Vatterott OKC Paralegal Studies

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Archive for the category “Professional Tips”

CALR: LexisNexis Overview

Another paid legal research database…and to the newcomer (and sometimes those using it for a while) it can be a little intimidating.  Lexis tried to make it simple, but now it’s so simple that it’s hard…too many buttons to push!  🙂

Again – you need a research plan.  Lexis is not cheap.

The tabs:

  • MyLexis
  • Search
  • Get a Document
  • Shepard’s
  • More

The MyLexis and Search tabs are customizable.

On the Search tab you can add or edit sub-tabs.

  • All
  • Legal
  • News & Business
  • Public Records
  • Find a Source

The Get a Document tab lets users retrieve individual documents quickly by citation, party name, or docket number.

You can set up a tab for Alerts.  That will let you save and run automatic searches.  The results can be emailed to you or stored online.

The actual database can be used in a number of different ways.

I really like the KWIC feature when pulling a retrieved case  It shows about 25 words of text around the search terms.  It makes it easy to see if the case is relevant to what I need.

Lexis has Case Summaries.  The summary includes procedural history, overview, disposition, and core terms.

Headnotes summarizes each major issue.

Ever heard the term Shepardizing a case?  Like KeyCite for Westlaw, it enables you to determine if the case or law you retrieved is still good.  It’s actually called Shepard’s Citation.  It uses colored shapes instead of flags.  It also links to others cases.

Yes, you can run quite a few public records searches in Lexis.


CALR: Westlaw Overview

Westlaw is a paid legal database.  Yet again – it is important to plan your search.  Clients generally foot the bill for legal research.  You don’t like it when people waste your money, right?

The search query can be used to search a specific database for certain words or a combination of words.  It can search full text or just head notes.  You can read the retrieved document online, print it, or download it.  If and when you find a relevant case in Westlaw, please print it or save it to your computer for future reference.  That saves money.  You won’t have to log in to find it again.

  • Know (or have a general idea) of which databases to use in your search.  You can think you’ve put together a great query until you come back with 500 results…or no results.
  • Know the party names or know your issue.
  • Determine how you want the information delivered to you.  Again, I recommend saving it or printing it.
  • I’ve heard a tale that Westlaw has a tab just for paralegals.  I don’t have Westlaw access.
  • If you have a citation, you can use Find by Citation
  • You can find a case by Party Name.
  • Westlaw has a database wizard to help you pick the correct database.

The first thing you need is a good query for your search.  You need to know how to create and refine it.

  • Keywords and synonyms.
  • Is it a natural language search?
  • Is it a terms and connectors search?
  • Do you need an expander?
  • Use singular terms.
  • Be careful using quotation marks.
  • If you use an acronym, use periods.

Your search terms will be highlighted in your document.

Once you have your case you need to check the cite.  In Westlaw it is known as KeyCite.  It helps you know whether or not a case or statute is good.  You need a good case or statute because your client’s case and your firm’s reputation rides on it.

  • Red – no longer good law for at least one of the points.
  • Yellow – some negative treatment, but has not been revered or overruled

Gives an alert feature to notify the user if the status changes.  Using KeyCite allows you to look at other documents that used the case as a reference.

Westlaw can also search some state public records.

Computer Aided Legal Research – Public Records

Lovingly referred to as CALR…

First – let’s review some search strategies:

  • Plan your search.  The Internet is a great place to get lost and waste more time than you intended.  Know exactly what you are after.
  • Learn to use advanced search options.
  • Make your query more specific by learning the basics of boolean: +, -, quotation marks, and a combination of those.
  • Put your most important words first.

You can find a plethora of legal information on the Internet if you know where to look.  There are free sites that are really good.  There are free sites that are really bad.  There are paid sites.

You can find FRCP, FRE, Criminal Procedure, and Bankruptcy procedure all online…in addition to federal district and appellate cases, and your state cases.  You can also find EOs, statutes, legal forms, and references.  You simply MUST consider your source.

The Internet is best suited for factual research.  You need to take time to become a good researcher.  You need to learn how to verify credible sources and how to discredit websites.

Some public records are available online.  You can buy books that list public records websites.  That will cut down on your search time.  I purchased my book from Half Priced Books.  Every level of government will have their own rules as to what will be made available to the public…particularly online.  If you subscribe to a website that allows you to search a lot of public records at once, make sure you know how to sift through the information to find what you need.

A not-so-all-inclusive list of public records:

  • Statistics
  • Corporate records (secretary of state)
  • Court records (not all)
  • Licenses
  • Criminal records
  • Property information
  • Sex offenders
  • Adoptions (limited)
  • Bankruptcies (PACER)
  • Foreclosures
  • Judgments
  • Liens
  • Copyrights, TMs, and patents
  • Building permits and zoning
  • MVR

When you look for public records you can use a lot of different sites:

  • Court websites

Just, again, know what you are looking for…have a research plan.  Make sure you know the spelling of the name.  Also remember that typos on public records can and do happen.

Use a browser that allows you to use multiple tabs (which I think as of the day I am putting this together is most of them).

Find and bookmark databases that pertain to your area of law, expert witnesses, and that hold good paralegal information (like this one).  Check them.  Add them to your feed reader or subscribe via email.

Websites lawyers love!

Websites lawyers love!

I would like to presume that since attorneys love these, so will paralegals.  Actually, I would go with anyone who holds an interest in law will love them.  I found this through Twitter.

The Lost Art of Communication

I read an ABA article admonishing law students to sound less like a high school babysitter and more like a professional.  This applies not only to attorneys; it applies to paralegals as well.  Honestly, any professional needs to know how to communicate on a professional level.

Consider this – you go to the doctor because you are unwell.  The doctor says, “We did some ummm, you know, we sent the blood over to that place that looks at it?  The white stuff that’s in your blood is way too high.  I dunno…I’m thinking maybe you’ll die in six weeks.”

First of all, that shows lack of empathy and concern.  There was no professional diagnosis or thought of more tests.  Second, the doctor showed lack of professional communication because the doctor didn’t know the proper terminology.

It works the same as legal professionals.  You definitely do not want to be over a client’s head with legalese, but you don’t need to sound like the 15 year old that watches their five year old while they go out on date night.

Save the slang for your friends and family…and even then – use it on a sparing basis.  You are a professional now and you have an image to maintain.  Those are the people that send referrals to your supervising attorney.  You need to sound like you know what you’re talking about at all times.

A link to an article that has several questions you should NOT ask during your first interview.

This is a great website for new paralegals.  You will find articles and contests.

Employment Search Tips

I realize we are only in week three of the phase.  Honestly, though, it is never too early to at least start thinking of what you would like to do when you graduate.  It is also never to early to think of a plan.  Even if this is your first phase here at Vatterott OKC, you can look at your goals.

  • Start considering the areas of law you want to work in.  Make a list of areas you do not want to work in.
  • Get your resume and cover letter ready to go.  You can find multiple examples online.  Even better – you can talk with Daniel in Career Services.
  • Start networking.  You cousin’s best friend’s brother may not need a paralegal now, but he might in the future…or he may know someone.  You can join NALA for a nominal fee.  Oklahoma Paralegal Association also has a student membership that is an affordable rate.
  • Take a good look at your abilities.  Brush up where needed.
  • Do you have writing samples?  If the answer is no, come see me.
  • Don’t discount receptionist positions in law offices and law firms.  You will earn valuable hands-on experience.  I learned how to draft interrogatories, requests for production, and summarize medical records as a receptionist.
  • Use your resources.  Vatterott OKC puts out a list every week of job openings.  You can also use,,,, and even  Sign up for free job alerts.  Even if you aren’t looking now, you will know who is hiring.


Procedural Due Process

Procedural Due Process

What is procedural due process? In simple terms, it is the process designed to make sure all of the steps of due process are fundamentally fair. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments give us our right to due process.

The attached image is a flow chart depicting the test of balance.

More on professionalism

There will be times in your life that you meet someone you don’t like.  You might not like their ideas or you might not just like them.  Here’s the deal – that really doesn’t matter.  You must remain professional if you expect to be taken seriously as a paralegal.  It is easier than you think to disagree without being disagreeable.  It is easier than you think to say nothing if you think you may say something angry.

You do not have the right as a student, a person, or a professional to verbally bash or belittle anyone else.  It doesn’t matter who the person is in your life.  Would you want to be treated in that manner?  Would you want your best friend treated in that manner?  Would you treat your boss in that manner?

The legal field is one of the most conservative fields in the professional industry.  That doesn’t just include the way we dress.  It also is inclusive of behavior.  It’s really easy to get a bad reputation and not be able to find a job simply because you act in an inappropriate manner.

As an adult learner, you face some unique challenges.  You must balance your education and your family, your work and your education, and your work and your family.  That isn’t an easy task; these aren’t easy classes.  However, a bad day doesn’t give anyone the justification to take out their frustrations on any other person.  It is not only unprofessional, but it is also unkind.

Here are some tips for resolving a conflict:

  • Cool off.  If you feel angry or upset, walk away from the situation for a little while.  There is no shame in keeping your composure.
  • Think before you speak.  Some live by the philosophy of is it true, kind, or necessary.  I realize there are times we have to address issues in our lives that aren’t true or kind.
  • Look at the other person’s point of view.  You are dealing with someone’s spouse, mother, father, or child.  Even if you disagree, it is not a time to be cruel.  Words hurt people.  You can take a tube of toothpaste and squeeze it on to a paper plate.  Those are your words.  Once you say it, it’s out there.  People can and do forgive.  People do not forget.  Take a toothpick and try to put the toothpaste back in to the tube.  It’s close to impossible.  You can’t take your words back.
  • Write it out.  When we have the opportunity to think before presenting an idea, we can usually edit it to mean exactly what we intend as opposed to flying off the handle.
  • Examine the reason why you are upset.  Is it a personal or professional issue?  What is your bias?  We all have some amount of bias.  That’s just part of life.
  • Consider others who were present.  What was the sociological view point?  It could be that you just don’t identify with the main stream view and that’s just fine.  However, there are better ways to express that than exploding.
  • Yes, we all have bad days.  No, you don’t get to be mean because of it.
  • Talk about it in private.
  • Find a mediator if need be.

We all encounter people we don’t necessarily have the ability to get along with on a personal level.  That’s why we are professionals.  More is expected of us than the average person.  You are above average.  You are the role model.  You are the professional.

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