Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Practice Tip: Court Approval of Paralegal Fees

Today's Paralegal Mentor Practice Tip provides information for the recovery of paralegal fees.

Courts may award attorney fees to the prevailing party under statutes and contract provisions.  In these cases, the courts determine the appropriate fees, including whether to approve fees for paralegal time. 

Federal courts and most states have followed the reasoning of two US Supreme Court cases, Missouri v Jenkins and Richlin v Chertoff (see below), and allow attorney fee awards that include paralegal time. 

In some states, statutes have been amended or court rules have been added to clarify that paralegal time could be included in attorney fee awards and that the paralegal time could be charged at market rates.

Courts do not automatically approve fees for paralegal time. There are several important elements that should be included in the fee petition. Today's Practice Tip discusses those elements. 
Follow this link to listen and then let me know if you have had any experience with the court approval of your paralegal fees.
Remember...I'm dedicated to your success!

Skip Tracing: 4 Things Every Paralegal Should Understand

Thanks to  Guest Contributor Christa Blair  for this information regarding skip tracing. Christa is a staff writer for Be-A-Private-Investigator.Net. She writes mostly about skip tracing and skip tracing techniques.
Are you a paralegal who is faced with a situation where someone you need to locate is simply nowhere to be found? I'm sure you have had to deal with a case or two in your career where you needed to have a "skip" (someone missing) located in order to proceed with litigation. In these instances, skip tracing is necessary to track down such people and it is important that you understand the basic principles of this type of procedure.

Once you know that you are most likely dealing with a skip case, it is important to first determine why the person is missing.
There are two types of skips; intentional and unintentional.

  • Unintentional skips refer to cases where a person is hard to locate simply because of some missing or incorrect information that they are unaware of. 
  • Intentional skips, on the other hand are people who for more obvious reasons such as prosecution or financial debt have purposefully made their whereabouts unknown.  
  What Information is Needed?  The next critical and most extensive step in the skip trace is to collect any leads and information that may be able to help in building a picture as to where the skip may have gone. 

For starters gather all your “identifiers”; full name and any previous names, date of birth, information on spouse if applicable, last known address, last known phone number, motor vehicle records, any prior arrest records and such.

Sometimes you are lucky and it ends up being easier than you think it’s going to be, so start with the most obvious sources first: 411 directory assistance, reverse number lookups, phonebook listings.  If these leads end up as dead ends, there are other measures that can be taken such as running the person’s social security/insurance number to pull a credit file on them, requesting change of address information, searching online databases and contacting relatives and others associated with them.

In some instances more involved methods such as surveillance are used but much can be done on a computer and there are also some helpful software programs designed for this purpose.

How Is This Done?  It is important for you to remember that skip tracing is not a procedure that can be performed carelessly.  There are certain laws that dictate how it can be carried out.

Skip tracers must abide by federal and local regulations as well as privacy and trespass laws when it comes to collecting information.  If they collect it illegally it will inadmissible in court as evidence. In general these rules determine how information can be collected, how much of it can be disclosed and to whom.

Who Does Skip Tracing? 
Although anyone can attempt a skip trace on a basic level, such as searching public records and online databases there are some techniques that only professionals have access to. 

There are companies, usually private investigation firms that will perform skip traces for a fee.  These businesses are normally licensed and hold an account with at least one major credit bureau which gives them access to normally confidential files. You may want to hire a professional skip trace service if the skip seems particularly challenging to find.

Guest Contributor Christa Blair is a staff writer for Be-A-Private-Investigator.Net. She writes mostly about skip tracing and skip tracing techniques.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Paralegal Profile: Wil Antonides, ALS

Wil Antonides, ALS resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan and commutes to work in Richland, MI where he is a paralegal specializing in family law, criminal defense, civil litigation and personal injury.

He has a Bachelor of Arts degree, as well as a Post- Baccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies. He earned the ALS credential from NALS.
1.    What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?  I was down-sized from my human resources position.  I had taken a “Paralegal 101” course a few years prior out of curiosity, and decided that it was the time to pursue this permanently.

2.    What is your favorite part of your job?  Client meetings and writing briefs.

3.    What professional associations do you belong to?  NALS (National Association for Legal Professionals)

4.    How has your membership benefited you?   It has connected me with a committed group of individuals that I can reach out to, learn from, and share a laugh.

5.    What has been the highlight of your career?  Being nominated and elected Treasurer of the Board of Directors of my local NALS chapter when I was a brand new paralegal.  A member heard my story, saw my determination and thought I showed leadership.

6.    What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry?  Keeping clients happy with the services they pay for.  

7.    If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be?  Make sure your writing skills are strong, technology doesn’t frighten you, and that you can handle things at the last minute, all while knowing that you will never make as much money as the attorney does.

8.    Is there a quote that inspires you?  Success is the best revenge.

9.     You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career.  To what single event or person do you attribute that success?  My partner, Tom, for pushing me to reinvent myself at age 40.

10.    What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting?  READ. Read everything.  Stay current and even ahead of the issues that are coming in the future.  Also, reading good writing makes you a better writer.

11.    What electronic device can you not live without?  My iPad

12.    What unusual item do you own? My grandfather’s pocket watch.  The first-born son in every generation of my family, takes the name of his paternal grandfather.  This has been handed down for over 100 years.

13.    What advice would you give yourself if you met you as a first-year paralegal? Read the Court Rules.  Really!

Bonus Question: If you could not be a paralegal, what would be your dream job? White House Chief of Staff

Monday, November 21, 2011

Oops! Paralegal Donates Firm's Used Paper to School

My mission to be sure all law firm employees receive complete, thorough and ongoing ethics training has just been reinforced and fortified..

Confidentiality of client's information is of utmost importance in a law firm. There are many ways to breach the duty of confidentiality (talking, email to wrong party, etc) but even used paper can be a problem. 

If your firm doesn't have a shredder, get one NOW and put everything through it. DO NOT DONATE IT TO ANYONE!

A paralegal in Minneapolis learned this the hard way when she donated her firm's used paper to her child's school, Hale Elementary. The paper was then used as scrap paper for an after school program at the elementary school. One of the school's students took his drawing home and his mother, Jennifer Kane, found it as she was straightening up the dining room.

When Mrs. Kane turned the drawing over, she discovered confidential information on the back:  the name, birth date and detailed medical information for a 24-year-old St. Paul woman named Paula White. This sent Minneapolis school officials scrambling.
“The more I read it, the more alarmed I became about the amount of information I had about this person,” said Kane.
WCCO-TV located White, who was shown the record.
“It’s got my account number, my birth date, my job,” said White. “I’m outraged. I am embarrassed. I don’t want anyone to know my personal information.”
After WCCO-TV made a phone call to the school, faculty searched and found more pieces of paper with other people’s personal information. The school is now holding those papers in a secure place.

On White’s medical record, there was a logo of the law firm, Sawicki and Phelps, which she hired after she was in a car accident.
When asked to comment, the law firm first said they had no idea how the school could have gotten the papers. However, Attorney Paul Phelps later told WCCO-TV a paralegal had donated the firm’s old paper to her child’s school.

Phelps said the donation was a violation of the firm’s privacy policies.
“It was a mistake,” said Phelps. “The employee did not believe there was any personal information on the papers.”
Now, Hale Elementary is sending out a message to every child in the after school program to check if any other medical records have ended up in students homes, asking students to return those papers.

This is a "mistake" that should not be made. Attorneys have a duty to ensure all employees (not just paralegals) are aware of the attorney's ethical responsibilities. Confidentiality should be at the top of the list, but there is so much more. Bottom line is that everyone in the office should have this training and often it is lacking.

And, apparently, shredders are not used as often as they should be!
Source: WCOO-TV

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Career Tips: How to Advance in the Paralegal Profession

Want some tips from the experts about how to get ahead in the paralegal profession?

The latest edition of The Paralegal Voice, “Career Tips: How to Advance in the Paralegal Profession” co-hosted by Lynne DeVenny and me, is now available at Legal Talk Network 

On this edition of
The Paralegal Voice, Lynne and I are joined by
NALA President, Karen McGee, ACP and Charlsye Smith Diaz, Ph.D., to discuss career development and how to advance in the paralegal profession.

We cover key topics including creating professional resumes, obtaining professional certification, and networking at CLE programs.


Also in this episode:
  • New ways that NALA is serving the paralegal profession
  • Why having a quality professional resume is vital
  • How employers read resumes
  • The most important parts of a professional resume - and what to leave out
  • More resume writing tips
  • Alternate career paths for paralegals
  • The advantages of NALA’s Advanced Paralegal Certification
  • Vicki’s practice tip and Lynne’s social media tip
Page URL:

MP3 Link

Internet resources and links mentioned during the podcast:
The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsors: Redact-It, Above All Legal, and NALA...The Association of 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

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Paralegal Mentor Tips

My goal is to provide professional development tips for paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, and all legal support staff, as well as attorneys, paralegal students and educators.

I post daily Mentor Tips on Twitter and Facebook, and I also provide links to relevant articles on all things legal on this blog.

Every Thursday, I publish Paralegal Strategies, an online newsletter with paralegal news and comments, current events, profiles and feature articles. Go to to get yours...and remember that new subscribers to Paralegal Strategies receive The Paralegal Mentor's 151 Tips for Your Career Success.

Here are the Paralegal Mentor Tips for October 24-28, 2011:

Monday: It’s more important to be YOU than to try to please everyone – which, let’s face it, never works anyway

Tuesday:  Little things matter more than you realize. What "little things" can you do today to move your career forward? 

Wednesday: If you haven’t updated your resume in the past 3 months, make it a goal to have it updated before the end of the week.

Keep things where you'll look for them not where they *should* go so you won't waste billable time looking for them.

Friday: Deadlines are great motivators but it's even more important to set a time to actually do the work. 

Use these tips to move your career in the right direction...forward!