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Uh oh . . . You made a mistake

Posted By Paula Steffey, PP, CLP-SC, Tuesday, January 3, 2017

You Made A MistakeAs legal support staff, we should all strive for perfection.  However, sometimes mistakes will happen.  As my current boss has told me several times, everyone makes mistakes.  It is how you handle the mistake that makes the difference. 

 

What would you do if you discovered a mistake after a document was sent out?  Would you make the corrections, resend it, and not say a word?  From my personal experience, I have found it better to “fess up” that you discovered a mistake and ask your attorney how this situation should be handled.  Chances are that, if it was in a simple cover letter, the attorney will just say do not worry about it.  If it is in a document that will need to be signed, then I can almost say for certain your attorney will want to send a separate letter outlining the correction and provide a revised document.

 

Was the mistake you made a missed deadline?  In the pit of your stomach you know that it could be thrown out or not be admissible.  Once you realize you missed the deadline, would you file it anyway and not tell your attorney?  If the document was a response to a request for admissions, which must be filed with the court within 28 days or they are deemed admitted, that is a consequence that could make or break the case and the attorney definitely needs to know.

 

What if your mistake was by omission such as forgetting to attach the document to an email or enclose it in the envelope?  Do you quickly resend the email with the attachment, but not copy your attorney on the email hoping he will not figure it out?  This usually backfires because that new email you sent will likely get forwarded to your attorney with a reply.  He is going to find out and it would be better to have him find out from you personally.  This example may sound ridiculous, but I worked for an attorney who would get very upset when one of his support staff would do that and she did it frequently which irritated him even more.

 

Also, you should always double-check the attachments and enclosures. Attach them to the email first before you begin writing and add the email address for the recipient last so it does not accidentally get sent before you are ready to hit send.  When processing the outgoing mail, it is always a good idea to reread the letter to make sure you are enclosing all of the attachments.  

 

It is not just the support staff who can make a mistake.  Attorneys are starting to type and/or edit more of their own work.  Attorneys are human and can make mistakes too.  Do you correct the letter or document before it gets sent out to make your attorney look and sound better?  Do you tell your attorney that you did it?  If it just needs some typos or punctuation corrected, that may be okay with him, but did your corrections change the substance?  It may or may not have so it is important to bring the corrections to the attorney’s attention.

 

I am sure we have all seen a letter come into the office with grammatical errors and typos.  Is it the legal support staff who made the mistake or possibly the attorney who wants it that way no matter what?  That is hard to say, but I would not criticize too much because you never know when a letter you drafted will come across their desk.  Will yours be perfect?

 

Obviously, the key to avoiding mistakes is taking your time—even when there is not time—and proofread your work. 

 

When I was 18 and started my first full-time job, my supervisor had a sign in his office with a very catchy quote.  I have always remembered that quote:  If you do not have time to do it right the first time, when are you going to have time to do it over?

 


 

Paula Steffey, PP, CLP-SC, has been a member since 2014.  She is currently the co-chair for the Programs and Reservations committees and the chairperson for the Attorney Directory project on the Ways and Means committee with NALS of Greater Kalamazoo in Michigan.  Paula is also very active at the state level and is currently serving as the Executive Secretary for NALS of Michigan and, for more excitement, is the chairperson for the Finance Committee.  In June she took over as the chairperson for the Marketing Committee.  After attending the national conference in October, she submitted her application for a secondary membership with NALS of Phoenix and hopes to be as active as possible from a distance.  She also joined the Editorial Board.  Outside of NALS she is a full-time legal assistant to attorney Garold A. Goidosik with Goidosik Morse Disability Law Group and has two other part-time jobs.  One of those part-time jobs is her own crafting company where she sells her hand-crocheted items.  Besides work and NALS, she is married with two children of her own, a stepdaughter, and two very spoiled golden retrievers who are retired show dogs. 

 

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Ask Eula Mae: First Day on The Job

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dear Eula Mae:

 

I am so excited because I just started a new job at a large law firm.  My previous job was as a typist and now I am a legal secretary!  There is so much to learn that it is a little intimidating.  I really do not want to give the office the impression of how nervous I really am, but rather that they hired the consummate professional.  I am proud to be a legal secretary and want to learn and grow with this opportunity.  Can you tell me how to not project how anxious I really am about this job?

 

Signed,

Nervous Nelly

 

 

 

Dear Nelly:

 

Well, how exciting that you have a new job.  Everything will be all right.  Think about this:  of all the people that were interviewed, they chose you!  That means they feel certain that you can do the job.  So now what can you do to alleviate some of your nerves?  Be sure that you eat healthy foods and sleep well before your first day.  The most important tool for you to have when you start your new job is a notebook and pen.  Keep it with you at all times.  It will be kind of like a journal, a map, and the beginnings of your personal reference manual.  You will need it to learn everyone’s names and who does what, where the files and supplies are, what kind of filing system the office uses, where the form books are housed, how you are to answer the phone, etc.  It is a good idea to take a few moments to review this first thing in the morning and you will soon be comfortable on the job.

 

Eula Mae


Submit Your Questions To Ask Eula Mae By Clicking Here.

 


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Grammar Nuggets: Capitalization in Legal Documents

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A reader asked about capitalization in legal documents. It sounds like it should be simple but research shows lots of people have their own ideas about what should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says there is no uniform style for capitalization in legal documents, but common practice is to capitalize key terms such as the parties and the type of document you are working on. Since we are talking about legal documents, I checked The Bluebook (19th ed.). Here is a quick breakdown of capitalization “rules” according to both sources:

 

Court—The word “court” is capitalized in these instances:

  • Always when referring to the United States Supreme Court
  • Always when the name of the court is spelled out, i.e. the United States District Court.
  • When your document is talking about the specific court that will rule, i.e. “We ask the Court to rule in favor of the Plaintiff.”
  • Do not capitalize the word “court” when talking about a ruling in another case, i.e. “The court in Roe ruled . . .” 

Parties—When referring to the parties in your particular document, capitalize their designation:

  • “The Plaintiff files this Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss.”
  • However, “The defendant in Smith v. Jones used the unclean hands defense.”

Titles of Documents—When referring to a document that has been filed in the same matter in which you are filing your document:

  • In the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff alleges . . .
  • Under the Court’s February 10, 2014, Order . . . 

As for other defined terms in legal documents, I personally think it is much clearer if a term is defined and then capitalized throughout:

  • ABC Corporation (“Corporation”) hereby agrees . . .
  • The doctors employed by St. Joseph’s Hospital (“Doctors”) . . . 

This can be tricky when a defined term is used in describing another case. Only capitalize the defined term in YOUR case. If you can substitute the full name of the defined term, you can capitalize it. For instance, using our definition of “Corporation” above:

  • “At all times relevant hereto, Corporation was engaged in business in the state of Arizona.” Here, “. . . ABC Corporation was engaged in business . . .” is correct since you are talking about the defined Corporation.
  • HOWEVER–“In Smith, the corporation was engaged in the business of providing license plate holders through Internet sales.” Note that in this example, the corporation you are referring to is a corporation in the Smith case, not ABC Corporation. 

The same basic rule applies to defined documents:

  •  In its Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”), Plaintiff is attempting . . .. The Motion is untimely

This makes it more important to not just do a global search and replace. It may replace quoted words or other cases where the words should not be capitalized with the capitalized version.

 

One thing I did learn is that in legal documents using Bluebook style, words in headings are capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, or prepositions of four or fewer letters unless they begin the heading. This is different than the Gregg style for regular writing. See Things Are Coming to a Head[ing]! at proofthatblog.com.


 

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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THAT’S LIFE!

Posted By Wendy Carpenter, PP, PLS, Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On November 17, 2016, I was driving my car to the post office at the end of a work day with my driver’s side window down.  I was stopped at a red light.  There was a school bus in front of me.

 

All of a sudden something hit my left collar bone and bounced from there to somewhere in my car.  I did not see what it was; I only knew that it felt cold.  I thought “someone just threw something at me!  How rude!”  I felt my collar bone and it was dry.  I looked around my car (until the light turned green) and I could not see anything.  I just kept thinking “someone threw something at me!” 

 

I could not remember a car or truck passing me going the other way; I could not figure out how something from the school bus in front of me could end up in my car hitting my collar bone unless a kid in there had a terrific “right hook” when throwing something!  How rude!!

 

I woke up the next morning still thinking about it.  Driving to work I looked around at the floor boards of my car (when it was safe to do so) and still did not see anything.  I put my sun visor down because the sun was in my eyes and that is when I noticed something shiny near the visor and next to it there was a dark space.

 

It turns out MY OWN CAR threw a screw at me!  The “thing” that holds the visor to the roof of my car was missing a screw!  How funny is that?!  My own car!  When I got to work I looked closely at the driver side and passenger side floors and sure enough, on the passenger floor, there was the shiny screw that my car threw at me!!  Ha!  I am thankful that it did not bounce out the window!  Life certainly throws you off balance sometimes—or maybe life throws you a shiny screw once in a while to keep you on your toes and to keep a sense of humor!!

 


 

Wendy Carpenter, PP, PLS, worked at various law firms in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for many years before relocating with her son to Tucson, Arizona.  Wendy is currently the president of NALS of Tucson & So. AZ.  She has served as president twice, vice president (membership chair), secretary, employment chair, as well as in other roles.  She is a member of the Pima County Bar Association and she is the liaison for her local chapter and the Pima County Bar Association.  

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Paralegals in Prison: Careers in Corrections

Posted By Charlene Sabini, CLP, ALP, Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Paralegals in Prison: Careers in CorrectionsPerhaps an overlooked area of employment opportunity for legal assistants and paralegals is the area of corrections. Our prison and jail systems are a hidden market and one not at first considered by legal assistants as an opportunity to serve, but it is serving one’s community in a unique capacity. One can operate in an administrative support position or can function as a paralegal advocate for inmates and their families, looking out for their interests.   

Working in a corrections facility may offer duties that differ little from other legal office or general office situations. The setting is the difference and it is unique, but interesting, and a large part of our law enforcement system nationwide. A legal office assistant in a prison or jail might be called upon to prepare reports, correspondence, special studies, or research; make appropriate computer entries, update, or retrieve information; research, compile, and analyze data for projects; collect and assemble data for a variety of narrative or statistical reports; assist the public by answering questions; order office and operating supplies; keep inventory of supplies; or even assist in the training of new employees. But let’s look at some specialty specifics:

An experienced Correctional Administrative Assistant at a state-level institution, for example, may be responsible for collecting, maintaining, and processing fingerprint cards; classifying the cards; and maintaining general quality control. He or she might also review information for accuracy, make corrections on criminal records, notify the Department of Justice when errors do occur, and even provide training in fingerprint procedures to correctional staff. Other significant duties in this kind of position might be the collection of various types of DNA samples from donors, responding to outside agencies for records, maintaining files on released inmates, and assembling data for statistical reports—among many other things. A person in this position might even act as the Custodian of Records and may be required to testify in court regarding Custodian of Records.1

A full Litigation Assistant at a state corrections facility may involve aiding attorneys with screening and responding to prisoner correspondence, interviewing prisoner-clients, and preparing for prison monitoring visits. A certain amount of prisoner advocacy, under attorney supervision, might be part of this type of position. This is a position requiring analytical and organizational skills, the typical attention to detail, and possibly a driver’s license in order to travel from facility to facility. Some positions of this type may require or suggest bilingual skills. This type of employment may require some prior experience, but often less than five years’ worth, depending upon which state is offering the position.2

A Unit Secretary in the federal prison system could be expected to do some of the following: maintain subject matter files and records, ensure that files include all required documents and that all documents are properly signed, use word processing technology, maintain Bureau of Prisons Program Statements, operations memoranda, administrative and regulatory requirements, including correspondence files. He or she may also be responsible for a variety of administrative support duties, such as taking and transcribing meeting minutes, photocopying, and filing and disposal of sensitive documents.3 This type of position may require a full college education or a significant period of study at an accredited business college or technical school.

Our justice system is one that functions on checks and balances. Advocates for the prosecution are matched by advocates for the accused. Interviewed in Paralegal Today, North Carolina prison advocate Sharon Robertson says she takes pride in her role, keeping the balance from swinging too far against prisoners’ rights. “Without someone to look out for prisoners’ interests, she says, the system can become brutal and unjust.” Robertson says that part of the job she loves is the ability to explain the law and the prison system to inmates and comfort them if needed.4

Because of potential dangers and other factors, inmate assistance is not at the top of most paralegals’ employment wish lists. “A lot of people don’t want to do this job,” said Daryl Johnson, Legal Access Monitor at the Arizona Department of Corrections, noting that the Arizona program only employs three contract paralegals for 30,000 inmates. “It takes a real special person to do this job,” Johnson said. “There’s always the potential for some kind of risk, but you’re able to help people who can’t afford to have an attorney. I think it’s a very rewarding position because it’s a challenge.”5

Mr. Johnson adds further, “. . . we provide an alternative program like paralegal assistance.” And so following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996), which originated in Arizona, the state decided that paralegal assistance to inmates was indeed permissible and became the first to use paralegals and legal assistants for inmate assistance. Many of the paralegals who provide assistance to inmates there help with filling out forms and guidance with legal research, but do not dispense legal advice. “They provide active assistance in the initial hearing stage, making sure that complaints get to the proper court and that forms are properly filled out,” Johnson says.6 This is a program that is already over nine years old.

Tabitha Sedillo, Contract Paralegal for the Arizona Department of Corrections, says “I make sure that inmates are familiar with the rules that apply to their situation and point them in the right direction at the library.” Much of their paralegals’ work deals with convictions or inmates’ accommodations and treatment in prison. Ms. Sedillo, a five-year veteran of her department, has previous experience in criminal law and so handles mainly criminal matters. “You’re dealing mostly with inmates that have been convicted of felonies,” she says. She adds that it is not like working in a conventional law office or any other office, “but the most rewarding part of the job is getting that long-awaited thank you from an individual I helped.”7

Given Arizona’s success with paralegal and legal assistance programs, a few other states have followed, notably New Mexico and North Carolina. Other states are showing serious interest in similar measures and online research can help you find work at these locations. One thing is certain about this type of work: non-attorney legal staff who assist inmates in particular can be sure their work is valuable and needed by many who just cannot get help via other means. You might just be someone who also finds satisfaction in this area of legal support work. 


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.



  1. http://prisonlaw.com/about-us/job-opportunities/
  2. Ibid.
  3. https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/447562900/
  4. http://work.chron.com/reasons-prison-advocate-paralegal-30751.html, by Fraser Sherman, studioD
  5. http://www.lawcrossing.com/article/972/Behind-Bars-Paralegals-Provide-Valuable-Legal-Assistance-to-Inmates, by Ursula Furi-Perry
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

 

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