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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 51

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 51: Should you be a legal assistant?

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

One question you might be asking yourself if you have been reading my blog for the past year is, “Should I be a legal assistant?” Even if you are not asking yourself this question, I will answer it anyway because it is something that I do not merely feel, but know that I am more qualified now to address (and that I won’t get fired for addressing honestly). 

If you want to know if you should be a legal assistant, consider how you would answer the following questions: 

  • Do I want to learn more about what it is like to be a lawyer? Then you would likely benefit from being a legal assistant.  
    • In my mind, if I did not want eventually to be a lawyer myself, I would not gain much from doing my job as a legal assistant.  
    • Many times, legal work can be a thankless job, even for attorneys, so if you have no curiosity about what it is like to be a lawyer or what it means to work in a law practice, you can make the same money doing a different, less demanding job than that of legal assistant. 
  • Am I willing to humble myself and learn another culture and “dialect”?  
      • The legal profession can feel like landing in a foreign country when you first start. It has its own culture and it’s own “language”. And even though we’re still speaking English (with a little Latin mixed in) and living within a few miles of each other, the language and culture of the law is shockingly foreign.  
      • As is the case with learning and succeeding in any new culture and with any new language, you become immersed and fluent. That requires humility and patience. If you have those two things, coupled with an honest desire to work, you will do all right. 
  • Are you willing to make a lot of mistakes, get the wrong answer to questions, and learn from when you are wrong? The mark of a good lawyer, and by extension a good assistant is the ability to admit when one is in the wrong and to acknowledge that being in the wrong is often the result of being ignorant. The best work we can do comes when we are willing to make mistakes, report the mistakes (not waiting for our mistakes to be discovered), admit to the mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. The faster and better you can do all that, the better legal assistant you will be. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 47: The Healer’s Art

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

One thing my boss, attorney Eric Johnson, has told me that has had an impact on my view of law is the idea that law was traditionally supposed to be a healing profession. I myself will be starting law school soon and will be learning more comprehensively the ins and outs of the legal profession, and I think that the best lawyers that I have seen seek to bring their clients healing. 

There is an important distinction I need to make here. I am afraid that there are some out there who would think that what I am saying is that good lawyers get their clients what they want or avoid conflict. That is not what healing is in my opinion. You would not want a doctor who only performs you the procedure that you want at the expense of the procedure that you need. To truly bring about justice and appropriate mercy, a good lawyer must uphold the law, and that means not just giving the client what the client wants. It also means not running from conflict every time it arises because conflict is part of life (and some conflicts can be resolved only by confronting and overcoming them, not avoiding or compromising them). The healing comes from doing what is right by your client but also what is fair to the opposing party. Healing comes at times through conflict, but keeping an eye on what the absolute truth of any given situation is, at least when it comes to the law. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 44: Mountains

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

One prominent geographical feature of Utah (where I am a legal assistant for a divorce attorney) is the mountains that surround the cities and towns of the state. I grew up in Colorado where there are beautiful mountain ranges as well, and among the many natural beauties of Utah and Colorado, the mountains are some of the greatest.  

I have gone on several hikes through the mountains here in Utah and Colorado and it always amazes me how tired I get when going on these hikes. Mountain trails are almost always more steep and rugged than we believe or expect, often resulting in inexperienced hikers finding themselves surprised at how tired—sometimes even sick—they become. In extreme cases, people die when they are not mindful of the elevation, the pitch, the altitude, and their effects.  

I have found that in the legal system, we also should be “mindful of the territory” so to speak. There are so many different nuances and tricky “elevation changes” in the law that one must know what they are doing to navigate it successfully. Much like an experienced guide on a mountain trail, a good lawyer can help protect you from hurting yourself, or worse still, “perishing” in any way on your journey. If you are in legal trouble, be smart and consult legal counsel, and do your homework. It will save you from mental, emotional, and financial exhaustion in the long run (and in the short term for that matter). 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 40

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 40: Recording family law hearings

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

My time as a legal assistant to a divorce and family law attorney in Utah has shown me a side of the legal system that has broken some ideals I had before starting the job. I liked to believe that all judges were wise people and that they always had the public’s best interest at heart. I am not implying that all judges are wholly corrupt, but prejudice and mediocrity is a more common occurrence than I believed and hoped.

One example of the mediocrity I am speaking of has been how most judges across the state of Utah treat the YouTube channel Utah Family Law TV (UFLTV). UFLTV is a YouTube channel my boss runs in his spare time. He does not profit from it, nor does he use it as a tool for promoting his legal practice. It is merely a channel he runs to help those who are going through divorce and other domestic relations cases educate themselves about the workings of the legal system by broadcasting the public proceedings of Utah domestic relations cases, like divorce and child custody disputes. These hearings and trials are open to the public. There is no law that prohibits these proceedings from being broadcast to the public. In fact, Utah’s court system proudly announced, about 8 years ago, a rule to make public court proceedings more open and accessible to the public by—purportedly—making them more open and accessible to the news media. While the rules allow a court to deny access to some public hearings under certain circumstances, more often than not UFLTV is denied access for no good reason. For instance, UFLTV coverage requests are routinely denied because the judge or commissioner merely believes UFLTV not to be a legitimate news reporter, yet these same judges refuse to give UFLTV any opportunity to provide evidence that it is clearly a news reporter as that term is defined in the rule.

Situations like this (and others) lead me to conclude that either the judges and commissioners don’t understand—or don’t care to understand—the very rules they are sworn and employed to obey or they simply want to prevent media coverage of public domestic relations proceedings, so they twist the facts and the rules to reach the desired outcome. You don’t need to be a lawyer to see that the so-called “reasons” given for denying UFLTV media coverage requests just don’t hold factual or legal water.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 36: Planning

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

Planning is something that I have always aspired to do in my life but being a legal assistant has helped me realize that there is a level of planning I have never experienced, comprehended, or even imagined.  

For instance, to generate an effective argument my boss must contemplate (or at least try to contemplate) every likely potential counter argument to his own. After considering each counter argument, he must come up with his own response to each counter argument. Even if he doesn’t end up confronting those arguments, he has to be prepared for them so that he can make the most effective case he can.  

And there are plans, then there are schemes.  

One particularly nefarious scheme I’ve experienced in at least the family law field is the lengths to which most lawyers will go, virtually every time, to avoid having direct communication with opposing counsel. For example: when I call other law offices to speak with opposing counsel in a case, I have to navigate a maze of assistants and “policies,” all of which function to ensure I never speak to that attorney. If that is not by design, then it is amazing how every law office coincidentally operates the same way. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 27: Beginnings

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

The old cliché of “Every end is really a beginning” has had me thinking the past couple of weeks. I think about phases in my life and the lives of others. Whether it is death, retirement, or even divorce, often those things that seem to mark the end of something really lead to the start of other, new things. 

Divorce is an end, and there is no denying that. I think more importantly though, and I speak from what I have seen being a legal assistant to a divorce attorney, that divorce can be a moment of clarity that helps people move forward (if people will let it).  

Some people let divorce tear them apart and lead them to more mistakes, others allow/make divorce a means of finding out who they really are and what they ought to be doing. “It’s not what happens to you but how you respond that defines you” (one good cliché deserves another).  

Seeing so much divorce has taught me that I want to act instead of being acted upon. It can be hard to recognize when we are reacting instead of being proactive (thank you Stephen Covey), but the reward is that much greater to those who choose proactivity over reactivity. The same hammer that shatters the glass forges the steel. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 19: Litigation

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

Litigation is not fun. It’s anything but fun. Now, I am not a lawyer and I have only been a legal assistant since this past summer, and that’s the sum total of my experience with the legal system to this point in my life. But even then, I feel that I know enough to say that litigating is hard and I see why people hire lawyers when they’re involved in litigation. I am not a naturally argumentative person. I do not really go looking for arguments and I do not enjoy arguing because the point of arguing is to show why you are right and the other person is wrong, and I prefer to stay out of stuff like that because I do not feel qualified to say someone is right or wrong (even if it is as clear as day). So, what on Earth is driving me to want to pursue law? It seems like I would hate it as a career, so why would I bother seeking to gain more knowledge in that area? 

Well, I might be a fool, but as much as I hate arguing, I hate to see other people become victims of the very system that claims to defend their rights even more. I hate seeing other people being taken advantage of by people who are supposed to be watching out for that person’s best interests (I am talking about lawyers and judges). It is cliché now to suggest that the system is broken (which is only causing people to be more complacent about the broken system), but I think people deserve to be treated like people and when we do not stand up for the rights of all people we eventually stand up for the rights of none (also cliché, but no less true; in fact, all the more true because it’s fallen to the level of cliché).  

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 12: Perfection

By Quinton Lister, Legal Assistant

It doesn’t take a lawyer to discover, and it doesn’t take long to realize, that the legal profession is by no means perfect. The legal system is nowhere close to perfect either. So, why, as a legal assistant, am I concerned with my emails and my documents being perfect? I suppose it’s because I have started to see how the slightest error gives your enemies an opening to make a mountain out of a molehill. For instance, a simple, honest mistake resulting in miscalculating the child custody schedule, child support, or alimony awards can be disastrous, if one wants to try to capitalize on those mistakes.  

Simply put, mistakes are costly, especially in practicing law. The repercussions of legal mistakes can be irreversible and have lasting impact. That explains why lawyers are exact in their words and actions, and why legal documents are often so long. Good lawyers and bad one too know a mistake could cost them a case and a job (not to mention exposure to a malpractice suit). My job is to learn to be exact and thorough. Sometimes this pushes me out of my comfort zone, but that is part of learning any profession, trade, or craft. I am grateful to be learning these things now, well before I am an attorney myself.  

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 2: Pile higher and deeper

Last week I reported that I am a complete neophyte when it comes to the practice of law (this is my second week as a legal assistant), and that remains true this week. There have been several surprises as to the ins and outs of the legal system. One of the most surprising to me is the amount of paperwork that goes into a legal proceeding.

The sheer number of papers that must be piled up (and continue to pile up) in the record rooms of courts, law offices, and the storage space on the servers is staggering.

My boss asked me to document my observations during this time (one in a lifetime time) while I see with “fresh eyes”, and it appears to me that the amount of red tape and hoop jumping required is more a matter of accreted conventions than necessity. Many documents or processes that may have had a purpose in the past have outlived their usefulness.

Clearly, there is a need to record and document certain things in almost any important human undertaking. I also concede I don’t know how everything works or why, so there may be reasons for the I don’t understand. But as I am experiencing it, the amount of paperwork seems inexplicably and unnecessarily slow, duplicative, and burdensome (and as a result, unnecessarily expensive).

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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