Tag: secretary

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 | | 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 | | 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 | | 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 | | 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 | | 801-466-9277

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Should I pay my lawyer to talk to the attorney of the other party? He spent 3 hours last week responding to 12 emails from the other lawyer and I need to pay him for this time. At this rate I my lawyer will become a secretary and I will be bankrupt.

Should I pay my lawyer to talk to the attorney of the other party? He spent 3 hours last week responding to 12 emails from the other lawyer and I need to pay him for this time. At this rate I my lawyer will become a secretary and I will be bankrupt.

This is a great question.

Clearly, if the opposing lawyer is trying to run up the costs of the litigation by calling or corresponding with your attorney excessively, so that your attorney has to take the calls and/or write responses to all of the correspondence, that opposing lawyer is playing dirty.

Still, some cases are expansive and/or complicated and may require a great deal of back and forth between attorneys as a reasonable and necessary part of the litigation process.

If your case is the kind that doesn’t require anything close to the amount of calls and emails the opposing side is sending to your attorney, if it is clear that the volume of the opposing attorneys communications are excessive and engaged in in bad faith, you are not obligated to suffer it.

One way that your attorney and you may be able to remedy this problem would be by having your attorney send opposing counsel an email like this:

Dear opposing counsel,

It is clear to any reasonable person that the frequency and volume of your telephone calls and/or written correspondence with our office are unnecessary, unduly burdensome and oppressive, and engaged in in bad faith. My client cannot afford to have my staff or me take such calls and read and/or respond to every one of such written correspondence. Consequently, my client has now directed my staff and me to:

  • spend no more than five minutes per week taking calls from anyone at your office; and
  • read and/or respond to written communications from your office totaling no more than 250 words.

If in a given week you honestly believe you need more than five minutes to speak with me; and/or more than 250 words to communicate in writing to me, my client requires that you send me an email (no printed letters, no faxes) stating a clear and concise explanation why. No one at the office will read your email but I will forward it to my client to determine whether [he/she] authorizes me that week to speak with you for more than five minutes and/or review and/or respond to more than 250 written words from you.

If you have any questions regarding this policy, you are welcome to call me and discuss them with me for up to five minutes this week and/or email me with your questions this week, so long as your email is no more than 250 words in length.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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