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The LAT Listserv is a free e-mail discussion group for all members of the paralegal profession. It's an independent, national and international e-mail listserv that provides legal assistants with the opportunity to network, ask profession-related questions and discover the issues that other paralegals face on a daily basis. Below are small samples of the detailed and helpful conversations that occur in this forum regularly. Join the Listserv today! Current members can view archives of the LAT-Forum, which contain the information below, and much, much more.
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Time & Billing
I am going to research case law, but does anyone have any experience obtaining counseling records when the other side refuses to produce them? This is a custody dispute in which the father has serious psychiatric problems and has sought therapy in the past. We want to obtain medical records to see what, if any, real danger he might pose to his kids if he has unsupervised visitation. I will check out the case law that might support a motion to compel, but I wonder if anyone else on the forum could share their successful strategies in a similar situation.
Answer 1: Have you tried setting up a records deposition of the provider or records custodian? We have had some success with that approach in obtaining child protective proceeding documents and juvenile criminal documents in our jurisdiction. Instead of a motion to compel, how about motioning for a court order authorizing the release of the records?
Answer 2: What about filing a motion for an in-camera review of the documents? This way you will be able to explain in your motion and brief why these records are imperative to the custody issues. The judge then can review the records to see if there is anything contained within the records that would deem the person an unfit parent.
Answer 3: I have filed a motion for an in-camera review for a lot of criminal cases, as well as divorce and custody cases. (It seems to be more the norm when the parties are fighting over custody to declare the other party as “crazy.”) If there is something harmful in the records, whether or not the judge grants the order for the party to obtain the records, the judge will be aware of the party’s history, and will take that into consideration when granting custody, so this motion actually serves a two-fold purpose. Family law is just like criminal law — you need to be a little creative with your pleadings.
Answer 4: Check your state’s statutes to make sure that the therapist can release them. Usually, you need to get the other party to sign a medical authorization that you can use to request the records from the medical providers. Without it, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other privacy laws might prevent you from getting what you want. If the other side will not sign the medical authorization, which is normally a standard form with HIPAA language, then you can file a motion to compel if the other side's medical history or problems are relevant to the lawsuit.
The situation you described is one where medical records normally are requested and produced. But the side with the problems usually will fight having to produce them. If the other side will not cooperate by signing a medical authorization, you might consider requesting the court to appoint a guardian ad litem, who would investigate both parties and make a report to the court.
Does anyone know where I can find medical terminology resources online? I am reviewing my first personal injury file and want to be sure I understand the terminology.
Answer 1: Try the U.S. National Library of Medicine: www.nlm.nih.gov. On the right-hand side, click the PubMed link to search medical journals or click the MedlinePlus link for general medical information, drug information and definitions.
Answer 2: I recommend trying www. medterms.com.
Answer 3: This is the one I use most of the time: www.medilexicon.com. It has numerous medical terminology and abbreviation resources, all on one page.
Answer 4: I have not tested this Web site yet, but I got it from someone on this listserv: www.icd9data.com. I hope it works.
Does anyone use their Ricoh copier to Bates stamp? I just found out that we have that option although I don’t think it actually is called “Bates stamping” on the machine. I have not yet figured out how to use it but was just curious if anyone else had experience with it.
Answer 1: We have a Kyocera. It has an option called “page numbering” and the display indicates that it will number pages at the bottom. I don’t know where the manual is, but my limited poking around found the option.
Answer 2: We use a Minolta copier that will apply numbers to the bottom of pages. However, the quirk is that you can only start with the number 1 — each stack of documents you put on it starts with the number 1, so I don’t use it that much.
Try this for a free Bates stamping utility. This will put sequential page numbers on the bottom of documents once they are scanned into PDF format. It’s a free download.
I use this all the time in my document productions. In fact, once I have the pages numbered, I usually burn them onto a CD-ROM and produce the CD instead of the paper copies.
Do any of you use software programs for Bates stamping? Does the stamp sometimes fall on top of printed material on the record, thereby covering up information that needs to be seen? Is there a way to adjust the stamp on individual pages to prevent that?
Answer 1: We work primarily with medical records and we use Adobe for Bates numbering. With the program that we use, you can adjust the size of the stamp and location (left, right or center justification), as well as rotate the stamp to avoid covering up any vital information on the document. I hope this helps.
Answer 2: I have just started using Acrobat 8 Professional for Bates stamping medical records, documents produced, etc., and it works great! It even gives you the option to auto reduce margins so that the stamp will not cover any printed material. I highly recommend it. Also, this program has a great feature called a Typewriter Tool — it lets you type anywhere on a form so that you don’t have to use the dreaded typewriter.
I am a paralegal student. I want to introduce myself, solicit some advice and ask a few questions. For everyone: What career-focused tips would you give someone just starting out in the profession? I work full-time and go to school at night and I am finding it difficult to land an internship or volunteer opportunity on the weekend. The program director has my résumé and I plan on joining our local paralegal group this week, but I am just not one to sit back and wait, hoping an opportunity falls in my lap. What else can I do?
Answer 1: You are in a tough position, but it sounds like you are on the right track. Talk to the career service advisor at your school as well. Maybe you can arrange an internship while taking vacation time from your regular job. Experience is vital, so get it however you can.
Answer 2: Welcome to our forum — this is a wonderful tool. Are you savvy with Microsoft PowerPoint? You can market yourself to those who practice in civil litigation or medical malpractice. Lawyers definitely can use someone to work on the weekends.
Answer 3: I am in the same boat as you are and I wish you luck. One of the things I have started doing is using social networking sites like LinkedIn. Also, at one point, I just started calling human resources departments of law firms and asking them how to get my résumé to the top of the pile. I looked at their Web sites first and tried to have some intelligent questions to ask. My latest strategy is writing a thank you letter after I have been rejected, telling them that the interview was a valuable experience for me and asking them to keep me in mind if they know anyone that is looking for an intern or a receptionist.
I am still looking for that elusive first job and I am thinking of becoming a contract paralegal. Regarding school, I think it would have been wise for me to take a second language, and take immigration law if your school offers it.
Answer 4: Consider offering some pro bono or intern time at a law clinic or for a community-oriented environmental lawyer. Usually environmental folks who represent community causes are trying to keep costs down and could use some extra help with research, investigation, drafting letters, organization, etc. All of this will be valuable experience and a plus for getting interviews.
Do any of your firms use Stamps.com to handle your postage? If so, what do you think of it?
Answer 1: I used Stamps.com in the past. It worked fine except that if the address is long or the address is “in care of,” it would not always recognize the address. Also, it always wanted to print the attention line as the first line before the company name. For example, if I was mailing to the PIP department of a company, it would print:
Attn: PIP Department
Attn: PIP Department
Answer 2: We use it. The only problem I have encountered is that sometimes the client’s address changes and our staff members forget to update the address in Stamps.com. Otherwise, it seems to work very well.
Answer 3: We use Stamps.com and the newest version seems to have the bugs worked out. We love it.
For those of you who are expected to reach a certain number of billable hours annually, are those hours comprised of client-billable work only, or does your firm also include certain activities that are not billed to clients, such as firm meetings, required continuing legal education or other employee training, etc.? If time for certain administrative activities is included in the billable-hours requirement, which activities are included and are they counted separately?
Answer 1: I am supposed to get 1,300 client-billable hours per year. The paralegals do their own typing. We keep track of the non-billables as well, and I usually have one to two hours of “office management” each day, which includes e-mailing, copying, faxing, talking with coworkers about various non-billable matters, etc. I am astounded at the high billable requirements that I hear about online. People must be so stressed all the time! Then again, I moved because I wanted a slower pace and more meaningful community ties.
Answer 2: We are required to bill for all of our time, whether it is billed to a client or not. We have certain categories for each type of non-billable task. For example, I keep the majority of my nonbillable time in a unique category. We also have a category for any accounting/ book work we complete. I think it’s important to keep track of non-billable time to see where your company can outsource work or shift responsibilities among the office staff. You will be surprised by the numbers.
Answer 3: When I was still working as a paralegal in a firm, I was required to bill 1,500 hours annually. That was the norm in my area (at least for larger firms) at that time. It was a struggle at times — with all the administrative stuff we had to do. Then, if a partner decided to write your time down or off, you didn’t get credit for it. We learned to stay on top of the billing very carefully or we would end up short at the end of the year — and there went any hope of a bonus!
Answer 4: My firm requires 1,500 hours per year, broken down to 125 hours per month of client-billable hours.
Has anyone on the listserv deposed a military doctor? If so, who did you go through to schedule the deposition? The doctor does not return phone calls, and my attorney believes that we are to go through the Judge Advocate General’s office, but the staff was clueless. The gentleman actually told our secretary that he didn’t know what a deposition was and would have to check with his commander.
Answer 1: The attorney I work with, who was formerly an attorney in the military, suggested that you call the U.S. Attorney’s office (civil law division) for the district in which the military doctor’s base or post is located. The U.S. Attorney’s office can serve as a liaison for the JAG office if the staff at the JAG office doesn’t know what it is doing.
Answer 2: Send a subpoena through the JAG office to the doctor, or through the hospital commander.
Answer 3: I’m not sure if we have deposed a military doctor but I have dealt with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and various military and government departments. I even had an emergency room doctor that had never done a deposition! We really had to walk him through it and even suggested a reasonable amount for him to charge us. Anyway, I find I often have to direct the request to the facility or director of the department that the doctor is in. It may take a few calls and submissions to get the right person. Also, a subpoena does wonders for setting up depositions or getting medical records. Just pick a date and time, have it served and when the doctor finally calls to say “this doesn’t work,” then you have him on the phone to schedule a better time. He also knows you are serious about taking his testimony. Some doctors try to make it very difficult and you have to really talk them into it. If nothing else works, and depending on whether you want the doctor on your side or not, you can point out that it’s easier to do a deposition than be subpoenaed into court — that also will get his attention.
I am a litigation paralegal for a firm of 22, with 10 attorneys. We don’t currently utilize a document management program; therefore, we are having lots of problems with employees who are somehow accidentally dragging and dropping client files in our server’s directory. Many times a folder can be found by a quick search of the folders directly before and after it, while other times, it seems that a client’s folder has been deleted. It’s so frustrating. We back up every night but it still is a hassle to keep an eye on this. Are we the only ones that have this problem? Any solutions? The only one we have been given by our IT company is to move over to iManage (or something like it), which will act like an overlay and will not allow direct access to the files like we have now.
Answer 1: We use the same setup of folders for clients and matters in our office, and even have separate sub-folders for each kind of document (amendments, assignments deeds, original filing documents, etc.). I never have had a problem with folders moving around with repeated use by multiple users. I tried to see if setting permissions in the folder’s properties could stop the moving of a folder into another directory, but wasn’t successful.
In an office I worked at several years ago we used iManage, which was very nice — no hassling with folder issues.
Answer 2: I used iManage quite extensively in my last paralegal position. The key is to establish naming conventions and have everyone use them. It doesn’t do much good to have all of the wonderful document categories if everyone is just going to file every document as a “doc.” You also can search file names in iManage, so it’s helpful if people describe the documents in a similar manner.
One glitch I found was that some of our attorneys would file documents under a general matter number while waiting for the records department to assign a new client matter number. This resulted in half of the working documents being filed under a general number and the remainder being filed under the actual client matter number. You can manually change the client matter number, but that seldom got done. I would recommend iManage, though. It’s a very powerful organizational tool.
Answer 3: Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for your present problem, but if you decide to go with a document management system, I can tell you that I have used iManage before and found it to be very user friendly. One good thing about it is that you can search for a particular document that you drafted before by using keywords and then you are able to use it as an example. For instance, if you remember a settlement agreement on a case with fact circumstances similar to one you want to do now and you want to use the first one as a beginning point, but you don’t remember the name of the client — with iManage you don’t have to have that information. You also can search by type of document, such as “correspondence,” “motions,” “affidavits,” or by the person who created the document.
My current firm uses NetDocs, which is similar except the documents actually are stored on a secure server and are accessible solely to your firm, or to anyone the firm authorizes, via the Internet. I don’t understand all the technical stuff about how that is accomplished and how the data is protected, but it’s supposed to be great in terms of protecting documents and information in the event of a natural disaster. Your IT people probably can fill you in on the details.
Answer 4: I’m not tech savvy when it comes to network stuff but I thought if you are sharing files over the network (which it sounds like) that you could restrict what individual users could do with folders.
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