Whether they fully appreciate it or not, paralegals are project managers. And while comparing efficiencies in auto manufacturing to daily paralegal work might seem odd, host Carl Morrison would disagree.
Morrison, who is working on a certification from the Legal Lean Sigma Institute, shared with listeners what he’s learned so far about applying process improvement concepts to the delivery of legal services. From planning to performance metrics, Morrison highlights the value of finding efficiencies and eliminating wasted time.
Morrison also responds to a timely listener question about securing confidential client documents when working from home. Morrison talks through the ethical responsibilities of paralegals and how to raise issues with employers.
The onus is on the paralegal to secure confidential materials through, among other things, encrypted wifi, password protections, and locked storage.
Special thanks to our sponsors, NALA, ServeNow, CourtFiling.net and Legalinc.
The Paralegal Voice
The 5 Ps of Legal Six Sigma
Carl Morrison: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Paralegal Voice here on Legal Talk Network. I’m Carl Morrison, certified paralegal and your host of the Paralegal Voice. And it’s September and you know what that means? Well, yeah. Of course, that means its football season. Everyone that knows me knows I’m a big college football fan so my Florida Gators will be playing this weekend. Yay, go Gators. But it’s also my favorite time of the year which is fall and although living out in the desert, I don’t have much of a fall. I go from 115 to about 80. So right now, we’re at about 100 degrees so hopefully, it’ll really start cooling off and I’ll be able to actually pull out maybe a sweater. So I hope everyone is having a great September so far.
And I wanted to open the show with and not to bring us down a little bit but just to remember a very important woman in United States history as well as maybe personal history for individuals. But you know, it’s been — the past couple of days have been kind of sad with the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the notorious RBG as some people call her. And for me personally, I got to see her in action about three years ago when I got to go to the Supreme Court and actually set in the gallery and observe all the oral arguments that we’re being heard that particular day. And it was a something I will never be able to be repeated for me but being able to witness some of the biggest jurists on the bench such as Sotomayor and Ruth. And it’s just — it was amazing and to see her in action for me, it was monumental.
But also for me, Justice Ginsburg was really a hero and I know that a lot of individuals saw her the same way. For me, it was personal because Justice Ginsburg had a lot of the similarities to my own late mother. A lover of the law, a champion for women’s issues, an opera fan, big-time opera lover and someone who was very independent and instilled independence in her children as well as my mom instilling on all of us independence. And it was a little sad to know that she has passed on but knowing the legacy that she’s left behind and the things that she has done for our great country is just amazing. And so, we all may have done something special in way and so, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you Justice Ginsburg for everything that you have done for the legal industry, for the law and for a lot of different issues out there.
So with that, I kind of want to transition a little bit. We’ll step away from that but I wanted to also let you know that recently, I was asked to speak to a particular paralegal program. And of course, during this pandemic, speaking engagements are virtual through Zoom and I recently presented with whom I call my wonder twin, Kristine Custodio Suero. And she and I presented to South Suburban College in Illinois and Becky Walters, the Paralegal Program Coordinator at South Suburban, asked us to come speak to her class about paralegal strategies and what it means to become a paralegal to her intro class and I love speaking to students. Absolutely love it. And it’s amazing. I’ve been doing this now for 26 years and it’s amazing.
The questions that get asked of me that I thought I knew everything and I get stumped sometimes and go, “Oh, wait a minute, I didn’t think about that.” But just being able to present and give back to the legal community is I feel like I have done something great. And I hope you, the listeners, are doing something similar even if you may not be invited to speak but go and offer, volunteer to go speak to an intro class, become a mentor. If you’ve been doing this for 20 years, you have a wealth of knowledge and experience to be shared with the rest of the legal community.
So get out there and just help. Just share your worst story, share the strategies that you have used in order to become a successful paralegal because that’s how we strengthen our industry. That’s how we grow as individuals and to me it’s so rewarding. It’s my way to give back. It’s my way to feel like I’m helping someone else if I can like give them a hand up, help them avoid the trials and tribulations that I had and that I had experienced going through a particular beginnings of my career.
So if you can do that, that’s such a great, great opportunity. So I just challenge you, get out there and sell yourself. Get out there and volunteer and help our new generation of paralegals that are being trained because I’m not going to be doing this forever. Although I probably still have another 20 years left of career left but there is a generation that needs to be trained and needs to be taught the best things about our industry, the ethical issues of our industry and giving back. So I just challenge you to do that.
And speaking of upcoming presentations, upcoming speaking engagements, I’ve got a couple of them that I thought you might be interested in knowing about. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations, their annual convention is coming up in October and it’s virtual like everything else this year. Every conference is turned into a virtual conference just because of the pandemic but this year, NFPA changed theirs to the virtual platform and I’m going to be speaking in doing a workshop there at the convention on October 22 and my topic for that particular day is, “Making the Transition from Private Practice to the Corporate In-house Legal Department.”
And for those of you who have been listening to show, I’ve been now in-house for about four years. Prior to that, it was 23 years of working in private practice. And when I transitioned into the in-house world, I noticed I couldn’t find any resources out there. No one had spoken about it. No one has written any articles about making that leap and I was like, you know what, I need to go — after I’ve gone through it, I’m not an expert by any means but if I can help someone else understand what it’s like to transition for private practice to in-house, absolutely. Let’s do it.
So I volunteered to speak and they immediately was like, “Absolutely, come do it.” And so, if you would like to know more, go to paralegals.org. Check that particular workshop out. There’s a lot of other great CLE sessions of course as well but if you’re interested about making that transition register and come listen to my workshop on that.
And a minute ago, I talked about my wonder twin, Kristine. She and I are going to be speaking at the American Association for Paralegal Eductors or AAfPE as it’s known. Their national conference on November 6 of this year again, it’s also virtual and our particular topic is called Capstone Reboot, a Practical Approach for the New Normal. And she and I also recognized a gap out there in the way of a lot of Capstone programs need to be especially in the world that we are now in “new normal.”
We realized that, “Hey, Capstone programs need to be agile. They need to be innovative to deal with a lot of the skills and trainings that need to happen for beginning intro level paralegals that are coming into the industry after graduation.” And so, she and I have collaborated. We have put together a fantastic presentation about that. So any paralegal educators that are listening that maybe want to attend or even if you’re not an educator and would like to hear more about it, check out the conference, the AAfPE’s national conference and it’s AAfPE.org and you can check out more information about registering for that.
And finally, I’ve got in a couple weeks, I’ll be presenting at DuPage County Bar Association, that’s an Illinois County Bar Association, on my topic on Paralegal Certification 101 kind of a 30,000 foot view on paralegal certification. And so, if you’ve never thought about or maybe you are thinking about doing paralegal certification, I challenge you to check that out. You can register for that DuPage County Bar Association and can listen to me talk about my favorite topic which is paralegal certification. Wohoo, I love it
So I’ve got a great topic I’m going to talk about here in a minute. We’ve got a commercial break that we’re going to take. So let’s take that short commercial break. Don’t turn that, I’ll come back because we’re going to talk about something that I think is really exciting and something that you can apply to your work life today so don’t turn that dial.
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Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice. All right guys, this is a topic that I wanted to share with you guys that kind of developed just recently and I’ll give you a little bit of background. So, I am working with Kristine. It’s all Kristine’s fault. Did you notice the theme I got going here? Kristine, if you’re listening, it’s all your fault. Actually, we were talking about project management and how in the paralegal industry that it’s important to have that skill set. And so, I started to do some research and I came across an institute, a company called Legal Lean Sigma Institute, and it is a company that’s exclusively made up of attorneys, general counsels of major corporations that teaches certain skills and specifically, what’s known as the Six Sigma skill
And if you’ve never heard anything about Six Sigma, it is a whole process improvement concept, a whole project management concept. And a lot of industries, Toyota, Ford, General Electric, companies of that nature. It is all about training individuals on process improvement and how you do it and what tools you use in order to work on and so on and so forth. So these lawyers tens or so years ago, maybe even longer, they got together and they were like, “You know what, these same principles can be and should be applied to the legal industry.” And so, they started looking at the Six Sigma principles and they’re like, “Yeah, we can do it.”
So they developed a whole program called the Legal Lean Sigma Institute. So I read up about it and I’m also working on my what’s known as the Lean Six Sigma White Belt which is the intro level certification to help build on those particular core concepts. But I just completed my Legal Lean Sigma Level 100 certificate from the Legal Lean Sigma Institute and it was all about applying the same process improvement concepts to the legal industry.
We were given a case study just like you’d be given in a certification exam where it is a law firm and they’re having all these issues and they’ve got an outside client that’s having also these issues and you got to come up with a whole plan, a whole process improvement plan and you have to present it at the end to judges. And I just recently finished presenting it to the particular judges and our team got second place so I’m very proud of that. But be that as may, I got to really looking at and thinking about these principles that were being taught and I was like, “You know what, I can even apply these same principles to me as a paralegal and what I do” and I was like, “You know what, I want to share this with the listeners of the Paralegal Voice.”
And so, I want to talk about a little bit about what it means to do process improvement, project management from the paralegal’s perspective, a lot of Ps going on there right? And why does it matter to a paralegal? You’re going, “Carl, boring.” Now, I want you to stay and listen to this and this is what I’m calling my concept of the five Ps of a paralegal. And its planned, process improvement, project management, people and what’s known as performance metric.
So let’s talk about the first P which is plan. Planning your day. As a paralegal, it’s so vitally important that you plan your day. I always, the first thing I do when I get up in the morning is I think about, “Okay, what do I have to do today?” And I start formulating, “Okay, I got to work on this, I got to work on that.”
By the time I get to my desk, I have already written out my plan for the day. I need to do this at this time and I’ve have this meeting at this time. I got to work on this project. I got to have — these are my deadline so on and so forth. I plan my workload. I shift things around. I figure out, “Okay, this is going to take me the most time. I’m going to shift this to my window of opportunity between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon because I don’t have any meetings that day.” Perfect. Great. I’m going to do that. I plan what it is I need to get done for the day and if you don’t plan your day, I don’t know how you function. You have to plan and figure out. Plan your workload. We all are, we’re deadline-driven. We’re court deadline-driven, let’s just be honest. Even in-house, I’m driven by a lot of different deadlines whether it’s a particular litigated matter or whether it’s me drafting an employment agreement. I have deadlines in which I have to meet and so you do too so plan.
If you can’t plan your day, you’re wasting a lot of time and that’s something else about the whole Legal Lean Sigma as waste and figuring out what are your waste. But planning, if you don’t plan, you’re going to have a lot of waste so plan your day. Also think about maybe there’s a particular process. Maybe you handle intake of new clients. And think about areas that you could maybe work on process improvement. Maybe there’s something I want to improve on how we handle the intake. So planning, planning is vitally important of being a successful paralegal.
Speaking of process improvement, that’s my next P, process improvement and there’s a quote that’s taught in these institutes and it’s, “We do the right things the right way the first time and every time.” So you do it right, do it right the first time because you’re trying to be efficient and as paralegals, we have to be efficient. If we’re not efficient in our work, we waste a lot of time. We have the potential of missing a deadline, a waste. So think about those issues, those problems and help yourself figure out, “Okay, what are the opportunities?” Identify those opportunities. Think efficiency. How can I do something with the less, fewest amount of clicks and how can I do the steps of doing a client intake. So figure out how you can improve any of your processes that you do in your day and plan that. Figure out how you can improve it. Look for those what I said a minute ago, those waste. Missing a deadline is a waste.
Data entry errors, if you have a lot of typos because you are just trying to speed through things, what’s going on? Why are you having to race through to get something done? There’s something broken in your daily work that’s causing you to waste a lot of time. So figure out where you can improve a process to get rid of and eliminate those waste to be a more efficient paralegal. Another waste and this is a problem that a lot of paralegals deal with is that their attorneys don’t properly utilize them because maybe they, as the attorneys have found that there are issues that they’re wasting and problems that they’re doing and dealing with so they waste a lot of time which just is the downhill concept. So figure out where you can improve, work on improving those processes so you can be more efficient because let’s be honest guys, it only helps yourself and it only helps the client because who are we really ultimately working for? Our clients. So find those wastes, eliminate those ways to become more efficient.
Project management, ho-ho-ho, that’s not magic words you’re going. I don’t manage projects. I beg to differ. You do manage projects. Think of a production. You are responding to discovery and you’ve got about 10,000 pages of records that have to be produced and you have to get them bates stamped and you have to get them logged and create a log and you have to identify what’s privileged and what’s confidential and so on and so forth. That’s managing. You have to manage that particular project. So think about it from the concept of 30,000 foot view project management. You have to figure out defining the objective. What’s my objective? Okay, my objective is to get these 10,000 pages bates stamped, marked confidential, identify the attorney-client privilege work product, remove that stuff, do my privilege log and my full log of production by Friday and today is Thursday.
Whoa, I got a lot of work to do. So, how am I going to do this in the most efficient manner? Okay, I’m going to use this person. So define your scope. I got to use this person. I got to get these bates stamped. I got to do this and so on and so forth. Plan it out. Execute the plan. Measure the performance. How long did it take me to produce those records? If it took me — if I didn’t start on it today but I knew about it three weeks ago, why did I wait till you know the 11th hour in which to work on the production? And now I’m having to stay up till midnight because I’m trying to finish the privilege log. You run into errors and it goes back to the whole process improvement? So figure out. You’re managing that whole project in order to streamline it, in order to be more efficient and to be more accurate. What did I say? I’m going to go do the right thing the first time every time so do it the right way the first time every time.
People, people, people, people, we are people right? So what does people mean? Well, think about whatever you may be working on the way of a process improvement. Let me use the — keep with the same scenario here of production. So what people are involved, if I’m using my legal assistant secretary to help with the production to get it out and I’m using maybe File Services Department to help get it actually produced to the other side to put it in a FedEx box, okay, do I just pick up the phone and call him? Do I go to where they’re at? Well, think about those people. Is that person the type of person that really much rather interact face to face or doesn’t fully get the communication in an email? Just “meet the person where they’re at.”
So you got to figure out this particular person that I’m working with on this particular project. They like hearing my voice on the phone versus getting an email or they want to actually talk about it in person so I can fully understand and see your reaction on what you’re instructing me to do. So just understand what they want, how they want to receive it and it also applies in all different areas, your clients. How do your clients want to interact? Do they only want to talk to you on the phone or do they want to show up at your office and actually sit down with you. “Meet them where they’re at.” If it means going to their space and I’m not meaning like clients but co-workers. If they you want to meet in your office, do it because you want to build a strong relationship. You want to have a collaborative nature with the people that you work with.
And then finally, the performance metrics and that’s really just measuring the success of what you’re working on. If it takes me too long to analyze medical records and drafting a chronology, what’s slowing me down? Am I spending too much time having to look at medical terms because I don’t know the medical terms? Well, maybe I need to improve my skill set by maybe taking medical terminology class. If we’re waiting till the 11th hour to draft a reply to a motion, find out from your attorney why are we waiting till the last minute? Is there something broken? Are we spending too much time on things that are going to slow us down? So think about those what are the metrics, how you measure it and see where things are broken and maybe go back to the process improvement. Maybe you need to improve something.
These concepts don’t apply to just the assembly line of an automobile manufacturer. They apply to us even in the legal industry. So these five — what I’m calling the five Ps of a paralegal I think are vitally important to your success. So think about it. Look at these. Read more up on the Six Sigma. Maybe you want to go through a white belt certification. It’s not that hard. It’s very easy. Not “easy easy” but it is challenging easy in that you’re going to challenge yourself. You’re going to step outside your box and actually learn how you can improve your own processes. Because if you can and streamline things, “Oh my gosh, how much easier is your work life?” Right? Going into work and going “Oh my god, I’ve got this and I’ve got that and I’ve got this and I’ve got that.” If I can streamline, if I can make it more efficient then it’s like, “Okay, I’ve got this, this, this, this, this and I can do this, do this, do this, do this and be done.”
And my day is done. I don’t have to worry about until tomorrow. And so, think about these five PS. I challenge you to strengthen these areas within your own work life and just become a more efficient paralegal.
We have one more little commercial break and we’re going to come back. We’re going to do the listener’s voice. I’ve got a great question from a listener that I want to share with you and it’s really relevant to today’s what we’re dealing with today in the new normal so don’t turn that dial.
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Before we end today’s show, we would like to thank our sponsor NALA. NALA is a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education, voluntary certification and professional development programs. NALA has been a sponsor of the Paralegal Voice since our very first show and CourtFiling.net. E-file court documents with these in California, Illinois, Indiana and Texas. To learn more, visit CourtFiling.net to take advantage of a free 30-day trial and ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted pre-screened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves who embrace technology and understand the litigation process. Visit ServeNow.com to learn more. And of course finally, Legalinc. Legalinc makes it easy for paralegals to digitally automate tasks like business formations, corporate filings and registered agent services nationwide. Visit Legalinc.com/podcast today to create your free account.
So now, we come to what I call the fun portion of the show and that’s the listener’s voice. This is your time to share with me your work successes, your challenges, your questions, your rants, whatever you want to do, anything you have. Send it to me. Email me at [email protected].
Today’s question comes from the ethical paralegal. So this individual says, “Hello Carl, I hope you’re doing well. I have a quick question about ethical issues when you work remotely like working from home. I know that we’re living in the middle of a pandemic and many people are working from home or some other location but I got to thinking, do you think it’s appropriate to bring work papers home from the office to work on them at home? Should law firms be making more of an effort to protect client information from prying eyes by providing me with a safe and secure workspace at the office so I don’t have to drag around confidential information? What are your thoughts? Signed, the ethical paralegal.”
Well, ethical paralegal, that’s a fantastic question and I’ve heard very similar questions. I’ve gotten very similar questions and conversations with other paralegals about this very issue and some people get irritated that they feel like since I had to bring home files, they go to the office on the Friday and bring home stuff because they’re only allowed to work from home so on and so forth. And they feel like “Well, it’s up to the employer. They got to give me the workspace. I need to put glass shields up around me or they need to put me in an actual office and not a cubicle and I shouldn’t have to drag around confidential information.” Well, okay, maybe true but the ethics, responsibility doesn’t just lie on your employer. It also lies on you as well. So if and we’re leaving in the middle of a very challenging time. We have had to as an industry, the legal industry, we have had to be extremely agile and innovative on how we deliver those legal services.
And as such, we can’t work in an enclosed office right now so people are working remotely. We have the technology and the capability to do it so we’re doing it. And if your employers require you to work from home, they don’t allow you to come into the office to work from the office, okay, well, that’s a challenge you have to meet so those ethics don’t stop the second that you walk out the law office door. They still apply at home as well. So you have a responsibility to ensure that you are keeping if it’s physical papers, files that you have brought home from the office, you have a responsibility to protect those clients, confidential records, information data from home.
I live alone so it’s just my cat. My cat doesn’t care about my files that I bring home but I have Wi-Fi that I connect to. I have to make sure that it is secure. I have to make sure that I don’t have my computer screen pointed to the window so that someone could zoom in and see what I’m working on. I have to make sure that things are password protected that I am doing everything I can to make sure that if I was abducted by aliens right now that if I had files that they would be closed out and secured password would pop up, someone would not be able to get into it. If you have physical papers, make sure that you are keeping them secure. Maybe you have to invest in a lock, file box or whatever you have to do. Put a lock on the bedroom or the home office door. You have to ensure that the information that you’re dealing with is secure even at home. It does not just lie with the employer.
Now, be that as it may, work with your employer to say, “Hey, I work at home and I have E a spouse that we have to share a home office. I have three teenage sons that they also do school stuff from that same workspace. I don’t have the ability to lock it down. Maybe you have to work with your employer and maybe you’re the only one that gets to go into the office or maybe you have to do a rotation type of concept. I know several paralegals are having to do that. Do whatever you need to do to make sure that you are protecting that confidential privileged information from prying eyes.
Again, I’m going to say this again, it does not lie just with the employer. That ethical responsibility, those ethics rules, they are not just for the employer, they’re for you as well. So make every effort to protect that information from those prying eyes and figure out an innovative solution that will help you ensure that you are doing everything to protect it. Hey, you know what, talking about innovation, what did I just talked about a minute ago? The five Ps of a paralegal, plan, process improvement. Hey, here’s a great idea. Maybe you should think about applying those same principles to this project and figure out how can I improve this to make sure that I am being ethical and that I am protecting the information that I’m working with from prying eyes.
So with that, that’s all the time we have for today’s show on the Paralegal Voice. Again, if you have any questions about today’s show, email them to me at [email protected] and stay tuned for more information and upcoming podcasts for exciting paralegal trends, news and engaging and fun interviews from leading paralegals and other leading legal professionals.
And I want to say thank you for listening to the Paralegal Voice. It is produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com. Find Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or download Legal Talk Network’s free app in Google Play and iTunes and reminding you that I’m here to enhance your passion and dedication to the paralegal profession and make your paralegal voice heard.
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.