NFPA Blog: The Paralegal Corner
Welcome to NFPA's blog, The Paralegal Corner. Click on a title to view the full blog post:
A Paralegal’s Guide to Contract Management Software
Item Writing Committee Seeks Committee Members
NFPA In-house Paralegal Committee
Paralegal Think Tank: Major Take-Aways from the Joint Conference
The Beauty of Dissent
A Tribute to Mary Jo McLaughlin
Case Summary: Potential Bias of a Juror
Breen v. Pruter
South Carolina: A Word To The Wise on Supreme Court’s View of Unauthorized Practice of Law
Time-Out: It Isn’t Just for Kids Anymore
Case Law Review
Musings from the Paralegal of the Year
“I Love My Job:” How to Say It and Mean It
This article has been presented on behalf of the NFPA In-House Paralegal Committee
by Rosemary Shields, Cobblestone Software
In today’s work environment, paralegals are expected to be more productive with fewer resources. That’s why paralegals and other legal professionals are choosing to invest in contract management software to continue meeting industry standards and to simplify their contract management process. Research shows that companies utilizing contract management software can reduce annual contract management expenses by 20% to 50%. Reduced costs and contract management software features can provide paralegals and other legal professionals with better, faster results. Utilizing leading contract management software can create a smoother process, fewer mistakes, and better contract monitoring.
Understanding the Fundamentals of Contract Management
Learn the fundamentals of contract management software and how it can help paralegals track and manage contracts.
Contract management software is designed to help paralegals and other legal professionals manage contracts efficiently and with better transparency. Your organization may be handling hundreds or thousands of contracts, but how do you know which ones are in-process or if the appropriate actions are being taken on them? How do you track contract amendments and changes made to the latest version of a document? These situations often result in mistakes, process bottlenecks, and missed deadlines. To avoid these situations, try utilizing advanced contract management software and discover how cross-departmental teams begin to easily search, edit, track, and collaborate on contracts. You’ll be able to see full audit trails related to each contract you manage, creating a much better environment for you and your team.
Leading contract management software provides organizations with valuable features including:
- an easily searchable contract database
- proactive email notifications and calendar alerts
- permission-based user access
- rules-based templates with a dynamic clause library
- automated workflows backed with artificial intelligence
- integrated electronic signatures and online negotiations
- milestone and payment tracking
- effortless contract analysis and data extraction
- and much more
These advanced software features don’t just provide transparency; they take your contract management process to a whole new level, providing you with tools to succeed.
Contract Lifecycle Management
You may be utilizing a manual contract management process with Excel spreadsheets and PDFs saved across shared drives. Contract management software can take you to the next level, eliminating the hassle of manual contract authoring, tracking, and management. To ensure your organization receives the best results, consider incorporating full contract lifecycle management into your process. It can be easy to do with the right contract management software and provider.
Read this blog post on contract lifecycle management. Discover its benefits and how it varies from basic contract management.
Automated Workflows for Better Process Transparency
Contract management software ensures each step in your contract process is tracked, providing those involved with the information they need regarding status updates and deadlines. Advanced contract management solutions offer an intelligent workflow feature, providing a step-by-step process for each type of contract being managed. Automated workflows are essential to contract management and help legal professionals never miss a step in their process. Automated workflows help ensure a contract is managed from “cradle-to-grave” by providing a step-by-step outline of what actions have been completed, are still “in-process”, and still need to be taken care of to finalize the agreement. Workflows vary based on an organization’s needs but generally include steps from initiation to award, compliance, and renewal.
Integrate With Other Software for an All-in-One System
In most cases, advanced contract management software integrates with other solutions like data integration with CRM, vendor management, supply chain, ERP, and other standard business software. Integrating your business software solutions can create new opportunities for what you can do as a team. It can also help with transparency, security, and user access since leading contract solutions can track user activity.
Check out this blog post on how to use Adobe Sign as an integrated e-signature tool in CobbleStone Software’s Contract Insight® software.
Choosing the Right Solution for You
A better contract management process for you and your team can create opportunities like more free time for other important duties and better team collaboration. It may also help you mitigate contract risk, increase performance, and develop a noteworthy ROI. CobbleStone Software, a leader in contract management software, provides configurable solutions to meet your organization’s needs. Check out our free guide on making a case for contract management software, and sign up today for a free demo to discover how thousands of contract professionals are achieving their contract management goals.
The NFPA Board has approved the creation of the standing Item Writing Committee to draft new content for use in the reoccurring exam updates. Each volunteer will be asked to provide an Interest Statement and a Resume in order to be considered to participate in one of two groups:
- Item writing (to draft new questions for the exams)
- Item reviewers (to review, revise and approve new question for the exams)
Volunteers will be appointed by the NFPA Board at the next board meeting.
Must be one of the following:
- CRP or RP NFPA member in good standing;
- A Paralegal Educator;
- A Licensed attorney; OR
- A member of the general public interested the legal profession and willing to participate in the Committee.
- Two year appointment
- Assist in drafting and approving policies and procedures for the committee with annual review of same
- Reviewing materials in advance of each Committee meeting
- Attending monthly Committee meetings
- Drafting questions and content for the exam form updates
- Reviewing and providing input on proposed content
- Participants are restricted from taking either of the exams for 2 years from the date of the end of their term of appointment
- Participants will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to participation in the Committee
- No part of the exam process, exam content or exam questions, in part of in full, may be relayed, conveyed or shared with anyone outside of the Committee
- 1 paralegal educator position
- 1 licensed attorney position
- 1 public member of the general public
- (minimum) 4 RP Credentialed NFPA members
- (minimum) 4 CRP Credentialed NFPA members
The first meeting of the Committee will be held July 16th at noon PST/3 pm EST and every third Tuesday of each month thereafter. Coordinator Interest Forms and resumes should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The In-house Paralegal Committee would like to welcome and introduce the members of the In-house Paralegal Committee:
- Larice Davis, ILAP - Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA), NFPA Member, NFPA In-house Paralegal Committee, holds Illinois Accredited Paralegal (ILAP) credential
- Yvonne DeAntoneo – Tampa Bay Paralegal Association, NFPA Board Member, VPDM
- Renee De La Cruz, ILAP – Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA), NFPA Member, NFPA In-House Paralegal Coordinator, IPA Accreditation Chair, holds Illinois Accredited Paralegal (ILAP) credential
- Christine Hansen, ILAP – Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA), NFPA Member, NFPA In-house Paralegal Committee, IPA In-house Paralegal Chair, holds Illinois Accredited Paralegal (ILAP) credential
- Tracey Woolsey, RP – Indiana Paralegal Association, NFPA Member, NFPA In-house Paralegal Committee, PCCE Renewal Coordinator for NFPA, Indiana Paralegal Association's Primary Representative
Thank you so much Larice Davis, Yvonne DeAntoneo, Christine Hansen, and Tracey Woolsey for willing to volunteer your time. Our In-house Paralegal Committee really does need the assistance and support of everyone in order to succeed.
We are very excited about the upcoming plans for the In-house Paralegal Committee. We know everyone will be a great help in all these endeavors and we can't wait to hear your ideas!
Renee De La Cruz, ILAP – NFPA In-House Paralegal Coordinator
By Janet Wilson Williams, RP®, President Elect, Georgia Association of Paralegals
This year’s Joint Conference “Promoting Paralegals in the Bluegrass” was one of the best conferences that I have ever attended. After hearing the presentations and thinking about what I gained in insight, I feel compelled to share.
Have you ever been treated badly, bullied or rudely dismissed by an attorney, client, politician, or colleague? Well, of course you have~! So, you bravely step up to be a leader to make a difference. But what kind of leader are you, or would you make?
Be the leader that you yourself would serve under. (What a supreme thought!)
Step down when you realize your leadership is over so others may come in, bringing new ideas and focus.
Support and encourage your colleagues, even if they are not from your geographic.
Defeating perfectionism. Leadership itself is imperfect, so why expect to be perfect? Who is always on their A Game in any situation that is thrown your way? Feeling soooo bad when something doesn’t work out the way you planned or when that presentation doesn’t come off as well as you would like (like my own presentation at JC when I had problems with the slides). Instead of crippling yourself by feeling defeated, view it as a learning experience, make a Plan B, and move on. As for myself, I will absolutely RULE those slides next time!
“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence!” This Harvard Business School definition of leadership struck me as the ULTIMATE AHA moment (as Oprah says).
The Golden Rule: The simple but powerful Biblical life essential,“Treat others as you would like to be treated.”
This topic is perpetually in vogue. Having a career job with billable hours soaring into the stratosphere, children, pets, sports, aging parents, volunteering, and/or a leadership role, how do you find time to nurture YOURSELF? Gasp! Some of my ideas:
- Adjust your alarm clock – are you able to let yourself have an extra 15 to 30 minutes of sleep a few times each week?
- Scrutinize your day-to-day schedule - Can you fit in even 10 to 15 minutes of exercise, zen time, or even finger yoga (which incidentally is fun)?
- Carve out some “me time” – are there any upscale schools in the area to book a massage, wash and blow dry your hair, get your nails done or treat yourself to a designer coffee at half off afternoon price?
- Make family time or date night and TURN THE PHONES OFF
- Pick a small bouquet of pretty flowers for your desk from your yard or at your local farmer’s market
- Ask the firm for a standing desk or even a tilting foot stand (I can attest this foot stand is awesome!)
- On a nice day, sit outside for 10 minutes or walk around the office parking lot with your best office bud.
- Print some positive thoughts (no, not “Hard Work Has Killed Lots of People”) to look at when a home or work situation starts your head aching or stomach churning.
- When your attorney is being a bit difficult because the clients are out of control, focus on the nice things he has done for you (i.e., that silk scarf from Paris).
- PRACTICE SAYING NO. Guess what? The Earth won’t stop turning and the firm won’t close down because you can’t volunteer for the bake sale or work OT.
- There’s always fun size M&Ms.
A Motto to Live By
Judge Benjamin Richardson of Columbus, Georgia is my hero. He doesn’t know me, and I’ve never even met him, but his motto is frequently in my thoughts wherever I go:
DOING THE BEST I CAN WITH WHAT I HAVE.
And really, what else could anyone ask of you?
by Maren Schroeder, RP, MnCP, NFPA Association Management Co-Coordinator
When I first started serving on a Board of Directors, it seemed as if votes were not taken until the Board was in agreement on a topic, often times belabored until all directors just ‘gave in’ to the topic at hand. There was rarely an opportunity to voice a ‘no’ to the Board without feeling like the big, bad dragon (the rest of the unified board) would come along and bite my head off. Then one day, there was a motion on the table brought to a vote, and I, in good conscious, could not vote in the affirmative. The Board chair skipped the “all those opposed” we’ve become so familiar to ignoring, and I had to stick to my guns. “Madame Chair, I would like the record to reflect that I dissent from the previous motion.” Dead. Silence. This was legitimately one of the scariest moments of my life as a leader.
Fast forward several years, after starting a non-profit organization, and continuing to serve on my local association’s board, I attended a leadership training in Denver (not NFPA affiliated) with women from all over the country, all walks of life, driven to lead a new consumer industry. These women were so incredibly inspirational that I learned a number of lessons, but one of the most important things I walked away with was: dissent is not personal, dissent is necessary, and dissent is a part of doing your job as a board member.
Sometimes, as leaders, we get caught up in making friends with our colleagues and not ‘stepping on toes,’ but it is literally your job, your fiduciary duty, to dissent on actions to which you do not agree. It’s not personal, it’s having a fundamental disagreement with the issue at hand and vocalizing that onto the record as board members are required to do. As a board member, you are entrusted with resources to expend wisely – so you should absolutely dissent if: (1) you don’t agree with the action of the board, (2) you don’t have enough information to make an informed decision (more on that in another blog post), and (3) you feel that it is against your constituents’ best interest to proceed.
Now, I may or may not have a reputation amongst my board (spoiler alert: I do), but I’ve learned you can’t carry those debates – that dissent – out of the board room and remain an effective leader. If you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s dissent – understand that the dissenter is simply doing their job. It doesn’t feel good in the moment, you won’t get the warm fuzzies from a good debate, but you do have to continue working with your fellow board members to execute the board’s responsibilities. Leave the debate in the board room and come to terms with the necessity of dissent in effective leadership, without letting it ruin your personal and professional relationships.
Long-time Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association Board Director Mary Jo McLaughlin, RP, passed away on September 26, 2017. On behalf of the local legal community, we would like to honor Mary and her contribution to not only SVPA, but the paralegal profession.
Mary wore many hats at various times for SVPA since joining the Board in 2011. She served as NFPA secondary delegate until her election to primary delegate in 2012, attended numerous CAPA meetings as a representative of SVPA, and promoted, coordinated and presented training for the NFPA exam at MTI College. Despite living outside of Sacramento, and often facing a long commute, Mary regularly attended and volunteered at SVPA events year-round. In addition to serving on the SVPA Board, Mary was also involved with the San Francisco Paralegal Association (SFPA) and NFPA for many years.
Mary became active in SFPA in 1995 and served as president in 2005 and 2006. She also served as SFPA's primary and secondary delegate to CAPA, as well as chairing the National and State Affairs Committee of SFPA.
Throughout Mary’s career, Pro Bono was her love. Under Mary's leadership, SFPA members and guests would bring items for a charity to SVPA’s annual meeting, such as teddy bears for the CHP program, books for elementary students, or old cell phones for domestic violence victims. Mary was also active in Access for Equal Justice through her NFPA pro bono work.
Mary served as a mentor for paralegals in her community as well as NFPA delegates. She served on the boards of SFPA, SVPA and NFPA at various times, including a term as NFPA's VP and Director of Membership from 2009-2011. Through Mary's many efforts as Benefits Coordinator for several terms beginning in 2002, NFPA members have enjoyed such benefits as discounts: to Disney parks; insurance products; flowers; car rentals; software vendors and many other vendors. Mary also served as NFPA's Pro Bono Coordinator from 2007-2008 and again from 2012-2013, working with the ABA Liaison, individual paralegals, and paralegal associations to develop programs that provided paralegals with the opportunity to give back to their communities, and to help those who could not afford to otherwise write their wills or get their legal questions answered. Her mentoring of several associations over the years lead to both local and national awards for individuals, associations and their members.
Mary obtained her B.B.A.in 1988 and her BA in Paralegal Studies 1990 from St. Mary’s College in California.
Mary became a Registered Paralegal in 2008, and thereafter was SVPA's Certification Ambassador for many years, leading study groups for both the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam and the Paralegal Core Competency Exam. She also served as a primary delegate to NFPA from SVPA.
She worked for Chevron Corporation for 29 years. After she obtained her paralegal degree, she took a new position as an Associate Legal Analyst for the last nine years before she retired from Chevron. She was paralegal for Simon and Shingler, LLP from 2008 to 2010. In 2011, she continued part-time as an independent paralegal for two solo attorneys until her passing.
Summary prepared by Nancy Bagatti, Perkins Coie LLP
(Editing assistance by attorney David Gold)
United States v. Kar, No. 15-1608, ___ F.3d ___ (2017), WL 957193 (1st Cir. Mar. 13, 2017)
This case involves defendant Kar’s appeal of his jury conviction in Rhode Island district court on bank fraud charges. One of the three issues on appeal was the district court’s unwillingness to dismiss a juror - acquainted with a paralegal for the prosecution - for potential bias. Kar was originally represented by counsel but was unhappy with the representation. For various reasons outlined in the appellate court’s decision, Kar was allowed to proceed to trial pro se, but not before warnings by both the district court judge (and magistrate judge during jury selection) of the potential consequences of doing so. The judge, nevertheless, ordered Kar’s previously appointed counsel to act on “stand by” throughout jury selection and trial. It is noted that Kar ultimately conferred with counsel during both.
On day one of trial, the prosecuting attorneys disclosed to the court they had just learned that their paralegal was “friendly” with a juror’s sister. The paralegal had apparently not been present during jury selection. The judge proceeded to interview the affected juror wherein it was revealed that the juror’s sister babysat for the paralegal fairly frequently and the juror had also babysat for her “once or twice.” After being told by the juror that the paralegal never discussed the case or her work in the U.S. Attorney’s office with the juror, and there was nothing stopping the juror from being fair and impartial, the judge allowed the juror to remain on the jury. Kar, after conferring with his “stand by” counsel, requested the juror be removed based on having a personal connection to the paralegal. The judge denied the request and subsequently directed the juror not to discuss the case with her sister or the paralegal.
After the four-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict on all counts against Kar. On the issue of Kar’s right to trial by an impartial jury, the appellate court found no “bias in fact” (personal bias) nor “bias as a matter of law” (exceptional circumstances such as a juror being (i) an employee of the prosecutor’s office, (ii) a close relative of a trial participant or (iii) a witness relating to, or having involvement in, the criminal transaction). The lower court conviction was affirmed and the appellate court found no clear abuse of discretion by allowing the juror to serve.
No. 15-8132, 2017 WL 655405 (Feb 17, 2017 (10th Cir.)
By Robert Hrouda
This matter is an appeal from the Wyoming District Court in Ms. Breen’s effort for a new trial. In this matter, Ms. Breen had been going through a divorce and child custody dispute and in 2012, the Wyoming state court ordered Ms. Breen to enroll in a “Conscious Co-Parenting” class, which was designed by Ms. Pruter, although Ms. Pruter was not the instructor. At the end of the class, it was suggested to Breen that she contact Pruter for life coaching and consulting services. Pruter is not a psychologist or lawyer, but “claimed to be a ‘team leader’ of a group of lawyers, psychologist, and paralegals.” She began coaching Breen and organized evidence from Breen’s child custody matter into digital timelines using an outside vendor. Pruter was paid $3,500 for this service.
In July, 2013, Breen and Pruter entered into a Consulting Agreement in which Pruter would help with the child custody dispute by providing “consulting services to compile evidence, create timelines, and write scripts to provide to [Ms. Breen’s] legal team”. Since the $3,500 previously paid was used up, the agreement provided for Pruter to receive 20% of any recovery Breen received from the child custody proceedings.
On April 17, 2014, Breen filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming against Pruter and Dorcy, Inc, claiming multiple causes of action, including fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence per se and other claims. Pruter’s summary judgment motion was granted on the negligence claims, and others, and Breen asserts the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the negligence claims, which arose from the unauthorized practice of law and psychology.
Breen’s complaint argued that “By providing [Ms. Breen] with legal and psychological analysis and advice without being licensed to provide either, [Ms. Pruter’s] conduct should be held to the same standard of such a professional and any conduct that would be considered malpractice by such a licensed lawyer or psychologist should be treated at law as the commission of malpractice by [Ms. Pruter].” Ms. Breen cites to Wyoming Statues §§ 33-5-117 (unauthorized practice of law) and 33-27-119(b) (unauthorized practice of psychology) in order to demonstrate the standard of care, not the duty of the standard of care. Of note, Breen “inadvertently” did not plead general negligence. Just prior to trial, Ms. Breen did try to amend the complaint to add a general negligence claim, and the motion was denied. The parties previously agreed that Wyoming law applies, and the district court ruled that the UPL statutes do not grant a private right of action and Breen waived any arguments that the duties arise under common law, and therefore dismissed her UPL claims. The Tenth Circuit agreed.
Ms. Breen argued that it was not apparent until the summary judgment hearing that her UPL claims could be dismissed, but the court found that Pruter’s motion for summary judgment should have given Breen notice of this possibility because Pruter’s motion stated “Wyoming law does not appear to provide for a private cause of action” for unauthorized practice of law. The district court found that Breen delayed in amending her complaint to add a common law negligence claim, waiting until many deadlines had passed and trial was close. The court also found that allowing Breen to amend her complaint would be unfairly prejudicial to Pruter, in part because she would not have the opportunity to file a motion for summary judgment prior to trial. The Tenth circuit upheld the district court’s denial of the motion to amend.
The Tenth Circuit confirmed all findings of the district court in denying Breen’s Motion for a New Trial.
Summary prepared by Nancy Bagatti
(Editing assistance by attorney Yasamin Oloomi)
In Rogers Townsend & Thomas, PC v. Stephen H. Peck, et al., No. 2011-199626, 2017 WL 694753 (S.C. February 22, 2017), the South Carolina Supreme Court recently found that a management group engaged in the unauthorized practice of law when it filed judgments on behalf of associations, prepared and recorded liens, and advertised those services.
Respondent Community Management Group, LLC (“CMG”) manages homeowners’ and condo associations in several South Carolina counties. As part of its management services, CMG recorded liens against homeowners for unpaid assessments, brought collection suits on behalf of the associations in magistrate’s court, and filed the judgments in circuit court. Plaintiff alleged that CMG engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by providing those services.
South Carolina Magistrate Court Rule 21 allows a business to be represented in civil magistrate’s court by a “non-lawyer officer, agent, or employee …” As the Rogers Court recognized, Rule 21 does not define the term “agent.” However, the Court clarified that “non-lawyer third party entities or individuals” are not agents under Rule 21. Id. Instead, an agent is an individual who is not an officer or employee of a business but has a connection to the business via its corporate structure. A board member of the association, for example, would be an agent under Rule 21. Under the court’s definition, CMG was not an “agent” of the associations and therefore could not represent them in court proceedings.
Although there were additional allegations of the unauthorized practice of law by CMG, such as interpreting covenants for homeowners, the Court recognized that such determinations are fact-specific and must be evaluated in context.
A temporary injunction against CMG had been previously entered by the Court causing CMG to cease representing associations in circuit court and preparing and recording liens without an attorney. A principal of CMG also indicated they would not resume such practices.
By Tanya Patterson
I am the mother of a 5 year daughter. She is beautiful and perfect in every way, but…
As do all young’uns, she can make some really bad decisions. Recent wall-drawings, puddles of Play-Doh smooshed and ground into the carpet (apparently they thought it felt good to their feet) come to mind. During times like these, she gets sent to time-out. She is expected to sit quietly, consider her bad decisions and come up with more appropriate behavioral options she may have chosen instead. We then discuss the negative behavior, appropriate punishment and the better options for the future. Sometimes this method works, sometimes it doesn’t. What her time-outs always provide, though, is a minute for me to catch my breath and consider the best way for me to handle the situation. I am able to step away and plan an objective rather than emotional response.
What I propose to you is this:
Give yourself a time-out. Take a minute, five minutes to get yourself together before you react emotionally to the stress of whatever, be it a computer that isn’t cooperating, traffic that is particularly ridiculous or a spouse that just doesn’t get it. It’s during these times of high emotion that we adults can make some really bad decisions too. While we probably won’t smash the Play-Doh into the carpet, we might respond in a vocal tone that conveys the eye-roll we have managed to hide or we might close the office door just a little too roughly, for instance.
Before that happens, head to the time-out corner!
Insight Timer is an app that I use when I need a quick re-set or need to think about my actions and reactions.
Insight Timer provides over 1,300,000 meditations. While there are certainly tracks for the serious practitioner, I find applicability in its short, guided meditations for relaxation and centering. Some are just a few minutes long and are provided by world renowned teachers. When I need to check-out, I’ll stick in my headphones, close my eyes and let the app guide me to recognizing and calming my breath, acknowledging my feelings or just having a time-out. A few minutes later, the track ends with me feeling ready to face whatever is happening.
In addition, Insight Timer provides musical tracks - including chants, bells and nature sounds – that may provide for a more relaxed and focused mental state. I often play these in my office and find that they do help me chill-out before a time-out is needed.
Mindfulness - Meditation for the Anti-Meditator
Dan Harris, ABC News anchor, was a meditation skeptic until he discovered Mindfulness. Harris describes his practice as a “’simple, secular, scientifically validated’ process that requires little more than a place to sit and your own breath.”
There are many definitions of Mindfulness but for me it is simply the act of being here/now. Mindful.org describes it as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Doesn’t that sound lovely!
While I hesitate to refer to the practice of Mindfulness as a “practice” for the purposes described in this article, Harris’ process is entirely accessible to anyone.
3 Steps to Mindfulness Meditation (as described by Dan Harris)
- Sit with your back straight and your eyes closed
- Notice the felling of your breath coming in or going out
- As soon as you try to do this, your mind is gonna go “bazonkers,” so notice when you’ve become distracted, and start over
You will find the results of your self-imposed time-out are increased clarity, improved mood and re-directed focus. All good things!
By Katharine L. Essex, CP
Worldwide Restoration, Inc. v. Gan, 2016 WL 6407277 (Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division)
Generally, fee disputes that make it to the appellate level do not often make interesting reading. However, in this recent New Jersey case the trial judge ruled the attorney hours billed were reasonable, but specifically questioned why no paralegal hours were submitted.
The parties in this case had submitted their substantive issues to nonbinding arbitration. The panel found for defendants and determined Gan was entitled to statutory attorney’s fees. When Gan moved for confirmation of the arbitration award, she petitioned for attorney’s fees to be paid by plaintiff. “The sole and narrow issue in this appeal is whether the trial court misapplied its authority in declining to grant a ‘lodestar enhancement’ or ‘multiplier’ when awarding counsel fees to the prevailing party.” *1.
The trial judge accepted the number of hours submitted by the various attorneys within the law firm that worked on Gan’s case, but reduced the hourly rates that were claimed. The judge also rejected the firm’s request for a lodestar fee multiplier as unwarranted due to the nature of the case and limited scope of the work performed.
Although she ruled the attorney hours billed were reasonable, “she did question why no paralegal hours were submitted, finding some of the work charged at an attorney’s fee rate could have been done by a paralegal.” The judge did not reduce the hours spent, “even though they conceivably could have been in light of the non-use of paralegals and the firm’s lack of success in obtaining more than a nominal recovery.” *5.
The appellate court concluded the trial court was justified in denying the fee enhancement, given the particular circumstances of the litigation and affirmed the trial court’s decision.
By Janet Wilson Williams, RP®
Several years ago when I was starting out in legal, I glimpsed the front cover of “Legal Assistant Today” and saw an ACTUAL Paralegal of the Year. Although she did not sport a crown and scepter, she was still Paralegal of the Year, and I thought, oh so cool!
Fast forward 26 years and I myself am a POTY (which is not to be confused with Michael Jackson’s “PYT”). Wow, now this IS Surrealville.
After 26 years of paralegal service, I mean, experience, I’d like to share with you some thoughts on:
Being a successful paralegal — more popularly known as "what does it take to be an esquire's trusty sidekick for years on end?"
- FIRST and FOREMOST, must both understand and translate “Lawyer Speak”.
- Must have nerves of steel with confidence and chutzpah to burn — even need this when dealing with your own esquire — and remember, he needs to LIKE you while you are doing it.
- Which then brings up … buns of steel – for sitting and working on documents 8 to 10 hours a day.
- Must not flinch or run when faced with a stack of legal documents higher than your head.
- Must be a magician with these tricks:
a. Pulling a rabbit — uh … documents and deadlines — out of a hat (but alas, with no magic wand).
b. Continuously juggling balls in the air, day in and day out — add that personal life in there and you need to be super, duper skilled and maybe even earn a certificate in it from Ringling Brothers Clown College.
- Remembering why are you there – arguing with your esquire about deadlines or other meaningful work exchanges and then suddenly realizing that you are actually being paid to HELP him.
- Gratitude – For the times you are truly thankful for having that esquire, a great job with health coverage, paid parking, vacation time (when you can take it!), a treated lunch once in a while, AND even a $$$ bonus!
So why is this a great career?
BONUS POINTS DING*DING*DING
- You are an extension of your firm and your lawyer(s). In fact, you are their right hand.
- You perform meaningful work to help clients.
- You are constantly learning, each and every day.
- Research and problem solving become second nature for you.
- Diplomacy becomes your strong suit.
- It’s certainly not boring! In fact, many days bring much drama.
- You can take on further studies in your area of law or other areas that interest you.
- There are pro bono opportunities to seek out and really pour your heart into.
- Leadership opportunities abound — both state and national.
- It always pays the bills, as one of my certification candidates matter-of-factly informed me.
Memo to my state association and national colleagues: You are all my inspiration to do more and take on more. Like Frost, I have “miles to go before I sleep” … and so much more to learn.
To my attorney and firm, you have been awesome to work with these past 11 years. Thank you for your support and confidence in my abilities.
Finally, I dedicate my POTY award to my late grandmother, Mattie, who showed me from a young age what hard work was about. You see, she was one of those women who worked at the Lockheed Plant making B-52 bomber planes during WW II and then worked FT at other factory jobs until she retired in her 60s, sometimes wearing extremely high tottering heels despite standing at the assembly line all day. Women of that generation could do it all. With a high school education, she could manage finances as well as a Master’s of Finance, cook as well as a celebrity chef, and garden as well as anyone on HGTV.
Now … where can I get a POTY sash?
Janet Wilson Williams, RP is Director of Paralegal Certification and NFPA Secondary at the Georgia Association of Paralegals and works with Michael J. Hay, Esq. at Andersen Tate & Carr, P.C. in Duluth, Georgia. She also has a wicked and wonderful sense of humor. Email her at email@example.com.
How to Say it and Mean it
By: Tanya Patterson
The best kind of work is the kind that really isn’t work at all. Wouldn’t it be great to do whatever you want, whenever you want and get paid for it? Unfortunately, that isn’t possible for most of people.
However, many of us chose our profession on purpose. We have been educated, trained and are experienced legal support professionals. For whatever the reason, we choose to stay in our positions, our career field. So why do we often get burned out? Why don’t we like our jobs?
Part of the answer is that we get lost in the forest and forget to enjoy the trees. By this, I mean that we get caught up in the rush to meet deadlines, the stress of scheduling and rescheduling (and rescheduling again) all those depositions, the hurtful way that clients, bosses, opposing counsel speak to us.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
Even if the grass is looking greener, be aware that geographical cures rarely work. Your thought processes, your ideas, your attitude will stay with you, even if you go to the other side of the fence. True change comes from within.
The Mayo Clinic provides 7 strategies for increasing job satisfaction. Of these seven, there are two that speak to me and instruct accountability for not only satisfaction at work, but satisfaction in life.
Stay Positive – Easier Said Than Done, I’m Sure.
Cognitive job crafting refers to an employee’s alteration of his or her perception of his or her job, including the tasks and relationships involved. Cognitive job crafting will allow you to see things differently, in a positive light.
|The more you look for the benefits of what you’re doing, the more it feeds you psychologically.|
As legal support professionals we may often feel like menial paper-pushers. Next time this thought enters your mind, realize that we are the right-arm of the attorney and are also providing a much needed service for clients who would otherwise not be able to draft a will, respond to a complaint, negotiate an employment contract, etc.
Be Grateful – Easier to Accomplish But Often Overlooked.
I got a new keyboard. I love it! The keys are close together, the angle is perfect. I appreciate that my firm got it for me and all I had to do was ask. Yes, I am grateful for a keyboard.
Even something as small as a keyboard can affect job satisfaction, but you have to stop and recognize that fact. What do you appreciate about your office? Does your employer provide lunch once a week? Do you have a great view? Is human resources especially responsive to staff’s needs and concerns?
Have A Good Laugh – Even if it’s Fake
Laughing and smiling might just be the answer to job satisfaction. I won’t get into the science of it, but even a fake smile can make you feel better about the worst day ever.
|"When you have to work,
work with a smile."
While following these suggestions may not create a perfect work world, or allow you to live out your every dream, they will certainly make today better, even if only slightly. The next time you are about to blow your stack, remember to:
- Stay Positive;
- Be Grateful; and
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Tanya Patterson, NFPA Editorial Coordinator