VIRTUAL PARALEGALS: Establish systems to protect yourself against the unauthorized practice of law.

Robert E. Mongue, J.D., Assistant Professor of the Legal Studies Department at the University of Mississippi has started an interesting discussion concerning “independent paralegals” at his blog, The Empowered Paralegal.  Like Professor Mongue, I am still digesting the email he received from Efrem B. Martin of Martin Paralegal Services.  While I agree with some comments Mr. Martin makes concerning “FEAR” and I admire his passion for what he believes, my thoughts do not align with his concerning this topic.  If Mr. Martin has all the qualifications and experience outlined in his email to Professor Mongue, perhaps he should consider going to law school and take the bar exam in the state(s) of his choice so that he can legally practice law.   He might make a great attorney.

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VIRTUAL LITIGATION PARALEGAL: Your VLP will review the overall case strategy with you to set a timeline for completion of specific discovery goals.

For the next few days we will look at the Virtual Litigation Paralegal’s role in the discovery phase of any litigation file.

What is your discovery strategy for the litigation case at hand?  Your VLP will review the overall case strategy with you to set a timeline for completion of some specific discovery goals.

For most litigation files, the first stage of discovery begins with basic Interrogatories, Request for Admissions and Request for Production of Documents.  The VLP will help you establish basic forms to jump-start the discovery process of any litigation file covering specific areas of the Petition and Answer, identification of fact witnesses and expert witnesses, identification of relevant documents, production of all related documents including photos and electronic data.

The VLP can provide for your review an initial draft of Interrogatories, Request for Admissions and Request for Production of Documents.  She will help you finalize the discovery requests and serve on all parties of record.  The VLP will determine discovery response deadlines and help you monitor compliance with those deadlines by opposing counsel.  As needed, the VLP can contact opposing counsel by telephone to inquire when the discovery responses will be provided and document the communication.

If opposing counsel is uncooperative, the VLP can draft a Motion to Compel, contact opposing counsel to try to reach agreement, coordinate the filing of the Motion with the court and obtain a hearing date.  All parties will be notified and the hearing date will be docketed on your calendar.

The VLP can assemble all relevant documents into a digital hearing notebook file.   All you have to do is print the file and place it in your standard hearing notebook.  If you prefer, the VLP can complete that process and send the notebook directly to your office.

Next we will take a look at written responses to discovery requests.

For other posts in this series, visit Virtual Paralegal Series.

VIRTUAL LITIGATION PARALEGAL: Your VLP will monitor service of process and determine answer dates.

Yesterday we discussed the topic of “vetting”, and today we are going to see whether a Virtual Litigation Paralegal can assist an attorney in the very first stage of litigation, the filing of the Petition or Complaint.

Depending on the type of litigation and the complexity of the case at hand, the VLP can assist you in preparing an initial draft of the Petition.  If you specialize in a particular area, it is likely that you have a favorite form petition.  With a little help from your VLP, all of your favorite forms can be organized and streamlined for more efficient document preparation.

The VLP can check with the Secretary of State’s office to determine the Registered Agent for service of process and determine requirements for serving the Secretary of State for an out-of-state defendant.  Many jurisdictions now require preparation of a form civil cover sheet which is specific to that jurisdiction.  If electronic filing is available for the jurisdiction, your VLP can verify that all requirements have been met and submit the document for filing.

Many attorneys now use private process servers for service of legal documents.  The VLP can locate a process server in the required geographical area and coordinate efforts to obtain service on the Defendant as soon as possible.  After service has been completed, the VLP will follow-up on getting the Return of Process filed with the Court and payment of appropriate service fees.  Most importantly, the VLP will determine and docket the Defendant(s) answer date according to court rules for that jurisdiction.  Both you and your VLP will be able to monitor that deadline for immediate action should no answer be filed.

If you represent a Defendant in the new litigation file, the VLP will be especially helpful in checking court records to verify the date the Defendant was served and calculating the answer date.  At the same time, the VLP can determine what pleadings have already been filed with the Court and obtain copies of required documents.  This is particularly helpful if your client has been added during the middle of a pending litigation.

The VLP will assist you in preparing an initial draft of an Answer, counterclaim, request for change of venue or motion to dismiss.  As legal defenses become more specific, the VLP will check local court rules for verification requirements, and she will constantly monitor the deadline to be sure the responsive documents are timely filed, that copies are served on all parties of record and that the client receives copies of all documents.

For the next few days we will look at the VLP’s role in the discovery phase of any litigation file.

I would like to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns about the hot topic of virtual paralegals! Click on “Comments” beneath the title of this blog post.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed so you won’t miss a single post!  If you prefer getting updates by email, please visit Subscribe via email.

For other posts in this series, visit Virtual Paralegal Series.

VIRTUAL LITIGATION PARALEGAL: Your VLP can complete the vetting process on all parties of interest.

As we continue to take a look at how the Virtual Litigation Paralegal (VLP) can complete your litigation team, today we are going to look at the area of Initial Investigation and Research.  This phase includes a general background investigation of all parties from available internet resources, a process now commonly known as “vetting”.

While the attorney is the only one who can accept representation of a client, the VLP can be of great assistance to an attorney during the initial phases of a new case.  Attorneys who specialize in a particular area of litigation often receive numerous telephone referrals of potential new clients.  The VLP can gather preliminary information through a telephone interview.  In many instances, an attorney can then quickly determine if he is interested in further discussions with the potential client.

The VLP can prepare detailed interview forms to your specifications so that no detail is forgotten during the interview process.  As the interview is completed, the VLP can verify legal names of the parties, last known addresses, gather relevant information posted on social media websites, identify pending litigation, discover property owned and often estimated value of assets.  As data is gathered and documents obtained, an initial chronology of events will be prepared together with an initial exhibit and witness list.

If the case involves medical records, the VLP can obtain complete copies of medical records and billings, summarize treatment by various providers and build a detailed medical chronology.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at how the VLP can support you through the filing of the Petition/Complaint or an Answer and Counterclaim.

I would like to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns about the hot topic of virtual paralegals! Click on “Comments” beneath the title of this blog post.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed so you won’t miss a single post!  If you prefer getting updates by email, please visit Subscribe via email.

VIRTUAL LITIGATION PARALEGAL: Your VLP should work one step ahead of you to keep litigation files moving forward in a timely fashion.

Yesterday I introduced the premise that virtual paralegals are often highly specialized.  As we continue this discussion today, we will begin looking at virtual litigation paralegals (VLPs).  What type of support can a virtual litigation paralegal provide?  What tools will a  VLP use?  First, we will take a more in-depth look at the area Case Administration mentioned in Value of a Virtual Litigation Paralegal.

After more than 15 years experience as a brick-and-mortar litigation paralegal, I believe that one of the greatest benefits provided to a trial attorney is overall case management and case administration.  Litigation attorneys typically have many cases at various stages of the process.  You may be the plaintiff, or you may be the defendant.  You typically have cases filed at various court levels in various geographic locations.   Litigation attorneys rarely become bored because every case is unique with its own special set of rules and circumstances.

The challenge comes in being sure you are applying the correct set of rules, and all the sets of rules for a particular case.  Often it is more than one person can keep up with.  And generally speaking, two or three heads are better than one when it comes to remembering things.

A virtual litigation paralegal (VLP) can easily provide litigation support by sharing the responsibilities you have for so many details.  A VLP can establish processes for docketing and deadline control which protect you from malpractice risks.  The VLP can help you tailor forms and protocol to match your practice style.  She can provide your client with copies of all documents and give telephone updates to be sure your client always knows the status of his case.

Working with you to determine applicable local, state, and federal court rules, the VLP helps you avoid last minute surprises for rule compliance.  As litigation becomes more document intensive, your VLP can help you efficiently develop a digital computer file which enables you to more quickly access case documents.  The VLP will help you make software and procedural decisions to streamline that process.

As documents are gathered and the discovery process begins, it is critical to monitor privileged documents and communications.   They should be appropriately labeled. Someone needs to remember to do that.

Litigation files have a tendency of becoming stagnant.  When your VLP understands your strategy for the case, she can work one step ahead of you so that you can pay attention to the more important details.  She can prioritize your project list to keep things moving forward in a timely fashion.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at how the VLP can support you through Initial Investigation and Research.

I would like to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns about the hot topic of virtual paralegals! Click on “Comments” beneath the title of this blog post.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed so you won’t miss a single post!  If you prefer getting updates by email, please visit Subscribe via email.

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Begin building your exhibit list immediately.

Litigation paralegals are not always blessed with the latest, greatest case management and document management software.  They have to manage their cases with the tools and equipment they have on hand.  After reading Kim Walker’s post at Paralegal Pie entitled “Trial Exhibit Organization,” I realized that if you have a computer, you have the ability to easily organize numerous exhibits.  I particularly liked these points from Kim’s organizational tips:

  1. She began an Excel spreadsheet that contained every exhibit from every deposition.
  2. The spreadsheet included the exhibit number, document date, deponent name, and a brief description of the document.
  3. The parties agreed to retain the original deposition exhibit number on the trial exhibit list.  Confusion was avoided by not renumbering exhibits.
  4. Each party was given a specified number range.  All parties added to the master trial exhibit list following the same format.
  5. Final set of exhibits to be used at trial were scanned and placed in a single folder in numerical order.
  6. The Exhibit number column on the Excel spreadsheet was  converted to a hyperlink to the scanned image of the actual exhibit.  Once you located the description of the exhibit you were looking for, you could click on the link and quickly see your exhibit.
  7. The final electronic exhibit files were distributed to all attorneys on a flash drive.
  8. Only one complete set of printed exhibit documents was kept in the courtroom.

PARALEGAL TIDBIT:   Begin building your exhibit spreadsheet immediately.

Don’t wait to see if the case will settle!  Start now so you will not be overloaded or overwhelmed. And then don’t forget to order flash drives for your trial supplies!

To read the complete discussion, visit Paralegal Pie:  Trial Exhibit Organization.

I’m interested in your comments and tips for low-budget exhibit management!  What system has worked best for you?


VIRTUAL PARALEGALS: Virtual paralegals are often highly specialized.

Like it or not, modern technology has greatly affected the practice of law.  Some of those developments have enabled attorneys and paralegals to gain flexibility and choices concerning how they choose to provide legal services.   Many legal professionals now work from home offices.  Those who have taken that jump generally say they would never go back.  Some attorneys still maintain their regular office, but they have chosen to take advantage of virtual paralegal resources.  This enables them to cut costs for themselves and their clients.

For a number of years, some paralegals have done contract work, also known as freelance work.  This work has been provided on an independent contract “as needed” basis for specific projects.  Today, paralegals are taking the next step by establishing a fully equipped home office.  By eliminating unnecessary commuting and other timewasters, realistically the paralegal can be more productive for attorneys.  Attorneys and clients benefit because the paralegal gets paid only for time actually worked, and the paralegal draws no typical employee benefits.

As attorneys have become specialized, so have paralegals. That premise holds true for brick-and-mortar paralegals as well as virtual paralegals.  By making the decision to work with a paralegal virtually, attorneys now have the option of working with specialized paralegals who are highly proficient in different areas of law.  Attorneys are no longer limited by geographical boundaries, unless they choose to do so.

In this series I will begin taking a look at the practice areas chosen by virtual paralegals, and discuss some of the tools they use to provide virtual support to attorneys.  Tomorrow we will begin looking at virtual litigation paralegals.

I would like to hear your thoughts, questions, concerns about the hot topic of virtual paralegals! Don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss a single post!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Sometimes you just have to step out to find out!

While studying for the NALA certification exam, I began bookmarking all my favorite web sites with legal information.  I became frustrated as I tried to locate comprehensive resource web sites for paralegals.  I had to visit many different web sites to find the information I needed.

Now that I had this information I wanted to list it in one place which could be accessed by other paralegals.  I learned that purchasing a domain name for a web site is not a difficult task, and I read that building a basic web site with templates was not such a big deal.  I enjoy learning and expressing my creativity, so I started the web site Paralegal Prompts.  I found, purchased a domain name, and then I began experimenting with the available tools for building a blog and a web site.  Before adding too much content, I changed the design several times.  I published it so that I could test the feedback on the design and the content.

Sometimes dreams and visions for our careers come to you with comprehensive, step-by-step plans.  Detail-minded people love that.  All you have to do is organize the steps into a logical, progressive plan, and then begin working the plan.  On other occasions, however, dreams and visions come to you as seeds which need to be watered, fertilized and nurtured.  They need time to sprout roots, grow leaves and develop branches.  As new growth occurs, pruning may be required so that the dream blends in with the landscape of your lifetime goals and responsibilities.

After several designs and some pruning, Paralegal Prompts has a new, more professional image.  I think I’m getting closer to the changing vision in my head for its design and purpose.  Now, I can start adding the wonderful resources I’ve accumulated.  What can I say?  Sometimes, you just have to step out to find out!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Develop social media skills.

Lynne DeVenny

Lynne DeVenny

While reading Vicki Voisin’s newsletters and listening in on The Paralegal Mentor Mastermind calls, I began hearing Vicki talk about Twitter.  I had seen the little blue bird flying around, but had no real knowledge as to what it was all about.  Social networking was stuff my kids were doing.

I finally decided to set up my own Twitter account (@CathyRibble) to see what all the fuss was about.  I took a look at the people Vicki was following, and then I looked at the people who were following her.  I began reading the user profiles and began observing how the users were interacting with each other by making 140 character posts called “tweets”.  The Twitter platform says “What are you doing?”  I wanted to start posting, but I thought to myself, “Who would be interested in what I’m doing ?” and “What could I say?”  I finally ventured out, and boy am I glad I did!

I have become friends with paralegals from all over the United States.  I can follow paralegals, attorneys, law-related vendors, inspirational people, and motivational people.  I found interesting legal articles I would have never found.  Heck, I probably would not have even searched for them!  I learned legal blogs are sometimes called “blawgs”.  I learned about webinars and teleclasses on many different subjects.  I began to see what was happening with legal professionals in real time.

I observed people building relationships, and I started building some relationships myself. Fairly soon after I joined the Twitter party, I came to know Lynne DeVenny, a/k/a @ExpertParalegal.  Lynne celebrates the paralegal profession at her blog, Practical Paralegalism. Lynne is quick to celebrate the accomplishments of paralegals nationwide, congratulating them for their hard work.  I consider many of Lynne’s blog posts to be feature articles because they are thoughtful and insightful.  From her many years of experience, Lynne is able to point out a tip or lesson from many different angles.

Sometimes that lesson to be learned is “bad press” for the paralegal profession.  A paralegal made some wrong choices and is experiencing the consequences.  She covers the good and the bad.  She poses interesting questions for paralegals.

If you catch Lynne on the right day, her picture shows her wearing these crazy eyeglasses with a smile that just makes you automatically laugh!  She has many different glasses in wild and crazy colors!  I think she might be the heart and soul of paralegals across the country morphed into one fun loving, investigative legal reporter who never sleeps!

Follow Lynne on Twitter (@ExpertParalegal) and don’t forget to visit Practical Paralegalism.  You’ll be glad you did!

PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Sign up for paralegal ezines and teleclasses.

Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor

Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor

As I continued to perform Google searches about paralegals and surf the net, I came across Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor.  I quickly learned that Vicki is a leader in the paralegal profession.  She has many years of experience,  roots with NALA, and she is a published author.  Her newsletter is called Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence.  I signed up and continued to explore her background.  Vicki works in a small town law office, but somehow she had managed to transform her paralegal career into something bigger than “just the J.O.B.”

I learned that Vicki hosts The Paralegal Mentor Monthly Mastermind conference calls for paralegals on various topics of interest.  Did I mention the calls are F.R.E.E?  Did I mention the calls are held in the evening so you do not have to miss work?  Did I mention there are great guest speakers with Q&A opportunities to interact with the speakers?

As I began participating in the monthly calls I began to connect with other paralegals who were striving for excellence in their profession.  As the date neared for me to take the NALA certification exam, I received a postcard from Vicki wishing me luck.  How in the world did she find time for that?!!

I believe that postcard was what triggered my desire to learn from Vicki’s professional experience.  I wanted to follow her more closely.  Maybe if I started doing some of the things Vicki — and other successful paralegals — are doing, then maybe some of that success would rub off on me, inspire me and motivate me.  I guess I’m talking about the Law of Attraction.  Surround yourself with what you want to become, and you will get there quicker.

To learn more about Vicki Voisin and her journey, read An Interview With Vicki.  While you are there, be sure to register for her Strategies ezine and be sure to ask about The Paralegal Mentor Mastermind calls.  It’s all F.R.E.E.!

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