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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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