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Paralegal profile: me and Vicki Voisin, the Paralegal Mentor

 

Looking for a great paralegal resource? Then check out the indefatigable Vicki Voisin, otherwise known as the Paralegal Mentor.

I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Vicki as she profiled moi for her nationally popular Paralegal Mentor blog. Vicki is not only a terrific paralegal who toils tirelessly for all professionals, she really is a neat person as well. If you have not checked out her website or blog, I strongly encourage you to do so—it is a plethora of information and resources. And Vicki really does care about helping us become the best paralegals we can be!

Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor,” delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethical issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes Paralegal Strategies, a weekly e-newsletter for paralegals, and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network.  More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com where subscribers receive Vicki’s 151 Tips for Your Career Success for FREE.

Following is Vicki’s profile of yours truly:

Monday, January 30, 2012

Paralegal Profile: Sami Hartsfield, ACP

Sami Hartsfield, ACP is a freelance paralegal and writer from Houston.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1.    What prompted you to choose a paralegal career?   I took a legal secretary course when I decided to go back to school around 2004. I enjoyed it so much, and was really good at it, so I decided to attend paralegal school.
2. Where did you receive your paralegal education? I have an AAS degree in Paralegal Studies, ABA-approved Center for Advanced Legal Studies (4.0); UH Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute (4.0); BS Political Science, University of Houston Downtown, graduating summa cum laude
3. Do you have any professional certifications? Yes, I have NALA Advanced Paralegal Certifications: Trial Practice; Discovery; Contracts Management; Individual and Entity Medical Liability; and Social Security Disability Law; I am also WestlawNext Certified.
4. What professional associations do you belong to?  NALA; American Association of Notaries; EDEN — Electronic Data Extraction Network (electronic data forensics group).
5. How has your membership benefited you?   Networking; CLE; also I volunteered for board positions which I recommend for myriad reasons such as the aforementioned two activities, and also opportunities to work on public speaking and other desirable skills.
6. What has been the highlight of your career?  Being the first person in my family to earn a college degree and have a professional career—hopefully I will start a new trend! Also, interning with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges in 2007 was a fascinating, eye-opening experience.
7. What do you see as hot trends in the paralegal industry?  I always keep my eye on new technology as the technology industry is so dynamic.
Many attorneys and law firms seem “old school,” that is to say slow to embrace these efficient devices, but I was fortunate enough to work at a medium-sized firm that was paperless and utilized the latest technology. There are so many time-saving and exciting technological devices out there, such as document management systems and trial presentation software, that I’m excited to see what comes out next to help us do our jobs faster and more efficiently, ultimately freeing our attorneys to work on tasks only an attorney may do.
8. Is there a quote that inspires you?  “The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where he stands in moment of comfort and convenience but where [she] stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
9. What advice would you give yourself if you met you as a first-year paralegal? Try to find a mentor to emulate; listen and learn; write all you can, volunteer for as many assignments as you can at work or will be given to you; join your local paralegal association and go to meetings and/or volunteer; and hang out with the winners.
10. What is the one thing you wish you were better at? Math and statistics (thank you calculators and actuarial tables!)
11. What’s more important to you – comfort or style? Why not have both?
12. How do you deal with work-related stress? I listen to Mozart.
13. What is one thing about you that most people don’t know? I have a very discreet, well-hidden tattoo of my kids’ names somewhere on my body. 
Bonus Question: Are you a cat person or a dog person? Definitely “cat”

Want to know more about Vicki? Go here.

Legal Talk Network

Visit the Paralegal Mentor website at www.paralegalmentor.com.

AND

Please see Vicki’s Paralegal Mentor Events & Appearances:

Put some of your life on auto-pilot…join the Paralegal Mentor Inner Circle…it’s free! Members will automatically receive each issue of Paralegal Strategies and be registered for each Mastermind call (you’ll receive the recording, too) AND there will be discounts and freebies for members throughout the year. Go here to get your name on the list.
Thanks Vicki, for taking the time to profile me on your blog, and keep up the great work as the Paralegal Mentor!
Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a consumer law paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She is also WestlawNext certified. Sami has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and a ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com.

 

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Federal courts: Right to a jury trial

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Federal trials: The right to a trial by jury is provided for in the 7th Amendment of the United States Constitution and by other federal statutory law. Specifically, the U.S. Constitution’s 7th Amendment states:

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

This means the Seventh Amendment provides that any party may demand a jury trial when there is more than $20 in controversy. (There is no comparable right to a jury trial for equitable relief.)

Additionally, Rule 38 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that:

On any issue triable of right by a jury, a party may demand a jury trial by:

(1) serving the other parties with a written demand—which may be included in a pleading—no later than 14 days after the last pleading directed to the issue is served; and

(2) filing the demand in accordance with Rule 5(d).

An attorney for a party, or a party himself if pro se, must make a written demand for a jury. If no party makes a demand for a jury, that right is waived. FRCP 38(d).

The demand must state:

…the issues that it wishes to have tried by a jury; otherwise, it is considered to have demanded a jury trial on all the issues so triable. If the party has demanded a jury trial on only some issues, any other party may—within 14 days after being served with the demand or within a shorter time ordered by the court—serve a demand for a jury trial on any other or all factual issues triable by jury.

Jury trials present both pros and cons, depending on the type of case. Federal jury trials usually require a unanimous verdict, even when contemplating civil cases. This can benefit the defense in that a single hung juror can hand the defendant a “win.” Conversely, jurors in emotionally charged cases have been known to award hefty damages to plaintiffs. Ergo, the decision to request a jury trial or not should be made by an erudite, strategic attorney.

Generally speaking, waiving the right to a jury trial should be considered in cases involving an unlikeable client, the need for a speedy resolution, or if the expense and trouble of a trial is not an attractive option.

If you want to exercise your right to a jury trial, you may write “JURY TRIAL DEMANDED” on your Complaint to the right of the caption (header of a pleading), or you may demand one within ten (10) days after the Answer has been served.

For more info:

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

FRCP R. 38

7th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Click here to see an actual example of a federal Complaint filed with a jury demand.

For additional, in-depth analysis–including statistical tables–please see “Jury Demand & Trials” by Joni Hersh, Harvard Law School, JOHN M. OLIN CENTER FOR LAW, ECONOMICS, AND BUSINESS. (This paper provides an empirical economic analysis of jury trial demands and the implications jury trials have on parties’ settlement behavior. The empirical data uses a unique set of almost 4,000 federal cases. It’s somewhat dated, but nonetheless provides some fascinating insight. What can I say? I’m studying statistics.)

If interested, please see my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

NOTE: I am not an attorney. This foregoing is not to be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, consider hiring an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She is also WestlawNext certified. Sami has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and a ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com.

 

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Protecting yourself from credit card fraud

Having your credit card stolen or misused, along with identity theft, are ubiquitous and expensive problems, costing credit card companies $50+ billion dollars annually, not to mention the costs to you, the consumer. This post examines ways to protect ourselves against this type of fraud.

Skimming is making illegal and unauthorized copies of credit or bank cards using small reading devices that “skim” the information from the original. This can happen through dishonest business practices or, for example, when you give your credit card to someone to pay for goods or services, as when you give your card to a server at a restaurant. These skimming devices have been known to be disguised as cell phones, and even as a fake ATM machine.

The information can then be used to charge items or pay for things over the Internet. It’s a good idea to always watch carefully when you give your card to anyone, and especially when that individual must walk away from you in order to complete the transaction. Additionally, when you are handed back your card, make sure it is indeed your card, and ensure you get your card back after using an ATM.

Phishing is sending bulk fake emails to consumers hoping one or more of its recipients will fall for the phony bank emails, or other bogus “official” emails, and click on links to provide personal information. These scams largely succeed because they are very sophisticated, with logos or even URLs that are surprisingly similar to the real thing. I have received these myself, and have occasionally been amazed at the level of sophistication. In a successful scam, an unsuspecting victim clicks on the link and is taken to a fake website. The victim then unknowingly supplies his/her own personal information to the thieves. Banks will never ask for personal information in this way.

Be particularly cautious with your credit card numbers, bank numbers, and even your mother’s maiden name. Instead, if you receive a suspicious email, visit your bank or other institution in person, via the bank’s secure website, or call the institution directly.

At any rate, you should never send this type of information in an email because emails are generally not secure, and the information could be intercepted, although Google’s Gmail claims it is the first major email provider to offer default encryption:

Gmail is the first major web mail provider to offer default HTTPS access. This means that messages are encrypted during their transmission from your web browser to Google’s servers, which helps protect your data from being snooped by third parties if you’re using an unsecured Internet connection. Learn more.

If you go to your bank’s secure website, you will know it’s secure by seeing the little key lock icon in the top browser bar or lower-right-hand corner. Also, if you do bank online, do not use the automatic sign-in option, and that goes for any credit card site as well. Understand that secured, encrypted sites begin with “https” instead of just “http.”

The security code is a three- or four-digit number on the back of your card. Merchants may use this number to ensure the card is actually in your possession when you make purchases over the phone or Internet. Zealously protect this number as well, as if thieves make off with the other information, they won’t be able to use it without this security code. (Many merchants now also verify your mailing address and zip code, so make sure these are up to date.)

To protect new cards, make sure you phone in verification as soon as you receive a new card. Sign the back in black, permanent ink. Some folks have taken to writing “ask for ID” on the signature line, but credit card companies recommend against this as some merchants require a signature.

Record all the credit card information and keep in a secure place (not traveling with you!) in case there’s ever a problem. Keep copies of all receipts – both point-of-sale and ATM – to check against your monthly billing statement.

So what else can we do to protect ourselves? Of course always keep a close watch on all your belongings. Never travel with more credit cards than you will need. Do not travel with your Social Security card unless you’re going to need it. Keep your credit cards separate from your wallet. If you lose your wallet or purse, or it’s stolen, notify your bank and credit companies immediately (your liability for unauthorized purchases is limited to $50 per federal law, but you could lose that protection should you be negligent in reporting the card missing or stolen).

Notify the post office immediately if you are moving, and if you move, call all of your creditors to let them know. Always put your complete return address on outgoing bills, and never leave outgoing bills in a mailbox in front of your house – leave them at the post office or other secure mail box instead. Shred all credit and other solicitations before disposing of them, and know when your billing statements are due to arrive. Better yet, check to see if there’s an online billing statement option and choose that instead (be sure to go to the site directly to pay!).

Some websites offer “free access” if you provide credit information. Don’t fall for this – it’s likely you’ll be charged a one-time or even revolving fee. Monitor your account for such activity.

Don’t write your PIN number down – memorize it. If a merchant calls you regarding a purchase, ask to call them right back. Don’t keep your PIN number with your cards. Don’t use your birthday or your children’s birthday for your PINs. Don’t lend out your card, because you will be responsible for whatever charges that person makes (if you knowingly and willingly give out your card).

If you will be traveling or making unusually large purchases, let your credit company and bank know. If you don’t, you may just get to Timbuktu and find you can’t use your card.

Notify your bank or credit company immediately if your cards are lost or stolen. Your liability is limited only if you take care of this notification in a timely manner. Follow verbal or email notification up with a letter and keep a copy. The letter should include your account or card number, the date the card went missing, and the date you reported it. When you report this loss or theft, you will be sent a fraud affidavit. Fill it out, have it notarized immediately, return it, and keep a copy for your records.

Review your monthly statements immediately as they arrive. Consider using companies that allow online account access. This way you can monitor your account activity daily. Know when your bills are due, and report missing ones promptly (you are responsible for paying your bills even if you didn’t receive the statement).

Read the federal Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). Know that you have the right to dispute charges on your credit card and ask for a “chargeback,” ie a refund from the credit company. You cannot dispute a charge that has not yet been made, but with an online account, you can monitor daily for questionable charges. You must notify your credit company within 60 days to dispute a charge or you may lose that right. Always chronicle disputes in writing. If you phone your credit company, follow up with a letter. Make sure you fill out any forms or affidavits they send you, and always keep a copy.

Use credit instead of debit cards: you can dispute unauthorized credit charges, but with debit cards, when the money is gone, it’s gone.

Everyone is entitled to at least one free credit report annually. You have the right to get one free report from each of the three major reporting entities  – Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union — for a total of 3 reports annually. Order yours online at www.annualcreditreport.com.

One last thing, you don’t have to pay extra for fraud protection provided you report any problems timely. Don’t be snookered into spending extra money each month that you don’t have to spend. Just make sure to report lost or stolen cards immediately. If you report the loss as soon as the card is stolen or used for an unauthorized purchase, the FCBA dictates the credit card company cannot hold you responsible.

Source: www.consumer-action.org

For more info:

Federal Trade Commission  (consumers)

National Fraud Information Center 

State attorney general’s office (find your state attorney general here!)

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More on consumer law

If interested, please see my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

NOTE: I am not an attorney. This foregoing is not to be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, consider hiring an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She is also WestlawNext certified. Sami has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and a ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com.

 

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A lawyer’s Christmas: Twas the night before Christmas in legalese

Exhibit A

It’s that time of year again! Time for: A lawyer’s Christmas!!

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS in Legalese ~~ Author unknown

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to, a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g., stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter. The minor residents, i.e. the children, and issues of the aforementioned House were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the second part (hereinafter “Mama”), and said Mama had retired for a sustained period of sleep. At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g., kerchief and cap.

Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e., the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance. The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance.

At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter “the Vehicle”) being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer. The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus. [See Exhibit A]

Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen (hereinafter “the Deer”). (Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co- conspirator named “Rudolph” may have been involved.)

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or nature. Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney.

Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items. He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations.

Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)

Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination.

However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim: “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” Or words to that effect.

Happy holidays and have a fantastic new year from LegallyBlog® by Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP!!

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a freelance paralegal and writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com

Sami Hartsfield

  

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Westlaw’s headnote of the day–FREE to sign up

Westlaw headnote logo used with permission by Westlaw.

Hey, this is pretty cool for us legal folks and other nerdy people out there. You can sign up for a FREE Westlaw headnote of the day. For those who have no clue what this is, a headnote is defined at Georgetown University Law Center this way:

WHAT IS A HEADNOTE?

Before a case is published in a reporter, an editor at West reads the case and selects the important issues of law. For each major issue, the editor then writes a short description called a headnote. These headnotes are typically found at the beginning of each opinion and help the reader to determine quickly the issue(s) discussed in the case. For example, here is the third headnote of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Gideon v.Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335:

3. Constitutional Law 268.2

Sixth Amendment to federal Constitution providing that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy right to assistance of counsel for his defense is made obligatory on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, and indigent defendant in criminal prosecution in state court has right to have counsel appointed for him. Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, 62 S.Ct 1252, overruled. U.S.C.A.Const. Amends, 6, 14.

The headnote describes one major issue in the case: whether an indigent defendant in a criminal prosecution in state court has the right to have counsel appointed for him. The broad topic assigned is “Constitutional Law,” the key number is 268.2.

For example, today in my email inbox I received the following “Headnote of the Day” from Westlaw:

December 9, 2011
Today’s Headnote [the key numbers below were all live links I could further click on if I was so inclined]:

120 Deeds
120I Requisites and Validity
120I(E) Validity
120k68 Capacity and Assent of Parties in General
120k68(3) k. Sickness or Extreme Age.

Defendant wrote a deed to the land in issue without any previous agreement with the owner as to its terms, or the latter’s consent to execute it, went to such owner’s home, and while he was dying, unconscious, and unable to raise his hand, and with his name subscribed to the instrument, raised him from his bed, took his helpless hand, touched it to a pen, and then with such pen made a cross mark, and wrote the words “his mark.” Such owner was wholly unconscious thereafter up to his death. Held, that such instrument was …..[have to go read the case below to see the outcome.]

Abee v. Bargas, 65 S.W. 489 (Tex. Civ. App. 1901)

Suggested by Robert Von Dohlen, Law Student; St. Mary’s University School of Law; San Antonio, TX

Or just sign up to receive your own headnote of the day delivered right to your inbox.

Pretty cool, eh? Thanks Westlaw!

Other Westlaw links that may interest you:

Westlaw Insider

FREE Westlaw newsletters

Take a tour of Westlaw Next

If interested, please visit my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

 

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com

Sami Hartsfield

 

  

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Burned Alive by Kieran Crowley–true crime book review

It is with pleasure mixed with deep regret that I write of my affection for this book. Pleasurable because Burned Alive by Kieran Crowley is one of those can’t-put-it-down-until-I-find-out-what-happens-next stories, but regrettable due to its subject matter. There was no happy ending here for anybody involved in this story.

I read a post by veteran true crime author Ron Franscell (and one of my all-time favorite, recommended authors) once where women are, by and large, the majority of true crime readers. This surprised me, because I know so few other people in “real life” who happen to be females and who also happen to read these types of books. Indeed, many folks who learn I have a fetish for true crime stories find it macabre at best and sinister at worst. The post suggested that women read true crime books so as not to become victims themselves; I read them to find out the why.

I have always been fascinated by deviant behavior, and though I do not believe I have ever come into contact with true evil (though I suppose it is possible and I just didn’t know it), I do believe I have come into contact with some people who–for whatever reason–are capable of atrocities such as what ultimately occurred in this particular story. It is that reason for which I search. Perhaps I will someday write my own totally unscientific book on reasons why some people wind up doing such sickening things. I don’t feel there’s usually (though not always) one particular reason. No, I find it’s more of a “perfect storm” of poor decisions, bad upbringings, poverty, substance abuse, ad nauseam … as is what I personally believe happened in this case. (Please note I am not a doctor nor a psychiatrist; my opinion comes solely from my own life experiences and reading true crime stories since 1992.)

As with all true crime books I read, it is my fervent desire that we learn much from these real-life stories, particularly should we wish any good to come out of them. There’s extant an old adage that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. If so, some true crime books should be required reading for all young people—and this book would be one of them, I think. To say that one life was terribly, cruelly destroyed (the victim’s) would be an understatement. All involved, especially the victim’s father, and yes, even the perpetrators and their families–all of them felt the reverberations of this one stupid act, and will likely continue to do so forever.

Burned Alive tells the harrowing human drama of several young folks—seemingly directionless for the most part, some from a good background, others not so fortunate. Their paths fatefully converge because, according to the book, four young men hatch an ill-begotten plan to make a quick buck. The heroine and victim of our story, 20-year-old Kim Antonakos, is kidnapped because the young men rightfully deduced her wealthy computer executive father, Tommy Antonakos, would hastily pay a fat ransom for her safe return. Only the plot went horribly wrong.

Kim was abducted easily enough while returning to her apartment late one evening after a night out dancing, and was swiftly absconded to the pre-designated “safe house” basement–actually an abandoned house that was, incredibly, located within walking distance from one of the kidnapper’s relative’s home. The kidnappers tied her up and intended to keep her hostage there until they secured a ransom, at which time they would ostensibly release Kim unharmed.

Except that the kidnapper who was supposed to feed her and give her water did not; except that the kidnappers discounted how cold it actually was in the basement where Kim was tied up and left alone; except that – for reasons that were never made clear – her wealthy father who loved Kim very much never received any ransom demand; and except for the fact that as the plan unravelled with no money on the horizon, the kidnappers had not the foresight to plan what to do in the event of such a wash out.

It is difficult to fathom one person capable of such a kidnapping, but in this case there were four kidnappers, all young men whose lives were either ruined or lost because of this one poor choice. It defies the imagination that four people could actually agree not only to concoct such a plot, but to carry it out. It would have taken just one of them to stop the plot from unfolding if only one had talked. None did.

Desperate once they realized their plan was going awry, and allegedly intending to free Kim unharmed, the four young men returned to the house after several days. Kim was still tied to a chair, but she unfortunately appeared to have died – likely due to a cruel combination of starvation, dehydration, and hypothermia. Supposedly shocked to find Kim dead, the four young men decided they had to rid themselves of the evidence, namely Kim. Another plan was quickly hatched. She was doused with gasoline. A young man named Joshua Torres, by far the most cold-blooded of the four, lit a match as he told her, “I’m sorry it has to end this way, but life sucks. Sh** happens” (68). With these parting words, Joshua Torres allegedly flicked the lit match at Kim, and she was indeed burned alive. For unbeknownst to the men, either because they didn’t check or because they just didn’t care, Kim was in fact still alive. But just barely.

A forensic pathologist later testified at trial that Kim had been alive when set ablaze.

This is the same Josh Torres that Kim had kindly let stay in her apartment, along with his girlfriend and their toddler, until they could get back on their feet. The same Josh Torres that helped Kim’s deeply aggrieved father “search” for her, throwing up red herrings all along the way. The same Josh Torres that was ultimately responsible for murdering one of the other original four kidnappers. Oh yes, one of the original four kidnappers was gunned down one night while out with his family on a city street.

For the CIA has a saying when there are two perpetrators of a crime: “Two men can keep a secret—provided one of them is dead” (71).

Adding to the heartbreak is that Kim’s father has said he would have paid any amount of money to get his beloved daughter back safe and sound.

The story is fast-paced, well written, and investigated thoroughly. Readers come to know all the players, from the kidnappers to Kim to the investigators. We also come to know how heartbroken Kim’s father is, and his pain is palpable through the pages. At least, those of us amongst we human beings who possess a conscious can feel it.

It is not a leap to suggest that, for whatever reason, Josh Torres is one of the – thankfully — small percentage of us who does not.

Grade: **** 1/2 (out of 5) 

MURDER CAN’T KILL A DAD’S LOVE

Man Guilty Of Murder In Setting Student Afire 

Joshua Torres still proclaims his innocence, with much of his side of the story found on his Facebook page.

Update 2011: Tommy Antonakos passed away in 2005, still painfully haunted and mourning his beloved daughter’s death up until the end.

Birth:  Jul. 16, 1944
Death:  May 29, 2005

Tommy Antonakos

Ready to read?
Buy the book on Amazon 
Read excerpts at Google Books

Other books by Kieran Crowley 

 

If interested, please visit my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

 
Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com

Sami Hartsfield

  

LegallyBlog® on Facebook
 

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Copyright 2011 Sami K. Hartsfield – All Rights Reserved

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

Ah, now we get into the really fun part of discovery: depositions. I could either make this one really long post, or break it up into bite-sized palatable chunks. And we all appreciate concise reads on the Internet do we not? So, we’ll start with Deposition on Written Questions, or DWQ as we call it in the industry. This is not the quasi-dramatic attorney/deponent facedown, we’re not to that part yet (but we’ll get there, don’t worry.)

If you are just tuning in, consider reading the blog posts from the beginning of my series on discovery here. And as usual, I am using the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure as an example because I am most familiar with them, but most states–including mine, Texas–model their rules after the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (And some also have downright peculiar dichotomies–more on this later.) So, while any person in any state may use this as a GUIDE (ONLY), be sure to Google your own state’s procedural rules, or the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if it’s a federal case.

This is the discovery device used most frequently to get your hands on medical and/or billing records, such as would be necessary in a personal injury or medical malpractice case. DWQ are useful typically when the deponent has limited relevant information. A custodian of business records, for example, would be such a person. DWQ are similar to interrogatories in that they are questions drafted in advance and propounded on the witness, but unlike interrogatories, they may be served on non-parties [to the lawsuit] (please see what is a discovery subpoena?).

In Texas, the only persons qualified to take DWQ are: a district court clerk, a county court judge or clerk, a court reporter, or a notary public. Most often, law firms outsource this type of procedure to a business specializing in such services, such as Blue Ribbon Legal (in Texas), or some other court reporting service.

Just like in the case of an oral deposition (the type with which most of you are probably familiar), an official Notice must be drafted and served on all parties (or their attorneys) stating:

  • Name of deponent (could be simply “Custodian of BusinessRecords” if name is not known);
  • A “reasonable” place and date for the DWQ to take place;
  • Notice must be served on all parties at least twenty (20) days prior to the DWQ date–when the Notice requests documents to be produced, thirty (30) days must be given, and the documents to be produced must be specified (known as a subpoena duces tecum); and
  • Notice must be signed by the attorney or yourself if you are pro se.

The questions to be asked must be attached to the Notice and provided to the deposition officer. Usually this means a list of business documents or medical records “kept in the ordinary course of business” will be requested of the deponent, and by answering the written questions, the deponent is averring that the provided documents are indeed the ones requested.

This is the most common way to procure documents needed to shore up a case. 

This is also a rather simplistic explanation intended for informational purposes only. Please remember that I am not an attorney, and if you need legal advice, it’s suggested you consult with an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

For more information regarding a Deposition on Written Questions, including how to object to them, how to assert privilege, and how to ensure they will be admissible to trial should a trial eventually occur, please go here. Pay particular attention to the different ways documents can and must be made admissible to court (should the case ever go to trial), which is called authenticating a document.

Next I’ll cover oral depositions.

**Always remember to consult your own state’s rules, and any local rules that may apply! For an overview of civil procedure, go here.

For additional helpful background information, please see “A primer on all the different types of courts.”

Further fun reading: 
 
You can find particular judges’ and courts’ web-sites in Harris County (Houston) here.
 
Or just Google for your state, county, or particular judge’s website. You might be surprised how much information you can find there.  
 

If interested, please visit my entire series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

 
Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com

Sami Hartsfield

  

LegallyBlog® on Facebook
 

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Copyright 2011 Sami K. Hartsfield – All Rights Reserved

Practical Paralegalism — blog paralegal profile by Lynne DeVenny

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but our gracious friend and nationally known paralegal Lynne DeVenny profiled moi in September. I thought I’d reprint it here with her generous permission. I highly recommend visiting her blog as well–Practical Paralegalism–chock full of utililitarian and interesting facts about the paralegal field. Even if you are not a paralegal nor work in the field, it’s nonetheless a great blog to visit and learn useful and “real” from-the-trenches legal facts.

Lynne’s blog bills itself as “A blog celebrating paralegals – and sharing a few cautionary tales,” and also includes a page with snippets from a book she co-authored with an attorney: Workers’ Compensation Practice for Paralegals (Carolina Academic Press, 2008), and it’s usually least expensive via Amazon, or can be ordered from her blog page. Although it is written for professionals working in the field, those who are seeking knowledge about the topic for their own personal benefit would also find it enlightening. Remember, knowldedge is power. Well worth a look-see.

For those with a funny bone, check out Lynne’s Percolatin’ Paralegal Humor page.

Here are some other interesting facts and pages to visit on her blog:

The Paralegal Voice Podcasts

The Paralegal Voice Podcasts are audio tips from the experts about how to get ahead in the paralegal profession by co-hosts and paralegal gurus Lynne DeVenny and Vicki Voisin. You can sign up for the podcasts via email here.

So, on to moi!

Paralegal Profile: Sami Hartsfield, ACP

 
Sami Hartsfield

Job Title:  Paralegal

Employer:  Insurance defense firm (confidential due my blogging agreement with my employer)

Years of Paralegal Experience:  5

Education/Degrees:  AAS Paralegal Studies (4.0); UH Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute (4.0); BS Political Science (3.9)

Specialty Areas:  Personal Injury, litigation

Career Highlight:  Winning the Houston Association of Legal Professionals‘ “Rookie of the Year” award in 2006, and being published in the Texas Paralegal Journal in 2008.

Future Professional Goals:  Excel at my career, help grow my firm, learn something new every day, help make the attorneys’ jobs easier, and finish my book! Also, help the newbies and not be selfish nor territorial with my knowledge!

Paralegal Practice Tip:  Figure out how to make the attorneys’ jobs easier without being asked.

Favorite Way to Deal with Work-Related Stress:  Listening to Mozart

Greatest Strengths as a Legal Professional:  Intelligent, creativity, poise, writing

Favorite Internet Resource:  Craig Ball’s Sampler of Discovery Links, http://www.craigball.com/hotlinks.html

Favorite Legal Software:  Actually have not found the perfect one even though I’ve worked with many, so feel free to send free demos my way, and I’ll give them a test-drive for ya, maybe even give you a free review.

Favorite Social Media Site:  Facebook — over 500 million users and counting — how else to reach so many so easily?  LinkedIn is great too for the groups.

Fun Fact about You:  I have a very discreet, well-hidden tattoo of my kids’ names somewhere on my body.

Last Book You Read:  How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (recommended!!)

Cat or Dog Person:  CAT

Recipe Your Family Begs You to Cook:  Southern fried chicken with the artery-choking heavy white gravy

One Gadget You Can’t Live Without:  Internet — duh :>

Favorite Quote:  “You create your own universe as you go along.” ~ Winston Churchill (and I would add to that to take care because you affect others’ as well ~ Samism)

Paralegal/Legal Association Memberships:  NALA, American Association of Notaries, Houston Metropolitan Paralegal Association, State Bar of Texas – Paralegal Division, Electronic Data Extraction Network (EDEN)

Professional Links: LegallyBlog®, https://samihartsfield.wordpress.com/

Redesigned website I did: (Joomla!) www.serpejones.com

As always, Practical Paralegalism is wildly grateful to any legal staffer willing to take the time to complete the quick and easy profile questionnaire at http://www.practicalparalegalism.com/p/paralegal-profile-questionnaire.html and share a little about his or her career with this blawg’s readers. I hope you’ll check out Sami’s website LegallyBlog® (you already are heh!) and welcome her to the blawgosphere, if you haven’t already!

Follow @ExpertParalegal on Twitter!

Follow @ExpertParalegal on Twitter!
Join the Twittering Legal Community! 

Practical Paralegalism’s Facebook Page

 
Posted by Lynne DeVenny at 7:00 AM   Sept 14, 2011

 

1 comments:

Jamie Collins said…
It’s so great to see your profile, Sami. You are a great paralegal, writer and blogger, in addition to being one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. You are very deserving of this recognition…and a virtual high five to Lynne for always sharing such awesome paralegal profiles with us!
September 16, 2011 9:26 PM

OK, this is Sami: If interested, please visit my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure?

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

 LegallyBlog® on Facebook

Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com

Sami Hartsfield

  

LegallyBlog® on Facebook
 

Protected by Copyscape Unique Content Check

 
Copyright 2011 Sami K. Hartsfield – All Rights Reserved
 
 
 

 

Top 10 Pointers for New Paralegals: Climbing the Paralegal Ladder, Part II–guest post by Jamie Paye Collins courtesy of the Institute for Paralegal Education (IPE)

Top 10 Pointers for New Paralegals: Climbing the Paralegal Ladder–Part II
by guest author: Jamie Paye Collins 

Generously reprinted with permission from the Institute for Paralegal Education. To subscribe to IPE’s monthly newsletters (where this article was originally published) go to: http://www.nbi-sems.com/subscribe. It’s free and a great resource. I highly recommend it. You can also join IPE’s LinkedIn group.

Institute for Paralegal Education, Tools of the Trade, November, 2011.
Guest Author: Jamie Collins

[Please see Part I of Jame Collins’ Top Ten Pointers for New Paralegals.]

If the title for this month’s Top Ten Pointers caught your eye, then perhaps it’s for good reason.  Do you currently find yourself at your first legal job or perhaps in the early stages of your legal career longing for more? Have you reached a professional crossroads or issued a personal proclamation that it’s time to take your career to the next level?  Do you have your gaze fixed intently on the top rungs of the paralegal ladder?  If you can identify with any of these situations, then this article is for you!  Read these Top Ten Pointers, so you begin to climb the paralegal ladder and secure yourself a coveted spot in the paralegal kingdom.  The climb will be long and arduous, but well worth it.  The groundwork for your induction into the paralegal hall of fame begins today!  Let’s get started.

1.  Create a paralegal dashboard.  You must first determine what it is you are truly seeking.  Is it a new job, bigger paycheck, notoriety, professional respect, a better network, employment with a more prestigious firm, a window office, higher social status or simply to learn more and excel in your chosen profession?  Perhaps you want to become heavily involved in a paralegal association, secure a promotion, become a writer, obtain a RP [Pace Registered paralegal] or CP [NALA’s Certified Paralegal] designation, land a better job, or enhance your paralegal skills?  You must create a paralegal dashboard.

Your dashboard should be intentional and specific.  You need to set forth an agenda for your professional goals and write them out.  Your goals must be clear, definable, and realistic.  They should also be measurable.  For example, “be a better paralegal” is not a measurable goal.  You need to map out where you want to be in three months, six months, one year, two years, five years, etc.  Be specific.  Define your career goals in writing, so you can refer to your list and assess your progress as you climb the paralegal ladder.  Step one is to create a clear and concise paralegal dashboard.  Start yours today!

2.  Be prepared and if you aren’t – get that way!  This is especially important for new paralegals; those entrenched in their first paralegal job or individuals that are gearing up to enter the workforce after college.  Heed this message: It is your responsibility to insure that you can do your job — and do it well.  Repeat after me: the words “I do not know how to do this” are not an excuse, nor a reason, and I will not act as though they are an escape clause.  If you do not know how to perform a particular task assigned to you — that may not be your fault!  It may be due to a lack of formal education, training or experience.  However, it certainly is your problem – isn’t it?  You need to solve it!  It is a real pet peeve for any attorney or coworker to hear someone utter the words “but, I don’t know how to…”  Erase them from your vocabulary. 

If you find yourself wanting to utter the forbidden phrase, you need to reprogram your dialogue. What you should say is: “Could you please show me how to do this? -or-  I’ve never done this before, but I’d really like to learn how! -or- Could you tell me where I can find more information on this?  -or- Who could help me learn how to do this?”  See the difference?  Your boss and co-workers certainly will!  You should seek out information, peruse the internet, search for educational resources and find people that can help you to learn how to do your job. After all, it’s your job!  Be prepared and if you aren’t — get that way!   

3. Do not worry about asking too many questions, worry about not learning enough.  Let’s face it; the paralegal world is complex…especially when you first enter it.  It is important that you ask good questions (and lots of them) to learn all that you need to know.  Bring your pen.  Please be sure to write down the answers you seek.  Attorneys, paralegals and other staff members really don’t mind answering your questions, but they would prefer that you take an active interest in their responses.  If you always keep a written record of each new thing you learn, you will have a terrific source of reference material to draw from in the future.  You should also compile a list of all attorney numbers, log in information, vendor contact information and other helpful tidbits.  The best paralegals typically compile tons of information, articles, research, and forms which they keep readily accessible, often in a binder, for future reference.  You should do the same.  Start yourself a paralegal binder today!    

4.  “I don’t have time to do this the right way – right now.”  Wrong!  All the time is the time to do things the “right” way.  There is no wrong or bad time.  As a paralegal, you get bombarded with assignments, deadlines, projects, and an endless barrage of work requests from attorneys, but you should always strive to do things the right way, even when you’re short on time and when your office starts to resemble the Library of Congress.  It will take you more time to resolve the issues you will inherently create by not doing things right from the onset.  You can’t unscramble an egg, no matter how hard you try.  The same can also be said of a major mistake or shortcoming that is made due to a perceived lack of time on your part.  You do have time and if you don’t, you’ll just have to make time.  Don’t force yourself to navigate a retroactive minefield later, as you attempt to deal with your past shortcomings and oversights.  Make it a habit to do things the right way – every day.

5.  Hello paralegal auditor!  Let’s face it, we base our opinions of other people based on how they present themselves.  We assess their verbiage, physical demeanor, attire, and anything else we can “dig up” about them.  We make judgments, and sometimes harsh ones.  Employers are no different.  A professional audit may be necessary, especially if you are having difficulty securing employment or making your way up the paralegal ladder.    

Brace yourself – this means you may need to promptly go re-work that Facebook or LinkedIn profile!  Employers want to see a poised, polished and professional individual.  I would recommend that you approach one person who is outside your “friends” circle.  Seek out a neutral, candid, professional person and ask him or her to “view” you through a professional lense.  This “auditor” should peruse your social networking sites, resume and cover letter.  You must get your legal house in order.  If in doubt, conduct a paralegal audit today.       

6.  Don’t row the boat alone.  If you’re riding on the “SS Paralegal” all alone, you are making a major career misstep.  Everyone needs a support group.  I am not talking about just having “a mentor,” but an entire paralegal support system in place.  If you are working in a small firm or in a rural area, networking can present issues.  I’ve certainly been there.  However, you can still find a supportive paralegal infrastructure, in spite of your firm size or location.  There are plenty of great paralegal forums you can join on LinkedIn.  There is no shortage of friendly, experienced paralegals that are willing to help you.  You simply need to be open to meeting them and approaching them (yes, you don’t already know them, but you need to reach out to them) for additional support.  It is important that you extend an olive branch to others paralegals. Surround yourself with happy, positive, successful paralegals and build a social infrastructure.  Social media allows you no excuses!  Go find yourself a support group!   

There are also several outstanding paralegal blogs you can follow on the net.  A simple search for “Top Paralegal Blogs” on Google and the blogosphere will be at your fingertips!  You can check out my social forum, The Paralegal Society TM at: www.theparalegalsociety.wordpress.com.  Put action in place of your excuses for not having a paralegal support group.  No excuses!  There’s no better time than the present to build your paralegal empire. 

7.  One thing they never taught you in paralegal school: The poker face.  I perked your curiosity with the title, didn’t I?  The poker face is a critical paralegal trait.  There will be many days when your boss will assign you a task and: (1) you have no idea what the task even “is” and are utterly clueless about how to perform it; or (2) it seems impossible (and perhaps it is). There you’ll be, sitting at your desk, gazing up at your boss in a state of sheer paralegal bewilderment, as your heart begins to palpitate, you feel your face go flush with paranoia, and your mind races with thoughts of staging a paralegal revolt.  In that very moment, you will feel like a claustrophobic person being shoved into a tic-tac box, while deprived of oxygen.  It happens…and often.  There will also be occasions when your supervising attorney will irritate or annoy you in some fashion.  In these scenarios, it is imperative that you maintain a poker face.  You must learn to harness your frustration, stress and anger because you will encounter these emotions, accompanied with chaos, on a regular basis.  You must appear calm under pressure.  An Emmy nomination in the category “dramatic and frustrated paralegal of the year” will only win you diminished respect in the eyes of your peers and supervising attorney.  You must master the poker face.

I was once sent by my attorney to a site inspection with our expert witness and five (yes – five!) attorneys from other law firms, namely the bigger ones in town.  He did not want to attend, so I, at his request, found myself at an apartment site inspection.  I was in a small apartment with probably 10 people total — attorneys, our expert and a defense expert.  Was that a bit intimidating?  Absolutely.  Could they tell I was intimidated?  No.  I was the “Queen of Cool.”  I had to take charge of the situation.  They had to ask me, as the Plaintiff’s representative that was present, if they could go ahead and remove balcony railings prior to actually doing it.  Having no clue, I confidently turned to our expert and asked if he needed to do anything beforehand.  The poker face was in full effect.  I was there to get the job done and I did so in a confident, poised and professional manner.  Now, secretly, I may have wanted to hurl myself off of that 3rd story balcony, but the only person who knew that was me!  You must use a poker face when the need arises.  It is a professional requirement.   

 8.  The only person you should be competing with is yourself.  I cannot stress this point enough.  Edward Gibbon, in a profound and eloquent quote, stated: “We improve ourselves by victories over ourself.  There must be contests, and you must win.”  Don’t worry about the rest of the paralegals.  They aren’t your problem.  They may, however, become a part of your solution.  Do not view others around you as “ the competition.”  This is a personal and professional mistake.  You need to realize that the only person you are ever really competing with is yourself.  If you want to become better, focus on you.  Don’t worry about what the mean paralegal in the cubicle across the hall is doing (or not doing) and the same holds true of the top shelf paralegal down the hall — although you should be watching him or her like a hawk to learn from him or her.  You need to befriend all the people you can throughout your paralegal journey.  Although people can be personally competitive by nature, this is not necessary.  Your biggest competition is you.  You can get to where you want to me by doing what you need to do.  This is all about your personal evolution, so focus on y-o-u. 

9.  Master the art of legal triage.  One day, Julie Weinkauf  (of IPE) and I engaged in an e-mail exchange.  We touch base from time to time regarding writing topics and other legal endeavors.  It was a Monday and Julie was “fresh” back from vacation and completely overwhelmed by the multitude of e-mails, stockpile of phone messages and stacks of work that awaited her.  We can all certainly relate to “that” feeling, can’t we?  It was on that day that Julie shared the concept of “legal triage” with me.  She refers to Mondays as her “legal triage” days.  I loved this concept so much that I wanted to share it with you. 

Merriam Webster defines legal triage as: “1(a): the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients [clients] and especially battle and disaster victims [clients and attorneys] according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors. (b): the sorting of patients [clients and attorneys] as in an emergency room [your office], according to the urgency of their need for care.  2. The assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.”  Sound familiar?  The words “spot on” come to mind!      

In all honesty, I feel like my legal triage days occur on all days that end in “y.”  As a Paralegal, you must constantly assess tasks and deadlines and realign your priorities, as required by each and every “legal trauma” that comes your way.  This can be accomplished by following: The 5 A’s:

Approach & Acknowledge– (1) You are made aware of the pending assignment, project or crisis; and (2) you acknowledge it;

Assessment – You must determine what the task or crisis actually “is” and what all it will entail;

Analysis – Ask yourself: Is this task, project or crisis of a critical or urgent nature or can it wait?  For how long?  If it can wait, then you will need to reprioritize it with all of your other work; and

Action – Take action to resolve the crisis or complete the task at the appropriate time. 

Legal triage is a constant, daily struggle in the paralegal realm.  It is absolutely imperative that you become an expert in this area.  You must learn to properly assess priorities, make informed decisions, multi-task, and get the job done.  If you aren’t sure how to rank your work priorities, approach a helpful coworker or your supervising attorney for guidance.  Over time, you will learn how to properly prioritize your assignments and master the art of legal triage if you follow the 5 A’s.  (Full credit to Julie Weinkauf of IPE for the legal triage concept and her generous permission to share it in this article).  

10.  Become “who” you want to be.  I know this may sound like a tacky motivational slogan, but it’s true!  You need to figure out what kind of paralegal you want to become.  People are created.  We are all engaged in a constant state of personal evolution – or at least we should be.  You can think in terms of practice areas you want to work in, enhancing you skill set, becoming actively involved in professional organizations, landing a gig as a professional writer or speaker, increasing your knowledge base by attending CLE’s, webinars, paralegal conferences and other events…the list goes on and on.    

Who is it you want to become?  It is easier than one might think to transform into the person you want to be professionally.  It’s basically two steps: (1) Make that determination as to who you want to become; and (2) Seek out all necessary people, resources, groups and means over time to make it happen!  You will find that most organizations and legal groups want new members and are especially in search of “active” members.  Most paralegals like to network with their peers!  You need to formally reach out and expend the necessary effort to actively involve yourself in all areas in which you seek professional growth.  Figure out who you want to be!  We’re all waiting for you to reach out to us…

Bonus Tip:  Build bridges and Don’t Kick at Others From the Top of the Mountain!  Once you make your way to the top of that coveted paralegal ladder, do your fellow paralegals and the profession all a favor – don’t kick at others down below!  Paralegals who succeed typically take one of two approaches: (1) they help other paralegals (especially the newer paralegals) because they remember what it’s like to be new and they want to give back; or (2) they kick at others from the top of the mountain because they’ve finally “made it” and feel inclined to “act” like they’re a big deal.  I implore you to take the first approach.  Reach out to others.  This is a fabulous profession and most of us working in it really do love what we do.  We want to convey a warm and professional image for our professional — so don’t kick at others from the top of the paralegal mountain! 

Jamie Collins is a senior level litigation paralegal with the firm Yosha Cook Shartzer & Tisch in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she handles predominantly personal injury and wrongful death cases. She is the Founder and Owner of The Paralegal Society™ (www.theparalegalsociety.wordpress.com), a social forum created to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals. She is a Program Review Member for the Institute for Paralegal Education and a Panel Member for the Paralegal Program at Marian University. Jamie writes a popular column entitled KNOW Business for KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals and is often featured as a guest blogger on The Estrin Report. She also works as a paralegal subject matter expert consultant for a leading educational institution. Jamie earned her Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies from Ivy Tech State College in 2003, and continues to work toward completion of her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Marian University. She enjoys providing mentorship to paralegals that are new to the legal field. Please feel free to reach out to her via e-mail with your comments or questions at: jamietheparalegal@yahoo.com, or you may find her on Twitter at @TPSparalegals.

If you missed Part I of this two part series entitled, “Top Ten Pointers for New Paralegals Climbing the Paralegal Ladder,” click to read it in full: cToolsOfTheTradeMay2011.htm.

Institute for Paralegal Education • 1218 McCann Drive • Altoona, WI 54720 • © 2011, Institute for Paralegal Education, a division of NBI, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

___________________________________________________________

This is Sami talking, er, writing rather: I’d like to thank both the Institute for Paralegal Education and guest author Jamie Paye Collins, whom I consider both an author and now a new friend. Please visit Jamie’s website The Paralegal Society and you will find many paralegals willing to share their knowledge so that all may benefit, especially the clients.
 
Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com

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How to apply for–and win–Social Security disability benefits

What happens if, God forbid, you suddenly find yourself disabled and unable to work? You assume that, because you have been paying into the system throughout your working years that will be able to receive disability benefits from the government. After all, that’s what those withholdings are for, right?

Is it just as simple as applying for federal Social Security disability, and begin receiving your earned disability checks from the government? Not so fast, I’m afraid, as statistically up to a staggering 2/3 of claims for disability are rejected outright. The key, then, is to keep applying, keep your claim floating down the administrative chain, and have plenty of medical records to back up your claim so that when you get to the appeal stage before an administrative law judge, the judge will agree that yes, you are in fact disabled, and also find that you are unable to do any type of alternative “substantial gainful activity.”

By the way, about 85% are denied on Reconsideration — the second stage of the administrative appeal process. But about 50% are approved at the administrative law judge hearing level — the third level the appeals process. The difference? Most claimants by that point have someone representing them, helping them to jump through the bureaucratic hoops. AND THIS PERSON CAN BE AN ATTORNEY OR A PARALEGAL. Obviously, a paralegal would be able to work for you to earn your benefits for much less, so that is something to consider. Regardless, it would be prudent to have someone knowledgeable about the system to help you navigate it, as cumbersome as it is.

The information presented here is based on actual observations – and is not legal advice – that are made from personal experience. This author holds an advanced national paralegal certification in Social Security disability law, and has worked on these types of cases. This is one area of exception in that paralegals may represent claimants in the hearing process. Because it’s before an administrative law judge, it’s considered a “quasi-tribunal,” and thus does not operate under such stringent restrictions as one would normally encounter in a courtroom. The process, however, is no quick, easy task in order to procure your benefits, but you can get them. The key here is tenacity.

There’s an old joke floating around the disability industry that says if you are well enough to pick up a pencil to fill out the application, then you’re not disabled. While this is not exactly accurate, it does correctly portray the inherent difficulties in getting approved. It’s an extremely stringent system, laid out in codified law, administrative lawstatutory “grids,” and the SS Administration’s medical “Listings.”  It’s a cumbersome five-step sequential process to evaluate disability claims, and if at any step of the way, you do not meet their criteria, it’s possible you’ll be summarily booted out of the system. If you are truly disabled, then you have the right to the benefits that you’ve paid into during your productive working years.

The intent here is not to explain the laborious five-step sequential evaluation process, but rather to guide you on the path to your appeal(s).

Social Security was initially signed into law in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of his “New Deal.” Through amendments and new legislation, the program today encompasses retirement, disability, SSI, and survivor’s benefits. Disability is actually found under two programs, both located within the United States Code: One is known as Title II, commonly known as Social Security Disability, and is essentially an “insurance” program; and one under Title XVI, known as Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, and is a “welfare” program. The focus here is on the former, but you can find out more about the latter on the Social Security Administration’s web-site here (the SSA actually has an excellent, very helpful website, and it’d behoove you to thoroughly peruse it).

Title II is called an “insurance” program because, unlike Title XVI, its benefits are derived from your taxes paid into the system over your working life. If you do not have enough “quarters coverage,” you will not be eligible to receive benefits under this program, in which case you might try applying for Title XVI, which, as a “welfare” program, is not based on money paid into the system, and is actually based on a lack of assets. (There is a link to the SSI program at the end of this article.)

Chances are, if you are like the 2/3 of most initial claimants, you will apply for your SS disability benefits and receive an initial rejection letter. In this letter will be instructions on how to appeal. The sad fact is most folks “go away” at this point, but you should not. Get your claim on the appeal track – follow the instructions on your initial rejection letter carefully, and keep in mind you have just 60 days in which to appeal. If you do not appeal within the time allotted, you will be forced to start your claim process from scratch.

You will typically receive a letter from the SSA titled “Notice of Disapproved Claim”; a “Notice of Reconsideration”; or a “Notice of Federal Reviewing Official Decision.” Your time constraints meter starts ticking at this time, so make careful note of all due dates for appeals. The SSA lists the appeals stages thusly:

  • Reconsideration;
  • Administrative law judge hearing;
  • Appeals Council review; and
  • Federal court.

Most cases will never see federal court (which is possible only after all administrative law appeals are exhausted); some will see the Appeals Council Review; but the majority of cases will be decided at the administrative law judge hearing level.

When you receive your initial denial, the first step is to immediately file a Request for Reconsideration. You can find that form here.  Remember that you have 60 days in which to appeal, and your request must be in writing. If and when you receive a denial of the Reconsideration, follow the instructions to appeal again, also keeping mind of time constraints. To request an appeal before an administrative law judge, use Form HA-501.  It’s imperative that you appeal these initial rejections as soon as possible, and that you procure the necessary medical evidence to back up your claim. This cannot be stressed enough: you must have the medical evidence to prove up your claim of a medical disability.

The hearing stage is an in-person hearing held before an administrative law judge. This is where most cases are ultimately decided. In Houston, the hearing will be held at the Office of Adjudication and Review (known as ODAR), located at 9945 Bissonnet Street (there is also a location downtown); you may also Google your own city to see where your local ODAR office is located. You may have a representative with you at this hearing, and it’s strongly suggested that you do. There will most likely be testifying experts at the hearing, such as a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and a vocational expert (for an excellent explanation of what a vocational expert is at the hearing to do, please go here). These experts are not against you per se as this hearing is not adversarial, and nobody is there to represent the SSA, but they will go by what your medical evidence suggests and documents. That is why the medical records are such an integral part of a successful claim.

Disability impairments must meet the SSA’s definition of disability:

What We Mean By Disability

 The definition of disability under Social Security is different from other programs. Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

Disability‘ under Social Security is based on your inability to work. We consider you disabled under Social Security rules if:

• You cannot do work that you did before;
• We decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
• Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability. Social Security program rules assume that working families have access to other resources to provide support during periods of short-term disabilities, including workers’ compensation, insurance, savings, and investments. 

And here’s a final tip worth repeating (again): Make sure you have plenty of documented medical evidence. You’ll need a diagnosis meeting the listings, and you’ll need the medical records to shore things up. Without it, you will likely be denied … and denied … and then denied. Remember to keep appealing to the next stage, and good luck!

For more info: I highly recommend getting an attorney or other knowledgeable representative to represent you during this bureaucratic maze. You can find a list of social security disability attorneys in all states here.

***Look for my complete article regarding this topic coming out in Paralegal Today soon.

Please see related articles:

Top 10 Guidelines for Paralegals Working in Social Security Disability Law

 

Quick Tips: Working on Social Security Disability Cases

 

**If you are low-income and unable to afford an attorney – though most if not all disability attorneys will take your case, provided it’s a winnable one, for a contingency fee – you can try a legal services organization, such as Lone Star Legal Aid (in Texas), or Google for a legal aid organization in your state or county.
 
For more info:
 
One of my favorite SS Disability web-sites is Severe.net
 
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Please check out my series on discovery:

What is discovery, and what are interrogatories?

What is a discovery subpoena?

Discovery II: What are requests for disclosure? 

Federal discovery: Initial disclosures are automatic under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Discovery III: What are requests for admissions?

Discovery IV: What are requests for production?

Discovery V: Depositions–What is a deposition on written questions, or DWQ?

 Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal at an appellate law firm and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, and has earned six specialty certifications since 2007: Discovery; Trial Practice; Contracts Management; Social Security Disability Law; and Entity & Individual Medical Liability. She has worked as a law firm Webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science, graduating summa cum laude. Sami interned with Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center’s Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook and e-mail her with questions, comments, or ideas at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com

 

 

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