Mind your Ps and Qs
Good writing can make all the difference on the job. It starts by knowing the basics of spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. It continues by linking paragraphs, formatting larger documents, and including key content. It means paying attention to those tiny details like the Ps and Qs.
Here are a few tips to apply to the writing process.
- Write, rewrite, and write some more. The best writers do a lot of writing. Consider keeping a daily journal, start a blog and write your own blog posts, write a regular letter to yourself or someone else, or write about the color of the sky. Keep writing and your writing skills will keep getting better!
- Find a quiet time and place to write. There will be too many distractions if you try to write while you are watching television, have a lot of commotion around, or are chatting with friends. Find a time when things are quiet to regularly write. Locate a spot where you can write without interruption.
- Identify the legal question. With legal writing, make sure you understand the question you need to answer so that you can target your research specifically to locate the required content.
- Outline. Before you write identify the end goal of your writing. Make an outline or diagram of your thoughts. Consider the key points you want to make. Once you have an outline of where you want to head, you simply need to fill in the details with words.
- Use an idea notebook. Good ideas can come to you in a variety of places or times. Have a place to write the good ideas down when they come. You may want a “pocket notebook” to jot down an idea, add it to a notebook on your phone or tablet, or add it on your laptop or computer. Remember you may have good ideas about how to write as well as what to write.
- Do the research. Gather the information to support your legal writing. Remember, with legal writing to focus on primary sources of the law – cases, statutes, and regulations. Reread information so that you understand what you are saying. Make sure that your research answers the right question.
- Get the words out. Pull your research together and prepare a rough draft. At this point don’t stop for all the fine-tuned edits but focus on getting the words down onto the paper.
- Get the words right. Use technical resources like the thesaurus, legal dictionary, and grammar check, spell check, internet resources to help you get the right word in the right place.
- Edit. Once you have filled a page with words, this is just the beginning. Take your page and review it. Read it out loud, look for mistakes, have someone else read it and tell you your mistakes. Turn your rough draft into a polished final writing piece.
- Read. The more you read, the more you will fill your head with the words, phrases, and language patterns of those who write well. You can even target your reading to the types of writing you want to do. For legal briefs, read court opinions. For general writing, read novels.
- Keep writing. Writing is a skill that can continue to be improved over a lifetime. Keep writing. As you keep at it your writing skills will continue to improve
Pay attention to your Ps and Qs and your writing will improve. Above all, whether you use a pen and get the words out with paper and pen or type on a laptop or computer - keep finding ways to write.
Be the employee everyone loves!
What can you do to make yourself the most loved, valued, needed, and appreciated person in your workplace? Here are a few tips to be the employee everyone loves.
- Be dependable. Do what you say you will do.
- Work hard. Get to work on time and spend a full day working. It’s amazing how much you can do when you spend the full day working!
- Be adaptable . Sometimes unexpected things come up or work demands change. Adapt to the new needs so that you continue to add value to your organization.
- Learn new things. Technology changes, laws change, the work environment changes. Find ways to stay up to day with those changes.
- Be a team player. Engage with your coworkers, your boss, clients, and others in a positive ways. Cooperate and do your share of the work to meet project or other goals.
- Meet deadlines. Follow directions and do the work to meet deadlines.
- Show appreciation. Let others know when you appreciate their effort. Notice the positive things that others do on the job.
- Make things easy for those you work with. Find ways to make things easier for your boss, coworkers, clients, and others.
- Communicate. Let those you work with know how you are doing on a task, discuss issues before they grow too big, ,and ask for help when needed.
- Problem Solve. Be the one who looks for solutions – not problems.
As you follow these tips, you’ll find yourself at the heart of the organization!
LEAN into the new year
January is a good time to get organized, get rid of extra stuff and improve your efficiency. Many businesses adopt LEAN process improvement which focuses on delivering what is needed on time and with minimal waste. While LEAN processes were first used by the automobile industry to streamline manufacturing, they can also apply to a service industry such as the law.
Start the new year by making your firm, and your individual work processes as LEAN as possible. To conduct your own individual or law firm LEAN assessment ask yourself the following questions.
(1) Value – How does the task I am doing add value to the organization or customer or client? Find ways to add value to what you do.
(2) Value Stream – The value stream focuses on streamlined processes that add value and promote efficiency by eliminating waste. When are you inefficient with your time? Why? What wasteful or unnecessary steps could be eliminated from your work flow to improve efficiency and productivity?
(3) Flow – Water can get blocked and backup in a stream. Ask yourself: what is blocking or slowing down your work processes? Where do things get bottlenecked? Why? What can you do to keep the work process flowing smoothly? How can you remove bottlenecks?
(4) Pull - Pull focuses on the consumer request for services that pull or drive demand. Consider how to effectively deliver services as requested Remember, if you are a paralegal, your client isn’t just the law firm client. It is also the attorney who hired you. How can you efficiently complete requested tasks?
(5) Target Perfection – Continue to fine tune your processes until they are as efficient as possible. Once you have improved one part of your process, start over and see what you can improve next. Ask yourself – What is the best way to improve efficiency now?
As you eliminate unnecessary steps in your work and improve your work flow, you will find that you become more productive in all that you do. Your focus on LEAN will create “demand” for what you do!
Improve Your Community
The holidays are a good time to think of volunteer work and service. There are many good ways you can do this. Look for needs in the workplace, projects your local paralegal organization is working on, or see what local non-profit organizations need. You may want to join a food or coat drive that is already organized in your community or you may want to organize your own. Whatever you do – do something to make your local community better.
Here are a few questions to get you thinking:
- Does a local food bank need donations?
- What do local schools need – books? Coats and boots? Hats and mittens?
- Does your law firm or the local Bar association have a community service project?
- Could you make a monetary donation in lieu of gifts?
- How could you use your legal or paralegal skills to make the community better?
The best way to volunteer is the way that works for you.
Professional Clothing Drive
Our paralegal student organization is hosting a clothing exchange and professional clothing closet on January 19, 2018 where students can come to find professional clothing to wear as they prepare to enter the professional workplace. Several student groups have expressed an interest in attending the closet. The professional clothing could include any of the following items:
Shirts, ties, nice slacks, suits, nice shoes, professional coats and scarves, gloves
Blouses, nice slacks, professional skirts, suits, nice shoes, professional coats and scarves, gloves, and professional accessories
Donations can be made at the following locations
ISU Building 48
ISU Paralegal Department
Bannock 6th District Court
624 East Center
Annual Idaho State Bar Roadshow and Resolution Meeting
Juniper Hills Country Club – Pocatello, ID
Thank you in advance for your donations!
Happy Holidays to each of you who enjoy our monthly blog posts!
Twelve-step strategy to meet a deadline
Deadlines. They come. They go. Another one comes. They are ever present in the legal work place. How can you keep these deadlines from doing you in? Here’s a twelve-step strategy to meet a deadline – early and without stress!
ONE Know when the deadline is.
TWO Know what you need to do to meet the deadline. Make sure you don’t forget any big parts of what needs to be done.
THREE Determine how long it will take to complete the task or project. You may count up the hours, the work days, the weeks – count it however you like – but estimate your time to completion. For example, you may estimate a legal discovery project will take ten hours.
FOUR Add some extra time in case you run into a problem, something unexpected comes up, or you find extra work. This gives you some leeway if things don’t go exactly as planned. For example, you may want to add an hour or two to a ten hour discovery project.
FIVE Divide the project into manageable chunks. Some people like to divide a big project into four sections. Bigger projects may have eight or ten separate parts. For a ten hour project with two hours of leeway, you could divide it into four parts. This would give you four parts to work on.
SIX Set your own personal deadline at least a week before the actual deadline. Again, this gives you some flexibility in case things don’t go as planned.
SEVEN Count the time (use the same increments you used to count before – hours, days, weeks – and determine how long you have. For example, you may have four weeks to complete your project.
EIGHT Segment your work as you divide the total project time (twelve hours) by the number of segments (four) which gives you three hours of work in each segment.
NINE Calendar your time. Schedule time on your calendar to complete each part of the job. You now have an appointment with yourself to complete the work project. Do this until the time to complete the project is all calendared.
Note, some people like to “front load” the work and do more work early, and less near the deadline. What you don’t want to do is “back load” the work and do more work right before the deadline.
TEN Keep your appointments with yourself and get the work done.
ELEVEN Exceed expectations by turning your project in a week early!
TWELVE Give yourself a big pat on the back for planning ahead to meet your deadline!
Now that you’ve done it once – start over and do it all again with the next deadline.
Ten Ways to successfully work with others – even an attorney!
When you work in a law office you work with all sorts of people – legal assistants, paralegal, attorneys, office managers, as well as clients and public who come in to the office. Here are a few pointers to help those interactions go smoothly.
- Smile! When you smile it is contagious and others want to smile back. Start a chain of happiness in the workplace simply by smiling at those you see.
- Ask people how they are doing. A simple “How’s your day?” or “How was your weekend?” will do. This lets people know you care.
- Follow the ten foot rule. If you are within ten feet of anyone smile and say hello. People like to be acknowledged. Remember, the client isn’t your only client. You are there to greet your coworkers, attorneys, office managers, secretaries and anyone else who works there, walks in the door, or takes a wrong turn into your ten foot radius.
- Be easy to get along with. When things don’t go as planned – and this can happen a lot, then just roll with change, be adaptable, agree to do something on short notice and save someone’s day! As you do so, you’ll earn a great reputation.
- Be a problem solver. When the copier breaks down the day before a big trial from overuse, dive in to try to fix it. If you can’t figure out how to fix it, then find someone who can. Of course, you need to follow office protocol before hiring an outside vendor, but make it easy for the boss to say, yes – call now!
- Communicate. Let others know what you are working on, what deadlines you need to meet, what help you need, or what expertise you bring to the legal team. Talk to the people you work with so they aren’t surprised when the angry client who just hung up the phone with you dials the next person in the office.
- Don’t escalate. If someone else in the office is agitated, excited, volatile, loud, aggressive, becomes angry or in any way lashes out at you don’t escalate the situation by lashing back. Stay calm. Take a deep breath. If you need to, excuse yourself until the “emotional storm” blows over.
- Talk about the tough issues. If an issue comes up with a coworker, attorney, or someone else in the office be sure to go talk to them. The tough issues should be addressed face to face, in private, and in a respectful way. Tell the other person how you are filling. Ask the other person what they think. Look for mutually acceptable ways to resolve things so that you can work well together in the future. When things are once again calm, go talk to the person (see tip eight below). If you are not comfortable with that, report the incident to your office manager, supervisor, etc. Such behavior is not acceptable professional behavior and it should be dealt with under organizational policies.
- Don’t gossip. Don’t talk about people behind their backs, gossip about others in the office or clients and their business. If you have an issue, keep your mouth shut before and after following tip eight and talk about the tough issues.
- Be a team player. You are all on the same team at work. If someone needs help – dive in and help. They’ll reciprocate! It improves the atmosphere at work.
And now you ask, how do I work with an attorney? Remember, attorneys are people too! Apply these ten pointers to the attorneys you work with (and everyone else) and you’ll be the one everyone wants to work with.
Tips for Using a Paralegal in your Office
You’re a busy attorney working away – a mile a minute, one step ahead of your clients. You’ve heard about paralegals and that they can help in your office, but you don’t really have time to figure out what to have them do. We can help with that. Here are a few tips on how to use a paralegal in your office.
- Let the paralegal organize your office, your files, your work flow, your cases, and if you still have paperwork – your papers. Whether your files are on your computer or in the cloud with document management system, let a paralegal get things in order.
- A paralegal can monitor and remind you of court deadlines, client timeframes, and coordinate your calendar so you don’t miss a meeting (or a hearing) again.
- A paralegal can meet with clients, conduct initial client interviews, and keep the client informed of how the case is doing. Watch your customer satisfaction ratings go through the roof as client communication improves.
- Use a paralegal to investigate facts, do the footwork to gather information, track down needed evidence, and then organize and keep track of all the information. Just think what a paralegal can accomplish while you spend the day in court.
- A paralegal can do research and writing to prepare interoffice research memos, drafts of court memos and documents, look for language to add to contracts, and draft letters. Let a paralegal help with your document load and office production will improve.
- A paralegal can improve processes by creating forms, documents, and templates, so that your entire work flow is more productive.
Next time you have a bit of overflow work, bring in a paralegal to help – you’ll be amazed at what gets done. As some law office managers say, “We only started turning a profit when we hired a paralegal or two so the attorney could take on more work.”