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Rules of Engagement

Posted By Kerie S. Trindle Byrne, PLS, Monday, August 22, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rules of EngagementI attend continuing legal education for my career as a paralegal—a lot of continuing legal education. Besides being a requirement of the two legal certifications I have, I am also a member of my professional association, and involvement in the association means participation in the events we present. I am a natural sponge and love learning about new topics, exploring new ideas, and finding new ways of doing things. I like to try on concepts, see if they fit me like a comfy pair of pajamas or if they are like an itchy wool sweater in Phoenix in the middle of summer. Luckily, most of the continuing legal education seminars and meetings I attend are interesting, but there are those that are not. I find, however, that if my mind begins to wander off of the topic I am listening to, typically it wanders to a grocery list, work or life to do list, or my next vacation. Sometimes when I am really not engaged, my mind wanders to those big ideas I have. You know the ones, the goals that have not seen any action in a while. Those really big life altering projects I wish I would start chewing on a bite at a time. When those things start to happen, I remember there are rules of engagement that require me to buckle down and plug back in. These concepts do not apply only to continuing legal education, but to any situation in which you are not fully present—meetings, presentations, seminars, driver’s education training, educational classes, phone calls, and webinars. I will share my rules of engagement here with you, so the next time you catch yourself checking out, you can reconnect and impress not only your boss, teacher, or coworkers, but yourself.  


It is not solely the presenter’s job to entertain you and keep you engaged. Don’t get me wrong. There are things a presenter can do to keep her audience engaged in the topic, and maybe I will write about that next, but it is not solely her job. There is a part that each member of the audience must play. The onus is on you, the audience member, to stay committed and focused. Chances are you are there for a reason. Either you are being paid to be there, in the case of a work meeting or phone calls from clients; you are required to be there, in the case of driver’s education training or school; or you are paying to be there, in the case of continuing legal education, seminars, or webinars. No matter the reason for you to be there, be there and be an active listener.


Active listening is an art form that, once mastered, will keep you connected to people in a way that will enhance your professional and personal life. Active listening involves being present in the moment and taking in everything the other person has to say without waiting for your own chance to speak or interject. You are not just listening for the words the other person is saying, but you are listening to understand and retain the concepts. Watch body language, listen to intonation, rate of speech, and other nonverbal cues that the person is using to convey their message. Look at the other person and let them know you are engaged and focused. If you agree with something, nod your head. If you think of something or you have a question, write it down quickly and go back to listening. Smile and use other facial expressions to communicate that you are actively listening. It will make a difference.


If you are starting to feel your mind wander, figure out what is in it for you. To do that, ask yourself a series of questions. I start off by asking myself, “How does this apply to my daily work?” Could this topic be tangentially related to the work I do on a daily basis in the future? If the answer is no, or it is yes but it is still not enough to keep me motivated to actively listen, then I move on to my next question. 


How does this apply to my personal life? For instance, I have found myself sitting in on more seminars about estate planning than I care to attend. I am not an estate planning paralegal. I am not close to retirement age and feel as though I do not have enough assets to worry about estate planning at my age. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen; however, my parents are both close to retirement age. Is there something in the estate planning continuing legal education that I can learn that would make me better situated to help my parents navigate retirement?


If I am still unable to find a way that the interaction relates to my work or personal life, I ask myself how it relates to my extracurricular activities. Maybe I am a member of a homeowner’s association and need to learn about city ordinances. Maybe I am a member of my kids’ Parent/Teacher Association and need to know about school zoning. Maybe it is not the topic itself that pertains to my extracurricular activities, but the manner in which it is being presented. Did the presenter tell you about some computer program or tool you could use? If asking these questions does not reengage your brain, I have some other tips.   


Treat the interaction as a class. If you do not understand the concept, or you are unable to relay key facts, ideas, and principles to someone else by the end of the interaction, you have failed. This appeals to my competitive nature. I feel it is my job in the world to know as much as I can about as many things as I can. So, if someone is talking to me on the phone and I am having difficulty staying focused, I will sometimes employ this tactic. If they mention a word or phrase that I have never heard before, I ask them what it means. This happens all the time in the legal world, especially with acronyms. People use different words and phrases and I do not always know what they mean, so I ask. Also, if I think I have understood what someone is saying, but I want to be sure that my brain was engaged the whole time, I will repeat the key phrase or concept back to them and ask them to verify that I got it right. Asking questions frequently during an interaction is another way to trigger your brain to stay in the game.


Take notes. When I find myself disengaging, this is the singular thing that helps me stay engaged. I take voracious notes. Sometimes, I test myself to see if I can write down everything that is said. When I am participating in a client meeting, I am listening not only for the facts of their case, but I am also listening to subtext instructions from my attorney. I sometimes come out of an hour-long meeting with a client having gone through an entire legal pad. This helps me not only to stay focused on what is being discussed, it also helps refresh my memory when something from that meeting comes up again during the case. 


When I am attending a seminar for my professional association, one way for me to stay engaged is to be a force for marketing. I can easily connect to Facebook and/or Twitter, which I have linked to each other, and type quick 144-character key concepts about the seminar I am attending. So long as my device is charged and I am not actively engaged in another way, I am likely engaged in social media marketing for my association. If I am listening for the concepts I think other people might be interested in, they may read my Facebook post or my tweet and decide to attend our next event. It is a way for me to stay plugged in, engaged, and do something proactive. Sometimes, I post something that leads to questions I can ask the speaker in real time and respond to on social media. This type of engagement keeps me focused on the interaction and allows me to feel like I am sharing important information with my contacts. Understand, this type of engagement is not appropriate in many situations, so use your best judgment.


Remembering these rules of engagement can help you get the most out of every interaction. Focusing on being an active listener, determining how the interaction relates to your work life, personal life, or extracurricular activities, treating the interaction as a class you must pass and not fail, taking notes, and marketing when appropriate will keep you focused and help you soak up as much information as possible. The next time you find your mind wandering to what you need from the store, what work deadlines you have to complete, or your next European vacation, consider employing one or more of these methods to keep you involved and help you be all there.


 

Kerie S. Trindle Byrne, PLS, has been a legal professional for 19 years and has worked in many different capacities in the law firm environment.  Through determination, hard work, and on-the-job training, Kerie gained the background knowledge and skills to perform as a legal support professional.  Believing education to reinforce her skills was important, Kerie attended Phoenix College and earned her Associate of Arts Degree in Paralegal Studies, obtained her PLS certification from NALS, and obtained her CP certification from NALA.  Kerie has practiced in many areas of law and is currently employed as a family law paralegal with David Horowitz of May, Potenza, Baran & Gillespie, P.C. Kerie is a self-proclaimed Disney addict and when she is not working, teaching, or volunteering with NALS, she is spending time with her husband, kids, family, and friends at Disneyland. 

 

Tags:  CLE  CLE sessions  continuing legal education  legal  legal professional  paralegal  volunteerism 

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Want to Know More About the Law and Your Specialty?

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

American Bar AssociationAssociate Membership in the American Bar Association Awaits You

 

The American Bar Association (ABA) now has a new category of membership for those who are interested in the work of the ABA.  The Associate Membership is for paralegals, law librarians, and other non-lawyers interested in the law.  The mission of the ABA is to improve the administration of justice through practical resources for its members through equally serving “our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.”   

 

Why should you do this?  If your goal is to become proficient in your chosen specialty, this is the opportunity to sharpen your skills through networking with colleagues, increasing your expertise, and expanding your opportunities.  Associate Membership is $177 per year, beginning in September.  If you join before that, the additional amount will be prorated and included with your annual dues.  For an additional charge, there are specialty groups to join with your membership which allow “more in-depth examination of issues, regulations, and national trends.”  Specialty groups include Business Law, Family Law, Litigation, Real Property, Trust and Estate Law, among many others.  There are forums available for you to “explore and monitor new areas of law as they emerge on a national scale.”  Membership includes the annual subscription to the monthly ABA Journal as well as online resources including the specialty areas.  The ABA website has a directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs should you decide to continue your legal education with a degree.  For more information, see http://www.americanbar.org/membership/dues_eligibility.html.


 

Allison Streepey, B.A., CRS, PLS, is currently the Departmental Business Manager for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Office of Educational Development.  She worked in research administration for many years following a legal assistant role in contract, real estate, and estate planning law.  She loves being a member of NALS and learning about the members and the activities of NALS’ legal education.


Tags:  American Bar Association  legal career  legal education  legal professional  legal professional training  membership 

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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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It is Never Too Late to Certify or Anything Else, For That Matter

Posted By Charlene Sabini, PLS, ALP, Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Never Too Late - NALS CertificationThinking of NALS certification?  Haven’t done so yet?  Think it is too late because of . . . your age?  How wrong you are!  We are ALL living longer than ever and changing jobs or vocational practice areas as often, sometimes, as our shoes.  A lot of “older” people are working or volunteering (or both!) more than ever, have every reason and every right to enhance themselves, manage gainful employment, and continue education in any way they choose. It is a well-established fact that mental activity contributes to health and prevents mental fuzziness in people of all ages. What employer would not want a clear-minded, educated, mature worker?  So, what are you waiting for? You are still working but think you are too old to achieve certification with NALS? Nonsense.

 

Moreover, many of us are working and studying in our so-called golden years because we want to. We cannot envision a rocking-chair retirement and we have intellectual and financial ambitions. Meet the hottest demographic in the labor market: men and women working not only past traditional retirement age but into their 70s, 80s, and sometimes beyond. Over the coming decade, they will be the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among 65- to 74-year-olds, labor force participation is predicted to hit 32 percent by 2022, up from 20 percent in 2002. At age 75 and up, the rate will jump from 5 percent in 2002 to 11 percent in 2022. Meanwhile, participation rates among younger age groups will be flat or will even fall.”[1] Now is the time to prepare for this.

 

I finally finished college in my 40s and changed major career paths two or three times (or more) between then and now. “Now” happens to be age 73. I only began my legal assistant journey a few short years ago and just found an appropriate new job last September—at an age when some people have either already quit the “day job” routine or are thinking about it. However, there is no quitting for this lady. I am excited about my work and my parallel involvement in NALS—and I am certified! “Many people now working into their late 70s and 80s have careers with a lot of variety that helps keep work interesting and enjoyable . . . Certain professions are notably friendly to their oldest practitioners . . . white-collar professionals in fields such as the arts, medicine, law, education, or business.”[2] The reasons we keep working into our older years vary, but it is common for us to work in order to stay psychologically active and engaged in our communities. There are many opportunities in the legal community for education, actual employment, and for volunteering.

 

And here is something we can plan on and take advantage of: as the population ages, older Americans will play an increasingly important role in our economy and America’s leadership in the world marketplace. By 2019, over 40% of Americans aged 55+ will be employed, making up over 25% of the U.S. labor force. The Committee on Economic Development indicates that employers rate older workers high on characteristics such as judgment, commitment to quality, attendance, and punctuality.[3] So we seniors already own a lot of built-in credibility, and it will be wise for us to continue building on that credibility.

 

“Mature workers made up 8.9% of the unemployed population in the U.S. in 2014. In 2015, 33 million Americans aged 55+ were employed and 1.3 million were actively seeking work.”[4] And having that innate sense of purpose, a connection to one’s community, and suitable education or qualifications to match employers’ requirements is as important now as it was when we were younger. But “an AARP study revealed that nearly 1 in 5 of the 65-to-74 age group say job enjoyment is the single most important reason they still work.”[5]  I can relate to that enjoyment and camaraderie which accompanies some workplace situations. I happen to work in a tastefully refurbished heritage building in our downtown core, containing many small offices. Many of the tenants are attorneys and other similar professionals. Even though I work alone much of the time (when the attorney is in court), the friendship of all the other legal assistants and administrative support persons “down the hall” has been rewarding and reinforcing. Most of us are at an age where someone with less ambition would have retired long ago, but we are taking advantage of job enjoyment, educational enhancement, and financial security. And virtually all of these hallway friends know about NALS and have expressed their approval.

 

I joined NALS only recently (five years ago) and dove into the deep end of the pool with back-to-back terms on the local chapter’s board of directors. I created our successful bimonthly newsletter (900 recipients) four years ago and am enjoying my second year on the NALS national editorial board. I sat for the ALP exam and PLS exam in rapid succession over the past couple of years, and I am now thinking seriously of sitting for the PP exam in September 2016 or March 2017 and who knows what I will do after that! Too old? You have got to be kidding! I believe I have a long way to go and a lot more wonderful things to do and accomplish within my local community and with my NALS Pals across the country.

 

One way you can extend your youth—and your personal value—is not only by maintaining meaningful employment but by continuing your occupational education, enhancing your legal professional status, and going down the road, in this case, to NALS certification. It is a great experience and a reward you can give yourself—and your employer—for being the professional that I know you are. NALS certification exams occur at periodic times through the year, and the study materials and information you need are listed on the NALS national website, www.nals.org.


  1. Mark Miller, Take This Job and Love It!, AARP The Magazine, February/March 2015;  http://www.aarp.org/work/working-after-retirement/info-2015/work-over-retirement-happiness.html
  2. Ibid.
  3. National Council on Aging, Mature Workers Facts, 2016; https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/mature-workers-facts/ 
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  5. Miller, loc. cit.


 

Charlene Sabini, PLS, 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 four years. She has earned three successive NALS CLE Awards and will be sitting for the PP exam in September 2016. 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 is also a 13-year volunteer with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene and 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:  Accredited Legal Professional  legal  legal professional  paralegal career 

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