Thursday, May 31, 2012

Paralegal Profile: Emily Ewald

Emily Ewald is a Litigation Paralegal with Warner Norcross & Judd, LLP in Grand Rapids, Michigan where she specialize in litigation and e-discovery. She has a B.S. Degree from Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and a Paralegal Certificate from Davenport University, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

1.   What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?  I knew it would be a challenging and rewarding career.

2.    What is your favorite part of your job?  Each case is unique.  I constantly have to educate myself in different areas in which we represent our clients.  I have worked on cases involving the automotive industry, telecommunications, hospitals, universities, complex construction, railroads, and landfills just to name a few areas.

3.    What professional associations do you belong to?  Association of Litigation Support Professionals (ALSP), Grand Valley State University Legal Studies Advisory Board, Grand Rapids Bar Association - Paralegal Section, and the State Bar of Michigan - Legal Assistant Section.

4.    What has been the highlight of your career?  There have been a few highlights, but the most memorable would be working on a case that spanned five years and arbitration took place over the course of nine months in a city over 200 miles away from where I work.  The Plaintiff was seeking $19 million and the arbitration panel concluded that our client was not liable to the Plaintiff for any damages.

5.    What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry?  e-Discovery; it is ever evolving in the courts and in our everyday practice.

6.    If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be?  Have confidence in yourself; never be afraid to ask questions or make suggestions; do your best to keep up with technology.

7.     You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career.  To what single event or person do you attribute that success?  There isn't just one person: my grandfather was a Circuit Court judge from whom I learned a lot from his example; my mom for her encouragement; and the clients, expert witnesses, and attorneys I have worked with during my career.

8.   What is the best live concert you’ve ever attended? Rolling Stones, August 2005 at Comerica Park - home of the Detroit Tigers!

9.   What’s your favorite food? Wine and cheese

10.   What’s your favorite vacation getaway?  Charlevoix, Michigan

11.   If you could not be a paralegal, what would be your dream job?  Movie Soundtrack Producer

12.   Strangest thing you ever ate?  Rattlesnake

13.   You've been given the chance to have dinner with anyone living or dead. Who is it?  It would have to be a table for eight and a seven course meal with Jesus, Michelangello, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Condoleezza Rice.

Bonus Question: Is there a song lyric that best describes you or your philosophy on life?  Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup, you never know until you try.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Paralegal pay continues to rise for both law firms and law departments, according to the 2012 Annual Compensation Survey for Paralegals/Legal Assistants and Managers released today.
The survey has been conducted annually since 2002 by ALM Legal Intelligence, a leading source of business intelligence for the legal profession, in partnership with the International Paralegal Management Association (IPMA).

The survey tracks compensation, billing rates and billable hours for paralegals, based on responses from 274 law firms and law departments representing more than 8,775 paralegal positions. 

Key findings from the survey included the following:
  • The number of organizations granting salary increases increased from 2011.  
  • The top 2 highest paid (hourly) positions in 2012 are Litigation Support/Technology Manager ($77.72) and Paralegal Director ($67.73) on the law firm side, and Paralegal Manager ($59.05) on the law department side.
  • Case Manager and Litigation Support/Technology Manager saw the biggest increases on the firm side; Paralegal and Paralegal Managers saw big increases on the law department side.
  • Law firm paralegal average billing rates increased or remainedrelatively the same in 2012 with rates ranging from $134 an hour for a Case Assistant up to $299 for the Specialist/Industry Analyst position.   
A copy of the survey report may be purchased here: .
I am curious if law firms of all sizes were surveyed or if the results are only from larger firms that hire paralegal managers. The results of this survey do not coincide with what I am hearing from paralegals across the country who report their salaries remain stagnant with perhaps only slim increases.
Has your paralegal compensation increased in 2012?

Source: GlobeNewswire, and ALM

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Paralegal Profile: Carl H. Morrison, PP, AACP

Carl H. Morrison, II, PP, AACP  is a Senior Certified Paralegal with Rhodes, Hieronymus, Jones, Tucker  Gable, PLLC, in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he specializes in insurance defense, medical products, medical malpractice, vaccine litigation, asbestos litigation, products liability and dram shop liability.

Carl has a degree in Biological Sciences (Pre-Med) and is a NALS Certified Professional Paralegal (PP), as well as an American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP).
1. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?  My legal career started over 19 years ago when I started back to school to become a court reporter.  I was going to school part time and working full time as a runner at another law firm in Tulsa. 
When I realized just how much I enjoyed working in a law firm, I started making bold changes to get to where I am today.  With education, hard work and dedication I went from runner, to legal assistant to ultimately paralegal.

2. What is your favorite part of your job?  My favorite part of the job is when a case goes to trial, whether it is a mock trial or the “real” deal.  I guess you could say that I am an “adrenaline junkie” and love the fast pace of trial! 

I am truly blessed to work with such fine attorneys that respect my input that goes into every aspect of trial, from preparing witnesses and selecting jurors, to assisting with the development of a trial “game plan”, to ultimately observing and reporting jurors’ reactions during the course of trial.

3. What professional associations do you belong to?  I am active with NALS…the association of legal professionals, serving in leadership roles in both the national and state level.  I also belong to the Tulsa County Bar Association Paralegal Section and currently serve as Vice-Chair of the section.  I am also active in Tulsa Area Paralegal Association.

4. How has your membership benefited you?   NALS is an exceptional organization and has benefited me tremendously.  From education to leadership to networking, belonging to a great organization such as NALS has given me the tools and resources to take my career to the next level. 

I would highly recommend to anyone that does not belong to a legal professional organization to consider joining and getting involved in one. The opportunities that a great organization can provide are almost limitless.

5. What has been the highlight of your career?  That is kind of a hard question, as I have many different highlights of my career.  One highlight that comes to mind was the first time I was asked to present a seminar to a group of my peers.  From that moment on I was hooked.  Since 2005, I have presented numerous seminars and webinars at the local and national level and love getting up to speak before an audience. 

I guess my biggest highlight was when I published my first article in a national paralegal magazine.  It was concerning the little known area of vaccine litigation and the paralegal’s role.  Since that time I have gone on to have additional articles published concerning various topics of the paralegal industry.

6. What electronic device can you not live without?  My smartphone!  I just recently switched from an Android based device to an iPhone and absolutely love it.  I own an iPad and iPod as well, as it is great being able to sync all my devices at the same time from one device.  It is especially helpful when making appointments and having my Outlook work calendar, iPad and iPhone calendars all be linked together. 

7. Speaking of your iPod, anything on it that has you hitting the repeat button?  I love the song “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson.  My favorite lyric is, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, stand a little taller…”  It’s a great song about surviving the trials and tribulations of life and standing strong and weathering those storms.

8. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be?  Like the old Nike commercial, Just do it!  With the current state of the economy, I believe that we will see the legal industry become more and more cost conscious. I believe firms and corporations will continue and expand the utilization of paralegals for tasks that once were completed by an attorney in order to cut costs to their clients, thereby creating a demand for qualified paralegals.

9.  You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career.  To what single event or person do you attribute that success?  There are so many events and people in my life that have shaped and influenced me that I cannot list one single event or person.  I truly owe all my success to my family and friends that have supported me over the years and have encouraged me to take my career to the next level and continue to do so.

10. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting?  Learn something new!  I am big fan of education.  I recommend that if there is an area of law or subject matter that you don’t work in on a daily basis, take a course at your local community college or attend seminars and webinars on that subject.  Learning is a forever thing and you are never too old to learn something new.

11. What sports team are you passionate about?  I love college football and am a huge University of Florida Gators fan!  Go Gators! 

12.  Have you dipped your toes in the social media waters? It's more like I dove head first into the social media waters! I use Facebook on a professional versus personal basis and am active on LinkedIn and Twitter. I believe that Twitter is a great branding tool to market yourself to other professionals across the world. It is also a great way to network with other like-minded individuals.

13. Is there a quote that inspires you? Some time ago I attended a NALS National Education Conference where the keynote speaker, Erick Burton, said "There is no word 'try'; commit to it or don't."

It reminded me of a quote from the movie 'The Empire Strikes Back". The character, Luke, did not believe that the Force could lift a massive object. He told his instructor, Yoda, that he'd try. Yoda replied "Do...or do not. There is no try." This has become my mantra when approaching any obstacle in life.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

10 Wardrobe Must-Haves For Men

Reader Todd R. Noebel, SPHR Manager, Professional Support Services, with McGuireWoods LLP in Richmond, Virginia, sent an email: "Since you linked to 10 must-haves for the women, maybe the men in the profession would appreciate this."
Here is Todd's list -- and it's a good one!
1. Tailored Suit – Everyone needs at least one suit that fits them perfectly. One that will fit any occasion.  I’m not talking bespoke (unless you can afford it – and once in your life you need to do this), but please, get your suit tailored.  Suggest a solid navy suit.

2. At least 2 Freshly Pressed White Shirts – They can be any collar, cuff or shade but a white shirt is a blank canvas with endless style opportunities.  Please, no frayed cuffs or necks here – go buy a new one.

3. Comfortable, dress shoes – Having a pair of well polished, dress shoes that do not make your feet cringe is crucial.  Buy the best pair you can afford – you’ll be glad you did.  Black is best, cordovan should be next on your list.

4. Blazer/Sport Coat – For those days where you don’t feel like thinking about what to wear and still look professional.  Traditional navy or black is ideal since they’ll work with everything from your dress pants to your jeans.   

5. High quality briefcase/laptop bag in good repair – It’s a man’'s version of a purse and your old school backpack just doesn'’t cut it in the adult world.  It should reflect both your professionalism and your personal sense of style.

6. Sweater – A comfortable, well-fitting sweater is as versatile and can substitute for your tailored blazer/sport coat in more business casual settings.  Again, think classic colors and styling.

7. Gray dress pants – They go with everything (see Blazer/Sport coat, white shirt, etc.).  Seriously.  Medium to dark grey is your best choice – cuffed or not doesn’t matter.

8. High Quality Leather Belt – Black, cordovan and dark brown.  It needs to fit properly and should be classic, clean and well made.

9. A Silk Tie – It needs to be clean, and should not be overly fashionable.  Again, look to the traditional classics like the regimental stripe or rep ties.  High quality shows – as does one pulled from the clearance bin at Benny’s Bargain Basement.  This is also someplace where you can add your personal fashion statement once you can afford to have several ties hanging in your closet.  

10. A Watch – The field is wide open here – it’s functional and can pretty much be any style you want.  I might suggest steering clear of canvas watchbands for work but it’s not an absolute by any stretch.

Paralegal Profile: Nancy L. Merritt

Nancy L. Merritt is a paralegal who has spent her entire career working in the Delaware Valley. This year (2012) marks her 25th year in the paralegal field, and her 18th year with her current firm, Archer & Greiner, P.C., in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Nancy has worked in just about every area of the law:   matrimonial, real estate, environmental, labor, personal injury, estates, litigation.  Her focus now is on commercial litigation and a growing/relatively new field for paralegals: governmental affairs.

1. What prompted you to choose a paralegal career? I was working as a legal secretary. The attornes asked me to consider becoming a paralegal. That was 27 years ago (ugh).

2. What professional associations do you belong to? The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals. I am a past Board member and current voting member.

3. How has your membership benefited you? Networking. There is tremendous benefit to gathering regularly with members of your field.

4. What has been the highlight of your career? I was blessed to work for many years with a partner, now a Federal Magistrate Judge, who took full advantage of my paralegal skills and capabilities. He valued paralegals and worked in a true team fashion with me.

I gained invaluable insight from him and honed my already-sharpened paralegal skills. His cases were ultra challenging (mass tort, class actions), and I joined him on several trials. Who would have thought, looking back, I would miss all that stress and the countless hours in the office? But I do.

5. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? E-discovery and the challenges technology has brought to the simplest of litigation cases. Every litigation paralegal should keep abreast of e-discovery/technology trends.

6. If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be?  First, be very sure of your career choice. You need to be in for a penny, in for a pound to be an effective paralegal. Second, seriously consider the up side and down side of working as a paralegal. If you are looking for fixed hours and overtime pay, this career may not be for you.
7. You've enjoyed a successful paralegal career. To what single event or person do you attribute that success? First, to myself because I have worked hard and never let my skills and abilities soften. Second, to everyone I have worked with throughout my paralegal career, because you grow as a paralegal with each attorney you work for and with each new case you handle.
8. What is the most important step a paralegal can take to keep his or her career interesting? Continuing legal education, particularly in areas of the law that are not familiar to you. And to step outside of your comfort zone and take on work (cases, areas of the law) that is new to you. It keeps you on your toes and increases your value as a paralegal.
9. Who would play you in a movie of your life? Hmmmm. Joan of Arc or Wonder Woman? To be serious, the real value in my life is being a mother. Any strong and loving role model in the field of motherhood would be OK with me.
10. What electronic device can you not live without? I can live without them all! (Okay, my phone.)
11. What is your favorite hobby? Traveling, particularly when our trips take our family to new and exciting places.

12. What Web site do you visit daily? Most all my daily website visits are work related. I try to stay off the computer when I leave the office!

13. Where do you go to have fun? Nature. With my family and our dog. It’s our great escape.
Bonus Question: What is your guilty pleasure food?  It would have to be sugar; I can’t seem to live without it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Paralegal Salaries: What's Really in Your Wallet?

Would you pass up a raise? I'm sure the answer is 'No!' If you aren't taking advantage of benefits offered by your employer, though, you may be passing up a big pay hike.

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 Smart Phone? An iPad? A laptop? Don't pass those up!

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 that!
© 2011-12 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", is the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. She delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting 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 Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.
More information is available at where subscribers receive Vicki's 151 Tips for Your Career Success.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Paralegal Profile: Michele T. Pfeiffer, CLA

Michele T. Pfeiffer, CLA Freelance Paralegal - Orange County, California
1.     What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?  After being a legal secretary for 12 years, I evolved into doing “JD’s (aka “can you ‘Just do’ . . .?”).  Yet,  it didn’t feel right.  
I went back to school and obtained my Certificate of Completion from a local ABA approved paralegal program.  When I finished the program, I couldn’t find a job so I took a position for a $1,000+ a month more as a Legal Secretary with a paralegal certificate!  Luckily, within 6 months I was promoted, and the rest is history.

2.    What is your favorite part of your job? 
As a freelance paralegal for the past 14 years, I have had the privilege of working on all kinds of projects, for all types of cases, in various areas of law.  It allowed me to be more flexible with my time as a mom and yet work with a variety of attorneys in So CA and have a fulfilling career.  

3.    What professional associations do you belong to? 
Paralegal Associations:  California Alliance of Paralegal Association, SPA, and NALA.  Bar Associations:  Newport Harbor Bar Association, Lex Romana Bar Association, OCTLA, Celtic Bar Association, West Orange County Bar Association, OC Criminal Defense Bar Association; promoting California’s Business & Professions Code §6450, et seq. and recruiting speakers for MCLE programs.

4.    What has been the highlight of your career? 
Working on my first federal felony case from inception through trial, being on the trial team and sitting with the attorney in trial, and handling all the exhibits, for a several week trial.  Then, finishing up by assisting the attorney through the sentencing phase. I’m ready to do it again.  Second, mentoring students.

5.    What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry? 
The technology that makes my job easier.  I appreciate it when software products cuts down on my ‘busy work’ time, so I can spend it on the important aspects of the project.  Also seeing the new options and/or opportunities for paralegals (i.e., teaching.  When I went to school, only attorneys taught our courses.)   

6.    If someone contemplating a paralegal career asked you for career advice, what would your answer be? 
Find the ‘arena’ in which you want to work in, (i.e., law firm, solo, or corporate, etc.).  Do short internships or work temp jobs while in school.  Take on anything that will get you in the door.  Secondly, be a sponge and open minded, and make sure you are learning something new every day.  Finally, you don’t have to know the answer to everything, you just have to know where or how to find it.  

7.    You’ve enjoyed a successful paralegal career.  To what single event or person do you attribute that success? 
For me there were several attorneys who mentored me and took me under their wings, who taught me and worked with me; while others allowed me to take on projects I wouldn’t otherwise have been assigned; and finally, attorneys who gave me the confidence to do more than I could, which resulted in work-product exceeding even their expectations.  Never be afraid to ask questions.

8.    What is the best live concert you’ve ever attended? 
Fleetwood Mac Rumors; Recently, Celine Dion in Vegas and Paul McCartney, Honda Center, OC, CA.

9.    What’s your favorite food? 
I love to cook so this is hard, yet anything with bold or spicy flavors, my friends’ cooking (they are great cooks too).  My rule is eat something out you don’t cook better at home.

10.    What’s your favorite vacation getaway? 
Lake Havasu, AZ in less than 4 hours I’m in a completely different state, awesome scenery, and renewed state of mind.  

11.    If you could not be a paralegal, what would be your dream job? 
An airline stewardess ~ I love to travel.  

12.    Strangest thing you ever ate? 
1) armadillo and 2) all parts of a cow!

13.    You’ve been given the chance to have dinner with anyone living or dead.  Who is it? 
I'd have a dinner party with Jesus, Jacqueline Kennedy, Prophet Job, Napoleon Hill, Benjamin Franklin, and Susan B. Anthony, to name few.

14.    Bonus Questions:  What college classed did you love? 
I minored in languages and enjoyed taking Spanish, French, and Italian.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Paralegal Career Tips: 10 Hot Legal Careers for Non-Lawyers

Sally Kane, Esq.
You no longer have to think "lawyer" to find rewarding legal career opportunities.

Sally Kane, Editor-in-Chief at Paralegal Today and Guide, recently posted an excellent article that provides 10 satisfying, lucrative legal career opportunities that do not require a time-consuming, expensive legal education. You no longer have to think "lawyer" to find rewarding legal career opportunities.

As Ms. Kane says, "The legal market is thriving. New regulations, economic growth, advances in technology and rising caseloads have fueled the demand for a growing range of talented legal professionals." 

No. 1 on her list is an E-Discovery Professional: "Electronic discovery (“e-discovery”) is a $2 billion industry and e-discovery professionals are at the heart of it. These tech-savvy legal professionals help identify, preserve and manage electronically stored information (ESI) in litigation. Recent changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and growing volumes of ESI have given rise to this new profession to address the electronic realities of a digital age. The field is predicted to reach $21.8 billion by the year 2011, creating an unprecedented demand for e-discovery skills and pushing salaries to new levels."

To read the remaining legal career opportunities for non-lawyers, follow this link to Ms. Kane's post.

More information about Ms. Kane: Sally holds a bachelor's degree in writing from Edinboro University (cum laude) and a paralegal certificate (summa cum laude) from Duquesne University. She also holds a Juris Doctorate degree from Duquesne University School of Law where she served as an editor of the Duquesne Law Review.

Ms. Kane is an attorney, editor and writer specializing in legal, career and business topics. She has published hundreds of career-related articles in print and web-based media and serves as editor-in-chief of Paralegal Today, an international magazine covering the paralegal profession, and editor for Litigation Support Today, an international magazine serving the litigation support profession. Her latest project is a legal careers book to be published by Delmar, Cengage Learning. You can follow her on Twitter at sallyannekane

Thursday, May 3, 2012

10 Travel Tips: Be Prepared When Things Go Wrong

It's the season when you'll be traveling on vacation, for work and for professional association meetings. Hopefully all will go well -- for me and for you -- but, just in case, I have 10 tips that will help you be better prepared if anything goes wrong:
1. Be sure your name on your ticket and your ID match. TSA is now strictly enforcing the requirement that the name on your ID (your driver's license or passport) must exactly match the name on your ticket. For instance, 'Vicki Voisin' on my ticket will not work because that's not the full name on my driver's license. I learned this the hard way!

Your ticket will have to be reissued with the correct name and usually for a later flight. In addition, you will have to pay all the fees involved. When you buy tickets, always be sure the ticket is issued to match your ID.
Another tip: When you renew your driver's license, get a separate photo ID card (the cost is $10 in my state). Keep it in a different place from your driver's license when you travel so you have a backup ID in case you lose your license. You'll be able to get through security to fly home if you lose your wallet on the road.