Planning for Support in Rollercoaster Times

Litigation can be a rollercoaster. Several cases may come in a flurry, or none may arise for several months.  Maintaining staff for the peak periods can be a sizable ongoing cost for salaries and benefits.  On the other hand, not having people when needed can result in overlooking crucial information, making mistakes, or missing deadlines.” (It’s Discovery Time — Do You Know Where Your Electronic Data Is? Michael J. Connor, Contributor, Litigation Support TODAY, November 2009/January 2010)

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PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Dismissal is not always a good thing.

If you are the Plaintiff’s counsel, the word “dismissed” is not always a good thing to hear, especially if it is combined with the words “for want of prosecution”.  Some attorneys – and their clients – react more strongly to this occurrence than others.  So, just how does this occur and what does it mean?

For decades, courts have made a practice of cleaning up inactive cases on the docket by setting those cases for “dismissal for want of prosecution.”  For whatever reason, the case has been sitting on the docket inactive for a period of time.  The court sets up a dismissal docket with a list of all the inactive cases, and notice is given to all the attorneys of record.    If neither Plaintiff nor Defendant shows good cause for the case being retained on the docket in the manner designated by that particular court, then the Court would dismiss the case and remove it from its list of active cases.

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PARALEGAL TIDBIT: Disclaimer forms deserve our attention.

 

Have you ever noticed that everyone seems to have a different disclaimer and confidentiality notice which they use on emails and fax cover sheets?  I recently began collecting the forms which come to me through email via direct email, list serves, or other sources.  Needless to say, they vary widely in form.

When I returned to the legal profession in 2008, I was shocked that the small firm I worked for had no “uniform” disclaimer which everyone in the firm used.  I was told to pick one I liked and start using it.  If the disclaimer form is of any use, then it deserves a little time and attention.

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VIRTUAL LITIGATION PARALEGALS: Your VLP will monitor all discovery deadlines and notify you immediately if opposing counsel fails to answer discovery in a timely fashion.

Today we will continue looking at the Virtual Litigation Paralegal’s role in the discovery phase of any litigation file.  Specifically, we will examine the VLP’s role concerning written responses to discovery requests and document management.

Your VLP will monitor all discovery deadlines and notify you immediately if opposing counsel fails to answer discovery in a timely fashion. Following your lead, the VLP can contact opposing counsel in an attempt to resolve the issue and draft written notice that a Motion to Compel will be filed if counsel continues to ignore the discovery requests.

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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.

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