Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Importance of Technology in the Paralegal World

The latest edition of The Paralegal Voice, “The Importance of Technology in the Paralegal World" co-hosted by Lynne DeVenny and me, is now available at Legal Talk Network.

In this episode, we welcome Kim Plonsky, a frequent contributor to Paralegal Today, who works as a paralegal at Gainsburgh, Benjamin, David, Meunier & Warshauer, L.L.C., in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Kim knows her technology inside and out! She shares the kinds of technology to use on the job, the minimum technology and software skills that today’s paralegals should have, and her favorite online resources for keeping up with today’s legal technology. Also In this episode:

  • How Kim became a technology expert and columnist
  • Kim’s favorite electronic gadgets
  • Kim’s favorite legal software
  • Technology resources for paralegals on a budget
  • Common legal software utilized by law firms
  • Practice and social media tips from Vicki and Lynne

Page URL:

Internet resources referenced in the podcast:
The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Westlaw Deposition Services and NALA...The Association for Paralegals and Legal Assistants.

Please share the links to this episode of The Paralegal Voice with your friends and colleagues. If you have a request for a future show or a question for us, you are welcome to contact us at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Professional Profile: Tina M. Keller, ACP

Tina M. Keller, ACP, of Sacramento, CA answers my Thirteen Questions this week. Tina is employed by the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office. She is a member of NALA.

You'll enjoy reading Tina's profile, particularly what she would tell someone contemplating a paralegal career. Thanks, Tina!


1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I am employed by the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office as a paralegal for CEPD (Consumer and Environmental Protection Division).

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? I was in the process of earning a degree as an Industrial Engineer when I realized that although I could do the work and understood the theories, I simply hated it.

Once that realization hit home, I took the aptitude test at the college learning center and the results indicated I should work in the legal field. Attorney was a possibility, yet the 'new profession' at that time -- paralegal -- had a job description that felt more like me. I burned the Engineering Calculus book and switched majors the next week.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? I have a sense of purpose with my current position. I am in a unique position in that I help protect this little part of the world for my grandson and his future grandchildren. I am as my husband says a 'tree hugger' and proud to say I am paid to do what I believe is important.

4. What professional associations do you belong to? I am an active member of NALA. I joined long ago while serving as an officer for the ILA in Indiana. I have also had the privilege of membership with the APA when I lived near Phoenix for a few years.

5. How has your membership benefited you? I have met some of my dearest friends through NALA and its affiliates. I have also relied upon my NALA friends to help me with my many job searches as I move from place to place. I always know I'll find work as a paralegal. Membership with NALA provides me with the contacts necessary to know where the best positions are in each state.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? I am a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal. I achieved my CLA in 1996 and my CLAS (now ACP) in 1998.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? Hopefully it is still to come. I have worked as a PI, family law, banking law, and social security paralegal in both large and small firms. I owned SOS Paralegal Services for four years, and now work in the public sector. I have served on boards, held offices, and am an active member in my professional associations. At the time, each new position was the highlight of my career, so I personally can't wait to see what the REAL highlight is.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Technology in general. In order to stay on top in our field, you must naturally keep up with the latest rulings and the decisions that will change every form in your system. That part is assumed. It is the technology that makes it possible to perform all of our job duties, skills and handle our deadlines efficiently. The key is to use the technology to assist you with your tasks rather than create additional work for yourself.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? I finally joined Facebook last December, after researching and checking the privacy settings available. I enjoy keeping up with friends, family and peers on the site. I thought I didn't like interactive games. It turns out I just don't like gore and gloom. I love farming! So if you want to be my 'friend' you'll need to be ready to either game or hide/block games from your wall. The brain drain aspect of the games relieves stress for me, and socializing, having fun and joking around are important to me.

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? I would suggest a pros and cons list of the reasons and expectations she/he has regarding the career. I would also suggest that this decision not be made after watching Erin Brockovich (which I loved, but it does not truly portray our profession).

Do a little soul searching and research before making any career decisions. It is a choice I would make over and over for myself personally, but it is a lot of work without a lot of kudos. A person who has a personality that requires attention and validation should avoid this profession. Perhaps others have found great warmth and appreciation with spotlights and a large office. I haven't seen any of that myself. Know yourself and what type of environment brings you happiness.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? Yes, I love quotes! I have quotes for all occasions from Poe to Twain; movies to TV; and lyrics from songs. Currently, my choice quote is "Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there; with open arms and open eyes." (Incubus from Drive).

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? There is no single event or person. I attribute any and all success in my career and life in general to so many good and wonderfully supportive people. One I will name is my husband of 32 plus years, Steven. He has stood by me through the education process, the job searches, the sole practitioner years, and the soul searching. I was fortunate to have instructors with passion for the legal profession, and then later to be hired by 'bosses' who became my dearest friends. It's not fair to name any one person for fear of leaving out others.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Make a conscious decision to learn something new every day of your career. It works for life too of course. Keeping an open mind to new ideas, technology, and other opinions than your own will keep your career interesting.

Bonus - just for fun question: What sports team are you passionate about? I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I respect all teams and love football in general. However, Steelers' fans blend to form a very large family that is spread all across our nation. I have been a proud member of that family since I was 7 years old. On any Steelers game day, I'm the one wearing a Steelers T-shirt, with a terrible towel tucked in my jeans, and my logo ball cap. All accessorized with the socks and earrings to match naturally. My black car has a Steelers plate holder, and my office at work would make Hines, Troy and all the 'kids' proud.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Speaking at Tulsa Area Paralegal Association Fall Conference

This Saturday, October 16th, I'll be in Oklahoma speaking at the Fall Conference of the Tulsa Area Paralegal Association (TAPA). The conference takes place in at the Holiday Inn - Tulsa Center.

This 90 minute presentation will cover ethics issues related to the law firm’s technology system. The mystery will focus on issues of confidentiality and privilege and take you through the tangled web of electronic equipment, blogs, email, metadata, social media...and more.
My goal is to talk about ethics for 90 minutes and keep attendees awake at the same time. I’ve come up with a good way to do that…we’ll be solving a mystery! Oh, dear…the Senior Partner has been murdered! Carolyn, a litigation paralegal with the firm, believes there are clues within the firms technology system that will point to the murderer. She enlists the help of the firm’s IT guru, McTechie…and they’re off.
If you’re in Tulsa and want to help figure out who murdered the Senior well as learn a lot about law firm ethics...just click on this link for more information and to register. See you there!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Certification: Is it the path for you?

The issue of certification has long been debated. Here a few questions I'm frequently asked:

* I graduated from a paralegal program, why should I sit for a certification exam?

* I have a paralegal certificate from a university, doesn't that make me 'certified'?

* I have a good job and several years of experience, how will being certified make a difference?

* What will those letters after my name really do for me?

* My boss doesn't care if I'm certified so why should I bother?

I wholeheartedly support the certification process for paralegals and believe that it is an important professional goal. Please consider the following points:
Having a certificate does not mean you are certified. A certificate is issued upon completion of an educational program, at which time you are certificated. Certification involves passing an examination established by a sponsoring organization that usually has specific requirements of education and experience for persons taking the exam. Upon completion of the examination, you are certified.

The American Bar Association defines certification as: 'a process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association.'
I'm certainly not minimizing the importance of completing a paralegal program and obtaining your certificate or your degree. In fact, I view paralegal education as essential. I am merely pointing out that there is an additional step you can take that will increase your professional profile. That step is certification.
Benefits of Certification
Credential = credibility.Certification is a voluntary process and is not a prerequisite for paralegal employment. However, certification gives you credibility. It demonstrates that you have the knowledge base and the skill required to pass the examination. It may also make you more marketable and may increase your income potential.

Certification takes you off the level playing field. Graduation from a paralegal program (and, thus, being certificated) is the primary avenue by which people enter the paralegal profession. If everyone has a certificate, how is a potential employer to judge the best candidate for the job? Think about the following:

Two paralegals standing side by side with the same certificate from the same school and the same amount of experience. How can one be distinguished from the other? The answer is certification. The certified paralegal demonstrates that he or she is a multi-skilled professional with diverse knowledge and effective communication skills.
Certification provides paralegals an avenue for self-regulation. The issue of licensure for paralegals is old's been discussed ad nauseum for more than a quarter century. Paralegals work under the supervision of a licensed attorney and do not provide their services directly to the public. For this reason, licensure of paralegals is not required.

Further, licensure says a person is 'qualified' to do work. It does not demonstrate advanced knowledge and skills. An example is a hair dresser (and I have the highest regard for my hair dresser, believe me!). Hair dressers are allowed to enter the profession when they are licensed by a state agency. The license does not say they have fantastic skills, it only says that they can perform the services. The certification credential is awarded to people who prove their advanced knowledge and skills by meeting the standards of the credentialing organization.

Certification will do much for you personally. Ask anyone who has a credential and they will tell you that the achievement made them walk a little taller, made them feel stronger professionally, gave them incredible personal satisfaction and increased their level of professional confidence. They set a goal and they achieved it. They took a risk and they survived it. They have the credibility that the credential provides. They literally stand out above the crowd. Their accomplishment gave them great pride. You, too, can have all that with professional certification.

One additional benefit you will reap from the certification exam: the learning that takes place in the preparation for the examination. Even the most experienced paralegal will learn something new and benefit from the intense review.

You will usually be required to participate in continuing education programs to maintain your certification. This requirement will help you keep up to date with changes in the profession and in the legal arena. Also, the credentialing organization will usually set high ethical standards for those using the credential. Unethical behavior will result in the loss of the credential.

Certification may give you a 'leg up' when you're searching for a job. In today's economy, you need all the ammunition you can muster to prove that you are the person for the job. Having the certification credential behind you exhibits not only the advanced knowledge I mentioned earlier, it also shows discipline, ambition, motivation and willingness to accept a challenge.
Choosing a Certification Program

Which certification examination/credential is right for you? That's a personal decision. Many paralegal associations provide certification examinations (ie NALA, NFPA, NALS, and AAPI). There are also voluntary certification programs offered by some states...examples are North Carolina and Florida, but there are others. All have different structure and eligibility requirements, as well as different continuing education and re-certification requirements.

What is important is that the credentialing organization you choose is a bona fide entity, that the exam is administered under rules and regulations in accordance with governmental acts and in accordance with such issues as anti-trust and fairness.

It is essential that the organization agrees to keep applications and records confidential. It is crucial that the organization prepares an examination under the guidance of professional testing consultants, that the exam be continually reviewed for accuracy, and that it be updated on a regular basis.

Usually the certification designation is a certification mark duly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Claims of certified status must be other words, if a paralegal claims to be certified, he or she must have the credential to prove it.

Using the Certification Credential

Can you ethically use the credential after your name? Yes! Whether it is CLA, CP, PP, RP, AACP, ACP, PLS, AVA, ALS, NCCP etc. you can use it. The U.S. Supreme Court has addressed the issue concerning the utilization of credentials awarded by private organizations. In Peal v Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee of Illinois, 110 S.Ct. 2281 (1990), the Court suggested that a claim of certification is truthful and not misleading if:
* The claim itself is true

* The bases on which certification was awarded are factual and verifiable

* The certification in question is available to all professionals in the field who meet relevant, objective and consistently applied standards

* The certification claim does not suggest any greater degree of professional qualification than reasonably may be inferred from an evaluation of the certification program's requirements.

* There is a qualified organization behind the certification process
Of course, the credential cannot be used to mislead the public and represent something you are not.

Preparing for the Certification Exam

How do you prepare for a certification examination? The thought of all that study may sound overwhelming. The idea of taking such a critical examination may be frightening. The key to success is in the preparation and planning. The best thing to do is to break the process into steps:

* Decide which examination you will take.

* Decide when you will take the examination

* Working backward from the examination date, block a period of time for study and determine a study schedule (I recommend three months but that is an individual decision)

* Plan how you will study and what reference materials you will need (these may be available from the credentialing organization)

* Join a study group and enlist 'study buddies' to hold you accountable

* Take advantage of preparation and educational opportunities offered by the credentialing organization, as well as your professional association. For instance, NALA offers a three-day intense CLA review course, as well as CLA preparation courses at its convention.

Your Challenge

If you already have a professional credential, congratulations! If you don't, please put that at the top of your list. Follow the steps above and begin planning for the examination. You will never regret the time and effort it takes. You will always feel immense professional pride when you put those initials after your name!

©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

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paralegals - Beware of the Curse of the Eternally Urgent

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, an evil person placed a curse on every lawyer and law firm in the land. The curse extended to all who worked for the lawyer, especially paralegals.

No one knows who did this dreadful deed. Perhaps it was Shakespeare when he reportedly said 'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers'. Perhaps it happened when the first yellow legal pad was produced or maybe it was bred among stacks of red rope files. Whatever its origin, this curse will forever plague attorneys and paralegals.

It is called The Curse of the Eternally Urgent.

What is The Curse of the Eternally Urgent? It is a malicious jinx that gives everything in the law firm critical status --- critical deadlines, critical documents, critical meetings, critical issues. Everything has to be done at once.

No one can escape The Curse of the Eternally Urgent! It infects everyone in the law office, especially paralegals who are not only cursed themselves but also have to deal with cursed attorneys. It causes stress, anxiety, tension, pressure and overwhelm. It renders everyone senseless, causing them to spin their wheels, getting nothing finished. Or if they do finish something, another even more time critical issue or deadline raises its ugly head. Add to that the feeling that everything must be done perfectly and you're doomed!

The Curse of the Eternally Urgent may also result in the failure to meet ethical responsibilities. The ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct (at Rule 1.1 and 1.3) state that attorneys owe their clients the duty of competence and diligence. This requires possession of the legal knowledge and skill necessary for representation, as well as acting with reasonable promptness and thoroughness while representing a client. This, of course, includes meeting deadlines.

There are dire consequences associated with The Curse of the Eternally Urgent! Missed deadlines may result in cases being dismissed, placing the client in an undesirable position, and a terrible reputation for the firm. There is also the possibility of disciplinary proceedings for the attorney, ranging from a reprimand to suspension to disbarment. There may be civil law suits brought against the attorney, as well as the paralegal. Paralegals risk losing their hard-earned professional certifications
Why does The Curse of the Eternally Urgent continue? That's totally due to the lack of perspective and planning, by procrastination and perfectionism.

Can the cycle of The Curse of the Eternally Urgent be broken? Yes! Just take the following steps:

Change your perspective. Instead of continuing the bad habit of always putting out fires, adopt the habit of looking at the deadline and what has to be done to meet it. Also, recognize when something is really time critical -- when it absolutely has to be done right that minute -- and when you can safely save it for another day.

Meeting deadlines is only the end goal. Acting competently and diligently on the client's behalf doesn't mean meeting deadlines by flying by the seat of your pants at trial, dropping off a brief at the Clerk's office at 4:55 pm on the day it's due, or frantically completing an answer to a complaint at the very last minute to avoid being defaulted.

Instead, competence and diligence on the client's behalf means planning for the deadline by determining steps necessary to complete the work by the deadline...taking the time to do the job that is required instead of throwing something together willy nilly just to get by.

Break your work into chunks. Once you determine what has to be done to meet the deadline, you have broken your work down into chunks. Looking at the main deadline (such as 'complete discovery') can be overwhelming. This overwhelm may stop you from even starting the work.

Taken one step at a time, knowing when each one will be finished, will allow you to meet your goal of finishing the entire project by the due date. You must take further, though, and determine when each step should be taken. Each step is then put on your calendar as an appointment. Each time you have an 'appointment' to get something done, you focus on that step until completion. You will reach your deadline before it becomes time critical.

Forget perfectionism. Quality work should always be your goal...just remember that done is good enough. You can make endless revisions but is that really a good use of your time? Do what is absolutely necessary and do it well (notice I didn't say 'do it perfectly') but stop when the product is good enough to get the job done. Never do work just to be doing work. That's a total waste of time. Instead, do only what really has to be done to finish the project.

Determine who will do the work. Never think you are absolutely the only one in the office who can do a job. Look at the individual steps that must be taken to reach a deadline and decide who is best suited to do it. This may be the attorney, the paralegal, the secretary...each person has specific skills so be sure to utilize those skills.

Your challenge: Don't let The Curse of the Eternally Urgent rule your life. Break the curse by getting your work in perspective. Ask yourself if it is really time critical. Then follow up with planning what has to be done and when, setting up 'appointments' with yourself to do the work, and delegating whenever possible. Last, do quality work but only to the point where what you've done is good enough...avoid perfectionism.

I'd love to hear what you think about The Curse of the Eternally Urgent. Leave your comment here.

©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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Paralegal Profile: Tina Brower Medlock, ACP

Tina Brower Medlock, ACP, of North Little Rock, Arkansas answers my Thirteen Questions. You'll enjoy reading the questions Tina answered, particularly her take on hot trends in the industry...and the strangest food she's ever tried. Thanks, Tina!

1. Where do you work and what is your job title? I'm the Senior Paralegal at Hyden, Miron & Foster, PLLC, in Little Rock, Arkansas. .

2. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? My first job in a legal office was for a sole practitioner. He liked that I didn't have any bad habits and he could train me the way he wanted.

3. What is your favorite part of your job? I love to write, and I do a lot of it here. I also love my clients. I've been here 14 years -- some of my clients are like my extended family.

4. What professional associations do you belong to? I'm a NALA member, and I'm also a member of the Arkansas Paralegal Alliance, Inc. where I'm currently serving as President.. I'm also a new member of Toastmasters.

5. How has your membership benefited you? The networking possibilities are tremendous. Also, involvement has pushed me to learn new things about my profession and myself.

6. Do you have any professional certifications? I'm a NALA Certified Paralegal, and I have an Advanced Certification in Probate and Estate Planning.

7. What has been the highlight of your career? I have two: My members naming me Paralegal of the Year this year, and accepting the special award on behalf of APA at this year's NALA convention.

8. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? Definitely Project Management. I think those skills work well with what paralegals are asked to do every day. Some of us already do it without thinking about it, but learning more about it makes us more valuable team members.

9. Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? I'm on Facebook and LinkedIn, and I frequently visit the NALA Conference Center. Possibly in the future I could see myself writing some sort of blog.

10. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? Don't get into the field because it's the "hot" job to have. Likewise, don't pick a field of law because it's popular at the present moment. Anything you do should be because you have a skill for it and a passion to do it.

11. Is there a quote that inspires you? "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

12. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? I don't think there is a single person. I've been taught my whole life to work hard and always do a good job. That started with my mother and has continued through the teachers I've had on the job.

13. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Never stop learning -- about your field, about other things you'd like to pursue, or a hobby you like. Plus, learn to sincerely and honestly communicate with people.

Bonus...just for fun questions:

What is the strangest thing you ever ate? Squirrel. It was by accident -- my mother tricked me into thinking it was a really tiny chicken.

What's the worst gift you ever received? My ex-husband gave me fake roses from the corner gas station for almost every occasion while we were married.