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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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Bullying in the Workplace: Identifying the Types—Have You Met One?

Posted By Charlene Sabini, CLP, ALP, Friday, November 18, 2016

Bullying in the WorkplaceIs there currently a U.S. law against workplace bullying?


No.
The United States is last among the industrialized western democracies. The U.S. completely ignores workplace bullying in its vast collection of laws.

Is there a law in my state?


No.
No state has an anti-bullying law for the workplace. Remember, there is a big difference between having a bill or bills introduced (potential laws), compared to laws that have been passed by both houses in the state legislature and signed into law by the governor.[1]

These are questions and answers we do not want to see. But we do.

So, don’t we already have federal employment discrimination laws that might also cover bullying? In only 20% of cases do our anti-discrimination laws actually apply. This is difficult to understand. In order to claim sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or hostile work environment, the recipient of the mistreatment must be a member of a protected status group (based on gender, race, disability, ethnicity, religion, etc.). For example, a white female bullied by a white female (or a man of color bullied by another man of color) are not protected. “Technically, bullying is a form of violence—certainly verbal, but non-physical. One of our preferred synonyms for workplace bullying is ‘psychological violence.’ However, violence policies and laws always focus on the acts and threats of physical violence—striking someone (battery), or threatening someone so that they fear being physically hurt (assault). The one exception is the inclusion of verbal abuse in violence policies. So bullying that is verbal, but not physical, is completely legal.”[2]

Let’s further define this kind of bullying:  workplace bullying is a repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more aggressors. It is clearly abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. It can also be interference with one’s work or sabotaging of one’s work, as well as various kinds of verbal abuse.[3]

It is often about control—control of the targeted person, not unlike domestic violence. It can be an act of commission or omission (withholding vital resources from the targeted person). It can escalate to involve others, and it ultimately undermines legitimate business interests when the bully’s personal agenda supersedes the work itself.[4]

The specific types of workplace bullying are many and often terrifying. One category is Threats to Personal Standing and can include:

  • Spreading rumors, hurtful gossip, or innuendos
  • Yelling, name-calling, mocking, insulting, or ridiculing
  • Unwanted physical contact or physical gestures that intimidate or threaten
  • Invalid or baseless criticism
  • Accusatory or threatening statements
  • Faultfinding or unwarranted blaming
  • Displaying offensive photos or objects
  • Temper tantrums, mood swings, or shouting
  • Humiliation, public reprimands, or obscene language
  • Ganging up against a coworker
  • Aggressive posturing

Another category is Threats to Professional Standing and can include:

  • Denying access to resources, assignments, projects, or opportunities
  • Stealing or taking credit for another’s work
  • Interfering with someone’s work performance
  • Failing to return phone calls or messages
  • Little or no feedback on performance
  • Withholding information essential to perform one’s job
  • Toxic emails
  • Flaunting status

Yet another is Control or Manipulation Tactics:

  • Failing to invite someone to an essential meeting
  • Threatening job loss
  • Excessive monitoring or micromanagement
  • Assigning tasks that cannot be completed by deadline; setting unrealistic goals
  • Interference or sabotage
  • Ignoring a coworker with the intent to harm or control
  • Treating a worker differently than peers and coworkers
  • Ostracism, isolation, dissociation, or exclusion from others
  • Refusal to take responsibility
  • Excessive, impossible, conflicting work expectations or demands
  • Inequitable and harsh treatment
  • Other objectionable behavior designed to torment, isolate, pester, or abuse

Example:  Angela:  Fired by a Bully

“I worked for the Law School Admission Counsel, the company which administers the LSAT. My boss never liked me and why she hired me is still unclear. She bullied me extensively, yelling at me in front of my coworkers, threatening my job privately in her office, and discouraging alliances with coworkers. She treated people similarly in other departments, yelling at them in meetings. I tried to appease her until she threatened my job . . .”[5]

And it is not unusual that the company bullies are visible to other employees in the company. They are the proverbial “elephants in the room,” not unlike perpetrators of domestic violence. In their battering way, bullies minimize, deny, sidetrack, and blame their targets, hoping to avoid accountability for their actions.[6]

Anton Hout, founder of OvercomeBullying.org, identifies eight bully types:

  1. The Screaming Mimi. This is the most easily recognizable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behavior is meant to berate and humiliate people. They thrive on the notion that others fear them.
  2. The Two-Headed Snake. To a coworker’s face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the coworker is out of earshot, this person will destroy his colleague’s reputation, stab him in the back, and even take credit for his work.
  3. The Constant Critic. This bully’s goal is to dismantle other people’s confidence through constant—and often unwarranted—criticism. A critic will look for any possible flaw in someone’s work and labors tirelessly to kill that person’s credibility. Impeccable work? No problem:  this type of bully is not above falsifying documents or creating evidence to make others look bad.
  4. The Gatekeeper. Every office has at least one employee who gets off on wielding his or her power over others—regardless of whether that power is real or perceived. Gatekeepers deny people the tools they need—whether it is resources, time, or information—to do their jobs efficiently.
  5. The Attention Seeker. This type of bully wants to be the center of the action at all times. They will try to get on their superior’s good side through consistent flattery and even come on as kind and helpful to their peers—especially the newer employees. However, if coworkers do not provide the right amount of attention, these bullies can quickly turn on them.

    Attention seekers are often overly dramatic and relate everything to something that is going wrong in their own lives to garner sympathy and control. These bullies also have a tendency to coax personal info out of new employees—only to use it against them later.
  6. The Wannabe. This is an employee who sees himself or herself as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything. But Wannabes are not usually very good at their jobs. To compensate, these bullies spend a majority of their time watching more competent workers and looking for areas of skilled workers’ performance to complain about.

    Wannabes will demand that everything is done their way—even when there are better ways of doing things. Because they are automatically opposed to others’ ideas, they will do everything in their power to prevent changes to their work processes.
  7. The Guru. Generally, there is nothing wrong with this bully’s work performance. In fact, it is not unusual for a Guru to be considered an expert in his or her own niche area. What these bullies offer in technical skill, however, they severely lack in emotional maturity.

    Gurus see themselves as being superior to their coworkers. As a result, they do not consider how their actions will affect others, are not able to fathom the possibility that they can be wrong, and do not accept responsibility for their own actions. In addition, because these bullies feel as though they are “above it all,” they do not always feel compelled to follow the same rules as everybody else.
  8. The Sociopath. Intelligent, well-spoken, charming, and charismatic, sociopaths are the most destructive bullies of all. Reason: They have absolutely no empathy for others, yet they are experts at manipulating the emotions of others in order to get what they want.

    These bullies often rise to positions of power within the company, which makes them extremely dangerous. Sociopaths tend to surround themselves with a circle of lackeys who are willing to do their dirty work in exchange for moving up the ranks with them.

The best defense a company can have against workplace bullying is a clearly worded policy that prohibits any type of bullying behavior.[7]

Clearly, workplace bullying can take many forms and wear many guises—all unpleasant and all destructive. There is no federal law that applies to bullying specifically. In some cases, when bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, “bullying” overlaps with harassment and schools are legally obligated to address it. Here in Oregon matters of workplace bullying overlap somewhat with bullying phenomena primarily at schools and universities:  the terms used in the Oregon anti-bullying laws include harassment, intimidation, or bullying, and this covers cyberbullying as well. The following groups are listed under Oregon educational anti-bullying law:  race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, familial status, disability, and source of income.

“Although a number of states have considered anti-bullying legislation, none has yet to pass such a law. That does not necessarily mean bullying is legal in every situation, however. Bullying is illegal when it violates federal or state laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the workplace.” (These laws protect employees from harassment based on the previously mentioned characteristics.) “If a workplace bully is targeting an employee based on a protected characteristic which could qualify as illegal harassment, the employee would have a ‘hostile work environment’ claim if the unwelcome conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would find it to be offensive, hostile, or abusive. To date, neither federal law nor the law of any state prohibits workplace bullying outright.”[8]

 


  1. http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/faq.php, The Healthy Workplace Bill, by Gary Namie, Director, last viewed October 22, 2016

  2. Ibid.

  3. http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/definition/

  4. Ibid.

  5. https://www.thebalance.com/types-of-bullying-2164322, Sally Kane, July 25, 2016, last viewed October 22, 2016

  6. Ibid.

  7. http://www.hrmorning.com/8-workplace-bully-personality-types/, Tim Gould, July 19, 2016;  last viewed October 22, 2016

  8. http://labor-employment-law.lawyers.com/employment-discrimination/workplace-bullying-the-meanest-of-the-mean.html, Lisa Guerin, J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley, last viewed October 23, 2016


Charlene Sabini, CLP, ALP, is legal assistant for attorney David Vill in juvenile law matters in Eugene, Oregon. She is Director of Education for her local chapter, NALS of Lane County in Eugene, and has enthusiastically occupied that position for over four years. She is editor of her chapter’s bimonthly newsletter, NALS in Motion, which has been published unfailingly for nearly four years. She has earned three successive NALS CLE Awards and plans to sit for the PP exam in March 2017. She is a proofreader on the NALS Editorial Board and has contributed articles/essays for the NALS docket and @Law. Charlene is an affiliate member of the Lane County Bar Association and was responsible for initiating that level of membership with the bar for nonlawyers in 2014. She also petitioned the Oregon State Bar Association to allow guest speaking attorneys at nonlawyer education meetings to receive CLE credit (which was formerly not allowed in Oregon) and was successful. She is also a 13-year volunteer with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene, has served as the county sheriff’s newsletter editor, and is currently serving as the county jail librarian. The Oregon State Sheriff’s Association/Jail Command Council awarded Ms. Sabini the Jail Volunteer of the Year award in 2009.

Tags:  legal  legal assistant  legal career  legal education  legal job skills  legal jobs  legal office  legal professional  legal professional training  nals  office procedures  paralegal  paralegal office 

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Grammar Nuggets: Headings By The (Blue) Book

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Monday, August 22, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I learned something interesting recently. As much as you think you know about something, every once in a while it is good to check your resources. While I covered this topic according to the Gregg Reference Manual in the July 12 NALS docket in an article entitled “Things Are Coming to a Head(ing)” about exceptions to the “capitalize everything except articles, conjunctions, and prepositions shorter than four letters” rule, a recent search through The Bluebook showed me that rule was not correct for headings in a legal document done in “Bluebook style.” According to Section 8 of The Bluebook, in headings and titles, the first word in the heading or title and the word immediately following a colon in a heading or title should be capitalized. However, do not capitalize articles, conjunctions, and prepositions of four or fewer letters unless they fit the criteria in the immediately preceding sentence (they are the first word of the title or immediately follow a colon).  

 

The Bluebook does, however, refer you to The Chicago Manual of Style or the Government Printing Office Style Manual if there are questions about specific capitalization issues not answered in The Bluebook. Here are the rules on capitalization according to The Bluebook:

 

  • Always capitalize nouns identifying specific persons, officials, groups, government offices, or governmental bodies.
    • The Securities and Exchange Commission was closed for the holiday.
    • Members of Congress worked late into the night.
    • The President lives in the White House.
  • BUT:
    • The congressional hearings seemed as if they would never end
    • The presidential veto is a tool available to the President.
  • Exceptions (you know there had to be some):
    • Act is capitalized when referring to a specific act.
      • The Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964.
  • Circuit is capitalized when used with the name or number of the circuit.
    • Arizona is part of the Ninth Circuit.
    • The circuit court will not rule on that issue.
  • Code is capitalized when referring to a specific code.
    • The Internal Revenue Code
  • Constitution is capitalized when referring to the United States Constitution or naming any constitution in full.
  • Court is capitalized when referring to the United States Supreme Court, when referring to any court in full, or when referring to the Court where your documents will be filed.
    • The Miranda court decided . . .
    • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals . . .
    • This Court should deny the Motion to Dismiss.
  • Federal is capitalized when the word it modifies is capitalized.
    • The Federal Constitution establishes the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
    • High on the list of Congress’s priorities is federal spending.
  • Judge or Justice is capitalized when referring to a specific judge or justice by name or when referring to a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
    • Did you know that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sat as a judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona?
    • The judge ruled against defendants in the White case.
  • State is capitalized when it is part of the full title of the state, if the word it modifies is capitalized, or when referring to the state as a party to a litigation or a governmental actor.
    • The State of California was the first to allow the use of medical marijuana.
    • He brought an action against the State for unlawful imprisonment.

I guess I will have to read through The Bluebook again just for good measure to see what other “rules” need to be adjusted.

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 has a blog on proofreading tips at http://proofthatblog.com. If you have specific grammar issues you would like covered in future issues, please send them to Kathy at proofthatblog@gmail.com.

Tags:  career corner  grammar  grammar nuggets  legal assistant  legal career  microsoft word  paralegal 

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I Want To Write, But Where Do I Start?

Posted By Allison Streepey, B.A., CRS, PLS, Monday, August 8, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I Want To Write But Where Do I Start?Writing is like a muscle. You have to use it, work it, grow it. Like any other skill, it can be learned but it take lots of practice.  Nowadays, anyone can be “published” immediately through any social media, blog, or YouTube.  Maybe you want more than that.  Think and dream about what your purpose in writing could be.  Is it to report events and activities or to educate others in NALS?  Do you dream of writing the great American novel?
 
Where do you start to do this?  Start where you are.  You could start quietly by journaling—just for you—and look at it later with “fresh eyes,” i.e., like you have never seen it before.  Or be brave and join the editorial board of your local, state, or national NALS group.  You will see lots of writing and get the hang of it.  Be braver and consider writing for your local NALS chapter.  Talk about something you know and tell us the story.  You probably have something to teach or are an expert on something that has not been presented before and you could really help a lot of people. 
 
Suddenly, opportunities will appear.  You might notice a topic that has not been covered in your local NALS chapter meetings or the NALS state chapter events.  Maybe you have a different take on a topic or know an easier way to do something.  Maybe there is a subject that you are curious about and want to learn more and would be interested in doing research and interviews to discover the answers to your questions.  Others probably have the same questions and want answers too.
 
Think of it as a puzzle.  Basically, it is taking an idea and expanding it, giving it purpose.  Sometimes purpose comes first or is in the publication’s plans—sometimes it comes after you work on your information for a while.  Think about what you are trying to accomplish with your article. Are you trying to motivate, ask a question and get the audience to think, or are you just reporting?
 
Writing is really about editing.  What happens is that you write a while and let it rest, go back and look at it and edit.  Repeat that process many times until you think it is your best effort and the article is complete.  Your job is to make the words say exactly what you mean for them to say.  That is where the work comes in.  Sometimes the information comes to you fast and sometimes it does not.  Sometimes the editing and rearrangement is clear and sometimes it is not.  That is why deadlines help—whether they are self-imposed or from the editor of the publication.
 
What are you afraid of—that you might be criticized?  Okay.  Think of it as an experiment.  It usually takes many tries to succeed.  Try again.
 
Start simple and look for an opportunity to write a short article, just a paragraph to report about a class or event you attended for your local NALS chapter newsletter.  Remember that those who were not able to go to the event really want to hear what you have to say.  After producing several short reports, you will find that writing gets easier and you will soon begin to write longer pieces.
 
There are so many books and resources to help you with your writing.  Having a good grammar base is very helpful.  Use The Gregg Reference Manual [1] or websites like Proof That Blog, [2] written by NALS' Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS -SC, ACP, or Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Grammar Tips. [3]
 
One of the best books to have readily available is Strunk and White’s The Element of Style, [4] which is simple and beautiful, suggested by many colleges and law schools.
 
But that brings up another good point—how to grow your skill.  Practice.  A lot of practice. This means you will need time, effort, and a recording device like a tape or message recorder, a computer, a journal, a notebook, or whatever works for you.
 
You might need to schedule time to write.  Serious writers write every day. (Can you imagine?)  Some have an idea for an article and schedule 30 minutes a day and work on one section at a time.  Some writers use free-style journaling by just letting the words flow and reviewing later to see what comes out of it.  And there are writers that start with an outline or a question that they would like to answer. 
 
Having someone review and give real feedback (more here, less here, and asking questions like, “What did you mean here?”) is one of the most important parts of writing.  Please understand that the editor’s and proofreader’s jobs are to make you look good.  So you see, advice is always welcome.  Do not take it personally.  Your paper is not about you—it is a thing, a product to be polished enough to shine.
 
It is good to have a filing system to keep your good ideas and build on them, to have a list of article ideas, to keep articles you are working on handy, and to hold your research.  Some writers never throw out any writing that was edited out of an article, but recycle it into something else.  This would be good if all your work is in one highly defined and unique area—like an expert!
 
What are you waiting for?  You can do this and you might surprise yourself and discover that you just need to build that muscle.  I know you have something to say and there are plenty of us who want to hear it.  Go for it!  It is an adventure.  Try it, then wait and see what develops from your effort.


Allison Streepey, B.A., CRS, PLS, is the Business Administrator for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Office of Educational Development. She has over 15 years’ experience in pre- and post-award research grants administration and in serving as the Senior Grants Administrator for the UAMS Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.  She also served as an IRB Administrator in the Institutional Review Board office for the protection of human subjects in research.  Her current legal experience involves federal and state grants and contracts, employment law, and federal research grants administration. Allison is thrilled to be a member of the NALS Editorial Board and enjoys reading all the articles and writing.


References:

1 Sabin, W. (2010). The Gregg Reference Manual: A Manual of Style, Grammar, Usage, and Formatting Tribute Edition 11th Edition. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
2 http://proofthatblog.com/about-proof-that/
3 http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl
4 Strunk, W., & White, E.B. (1999). The Elements of Style. London, United Kingdom: Pearson PLC.


Tags:  career corner  editing legal papers  legal access  legal assistant  legal career  legal education  legal networking  legal professional  nals  paralegal  paralegal career  writing legal documents 

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Grammar Nuggets: Things Are Coming to a Head[ing]

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Grammar NuggetsThere are two types of headings—a run-in heading and a freestanding heading. A run-in heading is one where the substance of the paragraph starts immediately after the heading. Run-in headings are usually set off by bold font and/or underlining. A freestanding heading is one which is on a line by itself, sometimes as part of an outline in a document.

 

run-in heading will always be followed by a form of punctuation depending on the type of heading. If the heading is a question, it will end in a question mark. However, in a freestanding heading, use no punctuation unless you need to use a question mark or an exclamation point because the heading demands it.

 

As for capitalization, under the Gregg Reference Manual rules, you should capitalize all words in the heading over four letters and capitalize all words in the heading under four letters EXCEPT:

a an and  as
at but by for
if in of off
on or out nor
the to up  

Of course, as in all things grammar, there are exceptions to that rule. If a word on the “don’t capitalize” list begins or ends the sentence, it should be capitalized. If a word on that list comes after a dash or a colon, it should be capitalized. Capitalize short prepositions like upinon, and for when they are used with prepositions having four or more letters.

Rafting Up and Down the Colorado River

Driving In and Around the City

New Store Opening On or About March 1

I have printed this list of words that should not be capitalized except in special circumstances and taped it to my work computer so that it is easier for me to remember. I honestly think titles look better with each word capitalized, but who am I to argue with Gregg? If that is the rule and my attorneys do not have a problem with formatting headings “by the book,” then I will adjust. But are there different rules under the BlueBook? Hmmm. We will check that out the next 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 has a blog on proofreading tips at
http://proofthatblog.com. If you have specific grammar issues you would like covered in future issues, please send them to Kathy at proofthatblog@gmail.com.


Tags:  grammar  grammar nuggets  legal assistant  legal education  legal professional  legal professional training  microsoft word  nals 

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