Teaching a Veteran Paralegal New Tricks Thinking Outside the Box from the Inside

Michael Bragg
August 3, 2009 — 2,054 views  
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Are you facing challenges in your duties as a paralegal?   Have you been assigned a new case in area you are not really familiar with?   Are you worried you do not know what to do next?

If you are in this category, you are not alone.  With the challenges facing today's law firm, many paralegals need to learn new concepts in order to handle new clients or cases.  The ability to return to classroom or even attend a seminar is being restricted even more by budgets and time constraints.

You can accomplish this goal by thinking outside box but thinking from the inside.  This idea may sound different but will allow you to explore new areas yet remained focused on your goal.

Modern technology allows us to locate information on almost any topic through the use of the Internet and World Wide Web.

Many persons who use the World Wide Web sometimes confuse it with the Internet.  Simply the Internet is a connection of various networks worldwide and the World Wide Web   (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/worldWideWeb) is the method in which the data on these networks can be accessed. 

Your starting point can be any of the major search engines like Google, Yahoo, Windows Live or any other search engine.  The results may be similar but the key is how you search and not always where.

Suppose you want to learn about an area of the law you have never been involved with before.   In this scenario, you have been given a new home construction case and you have never done construction law work nor know nothing about it.

The first step is to identify what the case is about.  In a new home construction case you may have several parties.  There will be the new homeowner, the builder and any subcontractors or suppliers, possibly a real estate broker or other third party.  In our scenario, we may have several construction issues involving the new home and need to learn about each one separately.

Most paralegals know that state statutes and other building codes can be found at state websites like MyFlorida.com (www.myflorida.com) or through Westlaw (www.westlaw.com) or Lexis (www.lexis.com) subscription services.

If you need to understand how a house is actually constructed, where to do you go.  You may want to think outside the box, but I would suggest you actually start from the inside.

Starting from inside means to determine what makes up the information you trying to learn about.  If you need to learn about how new homes are being constructed, you may want immediately go to the web and perform a Google Search like "new home construction" but that will lead you to home builder sites or sites involving the purchase of new homes. 

First we need to know what the new case is about before we can really know where to start our search.  In our scenario, we are dealing with new construction.   Home construction in its simplest terms involves a structure with a roof, windows and doors, electrical and plumbing.  There is more to new home construction then this but for our scenario and discussion; we are limiting it to these areas.  

In our scenario, we may have issues with a load bearing wall.  What if we do not know what this terminology means?  We easily look it up in a dictionary or through the use of Google, Yahoo, or other type of search engine.   If we want more, where can we go?  Now we come to thinking outside the box.  We start thinking about the organizations involved in new home construction.  One of those is the National Association of Home Inspectors.  On their site, they maintain a section for construction terminology.  (http://www.nahi.org/public/489.cfm)  This site also provides some visual references to assist user with understanding the information they seek.

Thinking from inside the box puts back into the proper prospective by thinking with common sense.  We are professionals in what we do, but we also must remember we are also people.  When will step back from our professional role to that of a consumer we can easily remember some ways learning about our topic.

If our scenario, involved roof construction, we would want to know how a normal roof is constructed.  We can easily get this information from technical publications, but as a consumer we may not need to look further than a consumer friendly website. 

Many consumer sites provide you with information you are seeking like Lowes (http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=howTo&p=Build/RoofConstruction.html ).  They provide an elementary level understanding and can assist you further in you being able to learn more from a qualified expert who is retained to handle your client's case.

The idea of learning outside the box is not new, the idea of learning from the inside may be.  Simply, do not let the idea of using the web to learn a new topic overwhelm you.

Many websites are geared towards being found.  Companies invest lots of money in developing, testing and deploying websites to promote their business and products.   As an added bonus, they may provide information resources that can lead to consumers and others to come back to their site when it is time to make that big purchase. 

In the legal profession, many companies that market to the legal community have developed blogs and other sites dedicated to providing education to legal professionals.   Companies like Kroll Ontrack (http://www.krollontrack.com/) provide articles and whitepapers on topics ranging from the latest case law involving e-discovery to recovering data thought to be lost. ( http://www.ontrackdatarecovery.com/data-recovery-articles/)

If you can overlook the advertising many of these companies insert into their informative articles, you can easily learn about the topics being discussed.

Still if you are unsure about where you may want to go for information, why not try the source of the material you are looking at.   Companies that produce products in volume tend to provide as much information on their website about their product so they are not left with having to spend all day answering inquiries.   In our scenario if the manufacturer of the windows involved spent all day answer phone calls from construction companies on how to install their product, neither they nor the builder would get their job done.   Thus many companies will simply put the installation instructions on their site for all to use. (http://www.jeld-wen.com/resources/installation.cfm ).

Still another great source of information is through a public library's website.  Many public libraries provide free access to the public to everything from medical guides to automobile repairs manuals through providers like Infotrac, ARRC, EBSCO and Gale Research.  Access to these sites is reserved for library patrons and possession of a library card from your local library may be all that is needed.

Finally, if you need more information then you can find online, the new learning concept of learning through the use of webinars can also help you in your learning of a new topic.  These differ from a normal seminar in that they usually only last about an hour and you attend right from your office via a telephone and over the Internet.   The presenters are usually in another city and you can download any slide presentations at the end of the webinar.  These are usually inexpensive and can cover a vast amount of topics.  Companies like Institute for Paralegal Education (www.IPE.com) will have past seminars available for download for a nominal fee.

The hope is that you do not panic about being able to learn new ideas or concepts.  The Web today offers a vast amount of resources that are at your finger tips and all you need to do is find the one best for you.  Remember to It is Good Think outside the Box, but Do it From the Inside.

Michael Bragg


MICHAEL BRAGG is a paralegal with Banker Lopez Gassler P.A. where he specializes in aviation litigation, products liability and personal injury. He focuses on all aspects of case management, from early discovery and document management to assisting attorneys at trial. Mr. Bragg has lectured to various professional groups and is a frequent speaker on litigation topics.