Archive for November, 2010

Parenting Article: Child’s Play and Chores

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

This freelance writer, published on Walmart’s Home and Family Center, includes tips for making cleaning and organization fun for kids.

Business Article: WAHM Cart

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

This blog article was written for freelance writers and other parents who work from home and struggle to stay on task during their children’s summer holidays.

Food Article: Healthy Snacks for Kids

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

WBM created this article on healthy eating for the website of the Home & Family Network.

Parenting Article: Birthday Party Ideas

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

This parenting article with party planning tips was published on the Home & Family Network website.

Food Articles: The Importance of Family Dinner

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

WBM wrote this freelance article about family dinners for the Home & Family Network website.

Parenting Article: Tips for Parenting Teens

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

This freelance article for the Home & Family Network discusses the challenges of parenting teens, and presents some simple and effective solutions.

Legal Article: How to Become a Paralegal

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

This law article discusses the types of paralegal degrees available and the options in legal jobs and certifications.

How to Become a Paralegal

Even in the face of a struggling economy, the paralegal field remains one of the fastest-growing professions. Also known as a legal assistant, a paralegal serves as a liaison between the attorney and the client. Although they’re not qualified to dispense legal advice or argue cases in court, paralegals provide an indispensable host of services to lawyers.

Varying widely from one hour to the next, a legal assistant’s duties can include screening potential clients, contacting witnesses, scheduling appointments, performing research, fact-checking, preparing letters and legal documents, and assisting with general office management. Specialized responsibilities can vary according to the type of legal practice.

A career as a paralegal can offer an array of attractive benefits, including job stability, generous compensation, and ample opportunity for professional growth and development. For those who are interested in breaking into the field, there are several key considerations to take into account:

Education

While formal education is not a hard-and-fast prerequisite to secure a job as a paralegal, those who do have relevant schooling or training will definitely have an advantage when being considered by a prospective employer. There are four basic levels of paralegal education that can be achieved:

• Associate Degree programs: The quickest and most economical route, these programs are available at local community colleges.

• Bachelor Degree programs: A four-year degree can be obtained at a traditional university. This level of education will take roughly twice as long to complete as the Associate Degree.

• Master’s Degree programs: The most advanced level of education for a legal assistant, a Master’s will allow you to boost your earning power and build your credibility in the eyes of potential employers.

• Certificate programs: Usually tailored to a specific legal area, these can serve as a supplement to an Associate, Bachelor’s, or Master’s Degree, giving you an edge over non-certified candidates.

• Online schools: Several reputable online schools allow legal assistants to learn the ropes at their own pace and in the comfort of their own home. Many web-based training programs offer fast-track curriculums that can be completed in as little as eight weeks.

Certification

In addition to educational degrees, certifications can be obtained to increase a legal assistant’s market value:

• The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) administers a 2-day exam to paralegals. Those who pass are considered a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or Certified Paralegal (CP). Several advanced certifications are also offered by the NALA for legal assistants who specialize in a certain area of law.

• Another voluntary certification, the American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential, can be achieved via an online program offered by the Advanced Paralegal Certification Program.

• Paralegals with a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree and two years of field experience can qualify as a Registered Paralegal (RP), a credential issued by the National Federation of Paralegal Association.

• The Professional Paralegal (PP) certification can be achieved by passing a four-part exam administered by the National Association for Legal Professionals.

Internships & On-the-Job Training

Securing an internship or entry-level position at a reputable law firm can be a great way to gain industry experience, either during or in lieu of formal education. You may be able to find a practice that is willing to teach you the ropes on the job, although the compensation will most likely be significantly lower than a candidate who possesses a degree and/or certification.

Freelancing

Another option for strengthening your skills and supplementing your income is to offer part-time remote assistance to law firms. There are several freelancing network websites that allow attorneys and legal assistants to form virtual working relationships. Also known as a “contract paralegal,” a freelance paralegal performs the same duties as a full-time legal assistant, but does not report to any one attorney or practice.

Freelance legal assistants are held to the same standards of ethics and confidentiality as traditional paralegals. In most cases, an attorney will require that a freelance paralegal sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before any details are released.

Freelancing can provide a convenient and lucrative option for many paralegals. However, if you decide to pursue this angle, keep in mind that you’ll be tasked with many of the same challenges that come with running your own business, including determining tax implications, choosing a business structure, setting up a home office, generating clients, and conducting billing and invoicing.

Specialties

Before embarking on the road to becoming a paralegal, take the time to research the various areas of law. If your goal is to join a large, established law firm or to secure a government position, you’ll most likely need to choose a specialty, such as criminal law, corporate law, real estate law, or intellectual law.

Work Ethic

As is the case throughout the entire legal field, attorney’s assistants are held to a high standard of ethics and accountability. Paralegals communicate frequently with the public, and are expected to maintain a polite, professional demeanor. Because they deal with highly sensitive legal documents, as well as clients’ personal information and testimonies, legal assistants are subject to the same strict rules of confidentiality as attorneys. Some specific ethical guidelines have been posted by several paralegal organizations, including the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Association.

Depending on the volume of cases and their associated workloads, legal assistants are often expected to work long hours and process large amounts of documents and paperwork. Those who are seeking a non-demanding job with fixed hours will most likely not be suited to the paralegal field.

Basic Qualifications

Although specific requirements will vary for different attorneys and practices, all legal assistants are generally expected to demonstrate the ability to:

• Communicate with attorneys and clients using correct legal jargon • Conduct thorough, relevant research of case details, legal precedents, and the backgrounds of clients and witnesses

• Present all discovered information confidently and concisely

• Use computer technology, online resources, and content management systems to prepare documents and conduct legal research

• Educate themselves on new developments and legislation pertaining to their specialized area of law, usually by attending continuing education seminars

• Stay organized and attend to countless details, often while juggling multiple tasks at once

• Possess excellent verbal and written communication skills

Becoming a paralegal can be an exciting and profitable endeavor for those seeking a position in the legal field. If you have the drive and determination, attention to detail, and a passion for investigative research, you may very well find a great deal of fulfillment as a legal assistant.

Legal Article: Crib Recall

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

WBM created this legal news article for the website of an injury attorney.

Legal Article: Typical Day for a Legal Assistant

Friday, November 26th, 2010

We wrote this freelance article for a paralegal school, describing the range of “typical” legal assistant jobs for prospective students.

A Typical Day for a Legal Assistant

If you were to ask twenty professional paralegals what a “typical” workday is like, you’d likely receive twenty different answers. Indeed, the position of a legal assistant encompasses a wide and ever-changing variety of tasks. That said, there are many common duties and responsibilities that are characteristic to the role.

In the face of these tough economic times, the paralegal profession is one of the few fields that are still experiencing rapid growth and consistent stability. Why? With the goal of reducing overhead expenses, many of the country’s law firms are transitioning everyday legal activities to assistants instead of lawyers. Since paralegals have a lower billable rate than their bosses, this allows the attorneys to focus on more revenue-producing tasks.

Although salaries range widely depending on location, type of practice, and level of experience, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated in 2006 that legal assistants earned an average of $43,040 per year. Many employers also offer periodic bonuses to their paralegals to reward them for overtime hours worked.

Considered a busy lawyer’s “right hand,” a paralegal performs many of the same activities as an attorney. Of course, there are certain duties that a paralegal is not permitted to execute, such as arguing trials in courts of law, dispensing legal advice, and determining legal costs for clients.

While a paralegal will most commonly hold a job at a law practice, they are also utilized by governmental facilities and within large corporations that have their own internal legal departments. Like an attorney, a legal assistant can select a specific legal specialty, such as corporate law, family law, personal injury law, litigation, or other areas of expertise.

Depending on the size of the practice or business where the paralegal works, the scope of his or her workload can fluctuate from very broad to highly specialized. On any given day, a legal assistant may perform any of the following tasks:

  • Helping to prepare a wide array of legal documents, including contracts, divorce and separation agreements, wills and trusts, mortgage agreements, and more
  • Preparing pleadings and briefs, and locating supportive statistics for any given matter
  • Using the Internet and other methods of research to look up legal precedents, legislative actions, and specific laws to help support a case
  • Helping attorneys prepare for all components of a trial, from depositions to hearings to pre-trial meetings to closing arguments
  • Monitoring the attorneys’ upcoming deadlines, meetings, and appointments and making sure they’re met
  • Meeting with clients to discuss the details of an upcoming case
  • Performing filing, organizing, making copies, and other administrative tasks
  • Following up with clients on unpaid invoices
  • Assisting in preparing tax documents for annual filing
  • Filing financial reports
  • Staying up-to-date on new and updated laws and guidelines

Throughout the workday, an efficient and effective paralegal should strive to maintain the following attributes:

  • Flexibility: A legal assistant’s job description can vary drastically from one moment to the next. In the morning, they might be tasked with researching important legal precedents and prepping a witness for an important testimony, only to be asked to pick up lunch for a client an hour later. Remember, not all responsibilities will be glamorous and challenging—as with most any job, there will be periods of time when you’ll be tasked with more tedious duties, such as filing or organizing documents. As a paralegal, adaptability will be one of your most appreciated and marketable traits. Approach each task with a positive attitude and an air of adventure. Even the tasks that seem the most mundane can wind up teaching you something of value. Flexibility also comes into play in regard to work schedules. Depending on the current caseload, paralegals often have to put in many of the same long hours as attorneys, staying late to meet important trial deadlines.
  • Critical Thinking: Most attorneys want paralegals who aren’t just “yes men” or “yes women”. They want assistants who are confident and knowledgeable enough to speak up and second-guess them when necessary, and who can offer their own informed opinions on a range of topics, legal-related and otherwise. Paralegals also need an inherent sense of curiosity to help them research case details.
  • Initiative: Most attorneys are very busy—often too busy to micro-manage and provide constant direction to their staff. A paralegal should be able to work as autonomously as possible, recognizing that there might be days or even weeks when they won’t receive direct feedback or communication from direct supervisor. If you need constant reinforcement and direction from your boss, the paralegal field might not be ideal for you. As a legal assistant, you’ll be expected to self-prioritize and go after new tasks if they aren’t handed to you.
  • Organization: Legal assistants work with large amounts of important documents, reports, and other paperwork, and are expected to easily pull up files as the attorney needs them. The ability to almost magically produce the right document at just the right moment is one of the marks of a great paralegal. You’ll be responsible for keeping all of the attorney’s files in order, fielding and filtering dozens of emails each day, and maintaining an orderly legal library. Attention to detail and excellent organization skills are critical.
  • Technology: In today’s computer-driven age, a legal assistant must be comfortable working with the latest technology. Using word processing documents, spreadsheets, email programs, document management systems, online search engines, and special legal software is an integral part of a paralegal’s daily work.

With the wide variety of tasks on their plate, one thing is certain: a professional paralegal is unlikely to ever be bored on the job. As many legal assistants have attested, the position is in most cases challenging, intellectually stimulating, and highly rewarding.

Legal Article: Hip Implant Recall

Friday, November 26th, 2010

This legal blog article was published on the web page of an injury attorney.