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Here a Resource, There a Resource, Everywhere a Resource

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Monday, July 24, 2017

The best way to improve your proofreading skills is practice. But there are other resources available to help you learn or refresh your knowledge of grammar to improve your proofreading. Here are resources that I use regularly:

1. The Gregg Reference Manual. (Available at www.amazon.com). This book is always on my desk (and on my Kindle app) and is the first place I go when I need information. There are also some worksheets available if you really want to get your “learning” on. This is the resource for the Written Communications sections of NALS’ certification exams.

2. A dictionary. With all that is available online, there is no reason to misspell a word or not know what the word means. In addition, http://www.merriam-webster.com/ not only will define a specific word for you but gives you a word of the day and various quizzes to help you improve your vocabulary. There is always a hard copy dictionary as well. Every desk should have access to a dictionary—either book form or electronically.

3. A thesaurus. I use the one that is part of Microsoft Word, particularly when I am not sure whether the word being used is correct, such as affect/effect. It also helps if you are not familiar with a word to make sure that it is being used in the correct context.

4. Black’s Law Dictionary (or a more portable legal dictionary). I have a Barron’s Law Dictionary on my desk so I can prove to an attorney that it is a statute of limitations (among other legal words) or to look up a legal term that I do not understand.

5. Microsoft spell checker and grammar checker. While this is certainly not the “do all be all” of grammar, it can be helpful. Just do not rely on Microsoft. As great as the Word program is, sometimes the operator has issues all his/her own. For instance, I have a terrible problem typing "doe snot" instead of "does not". Since both "doe" and "snot" are correctly spelled, it does not come up as an error. If I did not actually read the document, that kind of error would not be caught. The grammar checker can also be helpful but, again, is not enough.

6. Websites. There are lots of websites, blogs, and other online information available. As with all things Internet, however, the authors of these websites and blogs are not incapable of making errors, so get the information and check it against another resource if necessary. My personal favorite is Grammar Girl (http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/). Some other fun sites I have found are Grammar Bytes (http://www.chompchomp.com/) and Grammar Slammer (http://englishplus.com/grammar/), although I am sure there are plenty of others out there. Of course, I hope Proof That Blog (http://proofthatblog.com/) is on YOUR list of resources.

That is my short list.

 

What is on your go-to list of proofreading resources?



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 ProofThatBlog.com and a blog on life advice gained in growing older at 60istheNew60Blog.com.

 

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Men at Work

Posted By Charlene Sabini, BA, PP, CLP, ALP, Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Updated: Monday, July 24, 2017

NALS - Association for Legal Professionals - Men at WorkThe vocation we call “paralegal” made its debut about 45 years ago. And, back then, the legal industry employed women primarily as legal secretaries; the early paralegals were, in fact, highly and specially trained legal secretaries. It is understandable, then, that the term “paralegal” has been connected primarily with professional women rather than men. There are reasons for that association. Women have traditionally worked in support positions to attorneys; a paralegal is a support position to attorneys; there were very few female attorneys at the time this vocation was created. Interestingly, however, men have increasingly become paralegals in recent years and, certainly, we have seen more and more women in the position of attorney during this time as well. 

Paralegal Bob Davidson, in an article entitled, Why Are There More Female Paralegals, remarked: 'Clients would ask me if I planned to go to law school. The shareholder of my firm thought I should attend law school. I mean, I am a male; certainly, I do not plan to be a ‘paralegal’ all my life! Or else clients thought I was an apprentice learning my trade with ‘lawyer’ as the goal. They did not understand that, even for men, being a paralegal is its own career.'1

Then there is the mistaken ignorance regarding males working in a traditionally female role. Male paralegals are sometimes strangely viewed as failures or losers. The unenlightened may erroneously think male paralegals failed their law school admissions test or even failed in law school altogether. Some male (and female) paralegals have indeed earned a Juris Doctor (“J.D.”) degree, which may imply their goal was to become a lawyer. It is not uncommon to meet paralegals who actually hold J.D. degrees and J.D. degrees have been seen on paralegal résumés.2


Males, despite stereotypes and misperceptions, are making definite inroads into the traditional female paralegal occupation. The percentage of males employed as such is noticeably rising. A 2012 article noted that in 2005 the percentage of males in the paralegal/legal assistant workforce was 10.9 percent; in 2011 it was 15.7 percent—a 44 percent increase during those six years. In 2013, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, that percentage had dropped slightly to 13.9 percent, but that was still an improvement over 2005. But at 86.1 percent, women still dominate the ranks of paralegals and legal assistants.3


Men are also seeing the advantages of working as paralegals or legal assistants. Men can use their analytical or organizational skills, work in a challenging and exciting profession, and actively deal with clients. Again, the paralegal profession is not simply a “glorified secretary,” and men are finding the position’s challenges attractive. 

Daniel Hagel, a male legal assistant currently in Eugene, Oregon, happened upon the legal field somewhat by accident, answering a notice in a local newspaper. His practice area is mainly personal injury, and a past history as a U.S. Army medic has provided insight into understanding medical records and injuries. He also has a technical degree in computer science. His duties typify a legal assistant’s job and include answering phones, having client contact, communicating with insurance adjusters and other law firms or employees, doing research, ordering medical records, drafting demands, creating correspondence, and seeing to file management. When others ask him about occupying a nontraditional role, he reflects, “Similar to a male nurse. Men typically don't hold this type of position.”  He has been in the legal field now for ten years and plans to continue. “I will stay in the legal field. I have gained great satisfaction in what I do. I feel in the personal injury field that I am helping people who are going through an extremely difficult period in their life and I enjoy helping them.” Daniel currently works with one other legal assistant and one attorney in a small law firm setting.4

On the other hand, William Sewell, a longtime legal assistant in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area, is a very assertive fellow with strong opinions about his profession.

“I am 6’2” and over 275 pounds and I shave my head. I am very loud sometimes and I simply require different working arrangements than are typically offered to paralegals as suitable work environments (compared to some females).” As a male paralegal, he finds the gossiping and office politics to be intolerable, “. . . and I have left positions for that very reason.”

When asked if he felt or noticed any kind of discrimination in the paralegal field by being a male, he responded, “I remember back in the early ’90s when I would temp as a legal assistant that attorneys would come out of their office just to see the ‘male legal secretary’ or the ‘male legal assistant’ or ‘Hey, that’s a guy!’ You got me there. I’m a guy.”

When asked why he did not become a lawyer—that common question asked of male paralegals—he replied, “There are too many lawyers as it is. Having more lawyers per capita than anywhere else in the world is having a tangible and negative effect on this country. The future of the legal industry compels an expanded use of paralegals.” Perhaps that can be interpreted as a left-handed statement of support for the legal assistant profession.

But Sewell had a way of explaining the relationship with his attorneys: “I equate the occupation of a paralegal as similar to nursing as far as the necessary education, testing, etc. When people ask me what a paralegal is, I say ‘A Doctor has a Nurse and an Attorney has a Paralegal,’ and they immediately get it.”

Here is Mr. Sewell’s advice on self-improvement: 

Utilize every opportunity to sharpen your skills. Take a class, even if it has to be at your own expense. Learn or get certified somehow on the newest version of the software that your firm utilizes.  Sometimes a refresher course can offer you a shortcut or trick which can prove to be invaluable. I try to add to my arsenal of skills, tips, and tricks as often as I can.5

In an interview on the LegalTalk Network, two male paralegals, Carl H. Morrison, II, PP-SC, AACP, a senior paralegal at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and a member of the NALS Board of Directors, and Zachary W. Brewer, CP, a litigation paralegal at Hall Estill, discussed working as paralegals in a traditionally female career.  In the interview, Morrison shared a positive view of working in the profession. Morrison said, “More men are starting to see that it is a rewarding profession.” On the advice he would give to men who are considering a career as a paralegal in a female dominated profession, Morrison said, “I would say go for it. I think that there are a lot of great opportunities out there. It is a rewarding profession. I absolutely love what I do.”6

The career path is becoming attractive “particularly in areas where industries have been hard hit and it makes sense for people to retrain and find new professions,” notes John Shupper, chair and director of the legal studies department at South University in Columbia, South Carolina. “I’m seeing more men in my classes recently. It’s an opportunity to get involved in an area where there’s a future. The skills you need to be a paralegal these days are skills that would translate well whether you’re working in a law office or a bank or an insurance company.”7
 
One positive conclusion is that additional male paralegal presence in the workplace is establishing more valuable diversity therein and changing even the social fabric of the office. Legal assisting also offers alternative employment for males looking to leapfrog into different careers due to changes in local economies. The obvious growth of the paralegal profession nationwide, too, has brought new attention to the paralegal/legal assistant profession, and many male paralegals are finding satisfaction, education, dignity, and advancement opportunities within this line of work. 

 



Charlene Sabini, BA, PP, CLP, ALP, is a legal assistant for attorney David Vill in juvenile law in Eugene, Oregon. She is Director of Education for her local chapter, NALS of Lane County in Eugene, is editor of her chapter’s newsletter, NALS in Motion, and has earned three NALS CLE Awards. She proofreads on the NALS Editorial Board and contributes articles/essays for the NALS docket and @Law and is an Affiliate Member of the Lane County Bar Association. She also successfully petitioned the Oregon State Bar Association to allow guest speaking attorneys at non-lawyer education meetings to receive CLE credit—formerly not allowed in Oregon. She was a finalist for the NALS of Oregon Award of Excellence in 2017 and was selected as Member of the Year, 2017. She is also a 14-year volunteer with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene, has served as the sheriff’s newsletter editor, currently serves as the county jail librarian, and earned the Jail Volunteer of the Year award in 2009 from The Oregon State Sheriff’s Association/Jail Command Council.

 



1. Bob Davidson, “Why Are There More Female Paralegals?”, July 25, 2014, 
https://theparalegalsociety.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/why-are-there-more-female-paralegals/ 
2. Id.
3. Id.
4. Email from Daniel Hagel, legal assistant, Dwyer, Potter, Williams et al, Eugene, Oregon, to Charlene Sabini, NALS of Lane County (December 8, 2016, 12:06 p.m., on file with author).
5. Male Paralegal Questionnaire, July 18, 2015, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/male-paralegal-questionnaire-william-sewell 
6. Brian Craig, More Men Finding the Benefits of Working in the Paralegal Profession, July 9, 2012, http://www.globeuniversity.edu/blogs/paralegal-programs/paralegal-more-men-are-making-it-a-career/
7. http://source.southuniversity.edu/paralegal-field-not-just-for-women-23807.aspx, June 2013 

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Affirmative Defenses

Posted By Charlene Sabini, BA, PP, CLP, ALP, Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Affirmative DefensesDefinition

An affirmative defense to a civil lawsuit or criminal charge is a fact or set of facts other than those alleged by the plaintiff or prosecutor which, if proven by the defendant, defeats or mitigates the legal consequences of the defendant’s otherwise unlawful conduct.

The affirmative defense is a justification for the defendant having committed the accused crime. It differs from other defenses because the defendant admits that he did, in fact, break the law. He is simply arguing that he has a good reason for having done so and, therefore, should be excused from all criminal liability.1

Defendants usually offer an affirmative defense only when they have basically conceded that the prosecution can prove all of the elements of the crime. A vigorous disputing of the prosecutor’s case in chief may not go down too well when the defendant proceeds to offer an affirmative defense.2

An affirmative defense does not just present itself. While a criminal defendant may decide to offer no evidence during trial, hoping the prosecution will fail to meet its burden, this approach would not work if the defendant has an affirmative defense. The defendant must offer proof at trial supporting the affirmative defense, meeting the standard of proof set by state law (usually a preponderance of the evidence), which is a lesser standard than the prosecution’s. If the jury concludes that, for example, a preponderance of the evidence supports the defendant’s claim of self-defense, it must acquit. 3

The word “affirmative” refers to the requirement that the defendant prove the defense, as opposed to negating the prosecution’s evidence of an element of the crime. An affirmative defense operates to prevent conviction even when the prosecutor has proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to every element of the crime.4 Some jurisdictions place the burden on the defendant to prove the defense, while others require that the prosecution disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Except for constitutional considerations, local law distinguishes between case-in-chief and affirmative defenses.5

Affirmative defense situations not classified as “denial of participation” or “legal exemption” all have the common characteristic that the accused’s conduct is not criminal because, in each case, the defendant acted without mens rea (intent).

Some Common Types of Affirmative Defenses

Several affirmative defenses are nationally recognized, with the more common ones being necessity, duress, self-defense, entrapment, and insanity.

Necessity
The defense of Necessity (or choice-of-lesser-evils) recognizes that the defendant is justified in violating a criminal law if (1) the defendant reasonably believes that the threat of personal harm or harm to others is imminent, (2) the only way to prevent the threatened harm is to violate the law, and (3) the harm that will be caused by violating the law is less serious than the harm the defendant seeks to avoid.6 In United States v. Holmes, 26 F. Cas. 360 (C.C.Pa. 1842), crew members threw 14 passengers overboard—in order to lighten the load—after their lifeboat began to sink. The court, however, rejected the defense of Necessity in this instance and convicted the sailors of manslaughter. Homicide, you see, is not included in Necessity.

Duress
This defense is an unlawful threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury, which induces a person to commit a crime. Again, homicide is not included. Duress is often viewed as a subspecies of Necessity because the defendant is faced with choosing between the lesser of two evils. The law suggests that the defendant do everything possible to escape or avoid doing the acts without being harmed. But in the strict sense, the defendant must necessarily commit a crime in order to avoid being killed or injured by the threatening party. Duress or coercion may also be raised in an allegation of rape or other sexual assault to negate a defense of consent on the part of the person making the allegation.

Duress can be distinguished from Undue Influence, a concept found more in the law of wills, in that the term involves a wrongdoer who happens to be a fiduciary (one who traditionally occupies a position of trust and confidence regarding the testator), the creator of a will. Duress may also exist where someone is coerced by the wrongful conduct or threat of another to enter into a contract under circumstances that deprive the individual of his or her volition.

Self-Defense
This is the right for persons to use reasonable force or defensive force for the purpose of defending one’s own life or the lives of others, including, in certain circumstances, the use of deadly force. In order to establish Self-Defense, the defendant may be required to prove that (1) defendant was not the aggressor, (2) the defendant reasonably perceived an immediate threat of bodily harm, (3) the defendant reasonably believed that defensive force was necessary to avoid the harm, and (4) the amount of defensive force used was reasonable.7

In People v. La Voie, 395 P.2d 1001 (1964), Supreme Court of Colorado, 395 P.2d 1001 (1964), the court wrote:

When a person has reasonable grounds for believing, and does in fact actually believe, that danger of his being killed, or of receiving great bodily harm, is imminent, he may act on such appearances and defend himself, even to the extent of taking human life when necessary, although it may turn out that the appearances were false, or although he may have been mistaken as to the extent of the real actual danger.

The doctrine of Retreat requires a defendant to forgo the use of deadly force and take advantage of an avenue of completely safe escape. At common law, and in a majority of states, Retreat is not required.  Moreover, a “completely safe escape” is seldom available in cases involving the deadly threat of firearms.

Entrapment
The Entrapment defense focuses on whether the defendant was induced to commit the crime by a government agent (typically an undercover police officer) and whether the defendant would have committed the offense without the inducement. The Subjective approach to Entrapment prohibits police officers from instigating criminal acts by people NOT predisposed to commit the crime. The Objective approach to Entrapment focuses on whether the government’s conduct in inducing the crime was beyond judicial tolerance.

In United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423 (1973), for example, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt with the Entrapment defense. Although an undercover federal agent had helped procure a key ingredient for an illegal methamphetamine manufacturing operation and assisted in the process, the court followed its earlier rulings on the subject and found that the defendant HAD a predisposition to make and sell illegal drugs whether he worked with the government or not.8

The reason behind allowing a defense of Entrapment is to discourage law enforcement officials from taking actions to induce someone not normally disposed to commit a crime to engage in a criminal act. Claims of Entrapment are most commonly used as a defense to what some consider to be “victimless crimes,” such as gambling and prostitution, committed against willing victims.9

Insanity
This defense is based on evaluations by forensic mental health professionals with the appropriate test according to the jurisdiction. Their testimony guides the jury, but they are not allowed to testify to the accused’s criminal responsibility, as this is a matter for the jury to decide. Being incapable of distinguishing right from wrong is one basis for being found legally insane as a criminal defense. In a majority of states, the burden is placed on the defendant, who must prove insanity by a preponderance of the evidence. In a minority of states, the burden is placed on the prosecution, who must prove sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. In federal court (and in Arizona) the burden is placed on the defendant, who must prove Insanity by clear and convincing evidence (18 U.S.C.S. Sec. 17(b); see also A.R.S. Sec. 13-502(C)).

When invoking Insanity as a defense, a defendant is required to notify the prosecution. In some states, sanity is determined by the judge or jury in a separate proceeding following the determination of guilt or innocence at trial. In other states, the defense is either accepted or rejected in the verdict of the judge or jury. Even if evidence of Insanity does not win a verdict of not guilty, the sentencing court may consider it as a mitigating factor.

Conclusion
Legal defenses must draw a distinction between case-in-chief defenses and any affirmative defenses. Case-in-chief defenses (such as an alibi) merely deny some or all of the elements of the charged offense and call upon the prosecution to prove the essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Affirmative defenses, in contrast, introduce an additional element into the case and, depending upon the jurisdiction, the defendant may be given the burden to prove the defense.

So, unlike a negative defense, an “affirmative defense is one that admits the allegations in the complaint, but seeks to avoid liability, in whole or in part, by new allegations of excuse,  justification, or other negating matter.”10



Charlene Sabini, BA, CLP, PLS, ALP, is legal assistant for attorney David Vill in juvenile law in Eugene, Oregon. She is Director of Education for her local chapter, NALS of Lane County in Eugene, is editor of her chapter’s newsletter, NALS in Motion, and has earned three NALS CLE Awards. She proofreads on the NALS Editorial Board and contributes articles/essays for the NALS docket and @Law and is an Affiliate Member of the Lane County Bar Association. She also successfully petitioned the Oregon State Bar Association to allow guest speaking attorneys at non-lawyer education meetings to receive CLE credit—formerly not allowed in Oregon. She was a finalist for the NALS of Oregon Award of Excellence in 2017 and was selected as Member of the Year, 2017. She is also a 14-year volunteer with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene, has served as the sheriff’s newsletter editor, currently serves as the county jail librarian, and earned the Jail Volunteer of the Year award in 2009 from The Oregon State Sheriff’s Association/Jail Command Council.

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Grammar Nuggets: Capitals, Colons, and More

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Updated: Friday, June 23, 2017

Time for a few quickies. 

· Is Internet Capitalized? I have seen it both ways and, although the Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style said that the Internet, as “one big specific network that people visit,” should be capitalized, the Associated Press stylebook said just about a year ago that “internet” and “web” should not be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says the capitalized Internet is the “global system of linked computer networks,” while the lowercased internet refers to local area networks linked to each other but not to the Internet. Since they all disagree about capitalization, I think you are safe to lowercase “internet.”

 

· What About the Web and Website? The Web is short for the World Wide Web. The Associated Press changed their recommendation about a year ago to lowercase “web,” as does the Chicago Manual of Style, who says that the word web standing alone may be lowercased. However, website is a more generic term that can refer to any number of different sites, so it is not capitalized. Just to keep things really confusing, The Gregg Reference Manual says that Web site is commonly two words with Web capitalized and until the World Wide Web loses its capitalization through popular usage, Web site should be capitalized. Since I am primarily a Gregg user, I guess I will use Web site. Compound words that include web (such as webcam and webinar) are not capitalized.

 

· How Many Spaces After a Colon? Again, back in the old days, there were always two spaces after a colon. Now that we are using more proportional type and using only one space after a period, one space is more appropriate. 

 

· When is Next Wednesday? Since people understand different words different ways, it is always confusing to use the term next Wednesday. Does that mean the next Wednesday after today or the Wednesday in the next week? As it is so confusing, best practice is not to use next in this context, but to be more specific about what day you are actually talking about. Instead of next Wednesday, it is more clear to say Wednesday, February 13, or Wednesday a week from tomorrow.

 

· Hint for PossessivesAs you may know, misuse of apostrophes to make plural words possessive is my biggest pet peeve. I will admit that sometimes I have issues figuring it out—particularly when the base word is a bit unusual. In those cases, I substitute the problem word for a more generic word. For example, if I am trying to decide if the name Andrews is plural, I might substitute Smith. So in the sentence I knew the Andrews car was in the neighborhood by the rumble of the stereo, I substitute Andrews with Smith, and I know that the Smith car would not be possessive, so my sentence is fine the way it is. If my example was I knew Mr. Andrews’ car was in the neighborhood . . . and I replaced it with I knew Mr. Smith’s car was in the neighborhood . . . I know that it should be possessive. Choosing a simple substitute word to make a possessive will help you make your word correct.

 

If you have a quickie question or a tip that helps you remember a grammar rule, send it to me (proofthatblog@gmail.com) and I will answer it for you and others who probably have the same questions or share your tip so that we can all learn something.


 

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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Ask Eula Mae: Building Your Résumé

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Updated: Friday, June 23, 2017

Ask Eula Mae: Building Your ResumeDear Eula Mae:


I have worked in a legal office for four years, two as a word processor and two as a legal assistant.  I do not want to be stuck as a legal assistant forever because, in a big firm like this, there are many roads from which to choose such as office manager, human resources manager, paralegal, or even attorney.  My problem is that I do not know where to begin to build a résumé in a law office. Can you give some advice on this?


The Nearly New Girl

 

Dear Nearly New Girl:

 

How wonderful that you care enough about where you work that you can see a future in law!  Getting there will require good record-keeping of your skills, abilities, volunteer work, and other details that will tell others good things about you.  You will need to organize all of the information for your résumé.


There are many ways to begin building a résumé.  So where do you start?  Search the Internet for examples of legal assistant résumés.  Pay attention to your actual skills and abilities.  This will help identify which skills you may want to develop.  Also, look at your calendar for classes you have attended that show your interest in law.  Does your firm offer mandatory meetings to develop your skills? 


Do you participate in NALS, your professional organization?  This is the fastest way to learn and grow.  Be active and volunteer in your local chapter, your state chapter, and the national level.  NALS provides vast opportunities, especially in networking.  All of the members have great knowledge in how they built their careers.  It is a wonderful journey and you can go as far as you want in the association.  All of your NALS activities will make your résumé shine and will show you are a team player in the legal field.


You could also aim toward certification as a legal assistant, and higher, to professional paralegal.  College legal studies programs may be of interest to you.  This effort will be very helpful should you decide to pursue law school. 


Keep a file on hand to stay motivated.  This file is for thank-you notes and emails saying “good job” to you.  Later on, you might ask some of these supporters to serve as a reference.

 

These tips should help you get started in building your résumé.  Follow your heart.  It will all come together—you’ll see.

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