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August 2014

You Might Be Stressed Out If.....

Today, our guest blogger is Jamie Collins. All I can say to Jamie is "Keep walkin' past those open windows....."

You MIGHT be stressed out if…

Stress2You are a paralegal.  I know it might seem ridiculous. But it’s true. We triple paralegal promise. (Unless you are some weirdo with a completely stress-free job. Does such a thing exist in the land of legal? No seriously, does it???)

You have seriously pondered entering the paralegal protection program in an effort to actually step away from that papyrus covered desk, as you flee the legal perimeter to play a fun little game called “Paralegal Evading Esquire Hide-And-Go-Seek,” so you can actually eat a few blissful calories, away from your desk, for a period of at least 30 whopping minutes to an hour without receiving a single verbal, text or e-mailed request for anything at all.  (Got that – nothing. We want to hear absolutely nothing from you during this time if you are in possession of a legal badge. Shhhhh.)  

If this is you, just flee the building. Do it now. RUN!!! Better yet, shut off your cell phone. They may have a GPS tracker on it. RUN!!! I am kidding. Slightly. Okay, not really.

Don’t stress – just RUN!

You have mentally time traveled into another day of the week. And when I say “time traveled” this is a fun little paralegal game in which find that you are living life (during any given work day, when you suddenly came to the (utterly and deeply depressing) realization that you have inadvertently been living under the incredibly false belief that it was an entirely different day of the freaking work week, other than the one it actually was/is for the remainder of the planet.  Stressed lately? All signs point to “yes.”

You leave the office at 5:00 p.m., cloaked in an invisible substance that seems to permeate straight into the core of your very soul, overtaking every part of your evening’s existence from a mental standpoint.  It’s the call left unmade.  The records left unordered.  The project left undone.  Ultimately, the world that will come crashing down in the event you decide to take an impromptu flight to Hawaii in the after-hours on a one-way ticket to umbrella drinks, a cabana, and a dream. If this is you – that substance you are cloaked in is called “stress.” We highly recommend a shower, a vacation, and an umbrella drink within the next ninety (90) days.

Did we say “days?” We actually meant “minutes.” Ready…go.

Your entire criteria for selecting each day’s attire consists entirely of a mental utterance of the following phrase (spoken in the form of a heartfelt, silent, internal plea): “What do I NOT have to iron?”  Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner, folks. If you have uttered these words at least 2 days during any given work week, you might be stressed. If you’ve uttered them on a daily basis, immediately purchase 15 “wrinkle-free” shirts from Van Heusen (…not that I would know ANYTHING about this one. And those wrinkle free shirts are only $25 a piece. Did I just say that out loud?) Moving on.

Better yet, you opt to wear a stained or slightly snagged garment to work for your 8 hour shift in the legal mines, because, quite frankly, you don’t give a darn. The darn giving has officially left the building, folks. In the fleeting moment you actually feel a slight “twinge” of caring, you make a mental note that you can actually just pretend your hair, handbag or the custom-crafted pleading of your choice will cover this hand-selected atrocity from the depths of fashion hell. “Stain? What stain? I have a stain?” (The utterance of this response is entirely stress-related.)

You + the stain = are one.

And you don’t care an iota. (But you may win an Academy Award for the most compelling portrayal of a paralegal “pretending” to discover a fashion faux pas, when you find yourself on the receiving end of a pointed finger hanging off the hand of a spot-spotting, highly-observant, “concerned” co-worker. Clear a spot on that fireplace mantel. You’re a winner.)

You arrived to the firm with no mascara on your lower eyelashes one day this week. (I can assure you this has never happened to me, and certainly not three times in the past year. No siree. I am taking the fifth.) Haven’t you heard it’s a new make-up trend? It’s called “stressed out, half arse, au nat-u-ral,” designed for the make-up impaired. You may want to consider affixing handwritten mascara application instructions to your bedroom/bathroom mirror because, clearly, the step-by-step getting ready process has evaded you.

Your are attempting to flee your office an hour early due to a recent time change – one you fail to take notice of, intentionally, unintentionally, delusionally or otherwise. After all, your computer clock or the one hanging from your wall said it was time to go. But upon driving away in your Infiniti, you come to the sudden realization that you are the only one to depart the land of the legally-walking-dead after receiving a laughing call from a highly-spirited coworker asking you where in the hell you are.

“Time change? What time change??? My car clock says it’s 5:30.”

Again, let’s go with the fifth amendment on this one. Just keep driving. (I’ve got nothing but time and stories, people.)

If you see pull into the work parking lot, observe your boss’s car sitting within it, and the first word that comes to mind, which may or may not be an expletive, and may or may not begin with the letter “f.” As in “fantastic!” or “fun!” We’ll leave the rest to your imagination, you big dreamers.

You think about work or work-related projects while taking your morning shower. In very rare occurrences, this could actually be considered thoughtful planning or organization, but for those of us who know best, we’re here to tell you this is a sign of stress. Check it at the tub’s border and enter that paralegal day spa unafflicted, my friend.

You have considered a career change in the last 30 days, albeit a mental dream or delusion.  Although you have absolutely NO idea what career change you’d make. You simply cannot imagine spinning miracles in the land of papyrus covered mountains and esquire driven stress until they secure your spot into the retirement village in Waikiki. (Did someone mention Waikiki? Suddenly, the stress is fading fast. I feel all warm and fuzzy. Forget the post – Take me to the leader of sun and sand immediately.)

You hear your cell phone ringing, look at the screen see that it’s someone from work calling (wonder WHO that could be???), and strategically decide to paralegal pretend you don’t own a cell phone and/or never heard it ring because you had an instantaneous bout of sudden deafness, in the event you actually decide to stand strong on this whole cell phone ownership thing.

“You called? Really?”

(I thought the ringing was only in my head. I plead the insanity defense.)

You wore two different colors of shoes to the office during a work day.  And please do not pretend I’m only talking to the ladies on this one. Men – this one’s also for you. I’ve seen it in the Cole Haan covered flesh with my own two eyes.  In the event you are not color blind, you do not have major cataracts, and are not partially blind in BOTH eyes, this is a sign of stress.

During a morning commute into the office, you came to the personal realization that you’d rather be driving ANYWHERE else. Yes, anywhere. Darn-near-literally. Is this you? The stress is upon you.

While cloaked in a mid-night’s slumber, you find yourself dreaming about work or work-related projects…or better yet, actually having a full-on work nightmare about the world’s most catastrophic crisis, epic screw up or self-perceived problem, which leads you to actually awaken covered in tiny beads of sweat, while gripped in the clutches of PTSD (that’s “paralegal traumatic stress disorder”), which may or may NOT fade as the day goes on.

You actually took the time to read this post to see if you “really” are stressed. The answer is “yes.” Check the box on that one. Wave your paralegal flag loud and proud.

You + stressed = yes.

If you found yourself shaking your head in the affirmative at least 4 times during the reading of today’s post, you MIGHT be stressed out. Oh heck, who are we kidding. You keep great company in the legal trenches – it’s called ALL of us.

We’ll see you basking beneath those fluorescent light bulbs in the “paralegal promise land.” Surely, you’ve got at least a few good sprints left in you – whether you’re stressed out, blissfully happy, fully-caffeinated, partially-crazy or strait jacket worthy. Besides, you’re too good at what you do to quit now – dream, delusion or otherwise.)

We tell no lies.

Best of luck in selecting a wrinkle-free outfit, applying mascara to BOTH sets of lashes, pulling two matching shoes from the dark closet, and winning the next round of “Paralegal Evading Esquire Hide-And-Go-Seek.”

Godspeed. Tuck and run.

Career note:  Have you been a victim of age discrimination? Did you know that the average age of student paralegal is 36 - 38? Experienced paralegals......add a few years onto that!  Here's a fun and FREE webinar on August 8th from the Paralegal Knowledge Institute: 5 Simple Steps to Beat Age Discrimination from yours truly, Chere Estrin. Enjoy!

 


Are you calling yourself certified? Chances are you're mistaken.

Question mark2Here we go. One more time! I know I’ve written about this a few months back. However, the topic keeps coming up: certification vs. certificate.  There is a difference and at some point, if you are declaring yourself “certified” when you only have a certificate, trouble is coming. Guaranteed.

A few weeks ago, a Bar Association contacted me to represent the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) on a panel regarding the merits of certification. “Who is going to be on the panel with me?” I asked. The Bar rep answered, “The “other” organization providing an eDiscovery certification exam and two training organizations." I was unaware those two training organizations offered certification exams. I thought they offered certificate courses. Turns out they don't offer certification exams. Even the Bar Association doesn’t know the difference. This is downright embarrassing – and dangerous.

Confusing whether you are certified or you have received a certificate from a course or program is a universal mistake. I don’t believe anyone or any organization is deliberately giving out the wrong information. I think of it as mass confusion with no undertaking to correct the situation. The problem is, whether inadvertently or not, you are misrepresenting yourself.  For an industry that is based upon factual investigation, this speaks pretty poorly for the legal community.

Here’s the simple explanation: In order to be certified, you must take a rigorous exam from a non-biased third party, one that adheres to the best practices of the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA), generally in a separate facility, that demonstrates your skills, knowledge and experience. If you take a course and are handed a certificate, that is a certificate of completion or achievement. It means that you understand what went on in the course. It is in no way an indication that you are certified nor can you place credentials after your name – even if you took a final exam. That exam only assesses what you learned in the course.

A course teaches or trains you. A certification assesses your overall knowledge and skills. According to the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the absolute authority on certification exams:

  • "In contrast to certification and licensure, an assessment-based certificate program is an educational or training program that is used to teach learning objectives and assess whether those objectives were achieved by the student."  [The assessment  may be made via an exam as part of the course but does not signify  certification.]    
  • A certification program is designed to test the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform a particular job, and, upon successfully passing a certification exam, to represent a declaration of a particular  individual's professional competence." National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA)

In other words, take a course, even take a final exam that tests your knowledge of what you learned in the course and you are not certified. Take an official certification exam, pass it, and you are certified and can place credentials after your name.

The ABA does not certify any individual nor paralegal program. It approves a qualified paralegal program only. Here is what the ABA says in part regarding “certified” and “certificated” paralegals.

“It is important to distinguish between a paralegal certificate and certification.  The terms are often 
confused.  The terms are not interchangeable and have separate meaning.  A certificate verifies  that a student has successfully completed a paralegal educational program.

A certified paralegal is one that has successfully completed a certification exam or other 
requirements of the certifying organization. Certification is the process through which an organization
grants formal recognition to an individual that meets certain established requirements. This may includemeeting educational requirements, prior work experience as a paralegal and passing an examination. 
Once the paralegal has met these criteria, they may use a special designation namely, “certified 
paralegal.”

NALA, the National Association for Legal Assistants, offers an excellent certification exam. To prepare one takes plenty of knowledge and bucks. OLP's eDiscovery and Litigation Support Certification exams each took over 18 months, 27 subject matter experts, several Ph.D's applying the science of psychometrics, surveys and beta testing. I'm quite sure NALA did the same.

If that doesn’t clear it up, here’s an excellent chart from the American Language and Speech Association. 

Certificate

Certification

Results from an educational process.

Results from an   assessment process.

For both newcomers and   experienced professionals alike.

Typically requires some amount of professional experience

Awarded by educational programs or institutions.

Awarded by a third party, standard-setting organization.

Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with specific focus; is different than a  degree granting program.

Indicates mastery/competency as measured against a defensible set of standards, usually by application or exam.

Course content set a variety of ways (faculty committee; dean; instructor; occasionally through defensible analysis of topic area).

Standards set through a defensible, industry-wide process (job analysis/role delineation that results in an outline of required knowledge and skills).

Usually listed on a resume detailing education; may issues a document to hang on the wall.

Typically results in a designation to use after one's name (C.P.H., C.H.E.S.); may result in a document to hang or keep in a wallet.

Is the end result; demonstrates knowledge of course content at the end of a set period in time.

Has on going requirements in order to maintain; holder must demonstrate he/she continues to meet requirements. C.E.U.'s are continuing education units. For example, RN's and other allied health professionals are required to complete annual   C.E.U.'s to keep their licensure.

Provides the basis and gateway for achieving a degree.

No relationship with attaining higher education or degree.

The terms certification and credentials and designation are also often confused or used incorrectly.

  • Credentials attest to someone's knowledge or authority. Credentials can be a degree earned, e.g., M.P.H. and/or a list of published papers.
  • Certification is a process that results in credentials.
  • designation simply refers to the letters someone uses after their name (M.D., Ph.D., C.P.A.).

Why am I on my high horse once again? Because:
a) Confusing the terms says you don’t know your career. How sad is that? You need to be able to represent yourself correctly. Saying you are certified when you received a certificate of completion or achievement after completing either a course or even a 3-day workshop is not only a misnomer, it could be construed as misrepresentation. Would a lawyer say he/she is a lawyer if they didn’t take the Bar exam?

b) Your firm has hired someone who may be claiming expertise beyond reality. Still a cause for termination as far as I know.

c) Your firm has misrepresented to their client that you are credentialed when you are not. Here’s how that might go: Client loses case. Turns to firm and says, “You told me you had certified professionals. You don’t.” Law suit? The firm turns to you and says, “You represented that you were certified. You’re not.” Law suit? Termination? You turn to the organization who claimed you were certified after taking their program, seminar or course. You get the picture. Potential chaos just waiting to happen.

I have witnessed candidates losing job opportunities because employers realize the candidate knows nothing about their job. I have witnessed perfectly solid legal professionals otherwise embarrassing themselves by claiming they are certified when they are not. Even the organization that told you that you were “certified” may be confused. I don’t think anyone out there is doing it for any other reason than confusion.  I wish I could say that I was such a great person that I'm good natured about this. I know I need a little work in this arena. I just keep thinking, "This is the legal field. Aren't we are supposed to know the difference?"

Let me say it again. Take a program; a course; a 3-day seminar and get a certificate. You are not certified. This applies to paralegal programs, seminars, webinars, online courses and more. Take a genuine certification exam according to the best practices of NCCA, one that applies the science of psychometrics; is fair and non-biased, generally given in a secured facility; sometimes proctored; and with legitimate credentials based on knowledge, skills and experience. You have probably just gotten certified.

Why is this so important? Because the legal field should not be so confused. Not only is it humiliating, more importantly it is a clear statement we’re not doing our research. What else are we missing? Sure, we all make mistakes. However, what on earth does that say to clients? Let’s pull together and turn this around. It’s the right thing to do.

 

 


What's a nice Greek like Nikki Karakostas doing in the paralegal field?

KarakostasNikki

By Lottie Wathen
Guest Blogger

The mid-Atlantic region of the United States is dotted with nine offices of Offit Kurman, a law firm with approximately 200 employees (100 attorneys) situated between New Jersey and Virginia. Offit Kurman has experienced a dramatic growth over the last five years and, were you to visit the Washington DC office, you would find an Offit Kurman employee who is also a member of the Paralegal Internet Association, Nikki Karakostas. Nikki is a paralegal in family law and bankruptcy and with Offit Kurman for just under a year. 

Nikki, who comes from a large Greek family, was exposed to legal jargon at an early age from her attorney step-father (the person having the largest impact on her). Growing up in “the house that law built” plays a great deal in determining her career path. 

As many full-time paralegals can attest, going to school while working is tough but we have a survivor here. Enrolling in Montgomery College, she emerged with a Paralegal Certificate and an A.A.S in Paralegal Studies continuing on at the University of Maryland University College earning a B.S. in Legal Studies.  

Nikki, who comes from a large Greek family, was exposed to legal jargon at an early age from her attorney step-father (the person having the largest impact on her). Growing up in “the house that law built” plays a great deal in determining her career path. 

How many people know walking into their first law office job, it’s the right fit? Fortunately, she recognized there was going to be hard work and she wasn’t naive enough to minimize the responsibilities.  Her first job as a receptionist set the tone for a choice to become a paralegal. 

Talk to any paralegal who went to school while working and they'll tell you it is tough but we have a survivor here. Enrolling in Montgomery College, she emerged with a Paralegal Certificate and an A.A.S in Paralegal Studies and continued on at the University of Maryland University College earning a B.S. in Legal Studies.    

Thankfully, she just doesn’t do the same thing every day. Contrary to a number of paralegal jobs, we can’t say “routine and repetitious”.  Her duties would drive someone set in a routine absolutely nuts. She varies from working on discovery, pendente lite issues in a family law matter, or perhaps preparing financial statements. The next day, she may be focused on document management and a favorite, working directly with clients. 

On really good days – she might do all of those and more. Helping a client understand the process of their case and assisting them in navigating a sometimes terrifying journey is extremely rewarding.

With reward comes challenge and for Nikki, one of the biggest challenges is time management. She knows how easy it is to be pulled in multiple directions at the same time and the importance of staying on top of projects while constantly interrupted. It must take a lot of patience. A hand-written task list is her primary tool for meeting deadlines. The simple act of crossing off an assignment provides a sense of accomplishment and a visual instrument of how her day has gone.  

Who can truthfully say they absolutely love what they do? Be honest. While most people open with their “don’t like” list, getting Nikki to confess what she does not like was not going to happen. When pressed, she admitted to difficulty dealing with frustration when, after passionately putting forth a great deal of hard effort, the case ends with a thud.  

Here’s a quite reserved and sophisticated woman measuring each response carefully before speaking. When asked to talk to about family, a tiny crack appears. Is this the same person? An infectious laugh and booming personality comes unexpectedly. The affection Nikki feels for family is obvious. The two sides of her family are as different as two sides can be. On one side she has a small, quiet, loving “American” family with most members down in Florida. On the other, she has a large “very loud Greek” family with lots of relatives nearby and some still in Greece. 

A huge fan of Greek food and the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (a romantic comedy written by and starring Nia Vardalos), there was absolutely NO WAY to pass up an opportunity to ask if this Hollywood portrayal of Greek families is accurate. While no one in her family proclaims Windex® to be a cure-all (another reference to MBFG Wedding – you really must see it if you haven’t), the booming, loving way Greek families interacted on screen is pretty accurate.  

No surprise that food is an important part of Greek family life and, as a result, Nikki spent a lot of time in the kitchen as a child. She grew up cooking and now, were she not a paralegal, she would be a chef. She is a self-proclaimed “foodie”.  Taking risky adventures with food, she is always willing to try new things. Of course, there are limits.

She is not willing to sacrifice taste just for the sake of saying she ate something strange. Living and working in the D.C. area provides Nikki with ample opportunities to try new and different restaurants on a regular basis but things cooked and eaten at home with family are favorite meals. 

Nikki’s enthusiasm for the paralegal profession is evident and refreshing. If you’re feeling a bit jaded and wondering how to get “oomph” back in your job, give Nikki a ring. You’ll come away with a chuckle, a bit of comforting advice and probably a recipe for good Greek pastitsio. 

About the Author
Lottie Wathen is a litigation paralegal at Cohen & Malad, LLP in Indianapolis, Indiana where she works exclusively on family law matters. She has held leadership positions in several civic organizations, is presently a member of the board of directors for the Indiana Paralegal Association where she serves as the editor of the newsletter. Lottie may be reached at lwathen@cohenandmalad.com.  

Readers:  Need your input! Paralegal Knowledge Institute (www.paralegalknowledge.com) is surveying the community regarding continuing legal education topics the community needs. Here's an opportunity to participate and get what you need! info@paralegalknowledge.com


Will Paralegals End Up with Too Much Power?

Hot topicA few days ago, a thought-provoking article by the President of the Connecticut Bar Association, Mark Dubois, emerged causing much discussion in our LinkedIn group: Paralegal Group. Dubois raised a number of questions in regard to a recent report by a Connecticut Bar Association committee and the suggestion that the lack of access to legal services could be met by empowering paralegals to offer direct-to-the public service. 

This debate has been around for years and years. It is just now beginning to see some resolution, primarily because strong resistence to more paralegal power is being taken away from attorneys. By "taken away", I am describing the result of the public demand for lower cost legal services that is causing attorneys to back off. 

Dubois, of course, has to make sure that he cites a paralegal who stole some money as a possible example of why paralegals should not be given more power. Get real, Dubois. Paralegals in that kind of trouble are rare which is why it hits the news.  One only has to pick up any monthly magazine such as the California State Bar newsletter and see pages and pages of suspended or disbarred attorneys who have had licenses ripped away for stealing from client's trust accounts.

Read the article. It presents a number of good questions as to whether the field is ready to give more power to paralegals. The article goes on to address licensing; whether paralegals rather than attorneys should bear malpractice responsibilities;  UPL; and the definite need for continuing education - all good points to ponder.

Gray Loy, a Japan based in-house attorney for Mitsubishi, wrote a stirring response. In an email to me, Loy stated, "I work in a corporation in Japan where there are two American lawyers. I am the only one with a primarily legal function. The remainder of people are not legal professionals at all. Though I am quite fond of my present co-workers, were I to wake up one morning, go to work and out of the blue find four or five experienced paralegals working beside me, I would probably be a very happy person." 

Oh, Mr. Loy...Paralegals need more attorneys like you. It's not so much that paralegals need more attorneys who want to use paralegals,  it's that paralegals need more attorneys who will outwardly express appreciation and understanding of their worth. They are out there, aren't they?

Here is what Loy has to say:

"The problem is not so much one of power as responsibility. There are some paralegals who are very knowledgeable and more experienced than the average attorney. And, let's throw in ethical to a fault. We all know of attorneys who do not serve their clients so well. Human beings are diverse.

However, attorneys are required to pass additional hurdles and obtain additional education. Arguably, there are aspects of the legal profession that paralegals simply are never trained for. And I do know of paralegals who are quite convinced, most incorrectly so, that they possess the wisdom of a whole bench of seasoned appellate judges. It is sort of a risk hedging issue really.

By forcing a person to go through what is essentially extra screening/training, we obtain a better result on balance for the client. I agree there are things that paralegals can do now better than attorneys,  given their experience,. The problem is that human beings are what they are, especially we Americans, and there is no shortage of people who are going to take advantage of a new status.

Ethical considerations always become most real to us when someone gets really hurt. People get hurt relying on attorneys as well but as attorneys, we have it particularly drummed into us what this means. We could drum it into paralegals but if you do enough of that sort of precautionary training, they might just as well become attorneys and be done with it.

The point of being a paralegal is to do certain very important legal work at a certain locus in the legal system without being subjected to the full gamut and cost of a legal education and certification. If we add to the paralegal's powers, we are going to have to add to the paralegal's responsibilities and costs as well (and they quite understandably are going to expect to be and need to be paid a little better, at least where they are bearing more responsibility).

I am not dogmatic. There is no holy writ requiring that only the anointed set foot in court with a client in tow. We do this because it works, gives people what we believe to be optimal protection and we are familiar with it. Now there are pressures for change and indication that the people we serve could be better served with a shift of some responsibilities to a lower cost classification. We should consider this. It is probably inevitable.

However, we should be very careful about what tasks are additionally permitted for unsupervised paralegals. We should be clear what education is required. We should decide this with input considered carefully and in good faith from the paralegal profession. It should be the fully enfranchised who makes the call. We should consider what the impact of the costs of this education -initial and ongoing- will have on the price of paralegal services (we must be both realistic and fair) and we must have strict penalties for violation.

Finally, I must emphasize that while this should be a partnership between the two professions, there should be no question as to which partner is senior. That is, until such time as the requirements for entry and maintenance of status in the two professions have so radically changed that the present rules no longer make sense.

There is additionally a question of taking work away from attorneys. One could argue whether an attorney's services are properly priced for the market. We have no shortage of attorneys and yet there is a very real demand for this sort of paralegal participation. Price and supply and demand may be off kilter here. But that argument would just confuse the above so I save it for another day."

Readers: These are the kind of issues that are changing your very jobs. Where do you think the profession is headed? Where will it be in another five or ten years? Will you be required to be licensed? Will there be universal entrance requirements? You're the ones in the drivers seat responsible for your own career path. Not attorneys. You tell me.