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Tag: law clerk

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 52: One year

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

Well, I made it. 

There was no real worry that I could not do it, but being a legal assistant is not an easy job and there were days when I doubted myself, as I assume all people do at one point in time or another in any difficult, challenging job.  

I have learned so much as a legal assistant to a divorce attorney. The sheer amount of things I have discovered just by virtue of showing up for work each day astounds me. I still feel like a complete neophyte (yes, I still remember that word and what it means), but I also know that I am not that complete of a neophyte anymore despite how I feel. 

For all those who are wondering, hiring a good attorney is worth it. The legal jungle is thick, dark, and treacherous. Frankly, you cannot afford not to hire a good attorney. I have learned that lesson in my time as a legal assistant here, and it is what has convinced and inspired me to study the law myself.  

Thanks for reading for a year, and we will write again soon. 

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

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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 50: Learning still

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

It has been almost a year since I have started working as a legal assistant to my boss, attorney Eric Johnson. I have learned so many new things about the legal system, about myself, and about being a professional. I am still not a licensed attorney, and I will not be for some time (I start law school this fall), but it’s both surprising and exciting to realize, despite everything I have learned, that there is still more to learn. I know this is not a profound observation. Many people and clichés have been constructed to describe this very phenomenon, but I understand it better than I ever have before. Just when I feel like I have mastered one thing, some new challenge appears that I must learn to resolve well. Life and work are like that. We learn just enough to do and move on to the next thing we need to learn and do. And there is always something to learn and do next. I used to get upset at that, but I am learning to accept it, and even embrace it now. I will always be ignorant about something, and that is just fine so long as I commit to overcoming my ignorance where I can. 

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 49

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

What is the one thing that would help decrease divorce in the United States?  

I honestly think that commitment to marriage as more than a legal institution would lead to less divorce. As society has begun to view marriage as merely a legal construct, we have begun to value marriage less and less. As we decrease the value of marriage we also decrease the importance of family. One peculiar instance of this phenomenon in action is the morals behind two recent Disney movies, Turning Red  and Encanto (before I go further, I will say that I liked one of these movies and did not like the other one). Each of these movies tells the story of a girl growing up in a highly structured culture in her family. Each movie seeks to deconstruct the family culture the main character is born into, and each of them champion the value of overcoming family tradition and culture to “truly be oneself”. The interesting thing about each of these movies is the idea that the individual is more important than the family unit. Now, to be clear, there are family dynamics that are unhealthy that need to be fixed, but the hyper focus on the individual clearly undermines the necessity of sacrifice inherent in marriage and family relationships. We do give up part of ourselves in order to be one with others, and that is not always a bad thing. Spencer Kimball put it so well: “In serving others, we ‘find’ ourselves in terms of acknowledging divine guidance in our lives. Furthermore, the more we serve our fellowmen . . . the more substance there is to our souls. [I]ndeed, it is easier to “find” ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!” Placing the needs and success of the family ahead of our own is, one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Healthier and happier marriages make healthier and happier individuals. And healthier, happier people make up the best families. Not to put to fine a point on it: you need a family, and your family needs you.  

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 48

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 48: Personal Statement for Law School 

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

My time as a legal assistant to attorney Eric Johnson has served the exact purpose I was hoping it would. I wanted to gain experience in the legal field before starting law school. I have now been accepted to Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and will be attending starting this fall. In honor of that, my blog post this week will be my personal statement I used for my law school applications: 

The serenity prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I have needed each part of this prayer at different times in my life. As I have applied the three elements of this prayer, I have found healing for myself, and I know that other people deserve to experience the same. I can help bring this healing to others by practicing law. 

First, “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” This was difficult for me to accept because I did not like to think I could not change certain things. I am an American, and I have been taught from my youth that my choice is paramount in everything I do. And I believe that I have the power to make whatever choice I want. However, I have had to learn that even though I always have my choice, I cannot eliminate the consequences of my choices. For instance, I regret not playing hockey when I was younger. I love hockey, and I am one of the few American boys born in the 90s whose favorite athlete was Joe Sakic and not Michael Jordan. I cannot go back and choose to play hockey now and accepting that helps me change my mindset. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, I can now focus on enjoying things like acting, singing, and dancing. Things I did as a youth, and that enhance my life now. That acceptance brings healing, and I think that by helping people see they cannot always change the consequences of the law, I can bring this essential healing as a lawyer. 

Second, “courage to change the things I can.” To me, this means I have responsibility when I want to see a change in my life. For instance, when I served a two-year mission for my church in Hungary, I did not speak Hungarian well at first. I would say that I was like a child, but even Hungarian children can communicate with words instead of pointing and acting out what they mean to say. Despite the struggle, and because of my love for my faith and the people of Hungary, I did everything it took to improve my language skills throughout my mission. I worked at it every day and persevered until I could confidently hold a real conversation with any Hungarian I met (even the children). The work I put in to get better at the Hungarian language helped create closer relationships with others and built my confidence. These things are examples to me of the healing that comes when I accept responsibility for what I can do for myself. People need good lawyers to help them do what they can for themselves in a lawsuit, and I can offer people this necessary healing through practicing law. 

The final principle of the serenity prayer, “and wisdom to know the difference”, has been crucial to me in my relationships with others. I have learned that I cannot control how other people react to me or what they think about me, but sometimes I forget that I cannot control these things and I need wisdom to keep myself from trying to manipulate other’s reactions and emotions. For instance, I used to work with my brother at a company he started in college. We did not have the healthiest dynamic as kids and I could tell this was playing out in our professional lives together. I had to quit, but I was scared to tell him because I thought he would “freak out.” I needed wisdom to tell him I was quitting while allowing him to have whatever reaction he wanted. It turned out, he felt the same way I did, and it helped bring healing to our relationship. A good lawyer helps their client find the same healing by helping them exercise wisdom to know how they should or should not act, and that’s why I want to pursue the law as a career since I know other people would benefit from that. 

The serenity prayer has been a guiding influence in everything I do, and I have been blessed with healing by choosing to follow these principles in my life. I am immeasurably grateful for this healing, and I want to share this with others because it will help them. I know these principles paired with law degree can help me be a “healer” for other people in my own way. 

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 46

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 46: Simplify, but do so Elegantly 

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

As a legal assistant to a divorce attorney, I find that one of the most difficult things to do in the law is to take a legal concept and simplify it without dumbing it down. A good lawyer has the ability to simplify, but can do so in an elegant way.  

The best way to help a client, is to help them understand enough about their case so that they feel empowered. That doesn’t mean that the client will understand everything about their case (any divorce case can get complicated quickly), but if a client can feel empowered and that they can do something then that will make the attorney’s work more effective. Legalese is a real phenomenon and any uninitiated individual would feel overwhelmed by too much lawyer speak. However, if you simplify legal concepts too much, then that same uninitiated individual can be misled because they do not understand enough about their situation.  

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 45

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

I work for a divorce attorney, but I am not pro divorce. I understand that if there were no divorces I would be “out of a job”, but that still does not mean I have to like divorce. That being said, I think that divorce attorneys offer a valuable service, especially to those who have a vengeful or, for lack of a better term, “crazy” ex-spouse.  

I have seen firsthand the tactics many unscrupulous divorce attorneys and their clients will use to prolong divorce proceedings, or to get extra money that the law does not guarantee to them. I have seen the damage that is the result of lawyers and their clients treating divorce like a zero-sum game.  

If your ex-spouse is treating you maliciously and/or unjustly (and I mean “unjust” in the sense of breaking the law in their treatment of you), then you owe it to yourself and your family to consult with and hire a good attorney. Hire an attorney who is both skilled and moral. Hire a lawyer who will do his/her best to help you and the other party comply with the law and resolve issues equitably and in a timely manner.  

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 43: Law Offices

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

One thing that I have noticed in my time as a legal assistant to a divorce attorney is that most law offices are difficult to work with compared to our office. I am not saying that because I like to paint all lawyers with a broad brush, but I have found that it can be extremely difficult to get anything done when trying to work with other attorneys and their staffs. 

At my office, we actually answer the phone when people call our office. And when we’re already on the phone when people call, we call back the same day or the next day at the latest. Same with email. You send us an email and we’ll respond to it same day or the next business day at the latest. Send us a proposed draft to review and we get back to you as soon as we actually can, not weeks later claiming we were “in trial”. Not so with the clear majority of the attorneys I deal with. Not even close. There are times when we go days, weeks, even months ignored by opposing counsel. 

Need to schedule a hearing? How is it that opposing counsel almost always picks that latest of the open dates? They’re not fooling anyone. It’s a running joke among the court clerks.  

It may be that lawyers are literally busy all the time, but I think there must be some unwritten rule somewhere in the lawyer world that says you cannot cooperate with another law office unless you are friends with opposing counsel, or you benefit personally and substantially from cooperating with the other attorney. Professionalism and professional courtesy is in shocking short supply. Divorce lawyers, and their clients, tend to drag their feet and elongate proceedings unnecessarily. These are people’s lives we are dealing with, so we must do our best work as consistently and as efficiently as possible, so that they get the most benefit for the substantial amount of money clients spend on their lawyers. If you are a divorce attorney reading this blog, take and return calls and emails timely. Do your best to expedite the process. It will benefit you and, more importantly, your client. 

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 42

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 42: Do you like divorce law?

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

Often when I tell people I know that I am a legal assistant to a divorce attorney, I usually get asked if I like divorce law. The answer to that question is yes and no. I will start with the “no” part of my answer. Divorce, at it’s best, is miserable. Sure there are “amicable” divorces but it is a painful experience and subject for everyone involved, and so, understandably, most people are not happy or congenial when going through divorce. Even those who are happy and congenial, are experiencing immense pain and sometimes they project that on me because “I’m the assistant”. So, in that sense, no, I do not like divorce law because sometimes it is hard to deal with people going through divorce. 

I will now address the “yes” part of my answer. I do like divorce law because I know that the work I do to help my boss help his clients is important and helps people who need help. I have come to see how important competent legal counsel is and I believe that a good lawyer (meaning an honest and competent one) can do a lot of good for you. I see how that work can bless lives and so for that reason, yes, I do like divorce law. 

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 33

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

One part of my job as a legal assistant that I have yet spoken of has been my day-to-day interaction with potential clients. When you call a lawyer’s office you will almost assuredly first speak with a receptionist or with a legal assistant like me, and not with the lawyer himself.  

Now before I go further, we want to make legal advice and assistance as available to as many people as we can, but many people don’t seem to understand how a law office operates.  

May I suggest what you should do when you call a law office for the first time?  

First, remember that I do not own or run the office. I’m the legal assistant. Asking me questions I can’t answer and trying to haggle with me will not get you free advice or a free consultation. That’s not my decision and I’m not qualified to give legal advice. My role is limited essentially to two basic things: 1) helping you schedule an appointment with the lawyer who can actually answer your legal questions and evaluate your case, and 2) providing background information on the firm and what it does.  

Second, understand that a legal assistant is not a lawyer and thus does not know the answers your legal questions. This is not only an issue of pragmatism, but it is also an ethical matter. If I were to try to give you legal advice without being a lawyer, my boss could get in trouble for it. 

Third, while there are many questions about the office and what we do that I can answer and that I am happy to answer for you, there is a difference between asking a quick question that I can handle in a minute or two and several questions that would take, at best, half an hour or more to answer.  

Fourth, lawyers are like everyone else who works for a living. They aren’t in the business of working for free. They can’t be. Lawyers are expected to provide about 50 hours of free legal advice or assistance per year to those who truly cannot afford to pay for it, but unless the lawyer is independently wealthy, he can’t give away his services every day. Yet I am amazed at the number of people who call our office not just daily but hourly asking for free legal advice, even free legal representation. 

Fifth, the lawyer in our office works throughout the work day. He is quite busy during the work day. He’s rarely free to answer the phone when someone makes an unexpected, unscheduled call to the office. Please do not be upset or offended if you are told when you call the office that there is no lawyer available to speak to you at that very moment. When people call our office and the lawyer isn’t available to take their call, I offer to schedule a time for them to meet with or speak with the lawyer as soon as he is available either later that day or later in the week. That is the best that he and I can do, and we hope you understand why. 

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 31: Brian Flores

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 31: Brian Flores and the NFL

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

My experiences as a legal assistant to a divorce attorney have started to change my perspective on many aspects of law and the legal profession. My view on the class action lawsuit Brian Flores (a former head coach of the Miami Dolphins) just filed against the NFL shows how my perspectives have changed.   

If I were not working as a legal assistant when Flores filed his lawsuit, I would have likely swallowed the narrative from the news and entertainment media on who is right and wrong and what action should be taken. 

For those who may not be familiar with the Brian Flores case, I will summarize: Flores, who is black, filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL and multiple teams for racist hiring practices. After he was fired from the Miami Dolphins as head coach, Flores applied for a new coaching job and interviewed with many teams, including the New York Giants. 

Flores received a congratulatory text from Bill Belichick (coach of the New England Patriots) for landing the new head coach position with the New York Giants. The problem is that first, Belichick’s text message was meant to go to a different “Brian”; specifically, Brian Daboll (a white man), who did in fact get the head coaching job). Belichick sent Flores the text by mistake. Second, Flores received Belichick’s congratulatory text message 3 days before his interview with the Giants. Flores claims this is evidence the Giants conducted a “sham” interview. Flores alleges that he interviewed by the New York Giants as the token black man to comply with the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”, a policy the NFL adopted in 2003 to boost hiring of minority coaches.  

Granted, my legal knowledge is limited, but to me it was a mistake for Flores to file a lawsuit. It appears to me that Flores cannot prove he was the victim of racial discrimination. Indeed, if even he could prove his race was, ironically, exploited to comply with anti-discrimination rules, that wouldn’t prove Flores was rejected for the job because of his race. Diversity quotas may be well-intentioned, but they accomplish the opposite of what they are intended to do. While the Rooney rule and anti-discrimination laws may result in more racial minority representation the NFL’s coaching ranks, is that really racial neutrality? Trying to legislate discrimination out of existence paradoxically fosters racism, albeit a more complex, covert kind of racism. Racism is a cultural problem that can only change with a change in the culture. As affirmative action and other failed legal efforts show, such a change can only come by choice, not by fiat or force; that only aggravates existing tensions and creates more problems than it solves. 

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

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