Every Legal Department Needs A Paralegal Department


“Don’t make excuses for why you can’t get it done. Focus on all the reasons why you must make it happen”

It’s been a year since I made the suggestion to our general counsel. Since then I’ve had some really good and positive reinforcement and then there are those days when it seems that all the naysayers line up to make my life miserable. That includes the naysayer in my head. Don’t look at me like that. We all have that one voice in the deepest darkest corners of our brains. The one who tells us all the time that we can’t do something. Recently, she has been using the following excuses with me:

    • why do you bother? Things are what they are. 
    • It’s been like this for so long, what makes you think it’s not by design?
    • No one cares how hard you’re working!
    • You are not smart enough or experienced enough to do this.
    • One day you’re going to get found out and it’s going to be really embarrassing.
    • Please!!!! You’re old enough to just skate right through and not let this stuff bother you.  It’s not going to benefit you anymore.

    It’s a very powerful and loud voice which makes it really hard to ignore.  So, instead of ignoring it, I acknowledge it and find answers to ITS questions.  I find that when I come up with answers the voice becomes a little less annoying and less loud and it actually turns into a helpful friend.  By forcing myself to coming up with answers to its questions I force myself to think about what it is that I really want to do and come up with different paths to accomplishing what I set out to accomplish.

    Believe me, when I first came up with the idea for a Paralegal Department at this very large company where I work the voice was enormously strong.  What are you thinking?  They are never going to listen to you.  You have been here for a minute. Things have been the same for so long and they work.  Lawyers don’t want us to tell them how to do their jobs….who to hire and how to work with them.  You are going to ruffle people’s feathers and now is not a good time to to do that.  There were plenty of opportunities for me to stop moving forward. I chose to focus on the reasons I had to make it happen.  

    There are over 200 paralegals in this firm and they are counting on me.  Ha!!! Many of them didn’t even know I existed and some of them didn’t even know they wanted this type of organization.  However, just like Steve Jobs said (and I”m no Steve Jobs) people don’t know what they want until they want it.  I think Ford Said “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.”  It could have been someone else who said that…… I’m really not sure.  Who said it is not important.  I knew I could make a difference, so I did.

    This month marks a year and our Paralegal Networks is now chartered in EMEA and APAC.  As I write this post I’m getting ready to fly out to Chicago with our General Counsel for a conference where the GC will be address a group of paralegals in Chicago and throughout the rest of the US (working on broadcasting or recording it for EMEA and APAC).  We are on our way.

    I say all this to tell you that you must believe in yourself.  Only you will know how much you can take on and what it is that your vision can being to you and all those around you.  I say this to let you know that we all have those voices that will stop us from accomplishing our goals.  Those voices are not the enemy.  They exist to help us stay away from danger.  Listen to that voice but take the risk.  Use the voice as a guide and as a friend.  Answer the voices questions and calm it down.  Become the voices partner and work together.  

    Hope you enjoyed this post. I am working on doing a series of what the Network is up to and what you can do to start your own network where you work.  Having those likeminded people is essential for a healthy and prosperous career.

    XoXo

    Ana

    Time to Make that Move….. Or is it?


    I know that it’s been a while, again, since I have been here.  In all honesty it has been a crazy couple of weeks at the office.

    For some of us in the corporate world the end of the first quarter is when we are trying to figure out out goals and where we want to be in the short term as well as the long term.  We should always be thinking that way.  That’s not the hard part.  Most of you know that I have short term and long term goals all visualized and planned out.  However, this is a difficult year for me because the short term goals that I had envisioned for myself do not appear to be working out.  However, the chances of my long term goals coming to fruition seem to be a bit more in focus now and perhaps not as long term as I had originally planned.  So, all good right?  Well, yes, but ….. hmmm sometimes that’s even more stressful.

    There have been some changes to the makeup of my team and all through no fault of anyone on the team it has been the catalyst for my feeling as if it’s time to move.  At the same time as all these other things are going on in my very “small” world the larger “world” has a plan to develop a paralegal career path and growth opportunities.  Hello????? Does this sound like something I’ve been waiting for?  Why, yes, thank you.  I will take it.  However, what was I thinking….. Now panic is setting in.  I’m meeting new people, they want to meet me.  I need to figure out how to do what I’m supposed to do and all the while, I am still hold on to my “day job” trying to carve out a larger role for myself.  All I want to do is make sure all paralegals have a voice.  I can’t screw this one up.  I still don’t have this new role but things are so clear I can almost taste this new job and I don’t’ want to jinx myself……..Have I already lost you?

    All this to say that I’m here.  I’m thinking up and have a few things to talk to you about but right now I’m thinking about myself.  I need to do that so that I can help more of us who really deserve it need it and frankly have waited long enough to get the recognition that they deserve.  I am here, I will be chatting with you and please, by all means, come chat with me on Twitter, I’ll be there ready to “play” and exchange ideas with you.  Please don’t hold it against me if I’m not here for a little while longer.  Let me get this one right and I’ll be back with so much more that you will be totally sick of me.

    Thank you all for your support

    Ana

     

    Finally Here


    It’s been a very very very long time since I have posted here.  I am pretty sure it was something I did but for over a year I was not able to find the blog.  I’m not sure what I did but I most likely clicked when I should have kept myself from clicking ….. the blog went missing.  I kept seeing your comments and your questions but I was not able to interact.  I’m so sorry.

    Again…. not sure what I did today but here I am.  I have regained access to the blog and I am ready to go.

    So……… without dwelling in the past and trying to figure out what happened, I want to concentrate on the future and figure out where to go from here.  I know I want to post more about what it is that we, as paralegals do.  I want to help you navigate the career development maze and help you learn from my mistakes so that hopefully it won’t take you as long as it has taken me to get ahead.  Most of all, I want to work with you and be here for you.  Please continue to send me your emails and your thoughts and your requests.  I am sincerely happy to be back and I can’t wait to have a cup of coffee and a chat.

    Ana

    Paralegals On Wall Street? Who knew?????


    If you had told me a few years ago that I would be working at a bank I would have told you were crazy.  After all, was I not the kid who hated every single one her math classes?  Was I not the kid who cried while doing math homework?  I don’t remember anything from any of my algebra classes…. heck I even have trouble figuring out percentages.  Yeah, I truly am a math hater.  I fully understand the interest others have with numbers as well as how great it would be if I could understand them myself.  Alas, numbers and I are not friends.  I would even venture to say we are mortal enemies.

    Today, after suffering through high school math and algebra and trying to avoid as many number related classes in college, I am a paralegal at a bank.  Really, there are quite a few of us and we have our plates so full these days, we barely have time to breath.

    Admittedly, my days are totally different from yours (if you are working at a law firm).  First of all, I don’t have to bill my time.  Although I was never one who dreaded the end of the month.  I was able to figure out a process where I could keep myself organized and have all my time entered and correct by the time the end of the month came up.  See this article I wrote a few years back, in fact, I trained the new paralegals on how to enter time and how to stay organized.  These days this is not an issue at all.  That goes for all the paralegals who work in house.

    These days I’m not preparing for trial or preparing or summarizing depositions or even reading medical records.  These days I busy myself with regulatory research and meetings with other lawyers.  Yes, when I put it this way it sounds sort of boring doesn’t it?  I can hear you guys saying “regulatory research” and what do you do with it?  Well, let me tell you.

    So remember a few years back when our financial world took a nose dive?  When there was so much uncertainty as to whether or not our money would still be in the bank when we woke up the next mooring?  Well, the regulators – these are the people who make the laws for the various industries – were also worried and therefore started making new rules/regulations as well as tightening up existing rules.  There are so many new rules and regulations coming out that at times it’s hard to keep up.  So my days go something like this……

    1. Find new laws and analyze them for impact on the particular area of service (the industry term is line of business) that I cover;
    2. Have some coffee;
    3. Summarize and present at monthly meeting with the business;
    4. Have more coffee;
    5. Track changes to existing laws and advise business and risk about these changes;
    6. Attend meetings and have some coffee;
    7. Ensure that policies and procedures are in place (working with compliance); and
    8. Have some more coffee;

    So the above are just things that I do on a day to day except for number 2 that one happens on a monthly basis but I still prepare for it on every day.  Meetings in the corporate world are packed with power point presentations (the business doesn’t want to or have to the time to have to learn a law) power point presentations make it easier to understand what legal is saying.  They couldn’t be bothered with us….. the business is there to make money and they feel we are there to stop them……. It’s actually fun to be a part of this.

    My days don’t end with that.  In between getting all that done I work with compliance – compliance is there to ensure that the business is actually doing what legal has advised them to do.  At the end of the day my job ends when I the business as been advised of what the law is saying.  I am not responsible for the steps they take to accomplish that.  That is the job of compliance and risk together.  Those two groups measure the risk associated with a particular part of the business and they decide how to comply with the law.

    Think of the particular businesses within a bank as my clients.  The difference is, my clients don’t walk in from the street.  They walk the same hallways I do, eat in the same cafeteria (yes, the food is actually very good there) and sometimes are even colleagues with whom I go out for drinks or coffee.  Like you, I am not responsible for what my client is doing after they walk out of my office.  However, I have to be prepared to defend my client even if he does not follow my advice…. Does that make sense?

    I hope this helped you understand a little bit about what goes on in the legal department of a bank.  Let me know what you think.  I would love to hear from you.

    Compliance vs. Legal — The Past Month


    Picture from notinatuscanvilla.com
    Picture from notinatuscanvilla.com

    Yep. I just looked at my last post and it was written over a month ago. Shame on me. How can I expect you guys to be interested or stick around here if I don’t take the time to say hello, at least. Anyway, this is not an excuse or anything like that. Actually, if I’m serious about wanting to help you or make this blog grow, nothing should be standing in the way, right?????

    So what happened in the time I have been away from the blog? Well, I changed positions at work. If you recall I was working in compliance. I left my paralegal role in one large bank and joined the compliance department of another large bank. Did I like it? Yeah, I guess I enjoyed it well enough. I didn’t like enough to stay, though. I am glad I did it. Why? you might ask. Well, it taught me two things? 1) that I really, really (can I say really one more time?) really…. haha… like being a paralegal. 2) Compliance is not for me.

    So what do I see as the biggest difference? Both roles involve regulatory change management, both roles involve research of the various regulators in charge of our money and what our financial institutions can or cannot do with our money. Most of the day is spent trolling those regulatory bodies, in both positions….. So why would I take this position is if sounds like the same thing? Well, the reason is the actual role.

    A compliance officer advises the business. The compliance officer is much closer to the business than the lawyer. Although the lawyer must be familiar with the business, the lawyer really does not, and has no time to be concerned with the intricacies of the business….. that’s the compliance officers’ job. So the lawyer interprets the law and hands it over to the compliance officer to give it a second look and say….. Well. Here’s what legal says, here’s what we do and here’s what we have to stop doing in order to remain in compliance with what the regulator is saying. There is so much “advising” that needs to be done that the compliance officer has no time to read and interpret.

    Don’t get me wrong. I do like knowing the business and I learned quite a bit about the big money machine. However, I learned these past few years that I am ok with knowing the business superficially enough to know it but my passion is in really knowing the law.

    As a paralegal I have the time to really get into the regulators’ heads….. Sometimes not a happy place to be and most of the time a frustrating proposition. If you have tried to read a bill, a proposal and eventually a new law….. Holly heck….. Yesterday I was actually wondering if the law was written in English….. that, at times, is the fun of it.

    So, why did I go back to the legal department? Well, it came down to what my passion is. My passion is reading and writing and learning the law. My passion is to sit with books (these days the computer or the iPad) and read, highlight, make notes, and eventually be able to put into words what I believe the law addresses. In compliance, while I got to look at new laws, if I were to stay and follow my passion, as stated above, my role would have morphed into a data entry person. There is no time to read, understand and digest it. If I were to move up in a compliance role, I would have had to give up that passion. I would have had to rely on legal to really get into the weeds of the law so that I could get into the weeds of the business. I would not be able to spend as much time as I would like in being well versed in the legalities of what is or is not allowed. Someone else would have to do that and I would have to take their word for it.

    I chose to follow my passion. I am busier than I have been the past 3 years, since I came to this new firm. However, I am happier than I have been at this firm. There is something to be said for figuring out who you are and doing what comes naturally to you. I enjoy being surrounded by words and then taking those words, which at times are a bit incomprehensible, and have them make sense to someone who does not get a chance to sit and analyze them. I have that luxury now. Research and analysis is my thing. That’s what I enjoy doing.

    So, I’m often asked what my advice is for someone just getting started in their career. My advice is to figure out what you love to do. To figure that out, thing about what you can spend hours on and not mind, what would you do even if you were not getting paid for it and then go out and find a place where you can do that and get paid for it as well.

    I hope all this works. I have been in my new role for a month now and it looks like things are finally getting settled and I’m not playing catch up. I will try to go back to some type of schedule on the blog so you guys don’t forget about me. I’m also thinking, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Would you guys like a YouTube channel to go along with this blog? Think that’s a good idea? Would you subscribe? Would you guys want to see have a YouTube channel to go along with this blog?

    Let me know. Nice chatting with you all and I’ll see on my next blog post.

    XoXo
    Ana

    I work from home — Yes, operative word…. WORK.


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    AS A MATTER OF FACT……… I AM……….  Just because I get up later than normal and have time to actually sit at the kitchen table (ohhh yeah look at that!!! we have one of those) catching up on social networks, newspapers, magazines while enjoying a cup of coffee still wearing a tank top and a pair or shorts and have no make up on does not mean that I’m going to sit here and slack all day.  Just because the day is beautiful outside and the pool seems so inviting does not mean that I’m going to run upstairs after my cup of coffee and get ready for a swim.  What it means is:

    I am more Productive

    Normally I get up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for work.  Run into the closet and just put on the outfit I picked out the night before.  I cannot give myself the luxury of changing my mind.  All my minutes are counted.  I run to the bathroom and brush my teeth (shower was accomplished the night before), wash my face and run back outside of the bathroom for the makeup.  I sit at my vanity and apply foundation (these days CC cream) and a quick swipe of eyeliner and mascara.  I’m done…. can’t fuss with anything else or I’ll be late.  Run back into the bathroom, brush my hair and put it up in a pony tail (everyday hairstyle).  Run downstairs to the kitchen and our some coffee into my travel mug while at the same time I say good-bye to Adele (the poodle) and promise to be home soon to play with her.  I must be out the door by 5:30 or I will miss my buss (5:50 a.m. bus).  I have learned to be very precise in all my moves.  There isn’t one spare minute in the morning routine.

    When I work from home, I get up around 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. and go downstairs still in my tank top and shorts, feed the dog and pour a cup of coffee.  I take my coffee and my iPad and go outside on the deck or sit at the kitchen table and read the morning news or my email while I actually savor the coffee.  Yum!!!!.  I have time to talk to my husband and actually find out what time he will be home.  I don’t have to text him later.  Once he’s out the door I go upstairs and start my morning routine.  I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to wear, although I do not hang around in my PJs all day.  I brush my teeth, wash my face, put my hair in a pony tail and go into my office to turn the computer on and log on to the office.

    On a day I have to commute I’m at the office at 7:30 (yes 1.5 hour commute) but it really depends on the traffic.  Sometimes it could be closer to 8:00 a.m., on my way from the bus to the office I stop to grab some more coffee and some breakfast so by the time I get in it’s probably a little before 8:00 a.m and I’m already stressed out because the bagel guy took too long……. ugh!!!! on the days that I am working from home, I walk into my office around 7:45 a.m. and start reading my email.  I respond to what I need to respond and then take a few minutes to go outside with the dog so she leaves me alone during my conference calls.

    By the time 8:30 rolls around I am sitting at my computer working.  I am able to do everything I do at the office.  I log on remotely and it’s like I’m sitting at my desk in the office.  Because I have done things at my own pace and was not rushing to get anywhere I am relaxed and I can start working immediately.

    I work straight through until about 12:00 p.m. at which time …. OMG I’m starving.  I’m not sure how people can wait until 1:00 to eat.  by 12 I’m ready to eat my arm.  So I run downstairs and grab something to eat.  I take the dog outside and within 10 minutes I’m back inside.  Because there is no one to talk to I come right back up stairs and sit at my computer with my food.  I don’t mind eating at my desk when I’m home.  I continue working through the afternoon only taking one or two breaks to get water and take the dog out again.

    When I work in the office there are always people stopping by my desk.  My day is constantly being interrupted by a variety of distractions, I tend to get hungry in the middle of the afternoon, which does not happen when I’m home….. There’s no snack time when I’m home.

    I have set up my office at home in a way that I can see outside but am not distracted by the comings and goings of the neighbors, I have a comfortable desk and a great large monitor on my computer.  This week, while I’m on vacation I’m going to set up a double screen so I can run my reports the same way I do at the office.  I have a printer, a scanner, paper, pens and all the things I have at work.  My phone calls, I take them on my cell phone while wearing headphones so it’s no different than being in the office.

    I can work until 7 or 8 sometimes and not be distracted.  I can continue to work until wee hours of the night if that’s what’s required …. thank God it hasn’t been in a long long long time.

    I would say that if you are going to work from home you must make sure that it suits your lifestyle.  I don’t have children so they are not going to be making noise and wanting me to go play when I should be on a conference call.  If you have children it’s probably a good idea to get a nanny to entertain the kids while you work.  You have to be disciplined.  Because you’re at home and there are so many other things that need to be done sometimes you have to fight the urge of going to wash the dishes or start dusting to get a leg up on the weekend… or start doing the laundry so you don’t have to be stuck inside on Saturday or Sunday…. You know, there are a million things that need to get done when I work from home that are not getting done because I am WORKING from home.

    I suggest you get a space that is dedicated for work related matters.  I only work and pay bills in my office.  There is no television, no radio (except the computer sometimes) and no other distractions.  There is a door I can shut. So if it happens to be a day when my husband stays home I can close the door and I am not disturbed by him.

    It’s easy to over compensate.  In the beginning I felt that I needed to offer an explanation as to why I was working from home and how hard I was working.  You don’t owe anyone an explanation and if your boss is ok with the arrangement then it’s no one else’s business.  Do not feel like you have to work more or longer than anyone else.  Make sure your work is done well and that your boss is satisfied with the arrangement.

    Tell me, would you consider working from home?  Why or why not?

    Thanks

     

     

    Readers’ Questions – Should I get a Paralegal Certificate?


    I currently hold my MBA; however, I am interested in obtaining a paralegal certificate. With your current expertise and experience, what could I do with the two????

     

    I’m going to preface this response by saying that I am always going to be a strong proponent of education.  I think school is great and if you have the money and the time I can’t think of anything better than getting an education.  Having said that, I also believe that getting some times just because you hold certain degrees or certificates, you are not going to be guaranteed a position.  I don’t know where you live but I can tell you that in New Jersey and a few other states a paralegal certificate is not a requirement to get a paralegal job.  A college education, however, is required by most employers.

    My suggestion to any paralegal who lives where a certificate is not a requirement and has a college degree is to go and find a position at a small law firm where you will be exposed to a variety of areas of the law.  When I started my career I worked in a two lawyer firm and did everything from legal secretary work to file clerk to paralegal.  I figured out pretty quickly what area of law I was interested and began improving those skills.  I would also recumbent that you read, read a lot and write a lot.  Start a blog, write short stories, summarize newspaper articles.  Once you are comfortable don’t be afraid to ask your attorney to let you get your feet wet in summarizing depositions for him or draft motions.  Learn what each of the documents looks like and start drafting your own.  Then ask your attorney to review them.  Impress the attorney and you will get to where you want to go.  Being a paralegal is hard work and you can never just sit still, keep moving.

    The above reader also told me that, not only does she have an MBA but she already works at a bank.  So my advice in her case would be to look internally.  Apply for an internal position in the legal department and learn everything you can.  Since you already have your MBA why don’t you consider taking the Certified Paralegal Exam.

    I am not discrediting an education in paralegal studies.  However, I am saying that if you already have an MBA.  What you will get out of a paralegal course will be no more than what you will receive from on the job training.  I am a strong proponent of regulating the profession via a national certification and I will discuss this at a different time.

    I encourage you to work with a law firm or in-house at the bank you are currently employed.  Get all the experience you can for a few years and then reassess if you still want to be out on your own.

    Hope this helps.  Let me know what you decide.

    XoXo

    Ana