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Why You Would Be Great at Research Administration

Posted By Allison Streepey, B.A., CRS, PLS, Monday, March 6, 2017

Research administration is the management and oversight of grants and industry-sponsored projects following federal regulations, state laws, and institutional policies and procedures. This includes pre-award and post-award activities, management of the project itself, as well as all areas of compliance and oversight of a funded project.  The framework of these activities is contract law.  A sponsored project could be a contract, grant, or clinical trial and the compliance areas make up the details of what is required within the agreement.  This may include material transfer agreements, use of animals in research, or human subjects research.  

This work is federally mandated and that means oversight of all areas by the institution’s attorneys. Each of the items listed in this article describes a specialized area in which legal professionals would be a perfect fit for the job.  You will see that all areas of research administration fit together like a puzzle and that it is fairly easy to move from one area to the other, especially if you like to read and learn.  

Where are these jobs?  They are typically found at big universities, research facilities, and government agencies.  The skills needed are the exceptional skills of a legal assistant and/or paralegal who understands what it is like to work for an attorney, respects the law, and can concentrate on the details required for this type of work.  

Below is a basic description of the order of events in research administration which includes:  learning how to look for funding for a project, what the funding agency requires, how to read the notice of award (the contract), human resources law with time and effort reporting, how to build a budget, what is required to stay in compliance (conflict of interest reporting and HIPAA requirements, etc.), procurement and cost accounting, and mandatory documentation required to close a project.


Pre-award starts with looking for funding opportunities in https://www.grants.gov/.  These opportunities serve as a map for what is required for submitting a proposal for a grant.  Preparing proposal submissions brings the opportunity to work with the researcher/scientist/principal investigator by proofreading their writing and following the precise instructions as required by the call for proposals.  (This work is very similar to preparing a brief.)

Pre-award for clinical trials may occur when a drug or other company has been following a researcher’s efforts after a grant-funded research project has been established and a drug or device is being developed or it may come from https://www.grants.gov/.


Post-award begins with the notice of grant award from the funding agency.  This is the contract.  It holds instructions on federal reporting requirements and other information the granting agency may need from the institution, such as proof of conflict of interest management, approval of animal or human subjects in research, data management approval, and in some cases a more detailed budget and justification.  This is also the time that any subcontracts on the funded project will be negotiated and assembled for approval from their institution.  (A subcontract is like a little grant in the big grant.  The same federal regulations apply.)

This is when certain compliance documents must be prepared for the funding agency and are usually managed by separate departments in the institution.  These offices are typically led by attorneys:

  • In an early stage of a drug development, a material transfer agreement may need to be prepared to acquire cells from a federal database.
  • If animals are used in the research, there must be approval from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to ensure ethical and sensitive care and use of animals in research and teaching.  
  • If there are human subjects, there must be proof of HIPAA training from the researcher and all key personnel of each project.  HIPAA is the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to ensure the privacy and security of health information.  
  • If the funded project has reached the point of using humans in research, approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) is mandatory before the project can begin.  The IRB is a federally mandated group of individuals put in place for rigorous review to approve, monitor, and annually review all research projects involving human subjects.  This is one of the most serious offices of an institution because the IRB has the task of ensuring the safety and understanding of the persons who agree to be a part of a research project.
  • Management is required for every research project conflict of interest (COI) to determine if a researcher or key personnel may have potential conflicts and to ensure ethical integrity in research in order to protect the public. 
  • Human resources law for a funded project includes everything about hiring and training and could include the immigration office.  This overlaps with export control and embargoed countries, entities, and persons.
  • For purchasing equipment and other items needed for the project, the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) must be used and state laws must be followed.  The purpose is to use reasonable and appropriate spending, subject to audits, following the White House Office of Budget and Management’s Circulars.  

Closing the Project

  • The scientist will report on the outcomes of the project and, if a drug was discovered or a device was made, the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 allows the institution to negotiate for the intellectual property.  
  • The funding must be spent in accordance with the agreement and all unspent funds must be returned.

    You can see how the purpose of these offices in supporting funded projects overlap and that a research community at the institution could develop.  There are also professional organizations that support the community of research administrators, such as NCURA, the National Council of University Research Administrators, and SOCRA, the Society of Clinical Research Associates. 

Because research administration is federally mandated, there will always be jobs available and the skills best suited to this kind of work are those of legal support personnel.  For more detailed information about research administration, see the CRA Body of Knowledge from the Research Administrators Certification Council website at http://www.cra-cert.org/bodyofknowledge.html.


Allison Streepey, B.A., PLS, CRS holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts and Humanities from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and graduated with honors.  She is a nationally certified Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) with NALS.  Allison holds UAMS Certifications in Grants Management and as a Research Specialist.  Currently she is the Department Business Administrator for the office of Educational Development.  She is the only person on campus who has experience in pre- and post-award grants management (CON and OED), grants administration for UAMS (ORSP), and served as an Institutional Review Board (IRB) Administrator.  Allison has been a member of NALS for 10 years and has served on the NALS Editorial Board for 5 years.  She is grateful for her NALS Pals everywhere.



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Grammar Nuggets: Capitalizing State Part 2

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Monday, March 6, 2017

Grammar NuggetsMurphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I have lots of issues that tend to attract Murphy’s Law into my life. Thankfully a very attentive NALS member brought to my attention that the last Grammar Nuggets article on capitalizing the word “state” had a glaring error. The Murphy’s Law part of that is that that article was correcting a 2014 blog post, so we are correcting it again and I am hoping the third time is the charm. I apologize for getting the information wrong. The reference in the February docket article to The Gregg Reference Manual should actually have been a reference to The Bluebook. Here is the correct information:


According to the Gregg Reference Manual 335: 

  • Capitalize state only when it follows the name of a state or is part of an imaginative name:
    • The state of Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon State.
    • One of my favorite places to visit is Washington State.
  • Do not capitalize state when it is used in place of the actual state name.
    • She is an employee of the state. Note, however, that people who are actually working for state government will probably write it as “State.”

According to The Bluebook, capitalize the word “state”:

  • When it is part of the full name of the state.
    • The State of Arizona is the 48th state admitted to the Union.
  • When the word it modifies is capitalized.
    • In Michigan, the State Corrections Director is in charge of the correctional system.
  • When referring to the state as a party to litigation or a governmental actor.
    • The State filed a Motion to Dismiss.

Obviously, The Bluebook is not a grammar guide—it is a style guide for legal citation. The only grammar guide that seems to disagree with part of The Gregg Reference Manual is the Chicago Manual of Style, which says “where the government rather than the place is meant, the words state, city, and the like are usually capitalized.”  

  • The State of Florida’s statutes regarding corporations are codified at Title XXXVI.

I have made and will continue to make mistakes and I will continue to learn right along with you. While I hate making errors and hate even more when others catch them, I am always happy that they are brave enough to bring it to my attention and give me the opportunity to fix it. So as I said in the original article, capitalization of the word “state” is very confusing. But hopefully we have made it a little clearer—and more accurate—this time. 



Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, has been a member of NALS for over 30 years, is the current President of NALS of Phoenix, and is the Vice Chair of the NALS Editorial Board. Kathy is currently the Administrator-Arizona for Sacks, Ricketts & Case in Phoenix, Arizona. Kathy earned her Associate of Applied Science degree in Legal Assisting (with distinction) from Phoenix College. In her spare time, when she is not spending time with her husband, two kids, and seven grandchildren or celebrating something with friends, Kathy writes a blog on proofreading tips at http://proofthatblog.com

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Ask Eula Mae: How To Handle a Difficult Client

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Monday, March 6, 2017

Dear Eula Mae:

Recently, our quiet office has had a series of nervous, disgruntled, and loud clients.  It shakes me up because I know my attorney really helps them, but my attorney has been on vacation for a week and some things are just moving a little slower.  Things will speed up and be completed when he returns.  I know I cannot say much to these clients because I am not an attorney, but they want me to.  They want some inside information and I really do not have that. I do not know what to do to handle these situations and it makes me uncomfortable.  I know my attorney wants me to be professional with the clients, but sometimes I just freeze when I know there is some action that could be taken to make it all better for the client.  Please help.

Steady in San Antonio
Dear Steady in San Antonio:

There will be many difficult clients in your career.  This response will only cover a few of them, but you will basically know how to deal with them.  If you can, talk with your attorney as soon as possible about how he or she wants you to handle these situations.  It is good to try to be prepared for such surprises. 

Sometimes there are criers.  This is usually in a divorce case and, really, it is not a good use of your attorney’s time to sit there with the client when all they do is cry, so that means you have the privilege.  There is not much you can say in this situation; however, it will really help the client if you will just sit with them, listen, and give them tissues.  It sounds like such a simple thing, and it is, because all anyone really wants is to be heard. 

Let’s say you answer the phone and the client is very upset about something that is taking longer than they expected.  The client is getting louder and louder and more angry, so what do you do?  The first thing, of course, is listen to them.  Let them vent, take notes, and say you will have the attorney call them back.  You know not to provide any advice because you are not an attorney.  In fact, “I am not an attorney” should be the first thing out of your mouth if you are pressed.  Follow this statement with, “I will immediately report your concerns to your attorney.”  See The Model Rules for Professional Conduct, Rule 5.3 Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistance.  Remember, all the client really wants is to be heard.  Listen carefully and try to find out what they really want.  Say as little as you can—just listen. 

The client may say things you do not want to hear.  That information is told to you in confidence and the only other person who should know about it is their attorney.  Be kind to them because, for a client, the legal process is scary and stressful.  They want answers now and it is up to the attorney to help them.  The best thing you can give them is your attention.



Submit Your Questions to Ask Eula Mae By Clicking Here.

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How to Be an Expert at Your Job and Build a Career

Posted By Allison Streepey, B.A., CRS, PLS, Friday, February 3, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2017

There is no such thing as instant success.  What may look effortless may actually take hours, even years, to achieve.  For example, Olympic athletes will train from the time they are small children until that moment of competition.  They will train four, eight, twelve hours a day to become elite performers. Even the day of the event will need more training for only a few minutes of competition.  The potential to win is there and the excellence of the training shows in all that they do—even the mistakes.  They are above average and their expertise shows.


The daily dedicated training is what turns your job into a career.  You must have the dedication to love it, even on the bad days.  You have to work it, develop it every day, whether you want to or not, and you need to constantly study everything about it.  Ask a million questions and make it a goal to learn every day.  You can learn from the people in your office and the clients you assist.  You can learn from the law itself and the documents you work on daily.  You can learn from your professional association.  Remember, with every profession, such as medical, legal, or competitive contracting businesses, confidentiality is of utmost importance.  No matter how great your skills are and how wonderful your customer service is, there is always room to grow and learn.  That is what makes every day so great.


This is the time of year for setting goals for all areas of your life and it is good to consider what you want to do to build your career.  Happiness is found in lifelong learning and it can make your job easier, better, and more enjoyable when you develop the skills you need.  Here is a list of ten things that can help with setting goals, improving your day-to-day life at work, and developing your expertise and career, therefore resulting in happiness:

  1. Proofreading

  2. Writing

  3. Accounting

  4. Analyzing and improving processes

  5. Reviewing the Model Rules for Professional Conduct annually

  6. Reviewing your skills annually with your attorney

  7. Volunteering to help others in your office

  8. Developing an educational plan in your office

  9. Networking with other legal professionals in your area

  10. Networking nationally through NALS


Expert skills will always be needed in any profession and these items, in particular, for legal work.  Proofreading will always be necessary and it goes hand-in-hand with good writing.  These are skills that can be developed but take a lot of practice.  To do this, read a lot and have resource books and Internet grammar sites handy for easy and quick access.  Accounting is a skill that will come in handy at work and in your home life.  All of these skills can be used for a lifetime.


Take some time to think about how you manage everyday processes.  Sometimes there is a better way to do things. A great challenge is when you have been in the office a long time and you can tell how to make a process more streamlined or how to make a checklist that will help you and a newbie in the office who works on similar cases.  When you take an idea or issue to your boss, be sure you can describe it and justify the reason for the action or the solutions to the problem.


It is a good idea to reread The Model Rules of Professional Conduct from time to time to underscore what is expected of you since those who work for attorneys are held to the same standards.  If you have any questions about the Model Rules, ask your attorney.


For your personal knowledge and résumé building, make a list of all your skills and accomplishments or build on your current résumé.  Think about what you would like to learn. Schedule a time with your attorney to review your skills and set some goals.  Feedback can be tough to take, but listen, take notes, and then work on what is suggested.  You have to know where to start.  Next year, this review will go better. 


While you are in this meeting, ask your attorney about what is expected of you with regard to helping others in the office.  If there is ever an opportunity to help someone, whether it is making coffee, making copies, typing, answering the phones, or making a courthouse run, it can be a real morale builder in the office.  The firm probably aims to work as a team and sharing the load ultimately benefits everyone. 


Maybe you have the skills and office know-how to develop some training for others in the office.  If you are not bold enough to do this on your own, work with your local NALS members to hold a continuing education event at your office that will benefit employees in your firm and other NALS members.  Of course, remember to consult with your boss and/or human resources manager before doing this.  Look for what is lacking and try to provide transferrable skills.  This, too, will benefit the whole firm.


One of the most important goals you can achieve is to build your network.  If you need a process server in another area of your state or even one for an out-of-state case, your NALS pals are readily available and just a phone call away.  Working, learning, and visiting with your local and state NALS members will prove to be priceless.  It is also important to meet legal professionals outside of NALS.  You know you cannot talk about individual cases, but you might want to share legal education opportunities.


You can be an expert at your job and build your career.  Review the list of items in this article and challenge yourself to develop what you need to make your work life easier, better, and happier.  Be glad for your job and the opportunities that it gives you.  Be glad that you are a member of a professional association that knows what you are going through on your job.  NALS is here to engage, inspire, enhance, and promote the legal profession and you.  When you commit to achieving expertise, you will reap the rewards a million times.  


Allison Streepey, B.A., PLS, CRS holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts and Humanities from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and graduated with honors.  She is a nationally certified Professional Legal Secretary from NALS…the association for legal professionals.  Allison holds UAMS Certifications in Grants Management and as a Research Specialist.  Currently she is the Department Business Administrator for the office of Educational Development.  She is the only person on campus who has experience in pre- and post-award grants management (CON and OED), grants administration for UAMS (ORSP), and served as an Institutional Review Board (IRB) Administrator.  Allison has been a member of NALS for ten years and has served on the NALS Editorial Board for five years.  She is grateful for her NALS Pals everywhere.

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Ask Eula Mae: Job Burnout

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Friday, February 3, 2017

Dear Eula Mae:


I have been working in the same law office for ten years and have tried so hard to grow with the firm.  Lately, I have been too busy to figure out how to do all of this work and I just do it.  Every day is filled with surprises which bring more work and the days just drag on longer.  I try to do too much and have started making silly mistakes that take longer to correct than if I had taken the time to do it right the first time.  It is getting harder and harder to get up in the mornings to go to work.  I used to leap out of bed feeling full of purpose and so ready to get there and do this job.  I am not sure what happened or what to do.


Tired in Tennessee


Dear Tired in Tennessee:


Oh dear!  This sounds like you need to take action right away.  You might need a few days off to reassess your situation.  A good way to start is to make two lists:  what you like about your job and what you do not like about it.  You can tell where this is going.  If the longer list is what you do not like, you will need to dig deeper into solving that problem.


There are so many questions to ask yourself such as, “Do I really want to keep doing this type of work or is it time for a change?”  If it is time for a change, can you make that change in your office or will you need to move to a different area of law or a different law office?  Is it possible to have part of your job reassigned to a newer associate who needs to move to the next phase of their career?  (Teaching is rewarding and can lead to other things.)  Or has your workload increased to the point that it is time to hire another legal assistant?  Either way, it is time to talk with your boss.  Remember, you need to be really well prepared before having this conversation and there will always be things about any job that you do not like. 


If it turns out you need to move to a different law office, that could bring more immediate stress and this plan might need to wait.  If at all possible, work with your boss to see how your job could change and grow.  Let them know you need some time off.  Sometimes even a few days can boost your energy back into happiness on the job.  




Submit Your Questions To Ask Eula Mae By Clicking Here.

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