Featured: Writing Paralegal Resumes

New: How To Discover Business Assets

New: Criminal Motion Practice (with forms)

New: Trends in paralegal training &  programs.

New: Getting Started as a Paralegal

Featured topic: Billable Hours

Recently Posted:  Avoiding Technology Traps

 

News Briefs: January/February 2009

Below are some of the latest happenings in the paralegal community. These short snippets represent excerpts of news stories that can be found in the January/February 2009 issue of Legal Assistant Today.

 

Got News? - Do you know of a significant new law under consideration or recently passed in your area? Are you aware of changes to rules or codes that significantly impact the work done in your specialty area?

If so, we want to hear from you. If you submit an original news lead that turns into a news story that we print in Legal Assistant Today, we will pay you $25. If you have a original news lead that you think we would like to hear about, e-mail us.

 


National Associations Hold Annual Conferences

Education, awards and elections were highlights at meetings around the nation.

By Heidi Lowry

 

In a 2-month period, almost 950 paralegals convened in four U.S. cities to improve their skills, network and celebrate the paralegal profession. Some were honored with awards for their outstanding achievements. Others were called to new leadership roles by their peers. And all of it took place at the annual conferences hosted by four national associations.

 

The International Paralegal Management Association

Inspired by rebuilding and renewal efforts after Hurricane Katrina, “Build & Revitalize Your Knowledge: Strengthening the Paralegal Management Community,” was the theme of the IPMA’s 24th Annual Conference & Expo, which took place from Oct. 15, 2008 to Oct. 18, 2008, in New Orleans.

In fact, 87 IPMA members and vendors applied the theme literally on the first day of the conference by volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity project in the Musician’s Village, which provides local musicians and other qualifying partner families with the opportunity to own a home. “It was important for the IPMA to show our support to the city of New Orleans and the people who are trying to rebuild their lives and homes after the hurricane,” said Elise Brickner-Schulz, IPMA president and director of legal support services at Miller Nash in Portland, Ore. “We are proud to be part of the rebuilding process and help to make a difference.”

This year’s conference hosted 184 attendees and 149 exhibitors. Twenty-three sessions were offered, with the most popular being “Leadership Lessons Learned from Hurricane Katrina,” “HR for Experienced Para­legal Managers,” “FMLA/ADA for Managers” and “Marketing Your Paralegal Program.”

[…]

The 2009 Annual Conference & Expo, slated to take place from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla., will center around the theme “Vision, Vigor & Visibility: Managing the Future.” It also will mark the association’s 25th anniversary with a special evening event on Oct. 16.

 

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations

NFPA’s 34th Annual Conference, “Runnin’ Wild Arkansas ’08,” was held in Rogers, Ark., from Oct. 9, 2008 to Oct. 12, 2008, with the goals of establishing and revising NFPA policy, and providing education and association management tools to NFPA members.

The event offered its approximately 200 attendees 16 educational sessions, five workshops and one student roundtable. The most popular sessions were “Technology, Strategy & Law” and “Best Document Management Practices in the Digital Age.” “It is my hope that attendees took from the convention an increased sense of professionalism, pride in their accomplishments, an expanded network of colleagues to assist them in their positions going forward and an increased knowledge [of] association management, which will benefit their local associations,” said Georgette M. Lovelace, RP, NFPA’s new president and a para-legal at Susman, Duffy & Segaloff in New Haven, Conn.

[…]

Next year’s conference, “Come to Oregon, Be a Paralegal Pioneer,” will celebrate NFPA’s 35th anniversary and will be held from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2 at the Red Lion Hotel on the River in Portland, Ore.

 

The American Association for Paralegal Education

Concentration on the core tenets of quality paralegal studies programs was the underlying theme behind AAfPE’s 2008 conference, “Foundations of Teaching,” which took place from Oct. 15, 2008 to Oct. 18, 2008, in Dallas. “We try to give our members information that they can apply right when they get back to the job,” said Carolyn B. Smoot, new AAfPE president and director of the paralegal studies program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. “Our members are always looking for helpful tips on improving their teaching and keeping their curriculum relevant in a constantly changing legal environment.”

Almost 300 paralegal educators attended this year’s conference, which featured 39 sessions on topics including the assessment of students and programs, and how to answer American Bar Association questions on assessment; online program instruction; engaging students with humor; transitioning from being a student to a professional; and group projects and effective project assignments.

[…]

AAfPE’s 2009 conference will convene at the Marriot Portland Downtown Waterfront Hotel in Portland, Ore., from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31, with the theme “The 21st Century Paralegal.”

 

Nals … the association for legal professionals

Nals … the association for legal professionals held its 57th Annual Educational Conference and National Forum from Sept. 11, 2008 to Sept. 14, 2008, in Norfolk, Va. It emphasized continuing legal education in the areas of ethics, substantive law, industry trends, and software and technical product developments. “We continually stress [to members] the need to keep current with skills, to be flexible and willing to take on new and varied work, and to reinvent themselves when necessary to stay on top of their profession,” said Dee Beardsley, PP, PLS, Nals president and a legal secretary supervisor with Latham & Watkins in San Diego.

The event, which offered more than 13 hours of CLE credit to each of its 260 attendees, included sessions on topics such as legal research, core competencies, goal setting and interviewing skills. In two focus groups, participants also could voice their opinions on the outsourcing of legal services and on the impact of multiple generations in the workplace.

[…]

The 2009 Educational Conference and National Forum will take place from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11, in Irvine, Calif.

   


New Federal Evidence Rule Created

FRE 502 limits privilege waivers in an effort to help reduce litigation costs.

By Melody Ip

  

On Sept. 19, 2008, President Bush signed into law S. 2450, a bill that established a new Federal Rule of Evidence, FRE 502, which addresses work product protection, attorney-client privilege and limitations on the privilege waiver. Created to help reduce the rising costs of reviewing documents for privilege, the new evidentiary rule provides consistency and limits the circumstances under which inadvertent disclosure of information results in a waiver of attorney-client privilege.

[…]

FRE 502 became effective immediately after President Bush signed it, and, according to the signed measure, applies “in all proceedings commenced after the date of enactment of this Act and, insofar as is just and practicable, in all proceedings pending on such date of enactment.” The rule deals with privileged information disclosed in federal court proceedings, or to a federal public office or agency. State courts are bound by the rule only when a disclosure is made at the federal level and the revealed information is later offered in a state proceeding.

[…]

Under FRE 502, in the case of inadvertent disclosure, attorneys can undo the damage and prevent the mistake from acting as a privilege waiver if “(1) the disclosure is inadvertent; (2) the holder of the privilege or protection took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure; and (3) the holder promptly took reasonable steps to rectify the error.”

“The rule eliminates the possibility that by inadvertently producing a document, you will be deemed to have waived the privilege for all documents relating to that subject matter,” said Patricia Lee Refo, a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix.

Another important part of FRE 502 is section (d), which states: “A Federal court may order that the privilege or protection is not waived by disclosure connected with the litigation pending before the court — in which event the disclosure is also not a waiver in any other Federal or State proceeding.” According to Refo, this is one of the most applicable parts of the rule in relation to lawyers’ everyday responsibilities. “It allows parties to enter into agreements to reduce costs, including [for example] ‘quick peek’ and ‘claw back’ arrangements.” A quick peek agreement allows both sides to see each other’s complete set of documents before deciding the scope of production, whereas in a claw back agreement, the parties agree in writing to the return of any inadvertent disclosures once they are realized. Both types of arrangements can help limit the costs of privilege reviews before production.

While the new rule opens doors for mistakes to be corrected, some para­legals feel that law firms most likely will not take their chances and let down their guards during document reviews. “In reality, we still [will] review documents just as thoroughly as before,” said Anita Haworth, a senior litigation paralegal at Campbell Kyle Proffitt in Carmel, Ind., and board advisor and immediate past president of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. “The ruling does not reduce one’s responsibility to do as thorough a review as one would have done prior to the ruling; rather, it offers some protection in the event of inadvertent disclosure.”

Theresa Prater, a 27-year litigation paralegal based in Apache Junction, Ariz., sees FRE 502 as a beneficial development. “I see it as a positive move for all parties, in that it will save needless motions to protect accidental disclosure.” Prater also commented that Arizona paralegals might be dealing with state rules similar to FRE 502 sooner than paralegals in other states. “Since Arizona often changes state rules to conform to new federal rules, I believe it will eventually affect more paralegals in Arizona,” she said.

While Prater agreed with Haworth that not much might change in terms of responsibilities for paralegals because of the new rule, Refo spoke of the potential for reduced paralegal workloads. “The [time] of tedious and unending days reviewing documents for privilege may be coming to an end,” she said. “[FRE 502] will allow parties to forego the vast sums currently spent on privilege reviews in federal court.” And that cost savings will translate into time savings for both law firms and paralegals. “I honestly do not know of any opposition to the rule,” Refo said. “It had very broad support from all facets of the legal community.”           

 


New Jersey Paralegal Pleads Guilty to Fraud

False statements play a part in a $75 million real estate scheme.

By Debbie Burke

  

Paralegal Sydney Raposo pled guilty to making false statements about mortgage loans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, N.J., on Sept. 23, 2008. Raposo, a Rahway, N.J., resident, is the eighth person convicted in a multipronged real estate fraud case involving millions of dollars and spanning almost a decade. The case, still ongoing with the U.S. Attorney’s office in  Newark, N.J., is centered around a now-defunct company called NJ Affordable Homes.

According to court papers, Raposo falsified HUD-1 loan documents for properties through NJ Affordable Homes during the period from March 2003 to September 2005, while she worked under the supervision of Cranford, N.J.-based attorney Anthony Natale. Specifically, Raposo’s false statements on the documents indicated that Natale’s clients, termed “nominee buyers,” had purchas­ed properties, when, in fact, they had not. The documents handled by Raposo then were submitted to mortgage lenders whose loans were insured through the Federal Housing Administration (a division of HUD), and were designed to assist low- and middle-income borrowers.

A criminal complaint filed in June  2008 against Wayne Puff, former president and founder of NJ Affordable Homes, stated that Puff used employees and outside appraisers to inflate the value of homes by submitting bogus loan applications to mortgage lenders. Puff, who was arrested in New Jersey on June 10, 2008, and charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice, currently is in federal custody awaiting trial.

The FBI, HUD and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service combined their efforts to investigate the case. “The investigation was broad, involving numerous employees and various instruments of fraud,” said Robert Kirsch, an assistant U.S. attorney and co-prosecutor with assistant U.S. attorney Justin Arnold on the case. Raposo, he said, acknowledg­ed that she had taken instruction and direction from Natale to falsify data on the HUD-1 forms, for which she was paid a $37,000 salary. As part of her compensation, Natale also paid her mortgage, gave her money to lease a 2006 Lexus ES and gave her numerous other gifts, none of which she reported as income.

Seven others, including former employees of NJ Affordable Homes, outside appraisers and one attorney, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in this case The investigation leading to the convictions followed a September 2005 civil suit brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission against NJ Affordable Homes and Puff, alleging that Puff and his company bilked hundreds of investors and lenders from around the country out of $75 million through fraudulent real estate deals.

Although Natale has not been charged in the current case, he was sued by the trustee of the bankruptcy case when NJ Affordable Homes was ordered into bankruptcy following the filing of the 2005 civil suit.

While there is no regulation of paralegals by any agency or entity, Raposo reported to and took her instructions from Natale. JoAnne Haffeman, a freelance paralegal in New Jersey and president of the Paralegal Association of New Jersey affirmed the responsibility of both paralegals and attorneys. “Paralegals are required to work under the direct supervision of an attorney and the attorney is required to provide proper supervision of his or her paralegals,” she said. “I firmly believe that most paralegals are aware of their ethical responsibilities and their position of trust, and act accordingly.”

Vincent Scoca from Bloomfield, N.J, Raposo’s attorney, had no comment on the case, and Raposo could not be reached for comment.

Raposo was placed on $50,000 unsecured bond by Judge José L. Linares on Sept. 23, 2008, and is scheduled back in the District Court for sentencing on Jan. 5. Raposo and the seven others already convicted each face a statutory maximum term of two years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. “She appears to express feelings of contrition and remorse, and takes responsibility for her actions,” Kirsch said. He added that the ripple effect of the larger investigation created a wide swath of victims, and includes mortgage lender and potential homebuyer victims “in the hundreds,” perhaps beyond the scope of NJ Affordable Homes. “[The case is] continuing at an active and aggressive pace,” Kirsch said.        

 


Texas NALA and NFPA Affiliates Unite for Joint Seminar

Two paralegal associations come together for first time to co-sponsor CLE event.

By Alisa Driscoll

  

Two local Texas paralegal associations affiliated with different national paralegal groups came together for the first time in Dallas on Oct. 17, 2008, to offer a joint continuing legal education seminar. Billed as “Paralegals United — Two Groups, One Goal,” the full-day CLE event, which had 54 attendees, was co-sponsored by the Dallas Area Paralegal Association, a National Federation of Paralegal Associations affiliate and the North Texas Paralegal Association, an affiliate of the National Association of Legal Assistants.

“To our knowledge, no event of this magnitude has ever been conceived and carried out,” said Jay Williams, DAPA president, and a personal injury and civil litigation paralegal at Frenkel & Frenkel in Dallas. “While this is a local event, we hope to show that organizations affiliated with two national associations can work together cohesively to reach a common goal.” Donna Sorensen, NTPA president, and a corporate and securities law paralegal at Winstead in Dallas, agreed. “Outside of the substantive education, [our goal] was to bring the associations together as a team,” she said.

The idea for the joint seminar was formed when Williams and Sorensen first met in 2007, while working together on the Texas Paralegal Day Celebration Committee. “I asked [Williams] why our two associations were always competing with one another instead of working together,” Sorensen said. In response, Williams offered the idea of a joint NTPA and DAPA conference. “I knew I wanted to put together a CLE event with NTPA during my term as DAPA president. When I brought the subject up with [Sorensen], she excitedly and without hesitation agreed to bring the idea to her board of directors to seek approval,” Williams explained. The proposal was approved, and Sorensen and Williams began the 6-month organization process for the First Annual Fall DAPA/NTPA Joint CLE Seminar.

The conference offered six CLE hours to NALA, NFPA and Texas Board of Legal Specialization members, and offered three morning sessions with guest speakers. Then paralegals were able to choose which break-out sessions they wanted to attend for the afternoon, including litigation and corporate/real estate tracks, with special topics ranging from e-filing to choice of entity. “The level of creativity and preparedness of the speakers was impressive. The talks were very informative and gave good information,” said P. Marie Boydston, a legal assistant at Comstock Resources, Inc., in Frisco, Texas, and an NTPA member.

[…]

Despite the success of the joint seminar on the local level, the opinions on whether or not there should be one national paralegal association still are varied. “I’m not sure why there is more than one,” Sorensen said. However, others praised the diversification that happens as a result of having separate national associations, deeming it an important asset to the paralegal profession. “The structure set-up is quite different between the two organizations,” Boydston said. “One is [not] better than the other, but having different associations brings about diversity.” While the notion of one national paralegal association is debatable, both Sorensen and Williams viewed their CLE event as a success and noted that they are looking forward to collaborating on more projects in the future.          

 


Canadian Legal Assistant Sentenced to Prison

Law firm defrauded of nearly $1.4 million.

By Heidi Lowry

 

 On Sept. 9, 2008, a 36-year-old Canadian legal assistant was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for defrauding her law firm of almost $1.4 million. Penny Myslichuk also was ordered to pay restitution to Bennett Jones in Calgary, where she worked in the wills and estates group of the firm’s tax department. Myslichuk was responsible for administering various trust accounts, including individual estate accounts, dependent adult accounts, family trust accounts and a large trust account in Bennett Jones’ name where clients’ funds were mixed together. These accounts included some that were held by Americans.

According to court documents, from April 1, 2002, to Sept. 20, 2005, Myslichuk employed several methods of transferring cash from private accounts she handled to the mixed account, making it harder for the firm to trace the money. She then falsified letters, wrote fraudulent checks and doctored other documents to siphon the money out and to cover her tracks. “Initially it was just to help pay bills and then she liked the rush of it. She liked being able to give money to her family and to her friends and to be a big spender,” said Crown prosecutor Susan Mulligan, citing conversations Myslichuk had with a probation officer and a psychiatrist after she was arrested. “She didn’t have an addiction; she didn’t have a gambling problem. She just liked having the money.”

Mulligan stated that Myslichuk moved $1.4 million, and had managed to extract an amount that came to $25,000 tax free every month in addition to her regular salary.

Court documents further stated that Myslichuk, who had been a paralegal with the firm for approximately 10 years, pled guilty to seven counts of fraud over $5,000 and one count of forgery on March 18, 2008. Each fraud charge carried a maximum sentence of 14 years, and the forgery charge carried a maximum penalty of 10 years. “She forged signatures. She created, destroyed and altered documents and records. She engaged in an escalating sophisticated scheme with many transactions, deceiving and defrauding her employer for the benefit of herself and her family,” court documents reported.

The firm detected her crimes in May 2006 and commenced legal proceedings, recovering $500,000 from the sale of vehicles and two homes in Myslichuk’s possession. Bennett Jones’ actual loss was estimated at approximately $800,000. Court documents also noted that Myslichuk has a history of depression and sought counseling after her crimes were discovered.

Though Myslichuk misappropriated money from private trusts, no clients actually lost money. “She not only breached [the clients’] trust, she breached the law firm’s trust; but in the end the law firm paid back all of the trust accounts,” Mulligan said.

Calgary-based Balfour Der, Myslichuk’s attorney, who could not be reached for comment, argued for a sentence of two years less a day to be served in the community, while Mulligan opposed a conditional sentence and recommended a sentence of four to five years. Though the judge handed down a 3 1/2-year sentence (the same amount of time it took Myslichuk to commit the crimes), Mulligan is satisfied that justice has been served. “There’s always room for some mercy,” said Mulligan, noting that the trial would have been long and involved had Myslichuk not entered her guilty plea at the earliest reasonable opportunity.

Myslichuk began serving her sentence immediately and will be eligible for parole once she serves one-sixth of her term. According to court records, “Myslichuk is at the low end of the risk to re-offend."

 


AAPI Uses New Formats for 2008 Annual Events

Webinar and conference call capabilities allowed more participation.

By Rebecca Garcia

 

 The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc., held both its Third Annual Paralegal Summit and its Annual Meeting in new formats this year. The summit, which took place on Sept. 19, 2008, was held via Webinar, and the annual meeting, which took place on Oct. 9, 2008, was held via conference call. According to Karen Ray, AAPI secretary and a senior paralegal at GTx, Inc., in Memphis, Tenn., these formats enabled more people to participate in the events, given the country’s current economic state.

AAPI members from 14 states and nonmembers from many other states participated in this year’s Webinar format summit. “The American Alliance board, in its continuing effort to make the activities of the American Alliance accessible to more members, decided to hold the summit via Webinar,” said Debbie Repass, AACP, RP, AAPI president and a legal assistant at Pentagon Financial Credit Union in Alexandria, Va.

[…]

According to Ray, AAPI was not faced with any challenges in utilizing this new format. “We liked this type of format and so did our participants. It meant they didn’t have to be out of the office and could still participate and receive [continuing legal education] credits,” she said.

Participants agreed with Ray. “It definitely made attending the AAPI summit easier,” said José Pedro Santos, a founding AAPI member and a senior paralegal at Benjamin, Yocum & Heather in Cincinnati. “The registration was easy, the scheduled [technological] tests prior to the Webinar were very helpful, and the Webinar itself was convenient, affordable, useful, interactive, engaging and very enlighting,” he added.

[…]

According to Ray, the annual meeting’s conference call format also was well received by participants, as all board members were able to participate. “This was the first time we tried having our annual meeting by conference call instead of in person. Given the economic situation, this was a huge success,” she said.

At the meeting, Sandra M. Herdler, a paralegal at Krigel & Krigel in Kansas City, Mo., was unanimously elected as secretary, to replace Ray, who is leaving the position after having served in it for four years. Herdler stated that her goal for her new position is “to successfully fulfill the duties of secretary, assist in publicizing AAPI, increase membership and become an AACP.”

Angela Baker-Colyer, AACP, a paralegal at Western-Southern Life Insurance Company in Cincinnati, was unanimously elected as the organization’s director of education. One of her goals is to distribute information about CLE opportunities to AAPI members. “Since September, the American Alliance has partnered with Lorman to offer CLE to our members at a discount. We hope to do even more in this area to give our members timely information regarding CLE opportunities,” she said. Another of Baker-Colyer’s goals is to promote the AACP credential. “I plan to spread awareness about the AACP credential and increase AACP numbers. My plan is to have an AACP in every state,” she said.

[…]

The Fourth Annual Paralegal Summit will be held in September 2009.        

 

 

Please see the following related news brief online: “Agreement Reached in Wersinger v. Bank of America” by Heidi Lowry, November/December 2008.

 


Survey Results Show Gender Difference in Legal Profession Salaries

U.S. Census Bureau statistics reflect female paralegals earn less than male paralegals.

By Tammy R. Pettinato

 

The average female paralegal or legal assistant now makes about 93.2 percent of her male counterpart, according to the 2007 American Community Survey report, released in August 2008 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey, based on data collected over a 12-month period from January 2007 to December 2007, reports that female paralegals and legal assistants made $42,600 on average, compared to $45,700 for male paralegals.

“Although the International Paralegal Management Association does not maintain statistics regarding gender, parity is an issue in the legal field in general,” said Elise Brickner-Schulz, IPMA president and the director of legal support services at Miller Nash in Portland, Ore.

Illustrating that point, the report noted that while men in legal occupations earned the most out of all the occupations surveyed, the legal occupation group as a whole had the lowest ratio of women’s earnings to men’s earnings (51.1 percent). This difference was most notable in the judicial realm of the profession, with female judges and other judicial workers earning just 64.3 percent of their male counterparts’ salaries. Female lawyers fared slightly better, earning 77.8 percent of male lawyers’ salaries, and female legal support workers made 72.7 percent of what their male counterparts made.

Christine Parizo, who has been a paralegal for more than four years in Northampton, Mass., and authors A Paralegal’s Blog (www.paralegalsblog.com), offers several possibilities for the discrepancy in paralegal salaries. “Males are more comfortable asking for more money,” Parizo said. “[Also] more male paralegals are career paralegals, as opposed to being promoted from legal secretary.” She added that job location is another possibility. “Male paralegals tend to be concentrated in geographic areas with higher salaries, whereas female paralegals can be found everywhere in the U.S.,” she said.

John C. Goudie, a paralegal with Assurant Health in Milwaukee, Wis., agreed that geography was a possible reason for the discrepancy, although in a different way. “To a certain degree, the study likely doesn’t reflect geographical differences,” Goudie said. “I am certain that there are female paralegals in certain regions of the country who are being paid higher salaries than male para­legals in other parts of the country.”

[…]

“I would like to believe the trend will change in all professions, not just [for] paralegals, in the future, [so] it is recognized that an individual is paid appropriately for [his/her] efforts and expertise, irrespective of [his/her] gender,” Goudie said.

The American Community Survey is conducted annually and is the largest of its kind in the United States. The data is collected by Census Bureau field representatives via mail, phone calls and personal visits. About 3 million households are surveyed in communities representing about 37.1 percent of the U.S. population in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The 2007 survey report was authored by Alemayehu Bishaw and Jessica Semega of the U.S. Census Bureau. The report can be found at www.census .gov/prod/2008pubs/acs-09.pdf.    

 


Virtual Paralegal Trend Grows

Practitioners cite flexibility, the economy as benefits.

By Tammy R. Pettinato

 

Employees striking out on their own is a growing trend in many industries and the legal profession is no exception. Enter the virtual paralegal, who works independently, typically from a home office, providing many of the same services as a paralegal who is employed by a law firm or company, while, according to Dawn Draper, a virtual paralegal based in Traverse City, Mich., giving attorneys a cost-effective option to get the work done.

“I am seeing a growing trend in both the use of virtual paralegals in law firms and the desire for paralegals to work in a virtual setting,” said Draper, adding that using a virtual paralegal can save law firms money in terms of office equipment, supplies and paid benefits. Draper spent 12 years working as a paralegal, handling criminal law, family law and civil litigation at various law firms and a corporation before opening her business, The Virtual Paralegal, earlier this year. In addition to Michigan, she has clients in Virginia, Indiana and Texas.

“I definitely see an increase in people looking at virtual assistance as a career alternative,” said Lauren Hidden, marketing director-elect of the International Virtual Assistants Association and managing editor of IVAACast, the association’s publication. IVAA, which incorporated in 1999, currently has 1,048 members and has seen significant growth over the past two years. “With the increase in corporate and small business layoffs, more people are looking at being in charge of their own destiny,” Hidden said.

Laurie Mapp had been working as a paralegal for more than 10 years when she decided she needed a change. While she had enjoyed her previous work, first specializing in civil litigation with two firms in Alberta, and later working in the tax law section of the Canadian federal government, she had grown tired of office politics, not to mention her commute. She was searching for something with more flexibility and longed to own her own business. “I knew that working for myself would give me control and still provide challenges,” she said.

Thus, in September 2008, Halo Secretarial Services, Mapp’s virtual paralegal business, was born. Similar to a freelance paralegal, most virtual paralegals perform work under the supervision of an attorney, and Mapp said the only difference is geography. “A freelance paralegal might look for customers locally, while the virtual paralegal looks for clients online and locally,” Mapp said. “You can do pretty much any work that you can do in an office from home.”

For Mapp, who works from her home in Alberta, job duties include, “drafting documents, correspondence and memoranda; researching legal issues; managing the lawyer’s calendar; and liaising with clients.” And, although Mapp works from Canada, she deals extensively with U.S. attorneys. “I’ve actually found they are more receptive [to the virtual paralegal idea], so far, than Canadian attorneys,” she said.

Both Mapp and Draper cite increased flexibility and control over their work as benefits to working virtually. “I have the ability to create my work hours, take vacation time or other necessary family time off without having to request that time from an employer,” Draper said. “There is no such thing as a typical day, really,” added Mapp. “One day might see me drafting correspondence for one client and doing research for another, and the next day might see me popping out to help out at my son’s school. Some days I get a lot done early in the morning and the other days I do all of my work in the evening.”

And the pay is good. “I think a virtual paralegal earns a little more per hour than some [staff] paralegals,” said Draper, though she notes geography will affect salary levels. Adds Mapp, “You can make great pay if you work hard to get and keep your clients, provide them [with] exemplary service and show them what a fabulous resource you can be.”

There can be disadvantages. Mapp notes that working from home is less stable. “There is no job security when you are self-employed,” she said. “You have to build in time for marketing and networking or you won’t have business.” Virtual paralegals also can face security or conflict-of-interest concerns for clients. Both Mapp and Draper offer nondisclosure agreements and perform conflict-of-interest checks before accepting assignments.

Though there are some drawbacks, the benefits are likely to draw more paralegals into the virtual world. In fact, Hidden believes that the recent economic turmoil could actually be a boon for the industry. “I see business looking at money-saving alternatives and that often means outsourcing roles once held by employees,” she said. “I’ve also seen small and medium-sized businesses hire virtual assistants in order to focus on their marketing efforts in this economy.” Hidden believes that the role of virtual assistants will continue to grow. “The future is very bright for VAs,” she said.            

 


Legal Resources

  

A Guide for Pro Bono Services

“A Guide for Pro Bono Services of Lex Mundi Member Firms,” launched by Lex Mundi, is designed to help law firms (including those that are not Lex Mundi members) implement or enhance their pro bono programs and provides guidance for developing a “pro bono culture.” Prepared by members of the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Committee, topics covered in the guide include defining pro bono, why firms should provide pro bono legal services, establishing a pro bono committee, supervision and tracking of approved pro bono matters, clarifying the relationship with the client, current law firm pro bono models and more. The guide is available for free at www.lexmundi.com/images/ lexmundi/PDF/ProBono/ProBono_Guide.pdf.

   

Using Forensic Evidence

“Forensic Evidence in Court: A Case Study Approach” by Christine Beck Lissitzyn, published by Carolina Academic Press, covers the use of forensic evidence at trial through expert testimony, as well as court challenges to many types of foren­sic evidence. The book’s major case study involves an unsolved murder from 1973, where a conviction finally was obtained through forensic evidence in 2002. Forensic evidence in other well-known cases is examined, including the trials of O.J. Simpson and Sam Sheppard. Chapter topics include trial strategy, handwriting analysis, polygraph, and exonerations based on newly discovered DNA evidence. The book is available at www.cap-press.com for $45.

   

E-discovery Blog

The Legal Electronic Document Institute and Anacomp announced a new blog dedicated to identifying trends, technologies and best practices in electronic discovery. The blog will be led by Tom O’Connor, LEDI director, and a frequent consultant, speaker and writer on computerized litigation support systems. The blog will focus on how law firms and corporate counsel can leverage Anacomp’s docNative Paradigm approach to e-­discovery but, according to O’Connor, also will be a place where litigation support professionals can learn about emerging technologies, and share successes and best practices. The blog is updated weekly on Wednesdays and is available at www.anacomp.com/clx/docnativeblog.aspx.

   

Legal Analysis of the Financial Crisis

JD Supra has compiled an online repository of legal analysis on the global financial crisis from some of the country’s leading law firms. The repository, which is updated regularly, features links to more than 100 articles written by leading practitioners in a variety of legal disciplines including securities, tax, banking and finance, SEC enforcement, real estate and mortgages, employment and ERISA, and environment and energy. Users also can receive updates on a monthly basis. All the content is free and can be accessed at www.jdsupra.com.

   

Empowering Your Legal Career

“The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development” by Ari Kaplan, published by Thomson West, provides tips and techniques for members of the legal community to stand out in today’s economy. Public relations experts, marketing masters, business executives, career advisers and others offer perspective on issues ranging from networking, mentoring and blogging to unique strategies for maximizing career development potential, including hosting a television show, starting a charity and getting published. Each chapter addresses strategies for connecting with people and establishing professional relationships. It is available at www.west.thomson.com for $18.95.

   

Medical Abbreviations for 2009

“Medical Abbreviations: 30,000 Conveniences at the Expense of Communication and Safety,” 14th edition, by Neil M. Davis, published by Neil M. Davis Associates, assists individuals in reading and transcribing medical records, medically related communications and prescriptions. This latest edition contains 30,000 meanings for the acronyms, symbols, slang and abbreviations listed, plus other features including a “Do Not Use” list of dangerous abbreviations, a cross-referenced list of 3,400 generic and trade drug names, and a primer of commonly used abbreviations and their meanings for those new to the health field. Also included with the purchase of the book is a 1-year, single-user license for access to the online version, which is updated with an average of 80 new entries each month. The book is available at www.medabbrev.com for $28.95.

   

E-discovery Pricing Estimation Tool

Orange Legal Technologies announc­ed public availability of its Predictive Pricing Estimator, an online pricing estimation tool to help law firms, corporations and government agencies estimate, compare and evaluate electronic discovery costs. The tool will allow users to enter data volume and reviewer requirement variables that are evaluated and presented as cost estimates for the analytics, processing and review stages of electronic discovery. Organizations then can use the estimated results to help in electronic discovery project scoping and planning, including development of re­quests for proposals and statement of work documents. Access to the Predictive Pricing Estimator is available for free at http://orangelt.com/estimator/pricing.html.          

   

 

home  |  advertising  |  press center  |  about us  |  contact us  |  conexion international

© Legal Assistant Today Magazine
410-740-9770