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Paralegals' Corner

Vacation, Vacation, Vacation!

I love going on vacation but the stress of preparation often leaves me reconsidering whether or not it’s all worth it. In conversations with friends and colleagues I found others who also suffer from “vacation anxiety” so I did a bit of research to explore the phenomenon further.

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Legal Internet Resources

Many of us turn to familiar websites in order to perform legal research.  It is sometimes worthwhile to return to a site not visited for a while or to explore something new.  Some sites are updated more frequently than others and may have a fresher, more dynamic look than when last visited. 

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Parking at the San Luis Obispo Courthouse

Have you ever parked at a non-functioning parking meter to run to the court and returned to your car to find a traffic citation on your windshield?  The laws about broken meters vary from city to city and just like they always say, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

When I checked with the City of San Luis Obispo, I was told the vehicle must be moved to another meter in case the (non-functioning) meter suddenly clears itself.  If you choose not to move the vehicle, have someone stay with the car in case the meter begins to work so they can pump in some coins or use a cash key or credit card.  It might be difficult for a law office with limited staff having an employee  sit in the car and keep an eye on the parking meter.  Better to just move the car.  Parking is enforced from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The City of SLO has a color-coded map to let you know what kind of parking meters you can expect to find in the downtown area.  You can get the parking map from the City of San Luis Obispo website at and click on “Parking Map”.  Every office doing business with the court or City offices should have one.

And at the Paso courthouse, there is no problem with parking meters – yet.

In Ventura County, parking is just plain prohibited at a broken meter.  In Santa Barbara County, it is allowed, but only for 45 minutes.  Some larger cities have begun installing “smart meters” that supposedly self-report maintenance issues.  Usually, there is no way for the municipal authority to know that a meter is broken unless someone reports it – that’s most likely to happen after getting a citation for parking next to one.

It’s best to call the municipality to ask what the local policy is before leaving your car at a broken meter location.  Parking tickets can be expensive!

Ellen Sheffer

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Guidelines for Creating Professional E-mail Messages

The rapid growth of the use of e-mail as a professional communication tool has necessitated the development of guidelines, or “netiquette” in handling, managing and writing e-mail.  Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

Who among us has mistakenly chosen “reply” when that is not what we intended?  Be careful to review who will actually receive the message, especially when you were simply copied on the original message.  Always take a second look at the recipient of your message.  One way to reduce the chance of sending a message to an unintended recipient is to forward, rather than reply, to messages.  By doing so, you must insert the name of the recipient.

Flag a message as “Urgent” only when it truly is.  This rule also applies to requesting that the recipient indicate the message has been received and read.

Do not slide on proofreading, spell checking, and reviewing for proper grammar and syntax.  Using e-mail does not excuse us from communicating in a professional manner.  This extends to using appropriate fonts, formatting and stationery.

Do not use stationery that makes it difficult to read the text.  Many firms avoid the use of stationery altogether.

Beware the use of taglines; your audience may not share your personal philosophy and may, indeed, be put off by the views expressed.  The content of the message is what should take center stage.

Curb the need to respond to every message.  When the exchange reaches a natural stopping point, stop.

Include a signature line that provides enough information for the recipient to know exactly who you are, your firm, your title, and appropriate contact information.  Some people may prefer to respond to an e-mail with a phone call.

Using an informative subject line will assist the recipient to search for and find the message later.

E-mail is here to stay, and stay, and stay.  Your message is forever so think twice before committing your thoughts to posterity by sending them in an e-mail.

Ellen Sheffer                                Leslie Donahue  

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Documenting Online Personae at First Meeting with a Client

When you and your paralegal first meet with a potential client, you should consider gathering information about your clients’ online personae on your intake forms.  This may prove valuable in the investigation phase of their matters, whether it is criminal, a civil lawsuit, a family law dispute, or trust and estate matters.  It can also serve to impress upon the client the importance of designating a trusted colleague or family member to keep up with any commerce that may be taking place over the Internet.

Reflecting on the Central Coast Paralegal Association’s well-attended October MCLE presentation on Digital Afterlife (and noting that our local free paper recently did an article on the same topic), it occurred to me that this subject touches almost all our lives, if we own and operate a computer or a smart phone.

It is good practice to query a potential client about his or her online activities, including artistic works in progress.  My son worked on a screenplay for several years on a school-owned computer (in his free time).  When his term ended and he handed back the computer, his intellectual property went with it – gone forever for failure to back up the hard drive.

Assets and activities in online video games and virtual worlds can have value too.  It pays to ask.  Even if clients are not comfortable handing over all this personal information to the attorney, it’s good advice to tell them to store their passwords somewhere safe – online or in printed form.  Perhaps in a home safe or a safe deposit box so family members or a designated representative can carry on for them.  It’s just good practice.  If the information is stored only online, it will be important that someone have the necessary login information and password to access the computer.

As our clients’ lives become more complicated as a result of the ever increasing role of technology, it is important that paralegals and attorneys be aware of how to assist and advise them regarding how best to handle their digital presence.

Ellen Sheffer                                  Leslie Donahue    

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July News From Around the State


Gov. Brown approved a new sales tax on July 7, 2011 that requires out-of-state companies to collect California state sales tax on purchases made online. California is one of many states implementing the new sales tax, and some online retailers are fighting back. For example, just hours after the bill was passed, Amazon terminated nearly 25,000 affiliate contracts in direct response to the bill.

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Using the Internet as a Professional Development Tool

Many of us spend our days hunched over a computer, feverishly tapping out legal documents, e-mailing with clients, performing legal research.  Thinking about spending even more time in front of the flickering screen may not seem appealing but there are some sites that are worth exploring.  They provide an opportunity to perhaps look at our work a bit differently and to connect with fellow legal professionals.  I find it interesting to read about how others across the country and the world handle a practice similar to ours.  I’ve learned shortcuts and gained insights into areas of the law that are of interest to me as a professional.

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Legal Electronic Resources

California Judicial Council forms are updated at least once a year.  The Court sets a drop-dead date after which the clerks will reject an obsolete Judicial Council form.  It’s important to have your staff check the Judicial Council website in January and July of each year to check for revisions at and click on “Recent Changes.”

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How Do Paralegals Improve the Law Firm’s Bottom Line? – Part Two of an Occasional Series

In the previous article addressing this topic we discussed the fact that appropriate utilization of paralegals will improve the quality of services provided by a law firm.  In this issue, we’ll take a look at hiring and retaining paralegals.

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Important Update for Calendaring of Deadlines

A few months ago, we discussed calendaring of deadlines pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 12. Here is an update to that article, with credit to Barbara Haubrich, ACP, publisher of the online newsletter The California Litigator:

12c is a new addition to the California Code of Civil Procedure and becomes effective January 1, 2011.

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