Tracy Mosz, ACP is a certified eDiscovery project manager with Brewster & De Angelis, where she has been since...
The Paralegal Voice covers the latest issues and trends in the world of paralegals and legal assistants. Host Vicki...
Litigation paralegals are an essential cog in the trial machine, but handling this responsibility often comes with a large amount of stress. In this episode of the Paralegal Voice, host Vicki Voisin talks to Tracy Mosz about her experience as a litigation paralegal, including handling the stress and maintaining all the necessary documents for trial. Together they discuss keeping an organized trial notebook, creating demonstratives, and using technology.
Tracy Mosz, ACP is a certified eDiscovery project manager with Brewster & De Angelis where she has been since March 2011.
The Paralegal Voice
The Life of a Litigation Paralegal
Intro: Welcome to The Paralegal Voice, where you hear the latest issues and trends in the world of paralegals and legal assistants by one of the best-known paralegals in the industry, Vicki Voisin, a paralegal for more than 20 years. Vicki is dedicated to helping legal professionals reach their goals. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Vicki Voisin: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Paralegal Voice here on Legal Talk Network. I’m Vicki Voisin, the paralegal mentor and host of The Paralegal Voice. I’m a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal. I publish a newsletter titled ‘Paralegal Strategies’ and I’m also the co-author of ‘The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success’. You’ll find more information at HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com” paralegalmentor.com.
My guest today is Tracy Mosz, ACP. Tracy is a certified eDiscovery project manager with Brewster & De Angelis in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she has been since March 2011.
She graduated from Oklahoma State University with a BS degree in Political Science. She’s been on the Board of Directors for the Tulsa Area Paralegal Association since 2007 and is currently serving as president.
She’s also served as TAPA’s NALA liaison and treasurer. She is a paralegal section charter member of the Tulsa County Bar Association and is on the Paralegal Advisory Board for the University of Tulsa. Welcome Tracy.
Tracy Mosz: Thank You Vicki.
Vicki Voisin: So excited to have you on today. It was about the time I was starting going out to speak for my paralegal mentor business sort of, and you invited me to Tulsa, and that was just a great event, and I thank you so much for that.
Tracy Mosz: Oh, it was wonderful. Yeah, we enjoyed it.
Vicki Voisin: Before we begin, our sponsors should be recognized and thanked. NALA, a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education and professional certification programs for paralegals at HYPERLINK “http://www.nala.org” nala.org. NALA is the force in the promotion and the advancement of the paralegal profession.
This podcast is also sponsored by Boston University. Boston University offers an online certificate in Paralegal Studies. If you’re seeking a professional credential or just want to further develop your skills, Boston University provides an affordable high-quality 14-week program. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalonline.bu.edu” paralegalonline.bu.edu for this information.
And our next sponsor is ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted pre-screened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high-volume serves, embrace technology, and understand the litigation process. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.serve-now.com” serve-now.com to learn more.
The goal of The Paralegal Voice is to discuss a wide range of topics important to the paralegal industry and share with you leading trends, significant developments and resources you’ll find helpful in your career and your everyday job. Guests are usually included to help explore timely topics, and for that reason, I’ve invited Tracy Mosz, ACP, to be with me today, and our topic is “The Life of a Litigation Paralegal”.
Now Tracy, your article titled ‘A Litigation Paralegal’s Roadmap to Trial’ which was published in the May-June issue of NALA’s ‘Facts & Findings’ was just outstanding and it included many tips for paralegals involved in litigation and preparing for trial. And I knew that listeners of The Paralegal Voice would be interested in hearing more about the life of a litigation paralegal, but first, I’d like to hear more about your journey to becoming a litigation paralegal.
Tracy Mosz: Yeah, when I started my career as a paralegal, I worked for IBM first in the corporate world, and then I went and worked for an immigration lawyer. This was in Los Angeles and it went from immigration into litigation and never went back.
I thrived in the litigation environment, I liked the stress and the high energy that it takes to be a trial paralegal and worked a lot of big cases and high-profile cases since I’ve been working for Clark Brewster, and I just love it.
Vicki Voisin: Well, you’ve made an interesting process because you have worked in the corporate world and you do prefer to be in a law firm, so I like hearing that and I like what you’ve learned along the way. Tracy, did you do any paralegal training besides getting your bachelor’s degree?
Tracy Mosz: Well, this was back in the early ’80s and the degree was actually Pre-Law/Paralegal, so I always thought I would go to law school, so it was political science predominant but it was called Pre-Law/Paralegal back in the day. I did take the certification test until 2007.
Vicki Voisin: Well, tell me about being a certified eDiscovery project manager, how did you accomplish that?
Tracy Mosz: Yeah, we’ve been hearing about eDiscovery for years as a matter of fact with TAPA, my local association, we’ve had eDiscovery presentations ad nauseam for years and there was always this threat of eDiscovery but nobody was doing it, nobody was actually, it was just a threat, but nobody was getting trained or getting certified, and then I realized now it’s here, and so the lawyers I work for in this firm said, somebody in the firm has to get certified, we think it should be you.
So it was about a six-month program with the organization for legal professionals, it’s the certification company I chose and like I said, it was six months and I’ve saved all the material down to our online server, and so, it’s available to all the lawyers here, and that just gave me the opportunity to go to the eDiscovery meetings with the lawyers and be the voice when it comes to how to search for email and how to search for text messages and all eDiscovery. So it’s been an invaluable certification for me.
Vicki Voisin: Right, that sounds really interesting and you are right about the threat of eDiscovery and I think we all just hit our heads in the sand and hoped that it would go away, but it’s not going to; so good for you.
Now I’d like to know, just tell our listeners what is the life of a litigation paralegal like?
Tracy Mosz: At first, it’s discovery, discovery, discovery, so that’s what I feel like my specialty is the discovery process, so as we get the documents in discovery then I keep them organized, and so for instance, this morning there was a final exhibit list due and the lawyer at workforce said, you know, Tracy need to finalize that list. It took me like ten minutes because I keep everything organized from the day the document enters the firm. So then, it’s really easy to organize for trial because I’ve got all my documents, all organized and ready to go from day one, and then about a month before trial starts that’s when you have to really start preparing the key documents and getting ready for trial, and I like to have a month to prepare. Sometimes you only have two weeks to prepare, so it depends, but it’s long hours and then it’s long hours, a few weeks before trial, and then of course it’s long hours during trial, but really it starts in discovery, and we serve discovery with the petition. I work for a plaintiffs firm, so the minute our petition goes out, discovery goes out. So we hit the ground running in this firm.
Vicki Voisin: And you always go to trial?
Tracy Mosz: We don’t always go to trial but I’ve noticed like last year, we had six trials. This year, I’ve already had three, so I think that in this economy the insurance companies would prefer to roll the dice and go to trial than to settle, so we don’t settle as many as we use to, and I know other paralegal friends of mine in town have said the same thing. They said, we’ve never gone to trial as much as we have in the last couple of years. So I think that, yeah, it’s the trend.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, now your job is stressful, right?
Tracy Mosz: Very.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, tell us a little bit about what makes it stressful?
Tracy Mosz: Well, the key thing is to have the document or the piece of evidence at your fingertips, so during trial, I mean one-second delay seems like eternity, so I have to be able to get my hand on a piece of a document or a piece of discovery instantaneously, so it just requires lots and lots of lists and chronos and timelines and indexes, and also just knowing the documents backward and forward. I usually know the case better than anyone on the team because I feel like, it’s my job to know how to quickly put my fingers on anything, and that can be stressful because I have to second guess, what they’re going to need, and so even they’ll ask me to bring, be sure you have this, this, this, but I’ll think about the things that I think they might and I’ll bring those as well and I’m usually right that there’s things that they didn’t even realize they were going to need that I have readily available.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, Tracy, is this all done electronically?
Tracy Mosz: Unfortunately not. My lists — a lot of them are electronic but unfortunately it’s also boxes with files, so I have everything in TrialDirector and it OneNote but I also have file folders in a box next to me that I have to be able to keep the file folders alphabetically indexed, so that I can quickly find whatever document it is. So we have to feed both electronic and paper unfortunately in this day and age.
Vicki Voisin: Yeah, we’re going to talk about technology in a little bit, but first of all, I’d like to know if the role of a litigation paralegal takes a specific personality and what are the most important traits or abilities that you need?
Tracy Mosz: You can’t be bashful because you’re sitting there in front of a jury. They are all staring right at you. When you’re putting documents up on the screen if the document isn’t there or if something goes wrong, you have to be able to quickly troubleshoot. So you have to be good under pressure and you have to be resourceful, and that’s where I think it takes a certain personality and it also takes a lot of experience, the longer I’ve done it, the better I get at it.
So, they call it “the hot seat”, the person running TrialDirector and running the exhibits is called “a hot seat operator” and it is. You feel like everybody’s watching you and if there’s any delay or any mistake made, you just want to crawl under the table.
Vicki Voisin: Well, I can imagine. I have gone to trial a few times back in the day before we had TrialDirector and it just isn’t — it isn’t easy and it does take experience. You mentioned that you need to be organized, so why is that so important?
Tracy Mosz: Usually I don’t know if you’ve been in these trials with lots of documents or big trials. The last trial I did was a month long and so it involved a lot of — a lot of documents, a lot of papers, and lot of witnesses. We had I think 160 witnesses on our list. We didn’t call all 160 obviously, but so, there’s just so many boxes and so many documents, so many pieces of paper, and you just have to have it so organized that you can’t be daunted by the number of documents and witnesses.
So I don’t know, I just — 10,000 pages to me if it’s electronically organized and indexed and chronologically sorted, it’s like it was five pages, so I don’t know how to describe it any better than that, but you just have to not be daunted by number.
Vicki Voisin: And stay on top of it.
Tracy Mosz: Stay on top of it always.
Vicki Voisin: Is that right?
Tracy Mosz: Yeah, that’s the Bates numbering obviously is big. If you have a Bates number, you can find anything. That’s why I did a trial where I ran TrialDirector for — it was a criminal trial and I ran TrialDirector for the DA’s office as well. The lawyer I worked for didn’t want it to look like we had all the money and we were the rich criminal defense lawyer and the poor DA, just had a box full of papers that was muddling through and so we offered for me to run the DA’s exhibits too, and so they’re both just telling me. I need this document and they gave me the Bates number and I could pull up anything for either side instantaneously.
Vicki Voisin: Well, you also mentioned that you needed the ability to plan, so give our listeners some examples of the planning you do?
Tracy Mosz: Well, the planning ahead in my article, I specifically talked about the planning you need to make for logistics when you get to the courtroom. If you don’t have a lot of experience, then you don’t know the setup of the courtroom, and in Tulsa, the different judges have different sized courtrooms. So if you get a judge who fits in one of those big courtrooms and you have lots of room, it’s not a problem, but if you get like a judge with a little tiny courtroom, then you have to be able to know exactly where you’re going to store your things and your boxes. And there’s been times that I’ve had to sit in the galley because there just wasn’t enough room on the counsel table for me and all my stuff, so I had to have this little portable table that I can set up anywhere and I’ve had to do that.
You have to know where your plug-ins are, you have to know what the judge allows and doesn’t allow and they’re even picky about the kind of tape you use to tape down your cords, you have to know when their hearings are prior to the trial so that you can get into the room because sometimes you’ll show up the day before and they’ve got hearings all day and so you’re not going to be able to get into the room. So you have to plan well enough in advance that you can overcome all obstacles and there will be many.
Vicki Voisin: Right. Now, Tracy, are most of your trials in Tulsa or are you traveling for your job also?
Tracy Mosz: I don’t travel much, I mean, we sometimes do to the surrounding towns, but, no, I don’t usually go out of State, we’re very local.
Vicki Voisin: Okay, or like Oklahoma City in.
Tracy Mosz: Yeah, yeah, yeah, few hours away, yes, but not out of State normally. I did go. I take that back. I did go to Palm Beach once; that was fun.
Vicki Voisin: Nice, I like that. That’s one of the benefits. Unfortunately, I always say that traveling isn’t as exciting as it’s made out to be when you’re working like that.
Tracy Mosz: Exactly, exactly, yeah.
Vicki Voisin: Exactly, right. You’re tired.
Tracy Mosz: Right.
Vicki Voisin: Anyway, the ability to organize, the ability to plan, or what are called soft skills and those skills aren’t learned in class but they are acquired by experience, so do you have any tips for acquiring those soft skills?
Tracy Mosz: Well, I do rely on the support staff here in the office and the last trial I did, the night before closing, that’s the one that it was a month-long trial, so there were so many boxes and so many documents and we were tired of living in all that mess. So the lawyers and I, all decided, let’s just pack up everything tonight and then we don’t have to worry about it after closing.
So we get to court the next day and we needed some documents out of some of those boxes and this was a high-profile case, also it was a jail death case and so the courtroom unbeknownst to me. They locked the doors to the courtroom and so my assistant here at the office, I texted to her run these documents to me and she’s texted me because she goes, I can’t get in the courtroom. It’s locked. They won’t let me in, and I was just like you’ve got to find a way, and so we’re texting back-and-forth, and I think what I’ve done like you said the soft skills is convince the people in the staff and train the people here that not only do I never give up, you can’t give up either. She had to find a way and luckily, I’ve worked with her long enough that she knew that she could just say, oh well, I couldn’t get in. She found a way to get the documents in to me.
Vicki Voisin: That’s a great story I really liked that. Now I get a lot of questions about preparing a trial notebook, but we’re going to talk about that after we take a short break for a word from our sponsors, NALA, the Association of Legal Assistants/Paralegals, Boston University, and ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted pre-screened process servers. So, we’ll be right back with Tracy Mosz.
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Vicki Voisin: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I am Vicki Voisin and my guest today is Tracy Mosz, ACP, and we are discussing the life of a litigation paralegal and the important skills a paralegal has to possess to work in this fast-paced field.
Now, as I said before break, I do get a lot of inquiries about preparing Trial Notebooks and so Tracy, explain to our listeners what is a trial notebook and why is it so important?
Tracy Mosz: Okay. I remember the first time I had a class where an experienced paralegal taught trial preparation and I will never forget thinking, I used that as my guide for years, what to put in my Trial Notebook. The longer you do it, it just seems like a duh, of course you need these things.
So you obviously need the pretrial order, you need the originating document, the complaint or the petition, and then the obvious things you need are the exhibit lists and the witness lists, and that’s for both sides, so not just yours, you also need to keep track of the other side’s exhibits and witness lists. And so I always have the space on my exhibit list for the number, the description, the Bates number, and then a column for, was it offered in evidence, because a lot of times it will be offered, but it won’t actually be admitted and you need to know, was it offered, you check that, and then was it objected to, you check that, and then was it admitted finally.
So I have my notes, and in my experience the lawyers start at the beginning of trial, keeping notes on these things and they quickly just fall short and rely on me to keep track of it, because it’s a job in itself.
And then the witness lists, you also usually know the night before who is going to be on the stand the next day, so you keep that list going as well.
Then a lot of times if the witness can’t come to trial, you will just read their deposition testimony. And there’s something called designations that are done prior to trial. So you have to keep that in your Trial Notebook so that you can follow along during the reading or the video of the deposition and make sure that they are only reading or showing the testimony they were allowed to show pretrial by the judge.
And then you have your motion in limine, because a lot of times those are decided — the judge will hold them in advisement and make the decisions in trial. So a lot of times you don’t know the outcome of your motions pretrial.
And then of course your jury instructions, that’s a big part of it. You will have your side’s proposed jury instructions and the other side’s and then the judges. There’s usually three versions of the jury instructions before you go into trial, and then it eventually becomes the judges’ set at the end.
If there’s a trial brief, any briefing done before the trial, you will need that in your binder.
And then the jury seating chart and questionnaires, that is something that I keep as we go along in trial, because you want to remember which juror is sitting there. As the trial goes along, we refer back to our seating chart and our notes on the jurors throughout trial.
And then the index for all of your boxes, that has to be in your Trial Notebook, and I usually have a couple of copies of the trial notebook; one for me and at least one for the counsel table, so that one of the lawyers can pick it up anytime they so choose.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Tell me, do you watch the jury for your attorney, do you watch their reactions?
Tracy Mosz: If we are not up, if I am not on TrialDirector, yes, when the other side is examining the witness, yes, I am watching, I am watching the jury making notes.
The last trial we did, that is a good point, and this happened after I wrote this article, we had a Google Doc that we used for the jury selection and so we were all typing into this document live, so everyone at the office was inputting things about the jurors, I was, the lawyers were, and it was like a moving, breathing, changing document real-time, it was pretty cool. It wasn’t perfect, because it was the first time we used it, but we have some fine tuning to do, but it was great, because in the past it has just been text back and forth or emails back and forth, but this was a live document, that was really, really cool.
Vicki Voisin: That sounds really interesting, and I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated with the program Bull; do you watch Bull at all?
Tracy Mosz: Yes. I know, he is great.
Vicki Voisin You need Bull.
Tracy Mosz: Yeah, I do.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. So when do you begin your Trial Notebook; I am assuming you don’t wait until you are ready to go to trial?
Tracy Mosz: Oh no, that’s months before trial. That’s when all that work starts, including the witness files. I start all that at least a month before trial. I kind of go overboard on my witness files. I have everything in a document management program and I will have every piece of paper that has that witness’s name mentioned in the file, and it’s kind of overboard, but I just feel like if I have more than I need, then something may come up and we will say, didn’t she say, blah, blah, blah, and I can pull that paper up real quickly.
Vicki Voisin: Right, great idea. Now, are you involved in a case from the beginning?
Tracy Mosz: Yes, usually. I mean now that I have been at this firm six years, yeah, all of the cases, especially from now forward, I will be in it from the beginning. It’s much harder when you get in a case in the middle.
As a matter of fact, this jail death case, the last trial I did, that wasn’t my case and so I didn’t know anything about it until a month before the trial started. That was hard.
Vicki Voisin: Very hard. You have given us some examples of things that go in a Trial Notebook, so we are not going to go over that again, but I would like to know how technology plays into trial prep at your firm?
Tracy Mosz: We like to use demonstrative, lots of demonstrative, so we have a graphics artist that we start working with a few months before trial starts, and so that’s when — and I liaise with the graphic artist where we have meetings and then whatever documents we talk about she might need, I coordinate that she gets everything she needs.
We do a lot of slides or blow-up boards, where we always try to have the picture of the witness, so if we don’t have the picture of the witness, if we didn’t depose that person, we don’t have their picture on file, then I go out, or our graphics artist goes out on the Internet to find pictures, so that the jury can say, oh yeah, I remember that person. It helps tie them — have them remember the witness that we are talking about.
So the visual aspect to technology is very important in a jury, like Bull, if only we had it as fancy as he has, it would be even better.
Vicki Voisin: Right. Now, what about, I know you use TrialDirector, what other programs do you use?
Tracy Mosz: We use Case Notebook, which is a Westlaw product, and that’s the one that I have all my documents in — well, the key documents in, and so everything is organized in that software.
And then I also use OneNote for discovery. OneNote is used more during the discovery process than trial, but it’s very helpful during discovery, and to me, the discovery process is as important to preparing for trial as anything.
Vicki Voisin: Right. Do you have a Digital Trial Notebook?
Tracy Mosz: The Digital Trial Notebook is the OneNote and the Case Notebook, so I don’t have one Digital Trial Notebook; I probably will start trying to figure something out like that, because we love to use iPads during trial. I have all my documents on iPads and so if my lawyer needs a document, and the fastest way for me to get it to him is to walk up to him, hand him an iPad, that’s sometimes the best way to get him a document quickly. So we have everything.
We have used TrialPad before. We have things electronically and paper always, both places.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Now, your worst nightmare, you lose documents, so what do you do about a backup?
Tracy Mosz: Yeah, it actually happened to me — it’s never happened to me before. Everyone always talks about having the second laptop with them and I never have. I have just been lucky.
And a few trials ago my laptop fried during trial and luckily I had everything backed up on to the portable hard drive, but I didn’t have it with me, and so I had to text my office and they delivered it to me and I was back up and running in 15 minutes, but I will never not have it with me in the future.
Luckily, this is my other tip to paralegals is be friendly with the other person running TrialDirector for the other side, because during that trial that woman and I were very friendly and immediately she saw the panic on my face and knew something was going wrong and she immediately offered to run our exhibits until my system was back up, and I will be forever thankful to her.
Vicki Voisin: Right. So everything really happened without any delay, right?
Tracy Mosz: Right, because she ran my exhibits for me in the 15 minutes it took for me to get mine delivered to me and back up. So if you are all ready to go, it doesn’t take long to get back up and running.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Now, do you take any other supplies to trial?
Tracy Mosz: Oh yeah. We have what we call the Trial Box and one of the women I worked with a few trials ago, she had it. It looked like a fishing tackle box and that was cool. I liked it. I keep telling everyone here that we need one like that, where it opened up and she was able to pull trays out and it was really tall. I love that.
Yeah, we always have the Trial Box full of the laser pointers and the extra batteries and your pens and pencils and your chargers of course. You always have to have chargers and snacks and mints and aspirin and Tylenol and everything you could possibly need.
Vicki Voisin: Especially in a month-long trial, I think you really need things.
Tracy Mosz: Yes, and that has to be replenished. Yeah, that’s constantly replenished as well.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Now, in your article you refer to the One Box Rule and I would like for you to explain that, because I can’t imagine with all the boxes that you need how you are talking about a One Box Rule.
Tracy Mosz: Right. It’s usually my box too, it will have my name on it, and it’s the box that — and actually the contents can change as the trial progresses, but as a matter of fact, I actually try to get it down to, I don’t know if you guys use what we called red ropes, in the old days it really was a folder with a string around it, with a red rope that you could tie around it, but now they are just open, but we still call them red ropes.
But I actually like to get all of the hot docs, the key docs into one red rope actually even. So that’s how you need the help of the lawyers to get that fine-tuned, but usually it starts with my — I will say, I think these are the key documents or the hot documents, you guys look at it and tell me if I am right. Tell me which ones you think I can get rid of.
But the key documents, yeah, usually they really can be narrowed down to about 20 usually, but in a big trial or a long trial, my box will be constantly changing. Usually it will have the witnesses that are going to be on the stand that day and my key documents always and deposition transcripts, so it is kind of fluid as the trial progresses.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. So you would be updating that every night?
Tracy Mosz: Yes, yes. And everybody knows it’s my box and so we always have to make sure that my box goes back to the office and my box gets back to the courthouse.
Usually I will have a box and each of the lawyers will have their hot box, and then the rest are just the periphery, but we all know and try to zoom in on those key documents at all times.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Well Tracy, do you have any other tips for paralegals who might want to work in litigation or who might be preparing for a trial today?
Tracy Mosz: I think the newest thing was that Google Doc, so you all have to have a Gmail account and you sign into your Gmail account and then you get invited to the document, and then somebody has to set up a template. So if you have 12 jurors, it will be like one big giant spreadsheet with 12 columns and everybody — you know who is inputting, but that’s the quickest way too, because when you are picking a jury, you have the person on the stand and you are learning — I am learning information live, where does she work, what her husband does, where she is from, and so I am inputting those kind of things.
And then the team in the office can find the right person, because especially if you get a person like Mary Johnson or Mary Jones, you can’t find that person until you get more detail. So that’s the behind-the-scenes jury research that is critical to select a good jury panel.
Vicki Voisin: Okay Tracy, how could they get in touch with you if they have any questions?
Tracy Mosz: Yeah. My email address is HYPERLINK “[email protected]” [email protected] and feel free to email me. Like you said, Facebook message me. I am friends with lots of paralegals across the country. I also love LinkedIn. I am friends with lots of paralegals on LinkedIn as well.
Vicki Voisin: Right. Well Tracy, thank you so much for joining me today. Your information that you provided is just so important for paralegals and I really appreciate your taking the time to join me and I have even learned a lot. So thank you.
Tracy Mosz: Okay. Great. Thank you Vicki. Appreciate you as well.
Vicki Voisin: Thanks. Let’s take another short break now and don’t go away because when I come back, I am going to have a practice tip for you.
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Vicki Voisin: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. Now is the time in the program when I have a practice tip for you.
My friend Michelle Erdman sent me a document that came from the Northern District of Illinois. It was in the matter of the discipline of Alison Hope Motta; hopefully I pronounced her name right. This order found that the attorney, Alison Motta had committed misconduct of the Rules of Professional Conduct 3.5(d) and 8.4(d) by repeatedly acting in an unprofessional and disrespectful manner, including reacting to a trial judge’s ruling by using profanity in the presence of the jury.
The case that she was working on or represented was the United States v. Redwood, and this was before the Honorable Amy J. St. Eve. Now, the attorney, Ms. Motta was continuously disruptive during the approximately two-week trial. Some of the misconduct that occurred during the witness testimony, and I am taking this from the order, was that when Ms. Motta — she visibly reacted to testimony, such as by rolling her eyes and made comments about the testimony, all in the presence of the jury.
Other instances of misconduct were even directed at the trial judge’s rulings on objections. After unfavorable decisions on objections, she would shake her head, roll her eyes, and make comments under her breath. But in one particularly egregious instance after an objection by Ms. Motta was overruled, she rolled her eyes and said something I won’t repeat.
But anyway, in those instances of disruptive conduct, they occurred even after multiple warnings from the judge. So my example here is that this case does apply to an attorney. There are rules of professional conduct that the attorney must follow, but these rules also apply to paralegals, and they apply exactly as they would to an attorney.
A paralegal can’t be disruptive during trial, can’t roll her eyes, can’t laugh, can’t giggle, can’t talk under her breath in the presence of the jury, and those are all things that I have heard that attorneys might ask the paralegal to do, just to sway the jury a little bit. But all of the actions of the paralegal must be the actions that would be expected of the attorney, the same rules apply, and if a paralegal acts in this way, the attorney might be disciplined, and perhaps as in Ms. Motta’s case, even not allow to practice in the trial court for a year.
So that was not a good example to set for other attorneys — well, I guess it was a good example, because now you know that you can’t do any of these small acts that would apply to attorneys, that also would result in their discipline if the paralegal does that. So take that to heart, be sure that you pay attention.
Now, that’s all the time we have today for The Paralegal Voice. If you have questions about today’s show, please email them to HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected]. And also, don’t forget to check out my website and my blog. You will find that at HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com” paralegalmentor.com. The resources there have been designed to help you move your career in the right direction and that’s always forward. This is Vicki Voisin, thanking you for listening to The Paralegal Voice and reminding you to make your paralegal voice heard.
Outro: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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The Paralegal Voice provides career-success tips for paralegals of any experience level.
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