Carl H. Morrison, RP, PP, AACP, is an experienced certified paralegal and paralegal manager and has been in the...
Paralegals can be a vital part of how the law office operates even if they are not in a management role. In this episode of the Paralegal Voice, host Carl Morrison shares his top ten tips on law office management. He gives insight into the ways paralegals can impact management issues such as hiring, technology, marketing, mentoring, and more! Tune in for great advice on how you can be a positive influence on the inner-workings of your firm. Stay tuned to the end for Listener’s Voice, Carl’s recurring segment featuring audio questions or comments from a listener. To send in your own question, email Carl at [email protected]
The Paralegal Voice
Carl’s Top Ten Tips on Law Office Management
Carl Morrison: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Paralegal Voice, here on Legal Talk Network. I am Carl Morrison, a certified paralegal, devoted to law, and your host at The Paralegal Voice.
I am a certified paralegal and paralegal educator and I am devoted to not only the paralegal profession, but to all legal professionals, from legal support professionals, to paralegals, to those whom we support, attorneys, I am devoted to helping others enhance their passion and dedication for the paralegal profession through entertaining and engaging interviews.
Before we begin, we would like to thank our sponsor NALA. NALA – The Paralegal Association is a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education and professional certification programs for paralegals at nala.org. NALA is a force in the promotion and advancement of the paralegal profession and has been a sponsor of The Paralegal Voice since our very first show.
And also, CourtFiling.net, e-file court documents with ease in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. To learn more, visit CourtFiling.net to take advantage of a free 30-day trial.
And also, Thomson Reuters Firm Central, cloud-based legal practice management that streamlines your day and automates non-billable administrative tasks so you can accomplish more with less.
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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 will find helpful in your career and everyday job. My guests will be engaging in informational with a little bit of fun thrown in.
Now today we don’t have a guest, I am the guest. I am the host and the guest today and I kind of want to do what I am calling Carl’s Late Night Show Top ten, think of David Letterman and his top ten. Well, this is going to be my top ten. And it’s all about a paralegal’s perspective into Law Office Management.
Now, you are probably saying okay, a paralegal hears the phrase, Law Office Management, ooh, retirement plans, supervising subordinates and navigating healthcare plans. Well, no, there is more to it than that. Law Office Management includes everything from personnel recruitment, hiring individuals to technology and everything in between, and truly a paralegal can play a vital role in assisting their office administrator or the senior partner of the firm in that day-to-day management of a law practice.
Even if you have an office administrator, if you work for a large firm, you as a paralegal, you still have and play a vital role in assisting in that Law Office Management. So think of these as my simple 10 tips that you as the paralegal can provide to your firm or to your corporate legal department in assisting in that Law Office Management.
So if I had a drum roll, drum roll please, number one on the top ten of my first tips of today, technology. So you think of technology as software or hardware, things of that nature, phone systems, so on and so forth. Well, a paralegal and a skilled and competent paralegal, you have got to be well-versed. We have talked about it on other shows about those technological trends that occur in the legal industry and they happen now at lightning speed.
So when you as a paralegal are working in your office, your office is seeking maybe new hardware or new software or maybe looking for that best and most cost-effective, maybe document management system, for lack of a better term. You, paralegal, you can really volunteer your assistance in trying the demo versions of the systems of the software.
Maybe get out there and read white papers on cloud-based file management systems, contracting systems, so on and so forth. You have an active role in going out there and being knowledgeable of those technology trends that are occurring in the legal industry.
So get out there, go to seminars, go meet with vendors about particular software, learn what’s happening in the legal technology world. Because even if your firm is not actively looking for software, taking that initiative to search and reach out to those vendors and learn those new systems in your applicable area of law demonstrate to your employer that you are taking the initiative to go above and beyond what’s required and your employer is going to look at you and go oh, hey, wait, I can rely on paralegal X to help me be able to identify what’s the best system, what’s the most efficient system that’s going to help us streamline our business.
Because you, you are going to be using it as a paralegal, you are going to be the end user, so your insight is really vital when your firm, your company is selecting that best technology for your company.
My second tip is what I call non-attorney recruitment. So hiring, but not for an attorney, associate, junior associate, senior associate, partner type position, but all the other positions that go along with a law office.
So think of it as an opening has come up in your company for a new runner, receptionist, secretary or junior paralegal, maybe you are a senior paralegal in your company, so how can you, you are thinking, how can you as a paralegal assist your HR director or managing partner in selecting the right candidate.
Well, first, if you know that they are looking for an additional position or replacing someone, reach out to them, take that initiative. You are probably going to hear this a lot throughout these tips, but take that initiative to go ahead and help develop and complete that accurate job description for that position.
You are going to have that, what I call on-the-ground knowledge of what that particular position requires, because you may have been working there for several years or even if you have worked there for a year, you are going to have that on-the-ground knowledge of what that position requires. More than just that requisite Microsoft Office experience, Adobe, Relativity, so on and so forth, or those organizational skills, you have some of that knowledge, that in-house knowledge of what that job requires and you can help really be able to create and craft the language for that job position so that the best candidates are going to be replying to the job.
And to be honest, this is how I branched out into actually conducting interviews of potential paralegals and legal secretaries for the firms that I worked for, and I continue to do that today. It’s because I took the initiative to reach out, because we were hiring a particular position at the firm and I reached out to our office administrator and I said, do you want assistance in crafting the job description for this position because I know this particular partner this person is going to work for and I can kind of help? And she said absolutely and from then on the rest is history.
So, taking that initiative, step out, in helping craft that language for that job position is a way to help be able to secure the best people for your company to develop truly the best team.
Number three, drum roll, on my list of top ten is continuing legal education. So okay, you guys are probably going, well, I am certified, yeah, I have got to have continuing legal education requirements. Well, yeah, truly, maintaining your paralegal skills by attending those continuing legal education seminars and webinars.
But it’s not just for us that are certified. If you are not certified, you still need to be doing that. That’s how you keep abreast of what’s going on in the legal field, in the way of the laws that change constantly, that’s how you keep abreast of that, but it’s also how you keep abreast of, going back to my number one item here, was technology, keeping abreast of what’s going on in technology.
So staying on top of those current procedures and case law and so on and so forth, it truly makes you — helps you remain an essential member of the legal team and again demonstrates to your employer that you are going above and beyond what is required of you in order to do your job. It makes you truly a better paralegal and a well-versed individual. And to be honest, it’s great résumé fodder. It helps you set yourself apart from all those other applicants that are out there.
Our fourth tip is marketing. All right, you guys are saying Carl, hang on, some of these things you are talking about today, how are they really relevant to me as a paralegal? I am going to tell you right now, marketing is relevant. Of course, marketing in a law office, it involves a lot of things that we wouldn’t necessarily be involved in and won’t potentially be involved in; budgeting, website development, referral networks, things of that nature, but do you realize that when you belong to an association, and those that know me, and I have talked about it on other shows, that networking is a vital part of your job as a paralegal, is to network with your peers and those in the legal industry.
But do you realize that when you join an association, a Paralegal Association, Bar Association, whatever it may be, and when you become active in either a leadership role, serving on a board, speaking at a CLE, at an association, authoring articles, do you realize that you are playing an important part in the marketing of that firm’s image, because what are you going to put as your bio, where are you going to put that you are a paralegal with the Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe? And just that simple right there statement, sentence is a marketing, it’s a marketing tool.
So as a professional paralegal, you want to keep your firm apprised every time you publicly speak, every time you write an article, every time you serve in a leadership role, because if your firm is tuned in to marketing for their respective company, a firm, corporate legal department, they want that, what I call free marketing. If you are out there being a professional and doing things that not only help you, but ultimately help your company, it’s a win-win for everybody.
So I will tell you, savvy clients, they are looking for those firms and companies that are diverse, that have a skilled legal team and they are looking at the paralegals too. A situation at a firm I worked for several years ago, we were securing a particular new client and it involved our senior partner and junior partner and associate traveling to the corporate headquarters to talk to this particular general counsel and bigwigs at the company to win their business and that particular company asked specifically how many paralegals do you utilize, are your paralegals certified, do they serve on any leadership roles?
And my senior partner called me from the airplane saying, Carl, you are certified, right? Do you serve on — he had me list out all that stuff so that he could provide that to the potential client, who ultimately did become our client because of — not just because I was certified and I served on a national association and so on and so forth, but it was an additional measure that that particular company was utilizing in order to weigh us against all the other firms that were vying for their business.
So you as a paralegal, you are a marketing tool to your respective company, to your respective firms, so don’t sell yourself short, definitely get involved and utilize that again to set yourself apart.
Our fifth tip, so we are at the halfway mark here of our top ten is practice support. Well, okay, what is practice support? Well, define that first. Practice support, think of it as everything else that you utilize to help you do your practice.
So if you are in medical malpractice, products liability, litigation, you are going to rely on, and even if you are not in those respective areas, but you can rely on court reporters, you are going to rely on e-discovery specialists, you are going to rely on certain experts, litigation support companies, I can keep going on.
So we as paralegals, we work really close with those vendors and we often are left to make the best decision, not only for our client in that aspect, from practice support aspect, but also for our firm. So help your attorney understand or your office administrator understand your role in that practice support, and you do that by developing strong relationships with your vendors. You play an important part in selecting ones that you will have the greatest impact on the success of your case and of the firm.
I can think of a time where I was sought out by our lead e-discovery partner when we were wanting to narrow it down to utilize one e-discovery company for the entire firm, and we are a multi-office location type firm and I was one of about five different people that I was brought in because I had especially a certificate in e-discovery and I was brought in to assist in helping identify those vendors that then we gave them a questionnaire and then we actually got them on the phone and so on and so forth.
So me as a paralegal, I work closely with all those types of vendors and you do the same, and as such, you have that right information to help make the best choice for your firm, for your company to truly help — what do we do for all our clients? We want to help them, that’s our ultimate goal is to help our client, and so you have those skills and knowledge and experience to be able to reach out to those best companies that can help you do your job best.
So I want to take a short little commercial break right now and when we come back, we are going to continue our show, we are going to continue with the rest of our top ten and then we will talk about our question from our Listener’s Voice Bag today.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I am Carl Morrison. And before the break we were doing our top ten. So we were at the number five mark. If I was Wolfman Jack, I could do that voice, but I am not, so we won’t go there.
So we will do the last five of my Top Ten of Law Office Management for and from a paralegal’s perspective. So let’s keep it going. My number 6, drum roll, of tips in Law Office Management is about the supply room.
All right, as a litigation paralegal I know I can go through reams and reams of paper, I can go through a thousand Post-It notes and a litany of thumb drives in just one week, based on the case, based on what’s going on I can tear through a lot of stuff, but from a paralegal’s perspective, it’s not just stuff in the supply room. Oh, that’s just reams of paper, oh, that’s just Post-It notes, the company pays for that, so yeah, it doesn’t matter if I waste it. It doesn’t matter if I lose it. It doesn’t matter if I…
No, it does matter. It’s important for you as a paralegal to understand that you need to watch your waste in the office. You want to keep those overhead costs low, because what happens that affects your client that you are working for, it affects your salary, it affects others’ salary in the firm. It’s not just, they pay for it, it’s covered, don’t need to worry about it.
No, especially if you are in a smaller office. I know you listeners that work in small offices understand you get kind of tight with your Post-It notes, with your highlighters, your pens, your pencils. And I have also worked in large law firms, national law firms and sometimes it’s disheartening to see other co-workers, other paralegals just treat the supply room as their own personal little warehouse that they can go in and pick and choose. I need some Post-It notes for home. Well, it’s really called stealing, don’t want to do that. But you need to think about keeping those costs low and watching your waste when you are utilizing the items in the supply room.
Well, how do you do that? Well, economize. Look at what you have at your desk. We get a ton, especially when you go to conferences, you pick up all sorts of swag. You pick up nine million different pens. Do you really need to order a box of special fine line rollerball type pens to be utilized when you have a Marriott pen sitting there right next to you that you picked up at a hotel that you stayed at, at the conference? Well, no, you may not really need that.
So, think of those types of things that you can help economize and watch the waste. How much you are printing. We try to be, especially the world in general, we try to be paper-friendly. We try not to waste too much in the way of paper, but I will tell you guys, litigation and law firms are the worst about printing and about wasting papers.
So, think about before you print that email, before you print that pleading, do you really need to print that out or can you look at and review it online in the technology that you’re utilizing. You can highlight, you can do a lot of the comments so on and so forth without having to print it. So, watch your waste and economize.
My seventh tip on my top 10, pricing your paralegal services. Okay, hang on. I don’t know, you’re sitting there going Carl, you — I know you, you beat ethics into your students’ heads and you’re telling me that a paralegal can set pricing. Whoa, okay, no, hang on, timeout. That’s true, paralegal can’t set fees. We cannot set how much is going to be charged, that’s the attorney’s job, not the paralegal’s job. But, a paralegal that’s active in an association such as NALA, NALS, NFPA, any of the major paralegals associations and those that are not connected within a national association of State or local association. If you belong to and are active and you’ve networked with others, you’ve probably had conversations with others about what’s your average billing rate that your firm utilizes in the way for your paralegals? What do you all charge, 85, 95, 110, 120, whatever the rate maybe?
So, you’ve got some understanding of what the going rate is for a paralegal in their perspective and respective role in your area of law. So, sharing that information with a senior partner can help them set the best rate for the firm. Also, NALA does a huge compensation survey and utilization compensation survey, and one of the things they go out and look for is also the billing rate. So you’ve got at a national level what billing rates are being charged in average in the area of law.
So, share that information with your senior partner because when you do that you’re helping the firm be able to maximize on the profits for the firm, to be able to adequately set those fees that are in your respective jurisdiction and area and to help your client overall.
So, don’t think that a, yes, you cannot set your fees, that is true; however, you do have a say and you can play an active role in helping your firm and your senior partner be able to identify what is the going rate for a litigation paralegal, for example, in Las Vegas, Nevada, because you’ve probably spoken with someone or many others in your respective area.
Number eight, we are getting down to last couple of top 10 law office management. Number eight, developing your soft skills. Ooh, soft skills, communication, so on and so forth. A paralegal has to have — must have those strong soft skills in order to succeed, not only professionally, but personally.
So, communication, team-building, leadership, they are all soft skills that you have to continually develop and you do it by belonging to associations, by writing articles for different legal industry blogs or magazines, newspapers, whatever the case maybe, you doing that and helping work on your soft skills ensures that the firm remains efficient and effective, being able to provide the legal representation, the proper legal representation to their clients, to others in the legal industry.
So, when you build those soft skills and maintain your soft skills, you’re not only helping yourself but you’re really truly helping your firm, and by default, you’re really helping your client, which is, what, that’s truly what we’re supposed to be doing is helping our attorneys represent and provide the best legal services to our client.
Number nine, young lawyers. Oh, what I call the baby lawyers, and for those lawyers that listen to the show as well you guys understand that a well-versed, competent, skilled paralegal. When you first graduated, passed the Bar, sat in your first desk as a junior associate that first day, who did you turn to? You probably turned to that paralegal, you turned to that legal support professional that knew and understands how to navigate not only the law office, but also being able to navigate procedures.
Like, I tell students all the time the lawyer is the doctor of the law, the master of the law, the paralegal, think of the paralegal as the nurse practitioner of the law or the master of the procedure of the law, not just the theory. So, we have to understand and be able to navigate.
So from a young lawyer’s perspective paralegals that are more seasoned that have the skills and experience can really play a very important part in assisting those younger lawyers, who I call the baby lawyers, no offense, that are the recent graduates really truly, procedurally navigate the legal system, the legal waters, as I call it.
The law student studies a theory, paralegals, we study the procedures. So, when a recent law graduate starts to work at your company, actually step out again, what I’ve been saying through all these items? Our top ten initiative. Step out, volunteer your services to that new baby lawyer, that young lawyer to help them succeed, because what happens especially if you work for a firm and a company for a long time, you actually are going to grow with that lawyer who becomes a junior associate to associate, to junior partner, to senior partner, and they’re going to remember who you were — who you are and the help you provided to them when they first came into the law firm, into the corporate legal department. So, volunteer your services to help them succeed because again, we’re helping the client, ultimately that’s the ultimate goal.
So, number ten, drum roll please. Mentoring; eh, mentoring, I’m not a mentor. I don’t know how to mentor. Well, just like I said with the previous tip, ask with law students, volunteer your mentoring skills and services to recent paralegal graduates; even those that haven’t graduated, reach out to your local community college, university, for-profit college that has a paralegal program, reach out and volunteer your mentoring services, your mentoring skills to those individuals.
The goal is to ensure that your company, your firm has the best and brightest talent and as a senior paralegal, as someone that’s been doing it for many years, I like to help be able to give back so if I can help those baby paralegals that are coming out of a program understand their role as a paralegal, what they’re supposed to be doing, if I can save them a lot of grief that I went through because I didn’t have a mentor initially when I first started and I had to learn the hard way, and if I can help save them some of that heartache, the better.
So, volunteer, offer your mentoring services, your mentoring skills to a baby paralegal because you can’t take that knowledge with you when you go, and the goal is to truly help those coming up behind you, be the best paralegal that you are, because I know you guys that listen to the show you are truly the star paralegals in your firm, in your corporate legal department, the government wherever you may be work as a paralegal, you guys are the stars. So, don’t hoard your knowledge and your experiences, share it with the baby paralegals that are out there.
My top ten and I could truly go on and on, but I’m sure you don’t want to listen to me for two-and-a-half hours, but truly, these ten simple tips can really help you play a vital role in your law office, and more importantly, the management of your law office.
And it’s a benefit not only to yourself, but more importantly, to the law firm as a whole, and like I said, you stepping out and demonstrating that your initiative to help manage — I say with air quotes, “manage the firm”, you may not be in a true management position, but being able to help manage and help your senior partner, help your office administrator, head of HR so on and so forth, manage some of these areas that we’ve talked about, it’s only going to help the firm as a whole.
So, definitely, take these tips to heart, share them with others because we all play a part in being able to manage our firms. So, with that, I want to kind of wrap up with some exciting news to share with you guys. Today, we received — Legal Talk Network received quite an accolade.
Several of the shows, two or three of the shows were recognized on the ABA Journal’s Web 100 Top 20 Best Law podcasts of 2018 and the Paralegal Voice was named as one of the top 20 best law podcasts for this year, for 2018. So, I am truly humbled and honored that the judges that awarded this particular award on us and on the Legal Talk Network is quite an honor.
So, truly, thank you to the ABA, to the ABA Journal, to those judges that saw my excitement as host of the Paralegal Voice and being able to share some fun and exciting and different shows with the listeners.
So, thank you to the listeners as well for being an active participant by sending in your questions to the listener’s voice. It makes my heart smile to see that and to hear that, and so thank you to the ABA for this award, we truly appreciate it.
That’s all the time we have for today’s podcast. You want to make sure and tune into our next month’s episode, next month, it’s December if you can believe it. We’re already into the holiday season. I hope everyone has and has had a fantastic Thanksgiving and I hope everyone has a great holiday season. And stay tuned for more news, tips, and announcements. We’ll be right back.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back. We come to the segment of the show called the Listener’s Voice, which guys this is my favorite part of the show. I absolutely love this part of the show and maybe, maybe next time I’ll move it to the front of the show or maybe I’ll put in the middle of the show, who knows, you’ll just have to tune in and find out.
But really this part of the show is an opportunity for you as a listener to write to me, send me an email with any of your questions, your career celebrations, so on and so forth and I’m going to go through them and I’ll read them on air. And if there’s a particular topic that you want me to talk about, if there’s a particular question that you want to direct to a former guest of the show send them to me.
And I’ll go through them, we’ll listen to them, we’ll read them and we want to make your voice, the listeners voice heard. So, send me your email, send it to [email protected]
Today’s question comes from a listener who was listening to my show from a couple a months ago about conferences and attending a conference, and this individual, while they didn’t give me their name they said, hey there, I want to attend NALA’s next education conference in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2019.
Yeah, I can’t afford to pay my own way. How can I get my employer to help me pay for some of the costs of the attendants? I work for a small firm in Alabama and I don’t know if he will even go for it. Any advice is helpful, thank you sir, signed Strapped for Cash.
Well, Strapped for Cash, you’re not the only one that’s in that boat. Many firms nowadays don’t necessarily budget for sending a paralegal to a legal conference, especially at a National Conference, that’s not in their own backyard. So, how do you get your employer to pay for it?
Well, I’ll tell you that NALA does provide an actual letter that you can tweak to your own particular individual partner that you may be writing it to, but it’s kind of a template to help send to them, to help demonstrate why you should be sent to that respective conference, to the NALA Conference. NALS does the same thing. I believe NFPA also has a template that you can utilize because all the national associations understand that many of us have to pay for these out of our own pockets and so as such, it helps to be able to craft that language to help get that.
What I’ve done in the past is I’ve actually taken the brochure, maybe printed out a list of the agenda, the different topics, and if I see a bunch of topics that are applicable to my area of law, I’ll go into my employer and go, hey, look here, this conference is going on in July or September or whatever it’s scheduled, and there’s about 8 out of the 12 sessions that have to deal with corporate law or medical malpractice or litigation, and I really would love to go because these two here are really exciting, and I think it would be great to what we do here at the firm.
Would the firm be willing to pay either the registration or my airfare or hotel or any — or all of it to help me be able to go because it’ll help us? Nine times out of ten, I get all expenses paid, the registration there for the hotel. And it’s because they understand I’m not going just because it’s in Scottsdale or I’m not going because it’s in Orlando. I’m going because I’m going to go and have my tail end in the chair, listening, taking notes and coming back and sharing it with the other paralegals. So, if you can demonstrate that there’s a value in it, nine times out of ten, your employer is going to pay for it.
Now, for those that like yourself, Strapped for Cash, you work for a small firm. So, your firm probably didn’t have a budget that maybe sat for specifically conference attending education.
So, maybe you say to your particular attorney that you’re working for that small firm, hey, would you be willing to at least maybe pay for the registration or could you maybe pay for half the registration? And then, you yourself can actually, okay, I can figure out I’ve got six months to budget for airfare, this is how much airfare is going to cost me, this is how much hotel is going to cost me, and then I can start squirreling away 20 bucks here, 20 bucks here, 20 bucks here.
And by the time you realize, holy moly, I’ve got all my money to pay for airfare, hotel, even food if my firm will help pay for the registration. So, there’s ways to demonstrate, and that’s the main key, it’s really demonstrating to your employer that there’s a value and you’re going. You’re not going to go hang out at the Bar with your friends that attend that conference you’re going to learn and come back and share the experience and the knowledge.
And it also goes back to my tip number — let’s see what number was that, that was actually number five on the list of top ten, practice support, because when you go to those conferences, there’s exhibitors and those exhibitors are there to sell their eDiscovery services, they are there to sell court reporting services so on and so forth.
You get to meet other exhibitors, other vendors that you may want to utilize in the future and what a great way to network, network, network, network, that’s all you guys ever hear me talk about is networking. So, it’s important. So definitely demonstrate to your employer that there’s a value in you going do it and ahead of time, try not to wait until the month before.
As soon as you know the conference is coming out, reach out to your employer and say, hey, I’d like to go next year. I’d like to go in July, it’s December now, that gives them about eight months to start planning and budgeting, and gives you time to budget and plan as well.
So thank you Strapped for Cash, for the question. I think that’s a great question, and thank you to the listeners, so keep those questions coming.
That’s all the time we have today for The Paralegal Voice. If you have questions about today’s show, please email them to me at [email protected] Stay tuned for more information and upcoming podcasts for exciting paralegal trends, news and engaging in fun interviews from leading paralegals and other leading legal professionals.
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, or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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