I am a true solo – it’s just me and two cats. No husband, boyfriend, or significant other to assist with the bills (or anything else in my life). I work in my unfinished basement at a beautiful desk donated by my friend and mentor, Lyza Sandgren. My walls and ceilings are exposed studs; my floor, concrete. But for the island that is my desk and the leftover carpeting on the floor, I am surrounded by storage boxes, the water heater, and furnace. With no walls, I have no place to hang my diplomas, certificates, or other office decor.
Let me clarify, I’m not complaining. I chose this life and I love what I do as a professional virtual paralegal. There is nothing to compare to the flexibility of grabbing my laptop and being productive – anywhere. The only thing I miss about working in a brick-and-mortar law office would be the steady paycheck … okay, fine, I miss having a full benefits package.
To stay in business (and keep the bills paid), I rely on my clients to pay me timely and in full. To paraphrase Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire), ‘I depend on the kindness of strangers.’ I’ve never actually met 95% of my clients in real life. Most of my clients find me through social media and referrals, and occasionally from a professional listserv in which I participate.
The attorneys I ‘know’ from my interactions on Facebook, LinkedIn, or the listserv are hardly strangers. These are people with whom I have had several intelligent (and sometimes silly) interactions. So when one of them contacts me for a one-time gig, I sometimes rely on email confirmations to seal our agreement.
Attorneys will kvetch, until they’re purple, about clients who fail to pay their bills on time. The same attorneys, also insist upon a retainer or prepayment before they’ll work on a file. However in the bizarro world in which I work as a virtual paralegal, they will huff and puff about providing me with the same courtesy.
This year alone, I’ve had two attorney clients – with contracts – fight me tooth and nail over my invoices. If it weren’t for my own bottom line, it would almost be comical how they try to wiggle out of their contractual obligations. Seriously people, I have better things to do with my time and energy than fight with anyone about payment.
It is basic business practice – you hire me to work, we agree on a fee, I complete the assignment, send you a bill, and you freaking pay me. It’s all paint by numbers. Isn’t it?
I’m currently chasing after a 3rd attorney for payment of my duly earned fees – a non-contracted attorney client that hired me in May for a one time gig. As a courtesy, I offered him the “friends and family” discount because I know him from the listserv. We agreed on a fee; I completed the work promptly; and at the end of the month I sent him an invoice.
Since we didn’t have a formal contract in place, I didn’t hold him to my net 30-day payment clause. I did, however, admonish him for calling me Pam.
On July 1st, I sent him a ’friendly’ reminder email with another copy of the invoice. Four days later he responded, “The issue is still open.” In my head I went full-on Yosemite Sam – after all, the original invoice was only for about $200.
For those of you who follow this blog, you know my summer did not begin well. My mom’s home, in Houston, flooded on May 26, 2015. I’ve spent the greater part of the last several months at her side. The folks on the listserv are more than well aware of some of the more significant issues with which I had to deal because of the impact of the flooding. The least of which has been the impact on my finances and business.
I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid using the flood as a crutch. It seems unprofessional for me to invoke my circumstances to impart guilt on those who refuse to pay me timely.
When it came time to send out the July bills at the beginning of August, I reversed the discount and made demand for payment within 15 days, reminding him I too expect timely payment for services rendered. His response, “And I have yet to be paid by the client, as they hit some snags. We anticipate closing 9/1.” AND he called me Pam again!
I immediately responded with a gentle reminder that I prefer Pamela to Pam, and, much to my embarrassment, I invoked the flood.
Yosemite Sam was having an old-fashioned cussin’ party in my head. It’s not nearly as funny as it may sound.
I rationalized it. I’d give him until September 1 to make good on the invoice. The reminder went out on September 2nd.
He couldn’t be bothered to send a response.
On October 1st, I reiterated my demand for payment in full. I even used bold, red 18-point font followed by a lot of exclamation points.
October is almost over and I’m still waiting for payment of, what most might consider, a measly $225.
Remember, I’m a true solo. That $225 represents round-trip airfare back home to Houston to help my mom. Ethics, and my personal moral compass, prohibit me from outing him by name, location, or area of practice either here or on the listserv. It would cost me more than what I’m owed to sue him. I have few options, but venting to you, my loyal followers, helps.
In the meantime, I’ll go back into the invoice and assess interest charges and on November 1st, I’ll send him the updated invoice and demand for payment.
And on that happy note, I’ll get back to working for the clients who appreciate and pay me.1 Comment
At this time, I also want to extend my gratitude to those who helped me, my mother, and the Houston community following the flood. May you all be blessed.
Omayn, v’omayn.Leave a comment
Y’all know me – ‘speechless’ and ‘without words’ rarely apply to me. It usually happens when I am too stunned by the comment(s) to respond immediately.
Imagine my reaction to a blog post titled: “Your Paralegals are an Embarrassment“. I clicked the link. My hope was to read ‘. . . of riches’. (It pains me to post the back link, but I’m no ‘embarrassment’.)
The author gleefully states, “Today, I’m going to really annoy the paralegals.”
Oh, bless his heart.
In short, the author (and several commentators) think our profession is overrated; we should and can be replaced by technology; and/or entry level associates provide more value to a practice than we do.
My comment, awaiting moderation as of 10:45 a.m.:
“Wow. Just, wow. You really have zero, zilch, nada, no appreciation for our profession.
“Paralegals have largely been replaced by technology.” Well, using that logic, so have many attorneys. Tell me, when was the last time tech checked the local rules and forms to confirm that all was indeed in order? Oh, right, ‘my software/service vendor does that automatically.’ Not so much. I have a client in California who relies on his vendor to provide all the latest local rules’ forms updates. All it took was ONE rejected filing for him to realize that the vendor was not updating the forms and that it was more cost effective to have a paralegal take a few extra minutes to make sure the forms in use are, and remain, current.
“Is client communication better handled by the paralegal or by the attorney managing the matter? What about simple tasks like preparing documents for trial?” Let’s look at this from the client’s point of view – does your client want to pay your hourly rate or a paralegal’s?
And if you think paralegals don’t specialize and create niches, you should recheck your sources. 99% of us are – Brad, what did you call it? – oh, right, ‘hybrids’. Our titles may not reflect the jobs we actually do, but, and trust me on this, we’ve always been hybrids.
All of you seem to think the only way to ’employ’ a paralegal is to hire one as a full time staff member. Most solos/small firms don’t have the budget for full-time, salaried employees – especially when those employees’ services aren’t required full time. You want paralegals who are ‘tech-driven’? Open your eyes! There’s an entire subset of trained, experienced, certified/certificated, practice-specific virtual paralegals. We, yes, ‘we’, provide as needed services. That means ‘pay as you go’. You want to improve your bottom line, increase productivity, and keep your clients happy? Think virtual.”
On another note … I wonder if it ever occurred to the author to post credit for his use of the image?7 Comments
Yesterday, I received a call from a non-attorney who claimed he was helping ‘his’ attorney locate someone who could e-file appellate pleadings. Well, heck yeah! I can do that. The conversation quickly devolved and I found I had crossed over into the Twilight Zone:
- “The attorney withdrew from the case because he didn’t have the capacity to e-file.”
- “‘We’ need to hire you to e-file for the attorney because ‘we’ don’t have access to email.”
- “Um, I think he has a computer.”
- “‘We’ want you to receive the notices and call the attorney to tell him what to do next.”
There was much more to the conversation – oy veysmir! – but I’ll skip to the end because today’s installment is so much more entertaining.
I kept asking him about email, to which he responded:
“The Internet will eat your email / email account if you don’t use the account regularly. I know because my email account is gone.” “Well, no, I don’t actually remember my email address.”
OMG! The crazy actually got crazier –
The Internet challenged non-attorney just called back. He read me a letter ‘drafted by his attorney’ authorizing me to be the paralegal on the case and giving me permission to take direction directly from the client.
OH, HELL NO!
‘Sir, that’s not how it works. Your attorney needs to contact me; we’ll discuss his needs; I’ll prepare a contract and he’ll execute and return it.’
‘Well, how does your contract differ from this letter?’
‘Aside from the fact that it isn’t a contract and it’s written to circumvent the requirement that any work I do must be supervised by an attorney, well, pretty much everything.’
‘Then you need to MAIL me a copy of your contract so I can review the terms to see if I approve them.’
‘No sir, that isn’t how it works.’
‘Well, yes it is – I’ll be hiring you and I’m hiring the attorney. I’ll pay each of you directly.’
<Insert Scooby Doo “Huh?” here.>
‘No sir, you hire the attorney who then subcontracts to me. The attorney will direct my involvement in the case. I’ll bill him for my time and he’ll include that in his bill to you. I will not accept payment from you.’
‘But I’m the one hiring you.’
‘No. You don’t seem to understand the dynamic. Your attorney has to hire me. And, frankly, I’m still baffled by your comment that your attorney doesn’t have Internet access.’
‘Why should he have Internet access? That’s why I want to hire you. You’ll e-file according to the court guidelines and be cc’d on all emails. When those emails come in, you’ll call the attorney and tell him that something has come in and MAIL him a copy.’
‘Sir, it doesn’t work that way. The e-filing account has to be created using the ATTORNEY’S email address and bar number. The bar number and registration serve as his signature on the filings. He’ll be receiving the same email that I receive as a ‘cc’ recipient. ‘
‘Fine, I will get you his bar number and you can create the account.’
‘You really don’t understand how this works, do you? The attorney MUST have his own, LEGITIMATE, email account. There is no universe in which I will create an email address for email@example.com. For any of this to work, your attorney must have an active email account and Internet access.’
‘Why would we need YOU then??? If the attorney is going to do the work …’
<Seriously, Allen Funt can step out of the shadows any time now.>
‘Let me try to explain this again from my perspective – I work for attorneys. Period. An attorney must execute my contract before I’ll do any work for him/her on any project. The attorney tells me what needs to be done and I do it. You need someone who knows how to e-file – that would be me. The attorney drafts and signs pleadings then emails them to me. I vet the pleadings for formatting and confirm it all pages and attachments are included; then log into the system – using the attorney’s login information – and e-file the document(s). Once filed, I download the e-filing confirmation and file-stamped copy and email them to the attorney.’
‘Why can’t you just MAIL it to him??’
‘BECAUSE THE MOST BASIC REQUIREMENT FOR ANY OF THIS TO WORK IS THAT THE ATTORNEY HAS INTERNET ACCESS AND AN EMAIL ADDRESS.’
‘I don’t understand why you find this so objectionable. How hard is it for you to call the attorney and tell him that something was filed and then MAIL him a copy??’
<Lawd, help me!>
‘Well, let’s see – you’re trying to put me in a position where I’m working for you, not the attorney. At the very least, it is an ethical conundrum for me. I’m not a lawyer –’
‘I know that.’
‘<audible sigh> I’m not a lawyer, I do not practice law, nor do I work for non-attorneys. To do so puts my entire career in jeopardy. Furthermore, it is impossible for me to wrap my head around the concept of an attorney without Internet access or an email address.’
‘But the court says that it recommends that a paralegal or secretary be cc’d –’
‘Do you even understand what a ‘cc’ is?’
‘Yes, a carbon copy. You receive the email, call the attorney, print and MAIL him a copy.’
<The lump on my head is now the size of a pomegranate.>
‘No. The attorney receives the SAME EMAIL with the same attachment. It’s up to him to monitor his email account and be responsible for the case.’
‘Again, I ask, why would we need you if he’s expected to do all the work?’
<Did I say pomegranate? Cantaloupe . . . >
‘Well, because it’s his job to practice law and represent you? I don’t understand why you want the added expense* of my time to open and print a document that he’ll receive as the primary on the e-filing account, and then MAIL the email attachment to him for review. This is a paperless system. The only reason the court recommends a cc is if there’s a technical failure or the attorney is out of the office for a prolonged period of time.’
‘Well, he is out of the office all the time and he would need you to call him to tell him about the email and take care of everything.’
<Malpractice? UPL? Anyone? Bueller . . .>
‘It really doesn’t work that way. He needs to have an email account that he monitors. He is the responsible party . . . not me.’
‘So I guess I need to meet with him tomorrow and have him contact you to see if this will even work.’
‘That would be the best place to start.’
‘How do I get a copy of your contract?’
‘I’ll draft it AFTER I speak with the attorney and email it to him to review and execute.’
<You know where this is going now, right?>
‘Why can’t you just MAIL it to me??’
‘I’ll be available late tomorrow. Have your attorney call me.’
*I will happily part a fool from his money …1 Comment
… it’s almost Shabbas. It is the second Shabbas since the post-Shavuous #HoustonFlood – a deluge of almost biblical proportions that was not related to a hurricane.
The house has been, for all intents and purposes, gutted. Mom is officially one of the displaced and living in a hotel. We spend our days in clean up and salvage mode. I’m writing this while standing at what used to be the bar in what used to be my Mom’s kitchen. This space has become my satellite office.
Mom’s a trooper. She covered all the emergency, immediate needs before I arrived in Houston. On Flood Day 2015, she found a damage restoration contractor that was at her house as soon as the streets cleared. We were both ecstatic. Then she tells me that they’re Israelis – BONUS POINTS! Mom had her own mini-#IDF coming to her rescue.
The team from Speed Dry USA has been amazing! They’ve treated Mom like mishpocha (family). Their concern was as much for her well-being as it was for damage control. Gigli arrived with his team to rip out carpet, pull up floors, and tear out drywall. They emptied closets and cabinets and moved Mema & Grampa’s furniture out of damp’s way.
In the meantime, I made calls and registered Mom with every possible agency. I reached out to dear friends to check in on Mom – remember I was in Atlanta when the waters rose. Suzi Merritt, Kathi Kowalski Sandler, and Ricky Guinea stopped in daily to make sure she was okay. Kathi, invited me to the ‘Houston Flood 2015 Resource/Support Group’ on Facebook.
Resource and support – it was brilliant. Amidst the chaos, a forward-thinking neighbor started the group “to help my dear friends and strangers who have been affected and displaced by the Houston Flood 2015.” Tandy Camberg Harris writes, “The primary purpose of it is to serve as a support and resource group to those of you, who have lost everything and feel completely overwhelmed.”
Friends and neighbors invited friends and neighbors –
People posted stupid-proof information about receiving every possible form of assistance. Then there were the posts about very specific needs – neighbors responded. Those with, offered up what they had. Others coordinated volunteers to bring water, food, trash bags & cleaning supplies. Businesses offered free services. I posted. Total strangers and friends from long ago responded – Mom was going to be covered until I was feet on the ground in Houston.
Then I got here. It was overwhelming. My paralegal brain kicked in and knew what to do, but I couldn’t just bulldoze over Mom. It’s been, to say the least, a very difficult week. I’d share my feelings, but Arlene Nisson Lassin has captured the essence so well – Back to the Anger Phase of Flood Grief. Like my I-hope-to-meet-one-day-friend Arlene, the emotions come in waves . . . and at the oddest times. It usually hits when I read Facebook posts about how our community has mobilized to provide, well, everything.
My dearest friends and my newest friends from the FB group have provided everything from water and food to supplies and physical labor. Given, freely, from the heart.
It’s going to take a long time to get back to normal, but we’re going to get there – not just Mom, but the entire community. One day at a time, one Shabbas at a time.
Tonight, we will bring in Shabbas with Mom’s mini-#IDF team. We’re looking forward to a home cooked meal and the company of new friends. Tomorrow we’ll daven at Beth Yeshurun with more members of our community. It’s going to be nice to see and meet our friends.
Tonight, when you light your Shabbas candles, I ask that you include a prayer for the Houston community – for a refuah shleimah – a swift and full recovery.
May you each enjoy a peaceful and restful Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom!!Leave a comment
Yesterday I posted about a ‘quick question’ email I’d received. Several folks suggested responses, others just shook their heads knowingly.
This is what I did . . .
I took a deep breath and let it out, shrugged my shoulders and told my snark to take a break. Then I wrote back:
Technically, there are no quick questions. The answer could be short; the response, quick. The question, not so much.
I will infer from your question that you are neither a paralegal, nor an attorney. If you were, you’d know the answer.
My business is based in Georgia and therefore, I am prohibited by the state bar/state law from working with the public. Even if I weren’t, it is my choice, and prerogative, to work only with attorneys.
I hope that answers your question.
(My snark didn’t listen very well)
Well actually I think of it the opposite but you definitely have a valid point.
Questions via email are never quick and they are unfair to the recipient.
Think about it, the reason we all hate email is it’s a time suck because some knuckle-head like me can fire off a two second email that takes you 10 minutes to craft a response to. Used to be you would spent just as much time on a phone call as me so the time sink was equal. The person who figures out how to rebalance the time equation will make a billion dollars!
Anyway sorry for the lame question and rambling response. Totally makes sense now that you mention it. I’m in the market for a paralegal to help with our corp docs. I can’t spend 350 an hour which is what my attorney wants to charge. [emphasis added]
I shall keep hunting!
The old ‘I don’t want to pay a lawyer for services, so I’ll see if I can find someone to do it for less. I know. I’ll hire a paralegal.’ rationalization.
Forget snark . . . I’m angry. <insert Hulk / redhead references here>
It took several deep breaths before I could pen my response –
I understand your frustration, however, preparing corporate documents is considered practicing law. Paralegals are never permitted to practice law. It’s built into the name. Attorneys go to law school and pass the bar for the privilege of practicing law. Paralegals train to support attorneys. Therefore, we can prepare corporate documents under the supervision of an attorney.
There are some states that allow independent paralegals to offer limited services to the public – without attorney supervision. Preparing corporate documents falls outside the scope of permitted services.
If you find someone claiming to be a paralegal who can and will provide that service, be warned, that person is acting outside the scope of what is allowed. It is both illegal and an ethics violation. A properly trained and ethical paralegal would avoid being placed in a position that would cost them their professional reputation and livelihood.
‘Nuf said!Leave a comment
Many of you know I’m originally from Texas – born and reared in Houston. My extended family and friends are there and my mother lives in the house my grandparents bought 50 years ago. Houston is, and always will be, home.
In the wee hours of the morning on May 26th, my mother’s house started to flood. By 7 am, the water was ankle deep throughout the house and higher in the garage.
B”H – my mother is safe and well. The house is a disaster. Crews have already come through to remove all the flooring and carpet and they’ve taken off the lower 2 feet of drywall in every room.
For now, she is staying with a friend. It will be weeks, if not months, before the house is livable. As of today, the area has not been declared a federal disaster area. Until FEMA or other aid becomes available, this will be a financial burden for her.
I’m headed back home on Monday, June 1st and will stay as long as I’m needed to ease the emotional burden.
As always, I will travel with my ‘office’ and I will make myself available to complete projects. Because I will be working from a satellite location, I ask that you alert me to projects by calling or texting. The number can be found at www.StarrParalegals.comLeave a comment
I’ve lived though my share of hurricanes in Houston. I’ve seen high water and the damage it brings. Through it all, my family has been lucky – the worst we’ve ever experienced is a stalled car or waiting it out on high ground.
Until now –
Mom started emailing me Tuesday, May 26 around 3 am CDT. No, I don’t know why she didn’t call me. I guess she didn’t want to worry me.
What? Me worry?
Well, that’s exactly what happened when I opened my email – my coffee grew cold as I tried to interpret the picture of Mom’s front porch.
What you should see is a curved driveway, Mom’s front yard, and a four lane boulevard separated by a median.
What you see are the holly bushes that border the front porch. The water at the holly is about a foot deep – the water in the house, ankle deep.
I’ve never seen this much water on Mom’s street. In the 50 years my family has lived in that house (it was my grandparent’s house), the water never made it inside.
Heck, it never made it to the porch.
Sure, the backyard would flood – Mom’s seasonal olympic pool – still the water was contained. You could stand under the awning and the porch would be ‘above the water line’.
Tuesday morning, it became Lake Novak.
It breaks my heart to see the house like this.
Yes, I’m being selfish.
It’s my home.
The stores where we shop, the shul where we worship, ‘our’ JCC, the schools where mom teaches . . .
I know, it could have been so much worse. I grieve for those who lost loved ones or whose homes were completely destroyed.
Does Mom need help? I’m sure she will.
For now we’ll accept emotional support. When I get to Houston next week, we’ll probably need all hands on deck to sort through the stuff.
Others need your help too.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, in partnership with Jewish Family Service, is mobilizing a community response to provide aid and support for people devastated by the May 26 flood. We are here to help individuals, families and our Jewish institutions, which sustained substantial damage.
Funds are needed for basic services and to help people repair their homes. Crisis counseling is also essential. There are three ways you can help:
- Able to give? Donate at www.houstonjewish.org/houstonflood
- Able to provide physical labor (no training necessary)? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Able to give gift cards for $50, $100, $200 or $500 good at groceries, pharmacies, big box stores like Target, Walmart, Lowes or Home Depot? Please drop them off at Jewish Family Service at 4131 S. Braeswood Blvd., Houston, TX 77025. M-Th, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., F, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
If you are in need of help, email email@example.com Comment
This is a first – An email arrives with the subject “quick question”:
Why do you only provide your services to attorneys?
‘Quick question’? Really?
There is no such thing as a ‘quick question’. It’s a question – plain and simple. The answer could be short; the response, quick. The question, not so much. Sure, it only took a moment to write out the question. Maybe that was the quick part.
My gut instinct is to engage the individual.
Who are you and why do you ask?
Hmm, maybe not the best response.
So I Google the email address. Maybe he’s a paralegal looking to work virtually; or someone who wants to know more about becoming a paralegal; or, he’s a plant for the bar association …
Seriously though, would it kill people to set up a simple signature block?? <It’s not that hard folks!>
I find him on LinkedIn. We’re not connected, but he’s connected to several people I trust and respect (and a couple I’m not so sure about). Nothing is his profile explains why he would be connected to so many legal industry people. Really, there is no common denominator.
So, how should I respond?
- That’s the way I choose to do business.
- I prefer the company of lawyers.
- State law prohibits me from providing paralegal services to the public.
- You couldn’t afford me.
Can you tell that my snark is in overdrive?
I’m pondering my options . . .2 Comments
Like many of my colleagues, I spend way too much time sitting on my ever widening tuchas. It doesn’t help that I’m slightly older than 36 either . . .
I should also mention that I’m, ever so slightly, set in my ways. I have my routine: I get up, get dressed, walk down a flight of stairs, get coffee, take care of the cats, and then walk down another flight of stairs to my office. I sit at my desk for hours – I get so hyper-focused that I forget to eat (not that you can tell from looking at me <le sigh>). The only time I really move is when my eyes start watering (see: hyper-focused) and I get up to walk upstairs to the ‘ladies’ room’ and right back down the stairs to my desk.
Once my work day ends*, I schlep upstairs for dinner and plotz on my couch. I isn’t glamorous and, frankly, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit that in print.
I know. How hard is it to just get out and walk for 30 or 45 minutes? Or, to use the mini-stair stepper that stares me down every night while I do my couch potato impression?
Harder than you’d think.
Well, enough!! It’s way past time to get fit! And, I’m going to do it.
Amie’s made it stupid easy to get and stay fit at home, at work, on the road…anywhere. [cue commercial] She’s got all the bases covered:
- Strength Training & Cardio
- Resistance Tube with Handles
- Flat Resistance Band
- Door Attachment
- Jump Rope
- 250+ exercises on exercise cards
- Access to a full online exercise library
- Nutrition, fitness and safety tips to maximize performance
The FitKit even includes an ID tag and reflective arm band for when I venture outside to exercise.
Seriously, it’s time to take back my life and health.
Wanna join me?
*for the self-employed, that never actually happensLeave a comment