify my teaching techniques accordingly.

2. I meet great friends and colleagues. I treasure the students from my classes who have become great friends and professional colleagues. I still keep in touch with many of them. I love following their careers. If I hear of a job possibility, I will recommend it to one of them. Often my former students will come up and relate how much a particular course helped them in their career.

3. Teaching keeps my passion in the profession alive. I love the paralegal profession and have thoroughly enjoyed watching it evolve during the past 20+ years. Teaching allows me to impart this knowledge and to meet the “newbies.” It is so refreshing to see the enthusiasm of these students.

When I have had a tough day at my “day job” and just want to go home and be a couch potato, a change comes over me when I enter my classroom. I find that my spirits and energy are boosted as I teach and interact with these future paralegals. While my early students were predominantly legal secretaries seeking to move up and become paralegals, today’s students are a mix that includes those who have just finished college, individuals who were victims of the recession, individuals reentering the workplace.

While I wonder how teaching will evolve, I know the reasons why I still teach will continue to motivate me. I encourage you to consider teaching in the paralegal arena as an avenue for enriching and enhancing your career.

Kathleen (Kathy) Houts Miller, M.A., ACP, CAS, received her paralegal certificate from UC Irvine Extension Paralegal Certificate program in 1986. she has taught numerous paralegal courses in UCI Extension's paralegal certificate program since 1986, including fundamentals of Legal Assistantship; Discovery; Paralegal Internship; Software Applications for the Legal Environment; and Technology Solutions. She has also taught paralegal PowerPoint courses through NALA Campus LIVE! Ms. Miller has over 25 years as a practicing litigation paralegal; three years ago she moved from a traditional law firm to an in-house paralegal position. Ms. Miller is a member and has served in many leadership positions with the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization (CACPS), California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA) and the Orange County Paralegal Association (OCPA). She also currently serves as program advisor and Advisory Board member for the UC Irvine Extension Paralegal Certificate Program.