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The official blog of the NALS docket, used as a timely resource for sharing content from our email newsletter. This includes Grammar Nuggets, Career Corner, NALS news, NALS Foundation, chapter and members spotlights, and more!


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Ask Eula Mae: What To Do When You Are Overwhelmed

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Monday, April 24, 2017

Dear Eula Mae:


Can you help me?  It seems I have been getting busier at work and my workload has grown to the point that I am nearly confused.  The files on my desk have slowly piled up to where I cannot tell what is coming or going.  I am just working one file at a time and not sure where to start to get all of this straight.  I love my job, I want to do well, and the boss is depending on me to do a great job in supporting his efforts.  It is really a concern that I might be losing a grip on managing my job.  There has to be a way to figure out how to make it all run more smoothly.  Please help.


Overwhelmed in Omaha


Dear Overwhelmed in Omaha:


It takes a special person to work in a legal support position.  Part of having these special skills is the ability to handle a large workload, timing and scheduling everything well, and giving exceptional attention to details.  Quiet ambition and growth in the law firm can easily lead to the feeling of being overwhelmed.  Here are a few tips to help you get back to feeling in control of your duties.


First, you must know where you are to know where to begin.  Schedule time to clean and sort everything.  If that means staying a little late for a day or two, do it because the payoff will be great. 


·      Clean your work area.  Get your desk and files in order.

·      Batch like things together.  This can be a real time saver.  You only have to think out the procedure one time for what needs to be done next.

·      Make a list of your current projects and where they are in the process.  This information can help you develop a checklist so you can tell at a glance what needs to be done. 

·      Organize each batch by due dates and you will know what has to be done first.


If along the way you discover that there is really too much work for one person to manage, you need to have a conversation with your attorney.  Start by presenting a typed list of your current projects and the status of each.  Is it time to move some of the typing to the word processors or hire a new person, or does your boss want to pay you overtime?  Anything can happen and the goal is to do what is right and fair for all.


Note that if you feel overwhelmed at work, you may have that feeling at home.  The same process will work there too. Once you know where you are, you will instinctively know exactly what to do.  


Submit Your Questions to Ask Eula Mae By Clicking Here.

Tags:  administrative  legal assistant  legal career  legal job skills  legal office  legal professional  legal professional training 

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Grammar Nuggets: Oxford Commas and Winning Cases

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Friday, March 24, 2017

The Oxford comma is subject to debate. It is the comma before the word “and” in a series. For example, “bread, eggs, and milk.” The comma between “eggs” and “and” is called the Oxford or serial comma. It separates all of the parts of a list.

Some style guides tell you to use it and some tell you not to. The Gregg Reference Manual calls for the Oxford comma (¶ 162a).


The thing I always remember that encouraged me to use the Oxford comma was an example of a will that left property to John, Joe and Sarah. If you are literal (as most lawyers are), you could say that the property was left half to John and half to Joe and Sarah to share. If you add the Oxford comma between “Joe” and “and,” there is no question that the property is to be divided into three parts—one for John, one for Joe, and one for Sarah.

In my opinion, it is one small piece of punctuation that can make a huge difference in the meaning and intent of what you are writing. In fact, as most of you may have heard, just last week, an appellate court ruled in a Maine labor dispute based on the Oxford comma. The case was about dairy drivers who argued that they were entitled to overtime pay for certain tasks. The company said they were not entitled to that overtime. The appeals court ruled that the guidelines on activities entitled the drivers to overtime pay because the guidelines were too ambiguous due to the lack of an Oxford comma.

Here is the law’s wording about activities NOT meriting overtime pay:


The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.


Based on this language, is packing for shipment its own activity or is it packing for the distribution of the three things on the list? If an Oxford comma had separated “packing for shipment” and “or,” the meaning would have been much more clear. According to court documents, the drivers arguing for overtime actually distribute perishable food, but they do not pack it. That argument helped win the case.


The circuit judge said that had the language used the serial comma to mark off the last of the activities in the list, “then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform.” Since the serial comma was not there to mark off the last of the activities, the judge obeyed the labor laws which, when ambiguous, are designed to benefit laborers and the case was settled.

“For want of a comma, we have this case,” the judge wrote.

But even worse than that is the fact that there are guidelines on how Maine lawmakers are to draw up their documents that do NOT include Oxford commas, so they followed the guidelines they were given. At least they followed the guidelines last week. This week, that guideline may have changed.


Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, has been a member of NALS for over 30 years, is the Immediate Past 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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Chapter Spotlight: NALS of Central Alabama

Posted By Allison Streepey, B.A., CRS, PLS, Friday, March 24, 2017

Anything is possible! In 2014, there were five local chapters of NALS in Alabama and now there are six. NALS of Central Alabama was formed in 2015 by five members-at-large of the state association, Alabama AALS. These founding members had been active in the state association as well as on the national level of NALS and carved their own path to form their chapter online:  NALS of Central Alabama.


What started with five members now has nine. How did they do it?


The online chapter idea came out of need and desire. With the demands of work and family, the original five members from all over Alabama needed more time to get to chapter meetings. Another problem they faced was the distance to get to a meeting. The members still wanted so much to be active members of NALS on a local level that they decided to build a support network through online communications with other members-at-large in Alabama who were also having difficulty attending meetings and who wanted to be an active presence in the association.


After the decision was made to start an online chapter, NALS of Central Alabama decided to communicate through email and hold online meetings via chat to discuss business as well as ideas to promote the chapter and organization. They are able to add to the continuing legal education (CLE) that they receive in person at the state board meetings by following NALS webinars and other online resources offered through NALS. To keep everyone current, the chapter also reminds its members of the upcoming CLE opportunities. NALS of Central Alabama makes arrangements to meet briefly in person at the state board meetings held during the year. 


In forming the online chapter, the members initially adopted the standard bylaws, standing rules, and rules of procedure designed by NALS and AALS, but are slowly working through the documents to adapt the rules more specifically to the online chapter and members’ needs. The chapter now has contact information on the AALS webpage at www.alabama-als.org and also has a Facebook page.


The current membership has many past presidents of the state and local chapters in Alabama and a NALS past president, Susan Turner, PLS. Talley Brathovd, PP, PLS, from Grand Bay, Alabama, was the first AALS member to join the online chapter in April 2015 and currently serves on the AALS state board. She will serve as AALS president-elect for the upcoming year.  NALS of Central Alabama also has members who serve on both state and national NALS committees.


NALS of Central Alabama Image OneEven though the chapter is online, NALS of Central Alabama has received numerous chapter awards from AALS for attendance at state chapter meetings and membership retention. This is probably due to their creativity in making this online chapter blend with the chapters that meet in person.


One of the greatest things about having an online chapter is that the members can organize and meet at any time.  They can accomplish so much and do it quickly with the same great results as an in-person meeting.


One of the first projects that NALS of Central Alabama developed was an electronic voting option so that the Alabama State Association (AALS) could have online voting for all members at election time versus just those members present at the winter board meeting elections. To be sure it would work, the voting system was rigorously tested by NALS of Central Alabama and other members of AALS. The voting system they designed worked so well that it can be used by the AALS board members for business and the individual chapters of AALS could use it for its online elections. This electronic voting system is still in the testing phase and there are hopes that it will create a future transition into electronic voting for all chapters of AALS.
NALS of Central Alabama Members


NALS of Central Alabama has co-chaired two AALS state board meetings with the Montgomery Association of Legal Secretaries (MALS). One was a winter board meeting in Montgomery in January of 2016 and a fall board meeting in Prattville in September 2016. At the September meeting, NALS of Central Alabama and MALS had a very successful donation drive for the WellHouse “needs list.” WellHouse is a local group that provides a safe residential environment for women who have been rescued from human trafficking and sexual exploitation.


This online chapter does not yet have a logo, but it does have a presence that can easily be shared. Here are photos of the water bottles with NALS of Central Alabama labels and the NALS of Central Alabama members attending the AALS Annual Meeting in Daphne, Alabama, just after forming the online chapter.


It will be interesting to see how the online presence of NALS of Central Alabama will influence current chapters with electronic voting and inspire other “at large” members to form online chapters.

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Ask Eula Mae: Transition to Paperless Files

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Friday, March 24, 2017

Transition to Paperless FilesDear Eula Mae:


We are trying to go paperless in our office, but I am finding that process more time-consuming.  We scan every incoming document and it goes into a “scanned” subfolder.  At some point it needs to be renamed and then moved to the proper client file.  We file the hard copy in the client’s paper file.  We also scan every piece of outgoing mail and then make a hard copy for filing in the client’s paper file.  Of course, the scanned document needs to be renamed and moved to the proper client file.  We are a small office—three attorneys, two legal assistants, and a receptionist.  I work for two of the three attorneys.  The legal assistants also answer the phones.  I do not have time to rename and move the scanned documents to the client files and the “scanned” subfolder is out of control.  Any suggestions?


—Buried in Michigan


Dear Buried in Michigan:


Oh dear!  The amount of effort in this huge project has easily doubled your workload!  There has to be a better way.  Fortunately, I have worked in an office full of paper, a hybrid of both, and a paperless office and have several options for you to consider.


This appears to be a process problem but, really, scanning is about purpose.  Are you scanning for storage or for quick transport to the courthouse for presentation of a case?


If the purpose is for storage, then I would not scan anything until the case is closed and then would scan the whole file and name it like this: “last_name first names_type of case_dates opened and closed.”  At some point, I would burn all the scans to a disk.  Burn two disks of each and lock them in a file cabinet for storage.


If the purpose is for presentation, naming the documents properly is key to finding what you need quickly in court.  I would recommend setting up the client folders with the client’s last and first names, type of document, and date, like this:  “Smith_Mary_Corresp_12-31-2016” or “Smith_Mary_Motion to Dismiss_1-3-2017.” 


One of the hardest things about moving to a paperless office is HOW you are going to do it.  It is a huge process and decisions have to be made for closed files and current files. 


For closed files, I would recommend taking them to a professional legal document scanning company and paying that company to do the work.  Ask for two copies of all scanned files.  Remember, chances are slim that you are not going to have to revisit these files once the cases are closed; however, if you need the information, you should be able to search and find it quickly.


Should your office want to continue to scan the documents for current files, I would recommend scheduling scanning time, such as Friday afternoons for four hours.  Pick up a paper file, scan each of the documents, and name as above.  Then save the documents to the client’s file immediately.  How do you know if a document has been scanned?  It will need to be marked in some way or stamped (on the back). If you are interrupted in the process, binder clip the documents that have been scanned and place a piece of colored paper on top of the documents that have been scanned, like a placeholder noting that they have been scanned to avoid duplication of effort.


Also, it might help to have one computer set up as the designated scanner.  When the document is being saved, name it appropriately and then move the file.  This computer would absolutely need to have some kind of backup done every night so that you do not lose any of the scanned documents.  Scanned documents are not supposed to be altered, so saving to an external hard drive would be a good idea.  It would be very helpful if everyone knew the system of scanning and naming the documents.


Before you continue this project, think it through and figure out some solutions.  Go to your attorney and discuss the purpose of moving to a paperless office.  Then you will know exactly how to proceed and when. 

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Docketing and Marketing: The Unexpected Relationship

Posted By Chris Gierymski, Friday, March 24, 2017

Since the Great Recession, companies continue to pare down the outside law firms that provide legal services and instead use their in-house counsel for legal work. Their legal budgets are decreasing and they need to find ways to provide the same support at a lower cost.


Law firms have taken drastic measures to meet the financial demands of their clients and still make a profit. Alternative fee arrangements, hiring groups of lawyers to bolster or create new practice areas, mergers, staff layoffs, and outsourcing are just a few of the examples. The landscape has changed and firms are increasingly looking for ways to get the competitive advantage and gain the business.




Marketing departments have become a vital part of the sales and business development process. Firms have increased the number of marketing professionals to better service their attorneys. This process of relying on non-attorneys to drive the business is more important now than ever before.


When pitching for new business with a request for information (RFI), the marketing department has to gather as much information about the areas of expertise of their attorneys and the capabilities of the firm. They not only use external resources to evaluate the competition, but also internal information such as attorney bios, the CRM system (customer relationship management), and measurable data to represent their success in the area of support sought by the potential client.


When a pitch for business represents the expertise of the firm’s litigation practice area, the marketing specialists have to seek as much information as possible from their attorneys and that is usually a difficult process. Sometimes sending out mass emails asking for information is not possible since there could be ethical walls that need to be considered. The data must also accurately reflect the required information. With litigation, sometimes that includes how many cases went to trial, judgments that were achieved on behalf of the firm’s clients, and summary judgment motions filed and won. With intellectual property, the information sought could include how many U.S. trademark applications the firm files each year, how many patent applications were drafted, and the firm’s success rate in getting patents through the Patent Office efficiently.




The docketing professional is an important part of the business development process when it comes to gathering internal and external information. What better way to determine how many cases a firm has handled in federal court that went to trial or foreign trademark applications filed each year than to ask the docketing professional. Not only should the docketing specialist be able to mine the data in the firm’s docketing system, but they can also use external resources.


In this turbulent time of law firm survival, docketing professionals need to do more than just calendar and track dates. They need to become a valuable resource in helping to develop business for the firm.


Docketing is critical to risk management practices. That is well known. However, what firms may not realize is that the support docketing specialists provide relates directly to the billable hour and the bottom line. Attorneys can bill more time and concentrate on other legal work rather than routine and mundane tasks. Docketing departments can and should play a crucial role in developing business for the attorneys and their firm.


Chris Gierymski is the Editor-in-Chief and an author on Docket Life. He is a demonstrated leader with over 25 years of experience supporting attorneys and law firms with a focus on risk management and leveraging technology to meet their docketing needs and goals. He served as founding member and past president of the National Docketing Association (NDA). Chris published several articles and white papers related to docketing topics and was a speaker at Aderant Momentum, NALS...the association for legal professionals, and the NDA. Chris can be reached at cgierymski@docketlife.com or www.docketlife.com

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