Friday, June 5, 2015

June 5, 2015

… 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.2015-06-04 StarrParalegalsSatelliteOffice

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



“Quick Question” – Asked and Answered

May 28, 2015

Yesterday I posted about aquick questionemail 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)

He responded:

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!

Oh No You Didnt photo oh_no_you_didnt.gif

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



StarrParalegals is Relocating – Temporarily

May 28, 2015

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.com

Leave a comment



#HoustonFlood

May 28, 2015

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 shouMomsFrontPorchld 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’.

MomsBackPorch

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.
My mother.
My family.
My friends.
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.

18f65389-e606-48d6-b8f2-df6f8e06b16cThe 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:

  1. Able to give? Donate at www.houstonjewish.org/houstonflood
  2. Able to provide physical labor (no training necessary)? Email jfsvolunteer@gmail.com
  3. 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 jfsstormhelp@gmail.com.

1 Comment



“Quick Question”

May 27, 2015

This is a first – An email arrives with the subject “quick question”:

Hi,

Why do you only provide your services to attorneys?

Best,

James

‘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.

<le sigh>

So, how should I respond?

  1. Because!
  2. That’s the way I choose to do business.
  3. I prefer the company of lawyers.
  4. State law prohibits me from providing paralegal services to the public.
  5. You couldn’t afford me.

Can you tell that my snark is in overdrive?

I’m pondering my options . . .

2 Comments



It’s Way Past Time to Get Fit!

May 20, 2015

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.

My BBF (Best Business Buddy), Amie Hoff has created the FitKit - a self-contained, lightweight, anytime, anywhere fitness solution with all the tools needed for a total body workout.

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 happens

Leave a comment



It’s the Shabbas before Mother’s Day

May 8, 2015

Karla Gudeon – Sabbath Peace

On this Shabbas before Mother’s Day, let’s think a bit about from whence we came –

Most of you know that our Jewishness comes from our mothers. Do you know why? Before the days of paternity testing, the only parentage that could be (mostly) assured was that of mother to child. But there is so much more to it than that. The explanation I found at Chabad.org really resonated with me:

“Jewishness is passed down by the mother because being Jewish is a spiritual identity, it defines our very being. And our very being we get from our mother, both in body and in soul.”

 “From a purely physical perspective, a child is more directly connected to their mother. The father’s contribution to the production of a child is instantaneous and remote. The mother, on the other hand, gives her very self to the child. The child is conceived inside the mother, develops inside the mother, is sustained and nourished by the mother, and is born from the mother.”

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

Where did you get your neshama (soul)? Chances are it filtered down since your great-grandmother emigrated from the ‘old world’ and brought the family minhagim (traditions) with her. Maybe she kept a kosher home and lit Shabbas candles . . .

By the time I came into being, our family had assimilated <insert silly Borg reference here>. I grew up in a secular home in a not very Jewish part of Houston. We celebrated the High Holy Days, Chanukah, Purim, and Passover. Mema’s candlesticks were on her sideboard (I don’t remember ever seeing them lit); there were mezuzot on our front doors; we had chanukkiot & dreidles and seder plates & Elijah’s cup. For years, I thought Mema had kosher for Passover dishes. It turns out that they were simply the good china.

Mom and Mema & Grampa made sure I had a proper Jewish education. I learned to daven; what it meant to keep kosher; why I should honor the 613 mitzvot, Shabbas, and yom tovim; to be a proud Jew, and to support Eretz Yisroel. It was years before all that learnin’ worked its way into my daily life.

I joined USY and later became an advisor; I led Jr. Congregation and became a Hebrew school teacher; and I hung mezuzot on every door in my home. Eventually, I started lighting Shabbas candles (as long as I was home from work in time) and kashered my home. Now I light almost every week and yom tov – my contract even includes Shabbas and the holidays as times I will not work.

In everything they did, Mema, my mother, and a lot of amazing women nourished my neshama.

Many of us are the first generation of women since our great-grandmothers to light Shabbas and yom tov candles, and it’s something for which we should be really proud . . . “Why?” you ask. Well, let me tell you –

First and foremost, when we kindle Shabbas lights we fulfill a mitzvah (commandment), but on a personal level, lighting Shabbas candles brings the lights of our great-grandmothers and all our matriarchs to life. This week, let’s dedicate our candles to our great-grandmothers, our Mema’s and mothers, and all the matriarchs–by-choice whose unique lights we are illuminating each time we light.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Mother’s Day! <3

(Thanks FridayLight​ for inspiring yet another Shabbas post)

Leave a comment



Some Things Aren’t True, Even on the Internet

February 23, 2015

Please save me from idiots who claim to provide accurate information about paralegal careers, whether they be traditional, freelance, independent, and/or virtual.

This morning I received a comment for moderation. This one was linked to Note to Self: Just Let it Go to Voice Mail“:

new comment 2-23-15

On its face, the comment is complimentary – ignoring, of course, the fake email address, the author’s inability to correctly type/spell “a lot”, and ending a sentence with a preposition. (Yes, I know, we all do it; it’s something I strive to avoid.) BTW, how exactly does one ‘wonder a question’?

Still, I was intrigued and clicked on the link. Could it be that the author had assembled helpful, shareable information?

In a word, no.

The site – one that shares no contact, about, or other site related background information – purports to educate the reader about careers in 2015. I can’t speak to any other careers they might be ‘splaining, but they sure as hell didn’t get ‘paralegal’ right.

To clarify, they got the basics mostly right, then went horribly off track.

I’m not comfortable with ‘paralegals as legal agents’, but that is the least of my concerns. The site attempts to define freelance, independent, and virtual paralegals and their duties. They got enough of it right to be incredibly problematic. Yes, freelancers are business owners and they market their services (preferred over the phrase ‘marketing themselves’) – to law firms; however, it would be more correct to say that they (we) market our services to attorneys.  The term ‘law firm’ feels a bit restrictive.

The author then ‘defines’ independent paralegals as follows:

horribly wrong info

On the next page, Paralegal Duties, the author enters the twilight zone:

horribly wrong info 2

NO! NO! NO! and HELL NO!

Every word in that definition is wrong! Independents, a term that includes freelancers and virtuals, do not:

  • act as or form law firms;
  • provide services directly to clients (okay, we provide services to our attorney clients);
  • represent clients in court, and
  • they (we) N E V E R provide advice

unless under very specific guidelines in a limited number of jurisdictions or in certain administrative fora.

Those descriptions scream of UPL.

Allow me to clarify, a legitimate independent, freelance, virtual paralegal ONLY works for, and under the direct supervision of, an attorney and never gives advice. (see disclaimer above for possible exceptions)

How difficult is it to get it right? As Mulder would say, ‘the truth is out there’. I know. I have written several articles, blog posts, and comments on the topic, including “To Boldly Go . . . Outsourcing to Virtual Paralegals” (GPSolo Magazine) and “Two Words: Virtual Paralegal” (Paralegal Today).

 

3 Comments



Note to Self: Just Let it Go to Voice Mail

February 11, 2015

. . . seriously, you’d think I’d know better by now . . .
(then again, it makes great fodder for my blog :) )

The phone rings.
It’s a local number <le sigh>.
C’mon, it could be a new client.

Just let it go to voice mail.
If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

do-not-pick-up

I answer.

“StarrParalegals, this is Pamela Starr, how may I help you?”

Um, so, you’re a paralegal … attorney, right? I need some legal advice.

<Oh Lord, another one. Must.Resist.Urge.To.Blurt.Out. “CAN’T YOU READ??!!?? Resistance is futile. Shut up! I’ve got this!>

“Yes, I am a paralegal; not an attorney. I cannot give legal advice.

 But I have a question.

 <Of course you do. You were smart enough to find me! How is it you’re too dumb to read and/or comprehend the disclaimer that is plastered all over my website? You know the one that CLEARLY states: “Our services are NOT provided to the general public.” It’s right there, under the phone number that you just dialed!>

“I am a paralegal; not an attorney. I cannot give legal advice or answer your question. You will need to contact an attorney.”

An attorney?

<Good grief. It’s a simple concept. I feel a little like Anne Sullivan – Helen Keller’s teacher and companion. Alex, I’d like to buy a clue for $200.>

 “Yes ma’am. You need to contact a lawyer. As a paralegal, I cannot answer legal questions or provide legal advice.”

Well then, what ‘can’ you do???

 <Say WHAT???>

At this point, my jaw drops. I’m sitting there with my mouth wide open – catching flies as my momma might say – using every scintilla of willpower to keep from laughing out loud. I’m pretty sure a chortle or guffaw escaped my lips. The possible responses are running rampant in my head. It’s amazing how many thoughts one can process in just a matter of seconds!

  • Are you kidding me??
  • Look nitwit …
  • just hang up the phone
  • Asked and answered.
  • Seriously, are you farking kidding me?!?
  • Move along now kid, you bother me.
  • Phasers on stun!

“What can I do? What can I do?? (the laughter almost broke through) I can do just about anything, but unless you’re an attorney, I can’t help you. My company only works with attorneys.”

Well, uhhhhh…

“Yeah. Okay. B-bye.”

 

1 Comment



That’s Chutzpah!

January 27, 2015

Back in June 2012 (Oh, HELL No!), I posted about a disturbing – nay, creepy <cue the Hitchcock theme> – unsolicited call to my home phone. The caller, who was obviously reading from a script, was ‘calling to verify that she had reached a Jewish home.’

As I wrote back then, “I refused to identify myself to the caller as Jewish, emphatically declined their invitation and respectfully requested that I be taken off their list.”

It’s been more than 2 years since that post with nary a comment, until today:

0 NewCommentTomCantor

Well, isn’t that special?!

“… to Jewish people only.”

That’s not creepy at all.

Never one to hold my tongue . . . I replied:

1 NewCommentTomCantor

Chutspeniks!
They completely missed the point:

02 NewCommentTomCantor

Ensure? Really?
Yes, my Grammar Nerd instincts have taken over -


(The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation http://data.grammarbook.com/blog/definitions/assure-vs-ensure-vs-insure/)

Maybe this time they got the message . . .

3 NewCommentTomCantor

Leave a comment



A New Entry From the “I Can’t Make This Stuff Up’ Files

January 16, 2015

Oh, hell, I’ll just post the screenshot of the email:

avoid copyscape

Just in case you don’t see it – the sender is offering me a resource that will allow me to COPY CONTENT TO PUBLISH ON MY BLOG AND PASS THE COPYSCAPE TEST.

That’s right! They are offering ME the opportunity to do unto to others what was done to me.

In light of the ‘Great Copyright Wars’ (ah yes, the saga continues)  – the email spawned several visceral responses:

  1. uproarious, hysterical, nay, maniacal laughter;
  2. the urge to bang my head repeatedly on my desk;
  3. the requisite ‘are you f*cking kidding me?’ email to my nearest and dearest;
  4. the desire to go a’hunting; and
  5. this blog post.

Editor’s Note: I didn’t approve the submission.

bwahahahahaha

Leave a comment



Not This Again!

January 2, 2015

20140320061438!Facepalm_2

The business line just rang – I answered. The conversation went like this:

StarrParalegals, how may I help you?

Yes, hi, this is [unintelligible name]. I’m on your website. You’re a paralegal and you do bankruptcy. Right?

Are you an attorney?
(at this point, we start talking over each other)

Yeah, ok, no, but I need to . . .

We only provide services to attorneys.

Yeah, ok, I know you’re not an attorney. So how much is it to file my bankruptcy?

Ma’am, we do not work with the public.

Yeah, ok, but how much to file . . .

You’re on our website, right? It is stated quite clearly on every page of our website that WE ONLY WORK WITH ATTORNEYS. I cannot help you.

Yeah, ok, but . . .

I cannot help you.
CLICK!

1 Comment