Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Once Again, TV is Not Like Real Life (I Hope!)

The latest TV drama featuring lawyers and their lives is The Deep End. The show has gotten lots of press and comments from everyone, including the legal community. Fellow blogger Lynne DeVenny has written about the paralegal on the show and how far that character is from most paralegals. Texas Lawyer also recently had an article featuring new associates' take on the show.

What struck me when watching the previews as well as reading the press and comments is that this show has at least one thing in common with most other law-related TV shows and movies: The characters are severely ethically challenged. (Many of the characters are also morally challenged, but that's not a topic for this blog.) While these shows may be entertaining, they are also wonderful examples of what "not" to do.

That might make a great assignment for a paralegal ethics class: Watch "The Deep End" and name the ethical violations. Perhaps a follow-up assignment could be to offer examples of how to handle those ethical violations if you came up against them in real life. Even the show's title could serve as a reminder to mind your ethical Ps and Qs.

So, if legal dramas and movies fill your DVR, enjoy! Just remember real life should NOT imitate TV, at least where the legal field is concerned.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

To Get Paid (or Not) for Overtime

I recently learned (much to my surprise!) that everyone isn't aware of the standing of paralegals under the Fair Labor Standard's Act ("FLSA").

All paralegals should familiarize themselves with 29 CFR §541.301. In summary, most paralegals are non-exempt. There are exceptions, such as if a paralegal has specialized training, like a nurse hired to review medical records. There are many resources on this issue, including information on the ABA website.

If a firm or company isn't paying a paralegal overtime, it may just be that the parties are unaware of the law. Unfortunately, other employers may knwo the law, but be trying to avoid paying overtime to their paralegals.

If a paralegal believes she is entitled to overtime pay but is not receiving it, she should first approach her employer about a resolution. If those efforts are not successful, the paralegal may consider contacting an employment law attorney and/or the state wage and hour division. Unfortunately, despite laws in most states that prohibit retaliation against employees who file such claims, an employer may retaliate against the employee.

It can be a tough position for a paralegal who believes she is entitled to overtime but not receiving it. While no particular course of action is advisable for every situation, every paralegal should be familiar with this issue. After all, forewarned is forearmed.

Special thanks to Lynne DeVinney for her assistance with this post.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Profile at Practical Paralegalism

Many thanks to Lynne DeVenny for profiling me on her Practical Paralegalism blog. Check it out and check out her other posts as well. Lynne does a great job of keeping us informed!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Paralegal Workout

It's the new year and many of us are trying to exercise more. Being a paralegal used to mean that you had plenty of opportunties to lift boxes, juggle heavy files, retrieve large legal tomes from the top shelf in the library, and sprint to the courthouse. Now we have online legal research, paperless files, eDiscovery, and online filing. How are paralegals supposed to get any exercise these days?

So, to make up for what used to be a daily workout for many of us, try the following:

  • Instead of a heavy box full of documents, try lifting your desktop printer or scanner several times; if you are brave enough to unhook it, carry it from one side of your desk to the other
  • Instead of heavy files, volunteer to make the morning coffee run or the lunch run which will allow you to juggle items of various sizes and shapes
  • Move the toner refill to the top shelf of the supply cabinet and hide the step stool so you have to stretch to retrieve it
  • If you park in an open parking lot, park at the far end when it's raining so you can practice your sprinting skills; alternatively, organize desk chair races in the office during lunch: racers push their coworkers in their desk chairs down long hallways

With a little effort, our fitness won't have to suffer. If you have any other suggestions for paralegal workouts, please let me know!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Don't Need No Stinkin' eDiscovery!

If you don't work in litigation, what, if anything, do you need to know about eDiscovery?

While it's tempting to ignore all the information about eDiscovery if you don't work in litigation, it's important for all paralegals to have some basic knowledge of eDiscovery for many reasons, including the following:

  • all areas of law have the potential to end up in litigation
  • you may change jobs (by choice or otherwise)
  • increasing your knowledge only makes you more valuable to current and future employers
  • it may help you issue-spot when working on other matters

I recently spoke to an acquaintance who is a well-respected litigation paralegal. I asked her a question about eDiscovery and her response was, "What's eDiscovery?" I was shocked! It also caused me to worry about her and our profession. If we all wait to learn about something until we are forced to do so, that doesn't reflect well on our professionalism.

Would you visit a mechanic who didn't have the tools to deal with the computers now found in cars? What about a dentist who still used the same equipment that was "cutting edge" in 1970?

So, read articles and attend a CLE (whether in person or a webinar) on eDiscovery. It's the professional thing to do.

I'd love to know your thoughts and whether you agree that knowledge of eDiscovery is important.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Responding to Emails

Are you one of those people who always responds to emails, at least letting the sender know you received it? You know, a perky "thanks!" or "Got it!" or "Will do!" Or are you one of those people who is too busy to respond unless absolutely necessary? Or maybe you figure the sender should assume you received it.

I personally prefer to receive a response most of the time so I try to remember to send one.

What about you? Check out the poll and let me know your thoughts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Resumes - Is it Ever Okay to Lie?

It's never okay to lie on your resume, or lie about lying on your resume, as this attorney found out. Even the smallest employer may check not only your references, but the facts you have included on your resume. There are even companies that will do that for employers.

I worked with a woman who lied on her resume about having a bachelor's degree. When she was let go, it wasn't because she didn't have a degree, it was because she had lied about it.

So, don't take any chances. Be truthful about your education, experience, skills, and credentials, without selling yourself short. Be confident and let the employer know how you can be an asset to the company as well as your willingness to expand your knowledge and skills.

After all, honesty is always the best policy.

How Do I Remain Ethical?

Many thanks to Lynne DeVenny for allowing me to guest post on her Practical Paralegalism blog. My post was about how to remain ethical, an issue for all of us, no matter how hard we try. Check it out and check out her other posts as well.