Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Paralegal Voice: How Professional Association Membership Will Advance Your Paralegal Career

The latest episode of The Paralegal Voice, “How Professional Association Membership Will Advance Your Paralegal Career”, co-hosted by Lynne DeVenny and Vicki Voisin , is now available at Legal Talk Network.

Patricia E. Infanti, PP, PLS, President of NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals, and Kathleen R. Amirante, PP, PLS, the association’s President Elect, are the featured guests. They join Vicki and Lynne to discuss the opportunities provided by membership in a professional association.

In this episode:

• The history and mission of NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals
• What NALS is doing to attract a diverse membership
• How NALS is educating attorneys re: qualifications for using the title ‘paralegal’
• Continuing education programs offered by NALS
• The new NALS Docket and Think Big Program
• The goal of NALS new ‘Future Leaders Development’ committee
• How association membership impacts a paralegal’s career
• Practice and social media tips from Vicki and Lynne

More information about NALS is available at

To access the Page URL follow this link:

To access the MP3 download, click here:
The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Teris, Westlaw Deposition Services, and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)

Here are a few links to additional resources mentioned in this episode:

Twitter Streams:

Patti Infanti (@PattiPP)
Kathie Amarinte (@KathiePLS)
Vicki Voisin (@VickiVoisin)
Lynne DeVenny (@ExpertParalegal)

The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Teris, Westlaw Deposition Services, and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)

If you enjoyed The Paralegal Voice, please share the link to the podcast with your friends and colleagues.

Do you have a request for a future show topic or a question for us? Send those to

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Paralegal Profile: Vanessa Lozzi

Thanks to Vanessa Lozzi of Clinton Twp, Michigan for taking the time to answer The Paralegal Mentor's Thirteen Questions! I'm looking forward to visiting with Vanessa when I speak at the Annual Day of Education of the Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section of the State Bar of Michigan on May 7th.

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I work as a Senior Paralegal for Flagstar Bank at its headquarters in Troy, Michigan.

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? After college I was debating on whether or not I wanted to go to law school. I decided that starting with paralegal school was a cheaper and faster way to determine if I really wanted to pursue a career in the legal field. Once my training was complete and I started working in a law firm, I decided I was perfectly happy being a paralegal!

3. What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite part of the job is that I am always learning something new. I work in litigation and no two cases are ever exactly alike.

Depending on what the subject matter of the lawsuit is, you may have to learn about it. An example of this was an air pollution class action case my former employer was defending. The suit was filed against an oil recycling company and I had to learn all about the process of recycling oil, as well as all the environmental laws and rules. It was very interesting case and it gave me the chance to learn about an industry that I had no previous knowledge of.

4. What professional associations do you belong to? My professional associations include the Association of Litigation Support Professionals (ALSP) . Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association (DMBA) and the State Bar or Michigan Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section ( I am the current president of the Eastern Michigan ALSP chapter.

5. How has your membership benefited you? My professional memberships have been a wonderful asset to my professional career and to me personally.

I think that networking tends to be under rated, but it is such a powerful tool. Developing connections can lead to a future job, help with mentoring, establish friendships, build self confidence and allows for collaboration with colleagues.

Part of my reason for the original involvement with my first leadership position was to try and get over my fear of public speaking. Twelve years later I still have those butterflies in my stomach when it comes to public speaking, but everything else I have gained from my professional memberships has proved to be invaluable.

I am currently working on the planning of the SBM Annual Day of Education. The ALSP is hosting the Thursday evening networking event which is a Luau! We are very excited to participate in this annual event.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? Yes, I am a certified Summation Trainer.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? In the spring of 2007 I received the 'Distinguished Service Member' award from the DMBA for my volunteer work as the Paralegal Section Chair. The honor of being selected was itself special enough, but what made it all the more extraordinary was that I was the first (and still the only) paralegal to receive this award. It felt really great to be recognized for my volunteer work and efforts on behalf of the Paralegal Section!

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? One word- Technology. We are surrounded by technology all day long and it is moving forward at an alarming pace.

It's been my experience that many attorneys are of the opinion that they went to law school to be a lawyer, not to understand technology. Therefore, it becomes the paralegal's job to understand technology to be able to adequately support the team you are working with.

Technology can include a wide variety of things such as webinars, software applications, electronic files and e-discovery. While the paralegal may not have to be a subject matter expert on all areas of technology, it is critical that at a minimum you are aware of the resources at your disposal and who to contact for help in any one or more of these areas. A paralegal who can provide the needed support and assistance will become an invaluable resource to the entire team.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? Yes...I love technology! I have set up a Linked In Profile and also have a Facebook page. I have yet to try Twitter but I plan to do so! I think social media is a great way to keep in touch with past and present colleagues. It is also a really great way to network and get introduced to people in your field. I have made several connections with people in my national professional association and being able to brainstorm with them about what their chapters are doing is awesome.

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? I would suggest speaking with a college career counselor and also a handful of working paralegals to determine the best fit for your personality and the area of law you want to work in.

I think this is an area that is commonly overlooked and is really a large part of your career choice. For example, if you chose to work in litigation your personality traits should include being able to work best under pressure, ability to handle a highly stressful environment, having a lifestyle that allows you to work in the evenings and weekends and an interest in technology.

Talking to paralegals in different areas of law will give you the real life perspective of what to expect in the workplace. Once you have selected the best fit, you can focus your classes and networking events around your chosen field.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? One of my favorites is the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. It's simple and to the point.

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? Pinpointing a 'single' event or person is really hard to do. There are so many events and people that helped me become the person I am today. But if I had to pick someone who was a significant influence on the development of my paralegal career it would be Linda Jevahirian. Linda is the Founder and President of Legal Search & Management. Her company offers legal placement and career consultation. She reached out to me at the very beginning of my career and has been an invaluable resource ever since I have had the privilege of meeting her. She was the person who encouraged me to take on a leadership role with the DMBA, has helped with my career path and consulted with me on several occasions. Linda is a prevalent figure in the Detroit paralegal community and by knowing her I was able to meet so many other colleagues. I am grateful for everything she has done to help me succeed.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Continuing education. We all know that the law is constantly changing and evolving. Keeping your skill set up to date is very important to the future of your career. Be sure to participate in things like webinars and lunch and learns. You can also subscribe to various paralegal magazines. Most paralegal associations also offer continuing educational opportunities. There are many resources out there for our profession so be sure to take advantage of them!

Bonus...just for fun question: If you had to be in any other profession other than a paralegal, what would it be? I would be a professional party planner for things like corporate events and fundraisers. I already know I enjoy doing this in my spare time on behalf of my professional associations, so to get paid for it would be wonderful!

Guest Post: The Paralegal's Role in Managing the Law Office

Note: Today's Guest Author is Melissa Hinote, CP, who until recently worked for a solo practice attorney in a rural Alabama farm town. She recently took a paralegal position with a firm in Memphis. She blogs at Paralegalese. This article originally appeared as a guest post on Legal Practice Pro and I thank Jay Fleischman for permitting the reprint.

The Paralegal's Role in Managing the Law Firm
By Melissa Hinote, CP

They say that behind every good lawyer is a great paralegal, but that the great lawyer keeps her paralegal right by her side. Okay, I say this, but it is catchy and probably true. Especially in the world of solo practice attorneys and small firms, paralegals can be very necessary to the success of a practice.

Speaking from my own experience, my attorney depends on me quite regularly for all those tasks that do not require a law license. In fact, the tasks that do not require a license often outweigh those that do in our little firm. I correspond with clients, signing all letters myself except for those few that convey legal advice. I handle the bills, bringing checks to my attorney for his signature. I prepare invoices, set meetings, schedule depositions, and conduct research. I do light bookkeeping. I even clean our aquarium.

In other words, I do many of the tasks that do require an attorney's hand for completion, such as drafting complaints, motions, and responses. While many of these tasks are specifically delegated to me throughout the life of a case, experience has led me often to prepare the next step in a case before my attorney asks for it.

Smart attorneys with smart paralegals learn to delegate cases to their paralegals for basic case management. A well-organized paralegal is an asset in collection, eviction, and small claims cases, which tend to follow one of two tracts: the default judgment or short trial tract.
In my experience, because of the nature of these cases, a majority of them end with a default judgment and subsequent attempts to collect on the judgment. Most of these cases can be handled almost completely by the paralegal, with the attorney's review and approval of the standard documents before filing.

In the future, if and when the firm expands, my attorney expects that I will manage the other non-attorney staff. Management of personnel requires a set of knowledge and skills separate from those required to acquire and maintain a law license. It is often more practical to use a paralegal office manager to manage office activity than it is to use an attorney in the same position. A paralegal, by definition, is in a unique position to bridge the legally substantive and administrative aspects of the law office when managing legal staff.

All that being said, the management that a paralegal office manager can provide is no substitute for attorney supervision of paralegal work product. Lawyers must supervise the work product of their paralegals. However, time management, personality issues, and a host of other non-legal matters that can arise in any office require a separate type of management and supervision, a type for which a paralegal office manager may be quite useful.

Whether your paralegal is your case manager, business manager, personnel supervisor, or the entire above, she can be an integral part of managing the law firm and keeping the firm pressing forward. Since hiring me two years ago, my own attorney has figured this out, much to his advantage.

Melissa Hinote is a NALA Certified Paralegal. Until recently she worked for a solo practice attorney in a rural Alabama farm town. She has relocated to Memphis TN and has a paralegal position with a larger firm there. She blogs at Paralegalese. This article originally appeared as a guest post on Legal Practice Pro and I thank Jay Fleischman for permitting the reprint.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What's In Your Wallet? Don't Forget Your Benefits!

Would you pass up a raise? I'm sure the answer is 'No!' You may even be thinking, "What raise?" since many firms have put a freeze on raises due to the economic crunch. So it's more important than ever to advantage of benefits offered by your employer. This may be a way for you to hike your income, though you may not see it in your pay check.

Why should you be interested in those benefits? Some will result in a tax savings to you. Others will have a positive impact on your future, including your ability to transfer to a different practice area or department (which could result in an increase in salary) and the funds you will have on hand when you retire. Some will improve your quality of life.

Here are a few possibilities you'll want to check for:

Health Insurance. This is a number one priority. Be sure to enroll your first day on the job.

401(k) Plan. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, be sure to enroll and make regular contributions, regardless of your employer's contributions. There are tax benefits. For many of us, these funds and our Social Security benefits will be our only retirement income. The Department of Labor requires that if an employer has a 401(k) Plan, it must be offered to you once you qualify for it. Don't let your employer 'forget' to offer it to you.

Section 125 Plan. A Section 125 plan provides tax savings by reducing employee medical premiums from gross salary prior to calculation of federal income and Social Security taxes. This is one I take full advantage of. It's difficult to predict your total expenses for the coming year (and you are stuck with your prediction, even if you didn't calculate having to have a root canal!) but it's still worth doing.

Paid Time Off. Many employers have a 'use it or lose it' policy. Don't give up that time! Even if you don't lose it, do use your vacation and personal days (whatever it's called where you work) because the break will do wonders for your attitude and mental health.

College Tuition. This is another gimme. Don't delay! Never pass up an opportunity to improve your skills and increase your knowledge. If you can get tuition reimbursement, be sure to go for that degree. Having it may mean you'll be able to advance within the firm or the company. It may mean that you can get a better job with a higher salary somewhere else. Without it, you may be stuck where you are forever. And don't tell me it's too late to start your higher education adventure. The years will pass whether you do it or not.

Certifications. Passing a certification examination doesn't always result in a higher salary, but it never hurts to have it. In some cases, you absolutely cannot advance without it. The certification will demonstrate your discipline, your level of knowledge, your professionalism, and your credibility. There are other certifications besides those just for paralegal, such as the CPCU (Certified Property Casualty Underwriter) and CRM (Certified Risk Manager).

Professional Association Memberships. Even if you don't anticipate being an 'active' member (and I do encourage you to take that route), this is a great way to stay on top of what's happening in your profession. You'll have networking opportunities, as well as opportunities for continuing education.

Continuing Education. Again, never pass up a chance to upgrade your skills and expand your knowledge. Perhaps a course isn't exactly in line with what you do, but you never know where your life will take you and what you'll be working on down the road. You may work in bankruptcy right now, but IP may be in your future.

Publications and Books. Will your employer pay for subscriptions to professional journals? How about books for your practice area?

Notary Public Commission. This is another 'no brainer.' You probably need this in your present employment and it 'travels' with you if you move on.

Gym Membership. Healthy employees are happier and more productive. You can find time in your day to get in some exercise...especially if your employer is paying for the gym membership.

Equipment. Will your employer pay for your cell phone plan? A BlackBerry? A laptop? Don't pass those up!Overtime: Overtime is not a benefit. It is earned and most paralegals are entitled to receive it. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes standards for overtime pay and requires employers to pay covered employees not less than one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a work week. Please stand firm on this right. Do not 'give' your time away.

Your challenge: Know your benefits package inside and out. Sit down with the person in charge of benefits where you work and make sure you understand everything that's available to you. Find out what steps you have to take for each one, how you enroll, get approval, get reimbursed, etc. If you're taking college courses or attending continuing education programs, be sure to provide a report for your personnel file and keep a copy so that you will have the information for your next salary review. Your benefits can add up to more dollars in your pocket. You don't want to miss out on

©2010 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, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at

Friday, April 9, 2010

Congratulations to Paralegal Wendi Peters: Among Maryland's Top 100 Women

Wendy Peters, a paralegal in the litigation and creditors' rights practices of national law firm Ober/Kaler, has been named to "Maryland's Top 100 Women" by The Daily Record. She is the third Ober/Kaler employee to be named to this prestigious list.

Ober/Kaler has offices in Baltimore, MD, Washington, DC, and Falls Church, VA. The firm provides integrated regulatory, transactional and litigation services to financial, health care, construction, and other business organizations.

Ms. Peters has been a paralegal with Ober/Kaler since 1986. She is a member of the Maryland Association of Paralegals (MAP) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). She is an also an associate member of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA).

Not only is Ms. Peters a hardworking and dedicated paralegal, she is also an enthusiastic, devoted community leader. She has held numerous government and community service posts and has served on the Town Council for the Town of Mt. Airy, an elected position, since 2004. Her tenure has been marked by a focus on promoting economic development and conservative fiscal principles. Under her leadership, Mt. Airy implemented a curbside single stream recycling program in 2008 that has resulted in significant savings to the town.

She previously served as Vice Chairman of the Mt. Airy Planning and Zoning Commission and on the town's Board of Zoning Appeals and Recycling Commission, as well as the board of the Mt. Airy Main Street Association.

Educational issues are of particular importance to Ms. Peters. She has volunteered as a mentor to elementary, middle and high school students in Baltimore City and Mt. Airy. Most recently, she worked with first-graders at the Steuart Hill Academy in Baltimore, and she has also served on Community Law in Action's mentoring program and the Mentoring Connections Team at Mt. Airy Middle School.

Ms. Peters will be recognized at a special ceremony on May 3, 2010 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

"Maryland's Top 100 Women" was established by The Daily Record to recognize high-achieving women throughout the state who are making an impact through their leadership, community service and mentoring. Since its inception in 1996, there have been more than 800 honorees.

Congratulations, Wendi!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dismissal Is Not Always A Good Thing

Note: Today's Guest Blogger is Cathy L. Ribble, CP, owner of Digital Paralegal Services, LLC. You can also follow Cathy's blog, Paralegal Prompts.

Dismissal Is Not Always A Good Thing
By Cathy Ribble, CP

If you are the Plaintiff's counsel, the word 'dismissed' is not always a good thing to hear, especially if it is combined with the words 'for want of prosecution'. Some attorneys--and their clients--react more strongly to this occurrence than others.

So, just how does this occur and what does it mean?
For decades, courts have made a practice of cleaning up inactive cases on the docket by setting those cases for 'dismissal for want of prosecution'. For whatever reason, the case has been sitting inactive on the docket for a period of time. The court sets up a dismissal docket with a list of all the inactive cases, and notice is given to all the attorneys of record. If neither Plaintiff nor Defendant shows good cause for the case being retained on the docket in the manner designated by that particular court, then the Court dismisses the case and removes it from its list of active cases.

Historically, some law firms felt dismissal in this manner was a bad reflection on the law firm's reputation. The preferred method of handling was voluntarily dismissal of the case by the plaintiff without prejudice if counsel was unable to persuade the court to keep the litigation open indefinitely.

As courts have grown in number and their dockets have become more congested, courts have adopted local rules of practice to streamline the litigation process. The circumstances under which a court may dismiss a case for want of prosecution have been expanded. For instance, Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 165a provides that a case may be dismissed for want of prosecution on failure of any party seeking affirmative relief to appear for any hearing or trial of which the party had notice. That includes failure to appear at docket call.

One area that requires your special attention is your court's local practice concerning docket call before a trial setting. The procedures for docket call can vary from court to court, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some courts require personal appearance before the court. Other courts or jurisdictions require a telephone call to the court coordinator with an announcement of whether your party is prepared for trial. That call might be required between certain hours on Thursday afternoon before a Monday trial setting, or it might be required on Friday.

Attorneys and paralegals are now more likely to practice in multiple jurisdictions. It is more important than ever to thoroughly and frequently review a court's local rules of procedure. Be aware that a county's district court system may have adopted local rules at the county level, but the specific judge of your court may have additional rules which require special handling throughout the litigation.

The lesson to be learned is this: Court rules and practices change frequently and they vary at state, county and local levels. Review your court rules often, and do not make assumptions. Use a sound docketing system and establish backup systems with multiple accountability levels for all deadlines.

If you do learn that a case has been inadvertently dismissed for want of prosecution, check the rules of your state immediately to determine deadlines for filing a motion for reinstatement and take appropriate action.

And last but not least: Be sure someone thoroughly reviews those lengthy dismissal notices received from your local court with page after page of case listings. Pull that old litigation file, and make a conscious decision concerning the future of that litigation.


Cathy L. Ribble, CP is the visionary behind Digital Paralegal Services, LLC. After working as a legal professional in the traditional law firm setting for over 15 years, Cathy understood that the current economic climate is creating a new need and opportunity for paralegals. Attorneys need to cut costs for themselves and their clients. Part of that equation is partnering with qualified paralegals and support personnel who can provide professional services at reasonable rates. Digital Paralegal Services, LLC was formed in 2009 to meet that need.

Cathy earned her Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) title from the National Association of Legal Assistants early in her career. In 2009, she re-established that professional certification by earning her Certified Paralegal (CP) title. Throughout her career, Cathy has developed a well-rounded legal background and had extensive experience in the area of civil litigation in Texas and Oklahoma, including trial support.

There's a New Paralegal Blog on the Block!

One of the most gratifying aspects of being The Paralegal Mentor is getting acquainted with paralegals from all parts of the country...and then hopefully inspiring them to reach their full potential.

So, of course, I'm so proud of what Billie Lord York has done. Billie listened...really the March Paralegal Mentor Matermind Call where I discussed the details of a successful virtual business with Tina Hilton of Clerical Advantage Virtual Assistance Services. Both Tina and I advocated the importance of having a blog.

Billie took our advice and started a blog that you can access at It's very well done and has all the components she needs, including the disclaimer that she does not offer legal advice.

My message to paralegals is to take risks and seize opportunities. Billie's first blog entry is titled "My First Litigation Experience". It's about the risk she took at the age of 21. Here's a sample:

"No matter the task, no matter the circumstance, the first time you do anything important in your life makes most of us a nervous wreck. At the ripe age of 21 years I assisted with my first trial. I had only been working for the firm for a few months when I was asked to assist on this trial. I hardly knew the attorney I was traveling with and would be assisting the next few months. The location was Pascagoula, Mississippi-five hours from the comforts of home- and the trial was not just any run-of-the-mill trial. It was The Trial of the Century for many litigators in the country. It was the Attorney General Mike Moore versus “Big Tobacco.” My firm represented one of the tobacco companies named in the suit. To say that I was intimidated would be putting it lightly."

Follow this link to read 'the rest of the story''s a good one. Welcome to the Blogosphere, Billie!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paralegal Profile: Deborah A. Long, Pa.C.P.

Thanks to Deborah A. Long, Pa.C.P., of Chalfont, Pennsylvania for taking the time to answer The Paralegal mentor's Thirteen Questions!

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I work as a paralegal/legal assistant in the family law division at the Law Firm of Dischell, Bartle, Yanoff & Dooley (DBYD) in Lansdale, PA.
2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? Oddly, I stumbled into it. I was looking for something close to home in a family friendly environment (due to my son having severe asthma), and DBYD happened to be looking for a legal assistant in their family law division.
The attorney for whom I would prospectively be working, Dagmar Wolf, completely understood -- her son also had severe asthma as a child, and we actually traded horror stories during my interview! She assured me that the firm would be very flexible with regard to this issue, and that the staff was also team oriented. I did find that to be true after I accepted the position (they called me the next day!), and it is true today.
3. What is your favorite part of your job? I really enjoy being a facilitator for the attorneys and for the clients. For example, I find that I am very good at breaking things down for the clients in a way that makes sense to them, and they are always very appreciative.

I also enjoy preparing the file for court and having the attorney come back and tell me what an advantage it gave him or her in court, psychologically and otherwise, to have well organized and concise information with all the supporting documentation right at their fingertips.
4. What professional associations do you belong to? The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the Montgomery County Paralegal Association (MCPA), and the Bucks County Paralegal Association (BCPA). I am the current President of MCPA and co-chair of the Marketing Committee.
5. How has your membership benefited you? Where do I begin?! It is amazing what you learn about yourself when you step outside your comfort zone. I never imagined myself being part of the governing body of anything, never imagined myself as a marketer, yet here I am serving a second term as President and I raised enough money for the MCPA in 2009 -- in a difficult economy -- to establish both a scholarship fund and a reserve fund for the Association.
Of course, I didn't do it alone, but I am amazed that I was actually part of that. It really boosts your confidence level, and you find yourself looking for more challenges on the job. And the firm definitely appreciates that! (Just check out the announcements in the website's newsroom: -- the firm includes announcements about the paralegals as well as the attorneys!)
6. Do you have any professional certifications? I am a Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal -- Pa.C.P.
7. What has been the highlight of your career? Well, serving as President of MCPA is certainly up there! In addition, I am pleased with my seminar, Organizational Concepts in Family Law Case File Management, which I presented in March 2009 and which DBYD was happy to sponsor.
8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Technology, technology, technology! You can't be afraid to learn something new, whether it's the latest software program that your firm is converting to, online networking opportunities that might benefit you professionally, or getting on the internet to do the legal or other types of research that may be required to complete a job.
Several years ago, DBYD switched over to a state-of-the-art case management software program, and I was one of four individuals selected to attend the training program for purposes of helping to train in-house. I also maintain the forms in the system for my department.
It is these types of skills that give you that extra edge in the workplace. There is simply no end to how such things will continue to evolve, and we need to remain open to growing along with it all.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? I did start a Facebook page for purposes of sharing updates and photos with my family, mainly because a large part of my family lives so far away. Also, MCPA is in the process of beginning a Facebook Group. I admit I still have a lot to learn in this area, and this is another thing I plan to focus more attention on once I pass the Presidential torch.
10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? Join a paralegal association! The contacts you make, the advice you can get, the opportunities which may come your way are invaluable. And, as I said before, you will learn a lot about yourself.
11. Is there a quote that inspires you? Our bi-monthly newsletter, MCPA Today, includes a President's Message on the front page. My first President's Message began with my own version of a famous quote: "Ask not what your association can do for you, but what you can do for your association."

I think that says a lot about me -- I believe you get back ten-fold what you put into any endeavor. If you join an association just to have the privilege of listing that association on your resume, then that is all you are ever going to get in return for your annual dues.

If you join a committee, you have the opportunity to develop or improve a particular set of skills and you acquire a source of referrals. If you decide to serve on the Board of Directors, you expand your contact base and skill sets even more so. You'll make new friends too -- can't have too many of those!

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? Dagmar Wolf. Dagmar is the attorney for whom I work. She was quick to recognize my potential, and encouraged me every step of the way to pursue my paralegal certification, to become involved in the MCPA, and to take advantage of any opportunities that could help me to develop professionally -- and keep me from becoming bored. She was the first person ever to point out to me that I am the type of person who constantly requires a new challenge. The fact that she understands this is one of the reasons we have worked successfully together for so long -- 12 years as of February 4th.
13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Always look for the latest trends in your particular field, and try to learn everything you can about it. You should also take an interest in how your firm (or other employer) is evolving and do what you can to show that you are a team player and in it for the long haul.
Bonus...Just for Fun Fact: I love to crochet, and I practically mass produce baby blankets -- someone is always expecting. More and more, I am making blankets for my friends who are expecting grandchildren rather than children -- when did that happen?!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Paralegal Mentor's Awesome Almost-Famous Brownies

There's been a run on requests for this recipe so thought I'd share it this way with the whole world.
These brownies are so yummy they should be illegal! I've been making them for years ... they're the go-to recipe when I need to take a quick dessert. They're so easy and the ingredients are so simple that there's no need to use a store-bought brownie mix ever.
Enjoy...and let me know how you like them!

The Paralegal Mentor's Awesome Almost-Famous Brownies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x13" pan. In a medium saucepan, over low heat, melt together:
2 sticks butter
4 1-oz squares unsweetened chocolate
When completely melted, turn off heat and allow to cool slightly. Then mix in the following in this order, mixing after each addition:

2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir in all at the same time:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts (totally optional; I always use pecans)
Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25 more! The brownies should be done at the end of that time. Do not over bake. If the brownies are pulling away from the sides of the pan and feel firm in the middle, they're done. You can also check by inserting a toothpick in the middle. If it comes out mostly clean, they're done. Again, do not over bake.

I hope you try these. They're truly delicious!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ethics Tip: Think Before You Send!

It's no secret that law firms are communicating more and more by e-mail. Email is fast, easy and spontaneous.

In 1999 the American Bar Association Issued Opinion 99-413 stating that confidential communication by means of unencrypted email isn't a breach of the duty of confidentiality because the mode of transmission affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. This opinion doesn't relieve attorneys and staff from their ethical obligations.

Here are a few things you should give some thought to before you send your email:

Do you have your client's permission to communicate by email? Always be sure your client wants to receive email from you. Some people check their mail so infrequently that sending a letter by US mail would be best. Others don't know how to download documents for review. It's best to have your client's permission in writing before you communicating by email.

Does someone other than your client have access to his or her e-mail? It's possible your client shares an email address with a co-worker or family member. If the co-worker or family member receives the communication, confidential information may be disclosed.Will a third party see the email? Email containing privileged information between your firm and the client is fine so long as a third party does not receive the mail. The disclosure of privileged information to a third party waives the privilege. This is also a concern if your client is copying third parties with e-mail to your firm.

Does your e-mail include a statement that it's privileged? Every email message, whether it's routine or contains privileged information, should include a statement that it is privileged and if the recipient receives it in error, her or she shouldn't read it and should inform the sender immediately. While this disclaimer can't prevent someone else from reading the message, it can help your firm make the case that the disclosure was inadvertent and that the communication should retain the privileged status.

Are you using your personal email account or your firm's account? The line between professional and private email accounts is blurred. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow the discovery of any material relevant to the claims of a party so long as the discovery appears to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. It would be best if you didn't use your personal email account to send business communications and vice versa. You do not want your personal email account to be subject to discovery.

Are you using "reply to all'? Be careful! It is unethical to communicate with a person who is represented by an attorney. You often receive email from attorneys who have also copied their client with the message. If you respond with 'reply to all' your message will go to the client and you are technically communicating with the represented person.

Are you responding to every email on demand? Email's extreme emphasis on responsiveness may jeopardize a very important attribute of professional excellence: judgment.

Good judgment implies informed and critical thinking that leads to the optimal resolution of difficult and complex problems. This can't be rushed...but this is exactly what the urgent nature of email causes us to do. A snap answer may not be the best answer. Instead of shooting back an immediate reply, it might be best to respond that you understand the importance of the problem and will give it the time and attention it requires. If you do this, the client receives a response but not an immediate answer.

Your challenge: Use email with the same caution you would use with any communication. Email may seem impersonal and be more spontaneous. However, this doesn't relieve you and your firm of the ethical responsibilities of confidentiality, privilege, and good judgment.

Get your client's permission to correspond by email. Be sure your client understands the ramifications of copying a third party with his or her messages. Be cautions when you choose the 'reply to all' function so that you do not communicate directly with a represented person. Resist the urge to shoot off quick responses to email messages. Instead, take the time to use the good judgment the response deserves.

©2010 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

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