Looking back, 2023 has been a great year for the Heartland Paralegal Association! We had a full slate of community outreach projects. In the spring, we worked on building a ramp with HopeBuilders for an east Kansas City homeowner that made it possible for her to stay in her home. This summer we helped out at Flourish Furnishings, a not-for-profit furniture bank which helps the housing insecure make homes.
We had some great CLE presentations: Bradley Farris taught us about real estate and the sticky legal scenarios that can come up in real estate transactions. Jennifer Kempf helped us navigate the line between being a useful paralegal and being guilty of the Unauthorized Practice of Law. The Fall Seminar had a fabulous slate of speakers including Jerry Bell (Elder Law and planning for retirement); Anne Bradley (civil rights in public education), and Darryl Burton who shared his harrowing story of being wrongfully convicted by an indifferent criminal justice system and incarcerated for decades in an aggressively hostile penal system before being acquitted.
We weren't all work and no play! We had two fantastic socials: the Winter Social in February and our Summer Social in July. It's been great to get out and catch up with old friends and meet new people face-to-face.
And we are working on an equally spectacular 2024. We're lining up some great speakers to teach us about all sorts of relevant and timely topics. Keep your eyes open for upcoming announcements on those events.
We are also in full swing starting the New Year off right with our Winter Social on January 30. Join us at the Brew Lab for appetizers and drinks and a chance to meet your fellow paralegals!
Register Here! 2024 Winter Social
We are also presenting our annual fundraiser donations to the Alzheimer's Association. It's not too late to donate. If you are a member, you may donate online Annual Fundraiser Donation. You may also send your donations to Kate Stuart (c/o Horn Aylward & Bandy, LLC, 2600 Grand Blvd., Ste. 1100, Kansas City, MO 64108). Or you may bring your donations to the event. We look forward to seeing you there!
Here's to a sociable and connected 2024!
A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a colleague and I mentioned that I am a fan of the single space between sentences (rather than two spaces), because I can use the find and replace function to change two spaces to one, but “finding and replacing” one space with two is slightly more problematic (even finding a period followed two spaces and replacing it with a period followed by one space is problematic). My colleague was surprised because she had never realized that you could find an replace the number of spaces. She thought that the find and replace function was restricted only to words or alpha-numeric combinations. And I thought, how many people don’t know this?
It's true that you can find and replace almost anything using the find and replace function in a Word document: text, numbers, two spaces with one space, ASCII quotes with curvy quotes, a hard return for a paragraph return.
Other functions I am a big fan of in Word are the ruler to set my paragraph return indentations, the line spacing function in the “Paragraph” pop up menu; and the orphan/widow function also in the “Paragraph” pop up menu.
First, I just love being able to set the paragraph indent tab on the ruler and then not have to think about it. Second, I love to have standard paragraphs that are double spaced, but to have the block quotes be single spaced with the 12 font gap at the end of them without the extra paragraph return. When I click the “¶” button, I want my formatting to be as clean as possible without a lot of extra spaces or paragraph symbols.
Another thing that helps this cause is, of course, the widow/orphan function. Have you ever wanted to keep your signature block all together or the title of the section with the first paragraph of that section? Well, the widow/orphan control is your friend. In the “Paragraph” pop up menu, it is under the “Line and Page Breaks” tab. If there’s a section title that you would like to keep with the section, you put your cursor at the section title and from the menu, you click “Keep with next” and suddenly you don’t have to do anything to keep the section title with the first paragraph of the section, Word automatically keeps them together. If there’s a signature block and you want to keep all the lines together, choose the entire signature block and from the menu, chose “Keep lines” together, and voila. You never have to worry about your signature block breaking across a page break again.
There are a lot of things about Word that I find frustrating and difficult to use. If you use the Table of Contents function, or do any sort of outline-type formatting, you know the pain of trying to get text to automatically format, or conversely to get Word to stop automatically formatting text. But sometimes, Word gets it right, and these four functions are simple automatic formatting functions that make my copy-editing heart go “squee.”
Today, I want to discuss search terms. In my position, as a civil litigation paralegal, I spend a lot of time searching for all sorts of information on people, companies, issues, news stories. You name it, I’ve probably searched for it.
While each of these types of searches requires their own set of skills, for the most part assembling the terms for the search is fairly standard.
Now, we’ve all taken the class, watched a webinar, or listened to a software developer’s presentation about assembling search terms, using connectors, using each and every one of those “Advanced Search” features. However, I find that so often the complicated searches only really work if you already know what you’re looking for. If, for instance, you know there is an email sent on a specific date, from a specific person, with a particular re: line, then these search terms and connectors can be invaluable timesavers. But for the general or preliminary searches, advanced searches can screen out relevant information resulting in less productive “hits.”
I find the fewer search terms I use, the better. Most of the time when using one or two words, instead of a whole math equation of connectors and unique identifiers, I find information that broadens my understanding of the case. More importantly, it is not uncommon for me to find information that is relevant and pertinent that would have been screened out by a narrower search.
So, by all means, learn how to use connectors, explore the advanced search options, but don’t feel tied to them. Remember that vague and broad have the potential to be exponentially more valuable than specific and narrow. Even if the broader search is too broad, reviewing a few of the results can give you useful terms to use to narrow down the search.
by: Kate Stuart
I’ve been a paralegal for 12 years now, and for a little over 11 of those, I have worked in civil litigation. But until 2020, I had only ever actually attended 1 trial, and that was a bench trial. In 2020 and 2021, I had 4 trials, all of them were bench trials and 3 of them happened over either BlueJeans or Zoom.
2022 was my breakout year for jury trials. I attended 2 jury trials; one of the was a 4-day trial and the other was a 5-day trial. As I navigated my way through this process, I thought that you might find what I’ve learned useful.
I have three “pro tips.” First, be organized. Be organized. The attorney that you are supporting will be working 18+ hours a day. They will be constantly bombarded with questions and thoughts and interruptions by the client; they will be trying to keep up with the witnesses and the evidence presented by the other side. When they ask for something, they may not even be super coherent. Do what you can to help them out. Organization will make your job easier; it will make their job easier.
Second, test your equipment. If you are going to be using any tech at the court house, ignore the fact that the equipment you are using is the exact same equipment you used the last time and that the set up is the exact same set up you used last time. Test your equipment. In courthouses like the Federal courthouses, or like in the new Johnson County, Kansas courthouse, there are multiple options for presenting exhibits, and these options are best explored before the jury is sitting there waiting for the exhibit to come up. I know that this is a rookie mistake, and therefore, I’m sure it should be emphasized all the more.
My third “pro tip”: prioritize researching jurors. Practice researching people, just random people. Know the ends and outs of looking people up on CaseNet, Pacer, Kansas District Court Public Access site, through a search engine and, of course, on as many social media sites as possible. Know how to use these sites as efficiently as possible. Juror lists usually come down at the last minute and you have minimal time to do any research on these random citizens that will decide the outcome of your client’s case. But don’t stop when the jury is selected; spend some time getting to know the public presence of your jurors. Again, this group of people will be in charge of determining the outcome of the case. It’s only polite to make this experience as relatable as possible to them.
These are my “pro tips” for successfully navigating a jury trial. Feel free to leave your own pro tips in the comments.
As paralegals we will often be asked to present information in written format, whether it be a quick email or a more formal memo or something in between. I cannot stress enough the importance of clean, concise writing; the use of good, readable font; and copy editing.
A memo, properly, should hark back to those 5-paragraph essays we all wrote in the seventh grade. They provide a solid structure and keep tight boundaries on the scope of the writing.
As Dale Carnegie said, tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said. More than anything, particularly in the context of a memo, this lets your boss know the key conclusion right up front.
Make your memo easy to read. Make sure the font you are using is clean and crisp. A year or so ago, there was a big buzz to make Garamond the new standard font. Garamond is a pretty font, but it lacks crispness and is a little difficult to read for long periods of time. This is something to keep in mind, particularly if you’re a little younger. The older people in your office are going to have problems reading certain fonts. Also, remember is this is a motion to be filed, some courts have rules regarding which font types are acceptable.
And last, though not least, copy edit. Don’t just copy edit your spelling and grammar, but pay attention to your spacing; are you using the same type of justification along all your paragraphs; are you using n-dashes or m-dashes; are your ellipses all the same (either … or . . .)? These are little things that your boss may not even notice, but if they do notice then it will be an annoyance and detract from your message.
You know that satisfying feeling when you’ve crafted the perfect email? It says all you want it to say and so eloquently. You send it to your attorney. You wait for a response. You wait some more for a response.
Then you break down and ask your attorney about the email, and they haven’t even read it. “Oh,” they say, “why don’t you just tell me what it says,” they say.
I feel your pain. The desire to sputter and protest. All that time! All those beautiful words! Wasted on a troglodyte who apparently doesn’t read.
Alas! Attorneys are never going to read the long, eloquent, beautifully-crafted email. When it comes to the people who have all the attention span of a five year old on a sugar high, short emails rule.
Here are a few tips to increase the chances that your boss will pay attention to, and maybe even read, your email:
Tip #1: Put the most important information at the very top.
Attorneys are not going to wade through groundwork information to get to the nut. Even if the groundwork is essential for understanding the issue. However, if they read the important information, they may go on to read the rest of the email. Maybe. If it’s not too long and is in easily digestible chunks.
Tip #2: Short sentences. The fewer the words, the better.
Tip #3: Short paragraphs. The more white space, the better.
No matter how much I love the beautiful words and even more the beautiful sentences, one essential key to effective communication is to know your audience. When your audience is an attorney?
Hone your verbal communication skills.
Recently, I read Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman.
Hirshman did a nice job fleshing out the women’s rights movement as a backdrop for O’Connor’s and Ginsberg’s experiences and tying that context to their opinions and their work at the Supreme Court.
Hirshman covers O’Connor and Ginsberg from their early lives and education through their time on the Supreme Court particularly in the context of the work they did individually and together on the Court. Of course, O’Connor and Ginsberg were not very much alike. O’Connor grew up on a ranch in the West; Ginsberg grew up in a city on the East Coast. O’Connor was conservative; Ginsberg was liberal. O’Connor spent years working in the Arizona legislature, hardly “practicing” law at all. Ginsberg worked in academia and practiced law at the ACLU.
What I loved most about this book was the way that, though Hirshman was obviously a bigger fan of Ginsberg, she understood and showed that O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court was just as beneficial to women. Hirshman discussed the ways in which O’Connor helped women’s rights just by being a voice at the table. The primary purpose of the book was to show the ways in which Ginsberg and O’Connor were essential to the progress of women’s rights, and equality in general, during their time on the Court.
If you’re a fan of Ginsberg, there wasn’t a whole lot of new material here. If you’re a fan of O’Connor, this book might be something of a disappointment. Hirshman obviously struggled with O’Connor’s legacy. But I would say, it’s still worth reading such an insightful and illuminating discourse on the legacy of the first two women on the Supreme Court.
Aren’t we sick to death of new software and the constant bombardment of scary clickbait headlines? Headlines such as: Your Client’s Data Is Under Attack – Fight Back; How to Protect Your Data; 10 Ways You Are Making Yourself Vulnerable to Hackers!
Wave after wave of new software, patches and updates and the latest rounds of multi-factor authentication. I hate multi-factor authentication. The sheer volume of texts and/or emails is enough to make me want to run away screaming.
But alas and alack, here we are in the information age. We are not just bombarded by new software; we are in a constant state of software transitions and upgrades. Even the old software seems new as the way a software program works or where tools or functions are located is changed.
Additionally, in the past year, we have all gone through crash courses on Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms. Personally, I did two trials by Bluejeans. We fileshare; we encrypt; we program. As paralegals, the bulk of this technological work falls to us.
It falls to me to know how to use the programs we use, and how to teach the attorneys to use the programs we use. I’m the one who knows how the Zoom conferences work; I’m the one testing the limits of the Bluejeans platform. I’m the one who has done the training on the new document review software.
I am the one going through the online tutorials. Tutorials for both new software, such as: Zoom Tutorials, and BlueJeans Tutorials. And tried and true software, such as: Microsoft Office Tutorials. Tutorials can be a paralegal’s best friend, answering questions we didn’t even know we had and showing us better, easier ways to do things we thought we already knew how to do.
What I have learned in my time working for a law firm is that being able to work with, learn and use new programs, or upgraded old programs, exponentially increases my value to firm. This means that no matter how much I want to pull my hair out, I volunteer to be at the front of the line when it comes to software demos, trials, training sessions, and tutorials.
Today, I’m going to discuss court rules. When you work in civil litigation, like I do, and when you practice in two different states on both a state and federal level, doublechecking the rules becomes second nature. But, as I learned recently, searching out just the local rules is not always enough.
A couple of months ago, I made two mistakes that involved instructions that were not in the local rules. The first mistake I made was to submit the proposed Scheduling Order in the wrong manner. The local rules of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri don’t say anything about the way to submit a Scheduling Order. However, on the Western District of Missouri Local Rules webpage, under the Procedures tab there is a “CM/ECF Administration Guide” which instructs that unlike other proposed orders, which are submitted to chambers in Word, Proposed Scheduling Orders are actually filed through the CM/ECF system. There is no real way of knowing this without looking at the Administration Guide.
The second mistake I made was also in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, but it was in a different case which was a minor relief. I hate making mistakes, and I certainly hate making multiple mistakes. This time it involved the MAP order. MAP is the Western District of Missouri’s “Mediation and Assessment Program.” Every civil case that’s filed in this District is subject to an order that is entered shortly after the Complaint is filed. This order compels early mediation sometimes through a Judge and sometimes parties are allowed to agree upon an outside mediator from an approved list. The order compels mediation by a certain date, and in this case we wanted to extend that deadline. So what did I do? I filed a motion for extension. However, in the MAP Order it clearly states that if the parties would like to request an extension to mediate then they have need to contact the MAP Director. Oh! if only I had read the order.
Anyone who works in civil litigation knows that the rules of each jurisdiction are many and various, but we should also remember that the local rules do not always contain all the pertinent information.
We all do ourselves a huge favor if we take the time to familiarize ourselves with the websites of the courts we are working in and with the phone numbers and emails to the clerk’s offices, to ensure we are actually in compliance.
Hey, everybody! My name is Kate Stuart. I’m going to be taking over the HPA blog, and I thought I would start off with an introduction before we jump into the interesting stuff. I got my B.A. in English from UMKC in 2004, and I graduated from JCCC’s Paralegal Program in 2012. For about 12 years, I was self-employed, but with the 2008 downturn in the economy, I found myself in dire need of a career change. And the thing is, I had been trying to change careers for years by that point. The list of careers I had contemplated and discarded is endless. But now it was crunch time and I really needed to decide. I’m in my car one sunny afternoon, and it comes to me, out of the blue, I should be a paralegal.
Finally! A career choice I could get behind. I was so excited. I did some research and in the fall of 2010, I entered JCCC’s Paralegal Program. About a month later, I had a job at the Hollis Law Firm in Prairie Village working on medical products liability claims. In the summer of 2011, I was offered a job at Horn Aylward and Bandy (HAB) and I have been there ever since.
HAB is a civil litigation firm mainly focusing on medical malpractice defense work. My team however works in class action and complex litigation. We also have a strong construction law team. Most of my posts will be about civil litigation paralegals and tips and tricks for the work we do, but if there’s a particular topic you would like me to discussed, let me know and I will do my best to accommodate.
I’m excited to be here and I look forward to any feedback you care to send my way.