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The International Practice Management Association (IPMA) is the primary source of information and education for managers in law firms, corporations, and law departments. We provide an inclusive community that promotes and enhances the proficiency and professionalism of our members. We deliver practical resources and cutting-edge solutions on the value and management of professionals in the legal environment.

December 2021


© International Practice Management Association. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the written consent of the IPMA. Opinions expressed in Inspired Leadership are those of the writers and are not necessarily those of the IPMA. The appearance of advertisements and product or service information does not constitute an endorsement by the IPMA as to the quality and/or reliability of the products or services. Product information is based solely on material received from suppliers.
 

IN THIS ISSUE:
 

 


 

A Note from IPMA President Tara Eberhart

As we head into the new year, I am reminded of this time last year and the burst of optimism that I felt as 2020 was finally coming to an end and all of the promise of 2021 was starting to fill my thoughts and plans. This year was certainly not the year I planned for but now that I have reconfirmed for myself that that workplace conversations and concerns are constantly evolving and embracing the new normal has its advantages, I am heading into the new year with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism. 
Albert Einstein is credited with saying that “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. Maybe that particular quote speaks to me because for the last six years I have made my living trying to be a leader in a law firm that prides itself on merging (changing) somewhere in the world on average, every ninety days or maybe, thinking even further back, growing up as a military brat meant that moving and saying goodbye to friends in a pre-social media world was certainly a life in a constant state of change. Either way, once you realize that nothing stays the same and that without one change, you would not have had another adventure, you begin to embrace the opportunities that change brings. 

Our association, IPMA has also weathered many changes over the years. Thru two name changes, the evolution of legal technology and countless legal industry ups and downs to name just a few, our association has provided a place for us to come together, to admit that none of us have all of the answers and to be surrounded by others who understand our strange universe and are always willing to share their expertise, advice and compassion. For 2022, it will be important for us to continue to embrace change as we discuss how our chapters, committees and affinity groups should evolve to service our existing members and look for ways to expand our community to welcome new members; economically, it will be critical to evaluate a transition back to a successful in person conference, to focus on relevant topics/speakers and to maximize member and Business Partner participation and as part of everything that we do, we can’t forget the critical function of the association to provide timely information on key social issues and mental health support for all of our members.  I know that public health and pandemic updates will continue to be top of mind, but I am also going to ask all of our chapter, committee and affinity group chairs to look for ways to incorporate other topics, guest speakers and substantive discussions to help us broaden our focus in the new year. All ideas and input is welcomed.

As I shared during my initial comments at conference, I am excited to serve the association in my new role alongside the other members of the Board of Directors and with our many association leaders. I am looking forward to getting to know our members better, listening to your thoughts/ideas, engaging in a healthy dialogue about the work of the association and helping to develop the next generation of IPMA leaders. Challenge accepted 2022, here is to a great year!
  

How Do You Holiday?

                                 
  
        The IPMA asked YOU to share some of your holiday traditions. 

Here are a few traditions from our members! 

 
Geraldine Chua 
Paralegal Services Administrator - Dentons 

One of my favorite holiday traditions starts the day after Thanksgiving.  I am usually lounging around the house in my pajamas, fuzzy socks, and robe propped in front of the television sipping on hot cocoa or tea and watching holiday movies.  I always watch Home Alone the day after Thanksgiving while I eat left overs from dinner the night before.  Then all throughout the holiday season, I watch ALL the holiday movies.  It doesn’t matter how good or bad or what network or streaming service it’s on, I’ll watch it.  Here are a few of my faves:


Katrina Braden Wilkins 
Director of Prosecution Support Services - Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox P.L.L.C.

Decorating the house for Christmas was a big tradition for me growing up, and I continued the tradition with my own kids.  I just love decorating Christmas trees and usually decorate at least two if not three trees each year.  I tend to go a little overboard with choosing the perfect colors to decorate my tree as the colors used for the tree will determine the color scheme for the rest of my holiday decorations – all of my colors must match!  If we have red poinsettias during Christmas, that means the Christmas tree must be decked out in red as well (as with the below example). This also usually determines the color of wrapping paper I will be using that year as well.  When my daughters were younger we would take a Saturday to decorate – pulling out the trees and decorations, lugging stuff from the garage and basement – and listen to our favorite Christmas music (usually music from The Temptations and Jackson Five) while sipping on hot chocolate.  Now that my daughters are older, the hot chocolate has been replaced with lattes or wine (sometimes both), but the tradition continues with them taking a day to help me to pull out the decorations and spend a few hours decorating while listening to our favorite Christmas music.


Lisa M. Ricchezza 
Director, Paralegal Services - Marshall Dennehey 

We have so many Christmas traditions with family and friends that begin the first weekend of December and roll through new year’s day!  The one that I will share with everyone is the annual pumpkin bread baking.  About 28 years ago I picked up the tradition of my retiring boss who made pumpkin bread for all of the litigation paralegals in the Philadelphia office.  At that time it was about 23 paralegals. As my managerial responsibilities grew over the years, I added additional offices and practice groups.  In 2019, I topped out at making 118 loaves of pumpkin bread for the US team.  I did draw the line limiting the baking to the US paralegals.

When I started baking the pumpkin bread, it was in my antique 1950’s kitchen.  Those 20 something loaves took me several weekends to make.  As time went on, the pumpkin bread became a family tradition. My girls assisted in the baking and everyone helping with wrapping and ribboning each loaf. About 15 years ago, I was ready to throw in the towel and give up baking the bread as the yearly total approached 100 loaves.  I announced my decision to my family first.  My daughter Mary, was the first to protest.  It felt like a knife to my heart, when she said “It won’t feel like Christmas if we don’t bake all the pumpkin bread!”  Fortunately, her timing was perfect as we had just finished a major house renovation which included a new kitchen with double convection ovens.  With her promise to continue to be part of the big bake, we carried on!  She continued to help and we even delayed the baking so that during college, she would be home to help. Not only did we bake for my paralegal team, but the rest of the family developed their own lists of friends that were included.  We were baking close to 150 loaves.  The beauty of double ovens cut the task to one full weekend of baking. We had developed a true assembly line process to rival any commercial bakery!

And then 2020 hit and pumpkin bread stopped except for a measly 30 loaves for neighbors and family.  However, in January 2021, I started sending pumpkin bread to the paralegals on their birthdays.  When I gave notice that I was leaving the number one question and concern was that there would no longer be pumpkin bread.  

I now am struggling to decide how the pumpkin bread tradition will carry forward.  I will not bring the tradition to Marshall Dennehey.  At 123 paralegals, I don’t have the energy to keep that going.  However, I am faced with same dilemma as 15 years ago…it won’t feel like Christmas if we don’t bake all the pumpkin bread…

Happy holidays everyone, however you celebrate!

Patricia Maxwell
Litigation Specialist - Arnold & Porter 

Every year for Christmas, I make the Southern Living December issue cover- Christmas cake.   My birthday is December 23 and I traditionally make the cake on my birthday to serve on Christmas.  Pre-Covid we held an open house on Christmas evening for our family and friends (and anyone who couldn’t get home for Christmas).  Our biggest year was 55 attendees (in a NYC apartment).  Full on menu- appetizers, main course and desserts.  Last year we had no one - this year maybe a small sit down meal for 10.  But there will still be a cake. 😊 . 

Laura Porter 
Manager, Corporate Secretariat - OMERS

The holidays around our house have changed through the years and now that all my kids have partners and in-laws to share their time with during the holidays. The one thing that remains the same is Christmas Eve. As long as I can remember we always celebrated with my Dad’s side of the family on Christmas Eve and this is a tradition I have always continued  however it has expanded to include anyone who would like to join us. Family, friends, my kids in-laws, all of my kids friends that do not have anywhere to spend the holidays. I will cook a big dinner Turkey, ham and all the fixings. We make all the kids wait until after dinner to open their presents (I remember as a kid this was torture to me but also very exciting). I love the holidays and spending time with family and friends but I also enjoy the peace of Christmas Day. Last year was the first time that I had to cancel our Christmas Eve celebration due to the Covid lockdown. I will not be doing that this year or ever again!

Diversity and Inclusion - Where Are We Now.

By:
Gary Platton, Mass Tort Manager, Ulmer
Tara Eberhart, Practice & Docketing Director, Dentons
 
On Wednesday, November 17th the Board of Directors and representatives from the Center for Legal Inclusiveness (“CLI”) held a training session for the members of the Board to discuss a number of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (“DEI”) strategic considerations that the Association should explore and implement in order to ensure all of our members feel included no matter their race, gender identity and/or ethnicity.

While IPMA leadership has always worked to create a professional association where all members are valued, in response to the racially charged events in the United States in the summer of 2020, then President Patricia Maxwell worked to create a DEI specific statement of values and established an Advisory Board to develop a framework to help association leadership to focus on this important topic.  Under the leadership of Sybil Taylor Aytch and then President-Elect, Tara Eberhart, the six member Advisory Board worked for almost a year to develop a series of recommendations for the Board to consider. Other key members of the Advisory Board included; Angela Monroe, Carlson Floy, Eileen Hanley and Jane Anne Gross.

The Advisory Board presented to the full Board in May 2021 and their first recommendation; transitioning the Advisory Board into a standing DEI Committee was adopted.  Former IPMA President, Laura Porter and Cheryl Garner were selected to serve as Co-Chairs of the newly formed committee.  The committee meets monthly on the first Thursday of the month at 3 pm EST.  All IPMA members are welcome to join.

The IPMA is a now a member of CLI and with that membership, all current members of the Association have access to all of CLI’s resources, such as webinars and their job board which identifies diverse job applicants. We encourage everyone to use these valuable resources that are available to you at their website at www.centerforlegalinclusiveness.org.

All members of the Board of Directors, as well as the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, are available for questions or concerns that the members of the Association may have as it relates to DEI initiatives and welcome any suggestions you have as it relates to DEI initiatives.  

Words of Wisdom: Carol Van Buren

We are pleased to present a three part series from recently retired members Carol Van Buren, Jane Anne Gross and Debbie Janko. In this edition of Inspired Leadership, please be sure and see what Carol Van Buren who is retiring from Perkins Coie at the end of the year has to say about how the IPMA has helped her be a better manager.

And please check in for Jane Anne and Debbie’s articles in the next Inspired Leadership.  We wish all three all the best as they move into the next phase of their management journey.

Carol:

As I write this article, I’m staring at the calendar and realizing I have about 30 business days to wind up this 26-year journey as a paralegal manager/director.  The IPMA has been by my side the entire time, and like a friend, has challenged me to stretch my skills and try something new.  I’m at the final stage of my paralegal review process and am using a tool for the first time that will allow the paralegals to read the evaluations from their attorneys.  I was inspired to try this due to a conversation I participated in during a Trends Committee call last year.  I’ve been on and off that committee for over 20 years and am always learning about new software or hearing how someone tried a new process that gave them good results.  If you are interested in learning what other managers are trying at their firms, sign up today and join a call.
We are not always ready when we get a call from an IPMA member to help on a project, but it can be an opportunity to grow your professional skills, like public speaking.  I’ll never forget the first time I was asked to present at an IPMA conference on a program called FISH, that I’d used to motivate my paralegal team.  It was modeled after the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle and used practices to improve teamwork and retention and to help create happier employees.  I feared speaking in front of senior paralegal managers and was nervous they’d wonder how I got on the agenda for the day talking about FISH.  I can still see the look on one seasoned manager’s face when I handed out bags of plastic fish during the session!  I at least provided her an entertaining afternoon session.  When I was on the conference agenda again a few years later, this time talking about the evaluation process, who do I see as I’m walking into my room but that same manager.  She smiled and said she wanted to see what fun ideas I had for this process.  So, the next time an IPMA member calls and asks you to speak at an event we are sponsoring, just do it.  I’m sure you’ll never regret having the experience of public speaking, as the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
My mentor and boss, Alayne Pettyjohn, who had served on our Board for many years, was a former college professor and believed the training our members provided was some of the best education she received on how to manage paralegals.  I’ve found this to be true and have encouraged my own paralegal managers to join the IPMA.  They’ve noted experiencing the same as I—that no matter what role you play in the organization, you learn and grow your skills just by getting involved.  In each of the positions I’ve held from Board member to Committee Chair, and from presenting at conferences to participating in Talk Live sessions, I’ve broadened my knowledge and have often been inspired to try something new.  No matter how you decide to volunteer to serve the IPMA, the benefits you gain are twofold, and the friendships you’ll make will last a lifetime.  I met our colleague Debbie Janko, who is co-authoring this article with Jane Anne and me, at one of my first conferences over 20 years ago. 
 Our organization consists of smart people who’ve made it their career goal to lead and help others excel in the legal profession.  Don’t hesitate to share your experiences and stories with each other!  We are all unique, and yet there may be someone on the other side of the country just waiting to hear that you have the same problem they do, and together you can find a solution.  I’m thankful for my colleagues in the IPMA who encouraged and guided me during my legal career managing paralegals.  I’ve learned from their successes and failures, and they’ve helped me grow professionally in so many ways.  Thank you all so much for sharing your knowledge and friendship these many years. 

 

Leaving Big Law - Not Really 


By: Karen Tuschak Founder and CEO, Spider Silk Innovation Solutions Inc.
 
In September 2021, after 30+ years of working in the legal industry, I announced that I was leaving my role as the Canadian Director of Paraprofessional Services to start my own consulting company, Spider Silk Innovative Solutions Inc.  Some of my closest friends thought I was crazy.  They asked, at 58 years of age, why would I leave my career at a law firm to start out on my own.  Others thought I was a COVID19 long-hauler and must be out of my mind, and some even asked if it meant I was slowing down and retiring.  Those that made these comments obviously do not know what it means to start your own business.  To no surprise, my colleagues and friends from the IPMA were supportive as always.  Some said they were thrilled for me but jealous, others wanted to know how they could help and I had a lot of people tell me to make Spider Silk Solutions a huge success so that they could join me.  I could not have asked for a warmer response.

When I was asked to write my story on leaving Big Law, I immediately said yes.  I have never been able to say no when the IPMA asks.  It was only when I started to write down my thoughts that I realized that I was not leaving Big Law, I was just changing my relationship with it.

The paraprofessional role in the law firm and in-house legal market has had its ups and down.  When the economy is strong, things are good but when the economy has its rough days so do the paraprofessionals.  COVID19 hit many of us hard; layoffs, job losses and salary cuts to name a few but I believe that we are coming out if it stronger than ever.  We have proven that paraprofessionals are strong, that we can work remotely without missing a beat, and that we are adaptable to changing conditions.  The job market is hot, business is up and the role of the paraprofessional is expanding in many different directions.

In my case, I decided that this was the time to start my own company and work on my two passions, people and technology.  I want to work with legal teams to embrace new ways of working so that every member feels valued and recognised for their contribution.  I want to help introduce new technology into legal teams and leverage paraprofessionals as technology champions.  Paraprofessionals have a great future ahead of them and I want to help profile their role in the delivery of legal services in all different forums by speaking at conferences, engaging with lawyers, mentoring new students and challenging the status quo.

I have been asked why the name Spider Silk.  Aside from being a great conversation starter, for me it represents who paraprofessionals truly are.  Spider silk is one of the best materials produced by nature.  It is strong and sustainable.  If the web built by the spider breaks, it simply pivots in a new direction and rebuilds itself.  Do you see the similarities?

I am excited about this new chapter.  I look forward to sharing the extensive and invaluable experience I have gained in implementing legal technologies and leveraging the role of paraprofessionals with law firms and in-house legal departments throughout North America and further.  On my bucket list is to implement an entity management system for an organization in Australia…..oh, the possibilities.  Retirement, well it is just not for me.   

A New Normal or Back to Normal Return to Office Strategy

By: 
Laura Porter, Manager, Corporate Secretariat, OMERS
Brian Bernhard, Office Administrator, Dentons
 
What a great question, right?  What does the “New Normal” mean for legal professionals and the future of our teams?  Truthfully, it is impossible to say for sure, but we agree that we, as managers, supervisors and leaders need to make sure our firms and corporate legal departments are moving forward with the times if we want to maintain a stable workforce and attract top talent.  

The global pandemic is undoubtedly the most significant tragedy we have experienced in our lifetimes.  What it has done, though, it has raised awareness of what really matters and has become valuable to people.  Having dinner with family, making the school events, having more time to exercise before or after work has magically become part of our everyday lives over the past two years and they are all things we are unwilling to completely give up in the future when things go back to “normal.”  

At a recent Toronto Chapter, IPMA members discussed the extreme shortage of Law Clerks (aka paralegals), as significantly fewer people are entering this profession.  The question we need to ask ourselves is “Why?”. Why is it that no one wants to enter the legal field in para-support roles like we did at a time when our jobs were sought after.  As we and our staff are gradually being mandated back into the office, the choice has never been clearer.  We are having to decide whether we will live for our careers or will we live for our lives? 

There are firms out there that see the benefits of allowing complete flexibility for their paraprofessionals.  Unfortunately, not every firm and corporation have exhibited a progressive approach to this issue. Despite the fact that in March 2020, we switched gears on a dime to move our whole teams to remote work environment seamlessly within 24 hours.  Many of us found that productivity, efficiency and work satisfaction during this time skyrocketed.  Now suddenly, these same employees who carried our firms and departments through the great pandemic MUST be working from the office now and this lands on their ears (and sometimes ours) as though they can no longer be trusted to work remotely.  

At this time, the great resignation is taking its toll on all areas of our day-to-day life.  All businesses are hiring right now because people are no longer willing to take just any job.  The legal field is no different and now our paraprofessionals are questioning their career choice. Our team members are being lured away by the firms and companies where flexibility is offered or they are making a complete career change. So frequently, we hear the importance of “Facetime” in the office but we would argue that have had even more “Facetime” during the height of the pandemic than ever based on the amount of Zoom meetings we are in on a daily basis.  

Here are some of the circumstances to consider when allowing your team flexibility.  Are your people requesting to work outside the country or province/state. If so, it is pertinent to work with your HR team to ensure working from this location as an employee of your firm/corporation is feasible.  When you have team members who merely want to continue to work remotely from their home office, we encourage you to ask yourself the question “WHY NOT?”!  When asked how much flexibility we recommend giving to our team members, we encourage you to consider the success of the team, department and organization over the last two years before insisting (or letting others insist) on going back to the way things were before the pandemic just because “that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”  In order to keep our people we need be as flexible as you we can be. We have already proven that we will get the job done in a remote setting.  In many cases, we have seen our teams work harder and longer hours during the pandemic with commuting time disappearing and those hours turning into working (billable) hours. We have heard so many stories about how nice it is to walk away from the computer to have dinner with the family and return to work to finish a project or complete a filing later in the evening when the attorneys have completed their review.  Mandating our teams back into the office and taking away this flexibility will give our attorney teams less flexibility as to when they need to get their work completed if it needs to go out that day.  Taking away all of the flexibility will have us losing out on all the extra hours and more importantly we are going to lose our people. 

We are not advocating for everyone to work 100% remotely or in a hybrid situation.  We are simply offering up some things to think about and consider when working with your management on the “return to office” policies and procedures based on our experience, observations and conversations over the last several months as firms and corporations are working to finalize their plans for the hopefully a “new normal” and not a “back to normal” strategy.