hundreds of articles by subject
The Listserv is a free, e-mail discussion group. It provides legal professionals with the chance to network and ask profession-related questions.
This long-running column examines ethics in the paralegal profession. Do you have an ethical dilemma or question? E-mail us today.
News Briefs: September/October 2008
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 September/October 2008 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.
AAJ Selects 2008 Paralegal of the Year
For paralegal Lori Tracoma, each client isn’t just another name and another case. Tracoma, who has worked for 27 years for Cantor Arkema, a Richmond, Va.-based law firm specializing in personal injury and business litigation, is known by clients and colleagues as a compassionate paralegal who sees each case as an opportunity to improve someone’s life. For her dedication to the legal field, her passion for giving clients a voice and her leadership in the law firm, Tracoma was named the American Association for Justice’s 2008 Paralegal of the Year in June.
Tracoma is part of Cantor Arkema’s personal injury litigation team of four attorneys and six paralegals led by Irv Cantor, who founded the firm. Tracoma primarily supports Cantor and Elliott Buckner, a partner for more than six years and the attorney who nominated her for the award. Buckner cites one of Tracoma’s strengths as learning new technologies and programs that enable her to improve her work. Tracoma became the resident expert for case management software used by the firm, and she is teaching the system to other paralegals and attorneys.
According to Buckner, though, Tracoma’s strongest asset is her heart. “She truly and genuinely cares about each and every client,” he said. “She worries about how they are doing; she actually listens to them. It is not an interruption when they call her — it is a chance for her to make their day a little better.” For Tracoma, this means bringing meals to clients, spending hours on the phone consoling a grieving parent and, in one instance, even taking a former client into her home.
To be considered for the award, candidates must be a paralegal affiliate of AAJ for at least one year and they must be nominated by an attorney member or another paralegal affiliate. Three paralegal affiliate members and one attorney member from the AAJ Paralegal Advisory Task Force reviewed nominees’ contributions to the legal profession, which included involvement with paralegal students and professional organizations, commitment to continuing legal education and dedication to the community through volunteering. This year, AAJ received seven nominations.
Tracoma’s reaction to being named AAJ’s Paralegal of the Year is another indication of her selflessness. Unaware that she even was nominated, Tracoma cried when she received the news in mid-June. “My first thought was ‘my friend Mary Pat [Hanson] should have gotten that,’” Tracoma said. Her second thought? Fear of public speaking. Tracoma told Buckner, “Please don’t tell me I have to speak.”
Tracoma received free airfare, hotel and
registration to AAJ’s 2008 Annual Convention held July 12 to July 16
Information and applications for AAJ’s 2009
Paralegal of the Year award will be posted in mid-January online at
Connecticut Paralegal’s Embezzling Scheme Ends in Court
Sentence includes prison time and restitution of more than $600,000.
On July 23, Karen Davis-Jennings, a Bloomfield, Conn., paralegal, began serving a 16-month prison sentence after embezzling more than $600,000 from her employer for personal expenses and to support a gambling addiction.
Davis-Jennings, 44, was sentenced on June 9 by the
U.S. District Court in
Between 1997 and 2005, Davis-Jennings worked as a paralegal and bookkeeper for Jelly’s law office where he typically employed about five attorneys. Davis-Jennings primarily worked on personal injury cases and also was in charge of maintaining the firm’s records, including payroll and expense accounts.
Thomas Carson, a spokesman for the U.S.
Attorney’s Office in
In support of the reduced sentence, Davis-Jennings submitted 18 letters from personal and professional acquaintances, including her two sons, ages 17 and 14. Her sons noted that they needed their mother at this time in their lives; other letters emphasized Davis-Jennings’ Christian values and community activities.
Davis-Jennings’ attorney, Ryan McGuigan of Rome
In addition to her prison sentence and probation, Davis-Jennings will be required to undergo treatment for compulsive gambling. Upon her release from prison, she will be prohibited from gambling or entering any business that offers gambling, and she only will be able to take on new debt insofar as she is able to show that she can continue to pay $500 a month toward restitution to Jelly.
Claims discrimination against African-American employees in hiring practices.
Joi Hyatte, a paralegal who has worked at the U.S.
Department of Justice for 13 years, is suing her employer for
discrimination on the basis of race. The suit, filed May 29 in the
U.S. District Court of the
According to the complaint, less-experienced
Caucasian and Latino candidates from outside the government were
considered and hired over Hyatte for available civil rights analyst
positions or paralegal specialist positions in the voting section,
despite receiving a rating of “outstanding” on her two most recent
employment reviews. In addition to her current work as an equal
opportunity assistant, Hyatte, who has a paralegal degree from
“The discrimination here was anything but
subtle. [It was] very overt. It was tolerated and indeed promoted by
senior officials within the justice department,” said David C.
Two key individuals highlighted in the complaint are former Voting Section Chief John Tanner, Hyatte’s highest-ranking supervisor within the voting section from June 2005 to December 2007, and former Acting Deputy Chief Yvette Rivera, Hyatte’s immediate supervisor from July 4, 2006, to Jan. 11, 2008. Hyatte alleges they circumvented DOJ hiring policies by recruiting new Caucasian and Latino employees with little-to-no experience and failing to advertise analyst positions to current government employees to avoid giving African-American employees in the section the right to apply for available openings. Both individuals are no longer working in the voting section: Tanner resigned from his position in December 2007 and Rivera was removed from her position on Jan. 11.
The hostile work environment section of the complaint states that Tanner and Rivera “displayed racial animus towards African-American employees and fostered a work atmosphere in which employees reasonably believed that management decisions were made on the basis of race.” The complaint alleges that Tanner publicly expressed racial hostility toward African Americans and failed to discipline attorneys who made racially and sexually derogatory remarks about two female analysts. Rivera is alleged to have unjustly questioned the competence of African-American employees, directed less-qualified Caucasian and Latino employees to monitor their work and routinely downgraded their performance reviews based on race.
Hyatte is seeking a declaratory judgment that she was unlawfully discriminated against because of her race; back pay, lost benefits, wages, bonuses and interest from July 24, 2006 (when the DOJ first filled a position Hyatte was qualified to hold “without competitively advertising the position”) to the date judgment is entered; compensatory damages; attorneys’ fees; and an injunction ordering that she be promoted to the next available civil rights analyst position in the Section 5 unit of the DOJ’s voting section.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in .
The committee is formed, the requirements are
finalized and the first licenses have been issued. A little more
than one year after the
Talk of licensing and regulating paralegals in
Despite the benefits, Koprich went on to say that some of her and other paralegals’ original concerns remain, including the cost of obtaining a license, the rules regarding name use and the regulation of representation in family court. According to Koprich, regulation of representation in family court is one of the greatest concerns among paralegals. Prior to regulation, it was a gray area as to whether paralegals could represent clients in family court. For the most part, judges allowed it; therefore, paralegals were seen as a low-cost alternative to lawyers. Now, paralegals specifically are forbidden from representing clients in family court. “This is really hurting women and children,” Koprich said. “They say at least 60 percent go underrepresented. Paralegals were filling the niche. The cost of a lawyer is so far out of most of the public’s reach; they are choosing to abandon their cases or go unrepresented.”
In addition to professional licensing, paralegals who want to provide services as a professional organization also must follow new business licensing requirements. A particularly problematic clause in the guidelines states that “a paralegal firm name shall not include a descriptive or trade name that is misleading about the identities, responsibilities or relationships of the paralegals practising under the paralegal firm name; or the association or relationship of the paralegal firm with other licensees or with non-licensees.” Many paralegal organizations have been in practice for years under names that now don’t meet the requirements. One example is the X Coppers, an organization that included former police officers who performed paralegal duties, such as assisting with traffic court issues. Since regulation began, the company has gone bankrupt. “There is a lot of distress because companies like the X Coppers have built up a lot of years of goodwill with their names — a lot of recognition,” Koprich said. Now, with six pages of restrictions on naming, these companies are forced to re-brand themselves and some have lost clients along the way.
Koprich said that another concern many paralegals are struggling with is the fees involved with licensing. “Cost is hurting a lot of paralegals,” she said. “Some are getting by no problem, but others find it quite costly.” She added that most paralegals are managing and just accepting that this is the way it is for now.
In spite of the struggles, Koprich said she sees positive aspects coming out of regulation. “I have to give credit to the Law Society,” she said. “They are working toward the issues that we have in common and we have been working collaboratively.” For example, Koprich said the Law Society recognizes that the family law issue must be handled. “They promise to address this issue some day,” she said. “We would just like to see it sooner than later — you can’t just keep putting these women on hold.”
For more information regarding regulation and
requirements for paralegals in
Fort Worth Paralegal Association collects school supplies to be shipped overseas.
As war continues to rage in
OIC was formed after Sinise traveled to
FWPA became active with OIC after House saw an
article about the organization in AARP The Magazine. She presented
her idea to the board of directors and the program got off the
ground in May. “My goal as president of the organization this year
was to do more community service,” she said. “I know that there are
people over there in
So far, the association has put together more than 50 kits. Each kit contains a pair of blunt-end scissors, a ruler, 12 No. 2 pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, a box of colored pencils, a package of notebook paper, a composition book, three folders with inside pockets and a zippered pencil bag. “I think these children have nothing,” House said. “It’s basically what you would start to learn with.” In addition to school supplies, FWPA decided to accept monetary donations in order to purchase school supplies, which also allows members to more easily contribute, according to Stone. OIC also accepts items that troops designate as urgently needed. These items include blankets, 2-gallon zipper seal plastic bags and shoes.
At press time, the association still was collecting supplies with plans to make its first shipment in September. “I think a lot of things you want to volunteer for [are] hard because you don’t exactly know what to [do] and you don’t know where to go and you don’t know how to do it,” House said. “But I think this program has made it very easy for people because they give you so much information and they give you the form that you need and they tell you exactly what you need to do.” For more information on how to get involved with OIC, visit www.operationiraqichildren.org.
Trial Training Tool
Law firms nationwide include mock courtrooms in their offices.
Being in a courtroom and facing a judge can be intimidating, especially for clients who are unaccustomed to speaking in public. To help ease anxiety, law firms across the country — from California to Texas to Connecticut — have incorporated mock courtrooms into their offices to help clients become more comfortable and to build the confidence of attorneys and paralegals preparing for trial.
A growing trend, incorporating mock courtrooms
into law office buildings replicates a “real-world feel” for which
law firms strive, and attorneys with this vision often work closely
with architectural firms to make it all possible. In May, John
Hudson, a senior architect at Dungan Nequette Architects in
In addition to putting clients at ease,
courtrooms in offices also provide a realistic environment where
attorneys and paralegals can hone their trial skills. Texas-based
law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell has mock courtrooms in its Dallas and
Houston offices, completed in 1990 and 1999 respectively. Each
courtroom features a judge’s bench, witness stand, jury seating and
podiums. Both rooms also have furniture that can be disassembled or
moved so that the courtrooms can transform into meeting spaces. “The
courtroom environment gives a more realistic feel to the young
lawyers being trained to appear before a judge and jury,” said Judy
Vetkoetter, executive director of Gardere in
Both lawyers and paralegals use the courtrooms to work with witnesses and consultants to prepare them for their actual testimony and trial procedures. Even the most seasoned professionals can benefit from the technical capabilities of office courtrooms to record and play back practice sessions.
“I have found our mock trial room particularly helpful with respect to practicing with our lawyers during their presentations to become familiar with the timing of case demonstrations and computer technology for use in the courtroom,” said Marge Terry, a litigation paralegal at Gardere.
Whatever the use of law office courtrooms, they
seem to be a trend that is here to stay.
The Best of the Best
Legalmen Paul McCarthy and Tanica Bagmon receive awards from JAG for their dedication to the legal field.
On March 13, Navy Legalman First Class Petty Officer
Paul McCarthy and Legalman First Class Petty Officer Tanica Bagmon
were recognized for their accomplishments in the Judge Advocate
General’s Corps. In an annual ceremony held in
McCarthy and Bagmon, both enlisted members of
the Navy who act as paralegals, faced stiff competition for the
awards, which honor outstanding achievement and performance.
According to Stephen DiStefano, command master chief, Navy Legal
Service Command and senior enlisted advisor, and coordinator of the
McCarthy, who has been in the Navy since 1993
and has been a legalman since 2002, said that earning a bachelor’s
degree in political science from Wright State University in Dayton,
Ohio, in 2001 prompted him to choose a career as a navy paralegal.
Subsequently, he also earned a master’s degree in criminal justice
Bagmon, who has been a legalman since 2001, was
chosen for the Outstanding Legalman of the Year award for the work
she did while stationed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft
carrier based in
The Outstanding Legalman of the Year and Navy Legal Service Command Sailor of the Year are chosen annually each spring.
Turning Librarians Into Leaders
The American Association of Law Libraries holds its first leadership academy.
New librarians are learning that their roles involve
more than traditional responsibilities. To meet this need, the
American Association of Law Libraries will hold its first leadership
academy Oct. 3 and Oct. 4 at the Hyatt Lodge in
AALL past president Ann Fessenden, circuit
librarian for the U.S. Court of Appeals in
At press time, AALL had more than 90 applications for the leadership academy. Each applicant was required to submit two letters of reference, one of which was to be from an individual in the applicant’s work environment. The special committee also selected the fellows of the academy, and made their selections based on applicants’ contributions to the profession, potential as future leaders, experience and activities. “Basically, [the goal is] to help newer members, hopefully future leaders, develop leadership skills,” Fessenden said. While some leadership programs train individuals in certain areas, AALL’s academy will be a rounded experience, schooling attendees on the eight key signatures of leadership, which are the ability to capitalize on unique strengths; framing productive questions; strategic thinking and decision mapping; increasing visibility; working effectively with varied personalities and bridging generations; increasing the capacity for creativity, innovation and fresh ideas; building trust; and embracing change. To be a leader, “A lot of people think you have to be the head librarian or you have to be the head of a department,” Fessenden said, expanding, “Everyone can lead in certain contexts. You can lead a team in a particular work group or you can lead because you happen to be the person in your organization who’s knowledgeable about a particular activity or function.”
To direct the educational curriculum of the
academy, AALL selected Barbara Mackoff, Ph.D, a Seattle-based
executive coach and acclaimed leadership educator who received her
master’s degree and doctorate in psychology and education from
Although this is the first year of the academy, the goal is to make it an annual event. “I think … there’s a greater awareness of the value of leadership skills,” Fessenden said, adding that these are skills people used to learn on the job or through committee work. “I think there’s been more of a realization that some formal training can be of value as well,” she said.
Celeste Smith, education manager for AALL, agreed. “It’s really an awesome opportunity for the law librarians to really figure out from the ground level where they would like to go with their careers and [it] gives them the skills they need to do that. [The academy will] provide them with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of confidence in their abilities to take on leadership roles."
CAS Assessment Program Nears Completion
In May 2007, LAT reported delays in the launch of the new California Advanced Specialty assessment program being prepared by the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization. This program, which will enable paralegals to earn the California Advanced Specialty designation online, was scheduled to begin in late 2006. However, due to a shortage of writers, the first specialty of the online program, the California Discovery online assessment, is not slated to begin until September or October.
The California Discovery program will combine
the National Association of Legal Assistants’ discovery course with
“Over the past six months, the project managers continue to write the content for the subspecialties of probate and trust administration, corporations [and] real property litigation,” said Hazel Lange, president of CACPS. “The project managers acquired four new writers, one for the California Discovery course, one for the real property litigation specialty and two for the probate administration. A shortage of writers is still the main challenge.”
At press time, CACPS had not completed the written content for the probate administration and corporation subspecialties, but expected completion in late fall 2008, according to Lange. Some of the subspecialties, such as probate administration, will earn a paralegal the CAS title if completed successfully. “However, the paralegal could go on to take more of NALA’s courses and earn the ACP in other practice areas,” Lange said.
The new program will have no impact on paralegals currently holding the CAS designation. However, paralegals who complete the new program will need 50 hours of NALA-certified continuing legal education for the CLA and CP designations, and an additional 20 hours of NALA-certified CLE for the CAS designation over a period of five years.
For more information, please see the following article online: “Updated California Specialty Program Delayed,” May/June 2007.
“Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual
2008” by Kendall F. Svengalis, published by Rhode Island Press, is a
bibliographic and consumer guide to U.S. legal information,
including court reports, statutes, municipal ordinances,
administrative regulations, forms, legal treatises, encyclopedias,
court rules, citatory services, practice books, legal newspapers and
newsletters, and law reviews. The book also cites primary law
sources for each state and
“Arkfeld’s Best Practices Guide for ESI Pretrial Discovery — Strategy and Tactics,” by Michael R. Arkfeld, Esq., contains strategy and tactics for 16 issues regarding electronically stored information, such as scope of discovery, preservation obligation, controlling costs, search methodology, form of production, accessibility of ESI and cost allocation. The book also includes discussions on electronic discovery, preparing an overall plan and strategy, ESI issues and strategy, litigation stages and procedural discovery rules. The book is available at http://bookstore.lexis.com for $110.
E-mail Security Survey
Surety, an information technology software and services company, released its first 2008 E-mail Security and Authentication survey, which polled more than 800 IT compliance, e-mail security and IT security professionals about a variety of e-mail issues, including types of information exchanged via e-mail; whether e-mail has had to be submitted as part of an electronic discovery request; whether e-mail records ever have been used in litigation; awareness of the new guidelines related to e-mail authentication; level of concern about being able to authenticate e-mail messages and attachments; whether e-mails in an organization can be stored in original format and in a manner that can be tampered with; and more. The survey is available free at www.surety.com/images/ whitepapers/Surety_EmailSecuritySurvey_2008.pdf.
“Valuation for Arbitration,” by Mark Kantor, published by Kluwer Law International, provides information on valuation approaches for litigation regarding business investments, including market, income and asset-based methods. The book reviews tools that arbitrators employ to reach a final compensation assessment on a principled basis. Three central aspects of the arbitrator’s role are explored in the book, including advanced planning to enhance understanding of expert valuation evidence, identification of “apples to oranges” miscomparisons, and recognition of the true comparability between the business at issue and other examples offered in expert evidence. Common valuation methods are presented, such as discount- ed cash flows, adjusted pre- sent values, capitalized cash flows, adjusted book values, and comparable sales and transactions. The book also discusses means for arbitrators to assess expert valuation evidence in complex business investment disputes. The book is available at www.kluwerlaw.com/catalogue for $172.
© Legal Assistant Today Magazine