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Blomquist: In Praise of the Paralegal

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blomquist-kerryWhen I first began practicing law, I was truly that: “practicing.” Day by day, week by week, I gained my footing and began slowly to understand how the practice of law truly differed from the study of law. And of course it does. I had always been a strong student, and my previous professional foray had been a successful one, but that challenge was nothing like the challenge of first practicing law for me.

Truth be told, and this will severely date me, but I felt like Captain Wilton Parmenter in the 1960s TV show F-Troop. Remember him? He was played by Ken Berry, and as the commander of “Fort Courage,” he was repeatedly decorated despite, not because of, his actions. This is the guy who won the Medal of Freedom when his allergic reaction accidentally set off a successful command to charge and who was (fictitiously) the only person in history to get a medal for getting a medal when he received the Purple Heart for being pricked while getting another medal pinned to his chest. Yeah, that still makes me laugh.

I could go on all day about 1960s TV sitcom humor … but the point of all of this is to say that I was used to doing pretty well, and beginning the practice of law single handedly threw me off of my game.

And then came Nina. Nina was my first paralegal, who I adored. Nina was my lifeline to how the practice of law should be done. She was approachable, gracious and polite. She had patience for my questions when my colleagues often did not. I knew how to study the law, but Nina taught me how to practice it. And she wasn’t even a lawyer. If stranded on a desert island in 1991? I’d have wanted a good pair of Spanx and Nina.

So I have to say I was at the very least saddened if not a bit dismayed and downright annoyed when I learned that of all of the groups of folks that don’t like lawyers, apparently paralegals are rising to the top. A few years back, the IndyBar Professionalism Committee under the leadership of Judge Tim Baker formed a task force that came to this conclusion and that same committee in 2013 under the leadership of Brian Zoeller has been working to address why.

Why are we losing favor among our paralegals and more importantly what can we do to correct this? With the help of Professionalism Committee members Brian Zoeller and Kevin Morrissey, here are a few not so subtle suggestions they have received.

1. Take the time to communicate. When offering direction, explain fully what you want and give a timetable. Everyone’s time is precious and no one has enough of it—be respectful of that fact.

2. Young lawyers: don’t be afraid to ask a paralegal for advice. They truly do hold the key to your happiness so settle down, tap into that and BE GRATEFUL. If you are a young lawyer with an attitude, lose it, because if you burn your bridges early on, the price of timber goes way up.

3. If you recognize yourself in this, then please listen and contemplate. If not, stand down because I am probably not talking about you. We are not the star-bellied Sneetches we think we are. Paralegals are our colleagues and they are professionally trained to practice with us—not serve us. Think twice before sending your colleague out to pick up your cleaning, get you coffee or pick up a birthday present for your husband or wife.

These are the people who make our lives easier, our practices more profitable and our work less stressful and more successful. If they are not feeling our love, clearly we have a communication problem here. Let’s work on that.•

Want to learn more about how being a part of a better attorney/paralegal team can actually help you grow your business? Check out the “Professionalism is Good Business” CLE program (and earn an hour of Ethics credit) on Friday, Dec. 13 from noon to 1 p.m. Register online at indybar.org/events.
 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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