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Ask Eula Mae: How to Prioritize a Mess

Posted By NALS Editorial + Marketing Board, Thursday, June 14, 2018
Updated: Monday, June 25, 2018

Dear Eula Mae:

 

I work in a relatively small law firm with three attorneys and three legal assistants.  Two of the bosses were out of town today when one of the legal assistants was fired.  I was assigned the duty of getting her files and other tasks in order before her boss comes back.  It turns out that she was a real mess, disorganized and only did what she had to do and didn’t file anything back in the file room.  I even found unpaid bills!  I’m worried that I won’t be able to get all of this straight with the duties that my boss assigned me before he left.  Can you help?

 

--Afraid in Alabama


Dear Afraid in Alabama:

 

Sometimes you just have to face what has been given to you.  I can tell you that it will probably take more thinking power than doing power to get things in order.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could get it done and ready for signatures by the time the attorneys get back? You can do it!   

 

The most efficient way to begin tackling this mess is to put like items together before processing.  You will need a space to spread out the stacks of paperwork, some sticky notes, and a pencil. Gather all the things that need to be done from the fired person’s desk and try to think about how you can group all of the documents and files into categories such as bills, documents to proof and sign, ready to file, ready to mail, etc. Write the category name on a sticky note and make room to build groups of like items. Pick up one document or file at a time, write the due date in pencil on the top right of the first page and place in the appropriate named category for processing. If there is no due date and it doesn’t fit in any of the categories and must be processed before going to the file room, make a separate stack for that. If there is no due date needed (not urgent), it will need its own stack too. This is the one that you will do last.

 

Then you will gather up each category in a stack for processing.  Pick up a stack and organize it in date order from oldest due date (on the top of the stack) to the newest (on the bottom of the stack).  Do that with every stack.  Look for the oldest date of all the stacks.  That is the category that you will complete first (urgent). Items for the file room are not as urgent and can wait a little longer.

 

The purpose of this process is two-fold—you will feel like you are in control of the situation and you will only have to think about the steps for each task one time. There is something about repetition that will help you move through the stack with ease.  After you have completed your part of all items in that stack, then take it where it needs to go for the next step, which is usually the boss’s office. 

 

Next, look for the oldest date in the remaining stacks and start again with that one.  The stacks with no due dates are not urgent, but still need to be handled.  For the one that still needs processing, assign a date to complete it.  For the final stack that needs to be filed in the file room, schedule 30 minutes at the end of the day on Friday to file these documents.

 

After you get a grip on the paperwork you inherited, it will probably make your job look easier. You will know exactly what to do to get ready for your boss’s return.  Be brave.  You can do all of this and more.

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How To Balance Your Life: Career + Family

Posted By Diane M. Stanley, RP (Houston ALP, Director), Thursday, June 14, 2018
Updated: Monday, June 25, 2018

There are so many components of life, from career to social life to self-care, that it can become difficult to balance each to the level of our own personal satisfaction and achievement.  There are a number of ways to better achieve balance in life, we just need a dose or two of self-reflection and extra effort to find time for everything.  We are healthiest and happiest when our needs are met.

 

Balance and self-care are vital to one’s mental and physical being, so we must fuel ourselves appropriately.  Sleep, diet, and exercise on a daily basis are essential components of a proper life balance. The lack of either inhibits our power source, the mind, as well as our relationships, both personally and professionally.

 

Everyone has different areas of focus in their daily lives, but should you find your time is primarily spent in just one area (i.e., work), try using the following methods to achieve more balance in your life.

 

  1. Utilize A Schedule. Planners and calendars can work, but be sure to include your self-care: exercise, down time, date night, family night, not just your task schedule and to-do lists.  Block the time and stick to it.

  2.  Be Spontaneous. Intentionally schedule a day, night, or weekend when nothing is scheduled. Do something fun locally, set the mood, and be creative.

  3. Know When To Say Yes And No. Be careful not to go overboard by being a giving person. Be careful not to burn bridges--bow out gracefully by explaining your situation – time constraints, prior commitments, etc.  “I wish I could help but I am stretched too thin right now. I may be able to donate some time next month if that will help.”  You may also know of someone else who would be willing to help, provided you have contacted them in advance.

  4. Check In With Yourself. Hello self!  How satisfied are you?  Are you happy with the direction you are going?  It is important to know what you want, so break away from the hustle and bustle of life and tune in to your feelings.

  5. Prioritize Self-Care. You must put your self-care first, providing strength to manage the stress in life that comes your way.  Fuel your mind and body with a healthy diet and exercise.

  6. Focus On A Balanced Week. Every day is not always perfect, so when the unexpected happens, and the boss needs you to work late, be sure to compensate yourself by shifting your schedule to add back the time and maintain your life balance.

  7. Document How You Spend Your Time. Create more free time by mapping out how you spend your time.  Keep a daily record for a couple of days, at 15-30 minute intervals, to actually see how you spend your day, just like you make a budget to track your spending.  Use the information to make small shifts when necessary to afford yourself time to do other things of your liking.

  8. Focus On The Good Relationships. Think about your relationships to bring more balance to your life.  Time is money, as they say, so if someone in your life is taking away energy from you, you might want to re-evaluate the relationship.

  9. Stick To Set Work Hours. Leave the work at work!  This does not mean leaving tasks unfinished.  Designate your time appropriately during the day to meet deadlines and avoid the stress of finishing on time.

  10. Picture What You Want In Life. See the big picture!  At the end of the day, what were you the most happy about? Did you wish for more?  Reflect back on your current life and see if you are in alignment with your life goals and aspirations.

  11. Ask For Help. Sometimes it is impossible to do everything on your own and a call for help is not a sign of weakness.  Seek out a support system, ask your spouse, friends, or a family member to help out in some area, giving you more time to spend with them!

It’s a win-win!

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Grammar Nuggets: Pronouns, Reflexive Pronouns, and Myself

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Thursday, June 14, 2018
Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2018

While I’ve written about reflexive pronouns before, it is important enough that some of it bears repeating.

 

Pronouns are words that substitute for nouns and other pronouns. Personal pronouns are what we will be talking about here and they indicate the person speaking, the person spoken to, or the person or object spoken of. It is the Iyoumetheyhesheit of English. You typically choose the pronoun based on the person it is replacing. For instance:

 

·       She said it was too early (when she means Mary)

·       He drove his car like a maniac (where he means Bob).

 

The challenge comes with reflexive pronouns, which are pronouns that end in -self and reflect back on the pronoun previously mentioned. For example:

 

·       Mary said that it was hard to get up by herself 

·       Bill drove the car himself.

 

What is NOT correct is using the reflexive pronoun alone without it being able to reflect back on the pronoun. So, for instance, saying:

 

·       If you have any questions, talk to myself.

·       Tony and myself will go shopping for dinner today.

 

is not correct because in both places. Myself has nothing in the sentence to reflect back to. It should be:

 

·       If you have any questions, talk to me.

·       Tony and I will go shopping for dinner today.

 

Further examples are:

 

·       Send the meeting minutes to Bill and me (not myself) for approval 

·       Sue and I (not myself) are ready for vacation.

 

As for when to choose me and when to choose I, a little bit of adjusting and testing will make it easier to make the correct choice. For instance, in the sentences above:

 

·       If you have any questions, talk to me. You would say “talk to me” not “talk to I” and not “talk to myself,” so it should be “talk to me.”

·       Tony and I will go shopping for dinner today. If you were going by yourself, you would say “I will go shopping,” not “me will go shopping,” so “Tony and I will go shopping” is correct.

·       Send the meeting minutes to Bill and me for approval. Again, if you take Bill out, you would ask people to “send the meeting minutes to me for approval.”

·       Sue and I are ready for vacation. Take Sue out and you would say “I am ready for vacation.”

 

I hope all this makes it easier for you to use the proper reflexive pronouns when you’re talking about yourself (see what I did there?). Otherwise, I will continue to bang my head against the wall at hearing “myself” used inappropriately.

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Burden of Proof: An Essay of Definition

Posted By Charlene Sabini, PP, CLP, ALP, Thursday, April 19, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2018

burden of proof. 1. A party’s duty to prove a disputed assertion or charge. The burden of proof includes both the burden of persuasion and the burden of production. 2. Loosely, burden of persuasion.

 

burden of persuasion. (1923) A party’s duty to convince the fact-finder to view the facts in a way that favors that party. • In civil cases, the plaintiff’s burden is usually “by a preponderance of the evidence,” while in criminal cases the prosecution’s burden is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” – Also termed persuasion burden; risk of non-persuasion; risk of jury doubt. – Also loosely termed burden of proof.

 

burden of production. (1893) A party’s duty to introduce enough evidence on an issue to have the issue decided by the fact-finder, rather than decided against the party in a peremptory ruling such as a summary judgment or a directed verdict. – Also termed burden of going forward with evidence; burden of producing evidence; production burden; degree of proof. 1

 


Burden of Proof in a Civil Lawsuit

When an individual files a civil lawsuit against someone else, the burden of proof rests on his or her shoulders. When the parties go to court, they each have an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Of course, if that was all that was needed, nearly every case would end in a “he said / she said” situation. The party who filed the lawsuit, called the “plaintiff” or the “petitioner,” must prove that the things alleged in the lawsuit are true and that the other party, called the “defendant” or the “respondent,” caused harm or damages.

The standard to which the plaintiff must prove his case in a civil lawsuit is quite different from the standard of proof required in a criminal case. In a civil case, it need only be proven by a preponderance of evidence, which means that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s damages. There are some types of civil cases that are considered to be more serious. These cases must be proven by clear and convincing evidence, which means that the evidence presented against the defendant must have a high probability of being true.2

Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case

In a criminal case, the accused person is by law assumed innocent until the prosecution proves that he is guilty. The burden of proof in a criminal case rests on the prosecution, with no requirement that the defendant prove that he is innocent. The standard to which the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt is much higher than in a civil case, as the defendant’s freedom is often at risk. In a criminal matter, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant did the deed.

There are a few circumstances in which a defendant may want to take action in proving his or her innocence. If the defendant wishes, for instance, to make a claim that he is not guilty by reason of insanity, the burden of proving that he was insane at the time of the crime rests on the defendant. Claims of duress or self-defense also require the defendant to prove the circumstances. 3

Again, the legal concept of the burden of proof encompasses both the burdens of production and persuasion. Burden of proof is often used to refer to one or the other. Burden of proof and burden of persuasion are also sometimes used to refer to the standard of proof.4

Shifting Sands of Burden

When the prosecution establishes a fact that tends to prove an element of a crime, the burden essentially switches to the accused, not necessarily to disprove the fact, but to raise a doubt about it. The defendant need not raise a doubt about every fact that the prosecution tries to prove—creating enough doubt about any point that’s crucial to a guilty verdict will suffice. Of course, the more convincing the fact is, the tougher the defendant’s burden is.

For instance, suppose the prosecution shows that, when searching the defendant, the police found a watch that store records reflect as stolen. In defense of a burglary charge, the defendant would probably have to give a plausible explanation for possessing the watch legally. By producing a receipt or testimony that the watch was a gift, the defendant would essentially shift the burden back to the prosecution. 5

Generally, the prosecution has the burden of proving every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. But while a defendant isn’t required to prove innocence in order to avoid conviction, the prosecution doesn’t have to prove guilt to the point of absolute certainty. And despite the general rule that the prosecution bears the burden of proof, there are instances when the burden shifts to the defendant. 6

 

Juvenile Dependency Hearings: Burden of Proof

In nearly all cases where a government agency such as CPS (or DHS in Oregon) files allegations against you, that agency has the burden of proof. It is the job of the juvenile attorney experienced in juvenile dependency law to protect and fight for the client and against the allegations that are lodged against the client.

Standards of Proof in Juvenile Dependency Court

      Preponderance of the Evidence


Proof which is of greater weight or more convincing than the proof that is offered in opposition to it; that is, proof which as a whole shows that the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not. This is the standard of proof in Juvenile and Dependency cases including Jurisdiction Hearings.

     Clear and Convincing Evidence

Proof that results in a reasonable certainty of the truth of the fact or assertion in controversy. This is the standard of proof that is used in Juvenile and Dependency Court for disposition hearings. If the county CPS agency is seeking a disposition of family reunification over your family, the burden of proof rests with that government agency.

Real World Meaning: The burden shifts again to the county; their proof must be 70-80% more convincing or stronger than that of the opposing party (you).

     Reasonable Doubt (NOT used in juvenile court) 7

Juvenile proceedings are civil as opposed to criminal. Instead of being formally charged with a crime, juvenile offenders are accused of “committing a delinquent act.”

 

Conclusion

In summary, the burden of proof refers to the duty of a party making a claim to prove that the claim is true. The phrase is most commonly used in the context of criminal trials, where the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In a criminal trial, the obligation to prove the defendant's guilt belongs to the government. In a civil trial, it's the plaintiff (the party making a claim for civil damages) who carries the burden of proof. Because the burden of proof belongs to the party making the claim, the party against whom the claim is made is under no obligation to prove their innocence or to prove that their position is the correct one.

It's important to remember that burden of proof doesn't only refer to the amount of evidence presented. Rather, the quality of the evidence produced is as important as the amount of evidence presented. 8



  1. Black’s Law Dictionary, 223 (9th  ed. 2009)
  2. https://legaldictionary.net/burden-of-proof/, last viewed October 14, 2017

  3. Ibid.

  4. Burden of Proof, http://dictionary.findlaw.com/definition/burden-of-proof.html

  5. Burdens of Proof in Criminal Cases, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/burdens-proof-criminal-cases.html, last viewed October 14, 2017

  6. Ibid.

  7. Dependency Hearings: Burden of Proof, http://www.cps-lawyers.com/dependency-proof.html, last viewed October 14, 2017

  8. Brittany McKenna, Burden of Proof: Definition and Cases, http://study.com/academy/lesson/burden-of-proof-definition-cases.html

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Ask Eula Mae: Finding Time to Stay Certified

Posted By NALS Editorial + Marketing Board, Thursday, April 19, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dear Eula Mae:

I’ve been a legal assistant in real estate contracts for many years and my workload has grown with the company. It’s not too big to handle, but sure makes for a full day. I have my PLS certification, which is about to expire and I’m not sure if I want to stay certified. Part of this feeling is due to the workload and part is due to my busy family life with three teenagers at home. My life is full and my time is limited. I don’t know how I’m going to keep my certification.

 

—Stay Certified or Not in Cleveland



Dear Cleveland:

Where there is a will there is a way and fortunately for you, NALS has many ways to stay certified thanks to their online presence. There are so many ways for you to get CLE and most of them are on your own time.

Education is something that no one can take away from you. You can lose a job, a house, a car, etc., but no one can strip you of your knowledge. Your certification not only expresses your expertise in the field but your experience—a truly precious commodity in the legal field. You are not just another ‘assistant’ or ‘secretary’; you are a legal support professional—an earnest, worthy investment for any attorney or law firm. By letting your certification lapse, you are essentially cloaking a beacon of legal expertise and education.

First, look at what is required for your recertification and I’m sure you will find a way to get the credits you need. You worked hard to become certified and it is worth it to keep it—for now and for later!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Register for a webinar at NALS. A list of upcoming webinar and continuing legal education (CLE) events can be found at NALS.org/Events.
  • Read the @LAW magazine and take the respective quiz to earn education hours. 
  • Write an article for the NALS Docket eNewsletter. I know you can! You have a lot to say. You could talk about your NALS experience as a non-traditional legal person and what this has meant to you personally and for your job. Tell us about your local NALS chapter’s volunteering experience and your role as an officer. What is your proudest accomplishment at NALS and how has that impacted your life on the job? How can this information help other members? How have the skills that you gained from NALS helped you? How have your connections in the association helped you in your job, in NALS, and in your life? Docket newsletter article are 1000 words. These tend to be more personal in nature, but not necessarily.
  • Write an article for NALS @LAW. These articles are 2000 words about the law in action or the law itself. If you have ideas for an article, members of the NALS Editorial + Marketing Board will be happy to work with you to develop some article ideas. The goal is to get the most out of NALS.
  • Do you have mandatory classes that you have to take for your job? You can always send information on that to the Certification/Education Manager at NALS to see if it qualifies for CLE credit.
  • Teaching a session through NALS or through your chapter. You receive 4x the CLE credit for hosting or teaching a webinar/seminar/or workshop and, yes, this includes prep time.
  • If you enjoy reading or writing, you can always do self-study. You can earn up to 5 CLE credits for doing so.
  • Attend an online membership meeting. They are free and you can earn up to 2 CLE. Visit NALS.org/NOMM for all upcoming dates.
  • Stay active on our NALS social feed. The NALS Certification/Education Manager releases online certification quizzes over various areas of substantive law
  • Attend a conference. NALS conferences are notorious for being fun learning environments for all attendees. You will have time to meet the NALS Board of Directors, NALS Resource Center Staff, and NALS Pals from across the nation! NALS.org/PHX18
  • If you have the time to volunteer, you can join a national task force to earn CLE on certain tasks. 

And if ‘life happens’, just reach out to the NALS Resource Center and request an extension. NALS Resource Center will do anything in its power to help you succeed and maintain your certification.

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