Paralegal Spotlight with Morag Polaski

Morag Polaski’s hobbies include involvement with the 4H Horse Club.

Q: Name, Position Title and/or major duties:

A: Morag Polaski, freelance paralegal

Q: Firm or Corporation/Location:

A: Just A Paralegal Virtual Services LLC

Q: Brief background of education, certification, etc.?

A: A paralegal certificate from Old Dominion University, a Bachelor of Science in History from Excelsior College, a Master of Liberal Studies in Social Science from Fort Hays State University, NALA CP certification, NALA ACP Certification in Child Custody, Support & Visitation; Social Security Disability; and Discovery, NCCP.

Q: What’s one thing you’d like to see the NCBA PD do/accomplish in the short term for its membership?

A: Encourage more freelancers

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The All-Encompassing Secretary of State’s Office

By Mollie Schwam

The Secretary of State’s (SoS) Office does it all. From offering helpful materials on starting a business in NC, database to file securities, to storing advance healthcare directives online, the NC SoS’s job is all encompassing and vital to all NC businesses.

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Paralegal Call to Action: Volunteer With Disaster Legal Services or FEMA Recovery Centers, and Clothing Drive Continues

The North Carolina Bar Association Paralegal Division is participating in various ways to help the victims of Hurricane Florence.  In addition to the Professional Clothing Drive, the Division is excited to announce two additional volunteer opportunities.

Division members are invited to participate in the North Carolina Disaster Legal Services hotline as phone intake volunteers and/or to help with the FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers, providing information, resources and referrals only (volunteers do not provide legal advice or counsel). This is a fantastic opportunity for paralegals. Links with more information and to sign-up are below:

  • Disaster Legal Services Hotline, phone intake: Volunteer HERE
  • FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers, information and resource tables: Volunteer HERE

The Division is also continuing its professional clothing drive. The drive’s goal is to assist paralegals, legal assistants, legal support staff, court staff and attorneys get back on their feet as they return to work, hopefully to provide at least one outfit to replace attire lost due to hurricane damage or flooding. The Division will be accepting donations of clean, gently worn or new items, including:

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New Blog Series: Paralegal Spotlight and Paralegal Perspectives

By Mollie Schwam and Alicia Mitchell-Mercer

Greetings from your Communications Committee Co-Chairs, Mollie Schwam and Alicia Mitchell-Mercer. We want to introduce ourselves and provide an update regarding some exciting developments with regards to the Division blog. To promote the Division and its members, we will be adding two new blog series! First, we will be profiling one member of the Division each month in our first new blog series entitled Paralegal Spotlight. Second, we look forward to receiving member submissions regarding a variety of different topics for our second new blog series entitled Paralegal Perspectives. We hope to have both new blog series begin in October. Read more below.

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Welcome to the 2018-2019 Bar Year!

By Leslie Pegram

Thank you for choosing to be a member of the Paralegal Division. I hope that you find your membership professionally satisfying and that you’ll take advantage of the many member benefits offered by the North Carolina Bar Association. I’m honored to be serving as chair this year alongside a diverse group of paralegals from across the state who are volunteering their time to serve as officers, council members, committee chairs and Section liaisons.

As we commence the 21st year of the Paralegal Division, first, I’d like to thank Immediate Past Chair Debbie Harris for her service last year. We faced several challenges last year as a Division, and she managed each with grace and professionalism. This year is another year of change. We will face all of them together and do our best to keep you informed and educated on the decisions made by the council.

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And in the blink of an eye, it’s over… 

By Debbie Harris

The 2017-2018 Bar year flew by, and the Paralegal Division accomplished many great things. On behalf of the Paralegal Division Council, we hope the following summary will make you proud to be one of more than 1,600 members across the state. Allow me to share some highlights from the year:

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Paralegal Division

We celebrated our 20th Anniversary at our Paralegal Division Annual Meeting (reception and conference) May 3 and 4 in Pinehurst. THANK YOU to everyone who attended! We had a wonderful offering of CPE programs including General Sessions on “How to Assist Lawyers in Transition” and “Ethics and Professionalism for the Modern Paralegal.” Additionally, our breakout sessions included the “North Carolina Identity Theft Protection Act,” “Hot Topics with the Secretary of State,” “Updates to the Uniform Power of Attorney Act,” “What Would Lincoln Do” (which shared timeless ethics lessons preserved in historical documents), “Employment in the Age of Social Media,” “Care and Feeding of Court Personnel,” and many other great topics.

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The Memory Of a Loss and a Fierce Passion Drive Felicia Atkinson

Congratulations to Felicia Atkinson the 2018 NCBA Paralegal Division Student Scholarship Winner.  Felicia was recognized on May 4, 2018, at the Paralegal Division’s Annual Meeting at the Pinehurst Resort.  As part of the application process, applicants submitted an essay on the topic “The Factors Which Lead Me to Enroll in Paralegal School.” The Paralegal Division Student Scholarship provides an award of $500 in tuition paid directly to a North Carolina resident enrolled in a North Carolina-qualified paralegal studies program as defined by the North Carolina State Bar. You must be a student member of the NCBA Paralegal Division to be eligible for the scholarship.  Student membership in the NCBA Paralegal Division is FREE!

Please enjoy reading Felicia’s winning submission:

By Felicia Atkinson

It was a hot summer day in August and my youngest brother, twin sister, and I were playing dodge ball in the street. My mother came to the back door of the house and yelled for us to come inside. The three of us ran inside the house excited that perhaps Momma made fresh lemonade and strawberry shortcake. When we entered the kitchen, our summer favorites were on the table. Momma told us to sit down and eat in the kitchen instead of taking our treats back outside. Leticia, my identical twin sister, and I sat at our little wood table set, a present from the previous Christmas. Shawn, my youngest brother, jumped up and sat on Momma’s lap. Daddy was standing in the doorway to the kitchen and my favorite aunt, Momma Stell, was sitting next to Momma. Daddy said he had bad news to tell us. I looked at Momma and realized she had been crying. At that moment, Daddy told us our oldest brother, Alex, was killed last night.

Alex, my idol, was gone. Although I did not understand the concept of death at 7 years of age, I did understand that Alex, with the IQ of a genius, would not be starting Harvard Law School in three weeks.  The brother, who I always followed around the house and tried to imitate, would no longer call me “his little prodigy.” In my mind, this meant that I would not be going to law school.

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Paralegal Perspective: Working In the World of Craft Alcohol

By Mollie Schwam

I started working at Beer Law Center in September 2015 while I was in paralegal school at Meredith College. I was anxious to join the workforce and earn a paycheck. I knew nothing about beer and even less about the myriad laws surrounding the alcohol industry. After my first year working at Beer Law Center I grew somewhat comfortable using words like “TTB,” “specimen,” “unfortified wine,” “Brewers Notice,” “Basic Permit,” etc. The intricacies of alcohol law were not covered at Meredith College. For me it was trial and error until I understood the craft beverage lingo and procedures. And, it was not until I attended local and national beer conferences that I realized an innovative, powerful work force was behind the beer.

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Practicing the Golden Rule In Your Professional Life

 By Stephanie B. Elliott

There is one lesson I learned early in my life which has served me well personally and professionally: The Golden Rule. It was important in grade school, and is a life lesson that will carry you far. Treat others as you would yourself wish to be treated. The Golden Rule is a simple motto that makes us better people and professionals, but often it’s a little harder to put into practice. There are so many things that can go wrong in our professional lives, and many situations we can’t control (hard for many of us paralegals who are type A personalities). We can change the dynamic of a stressful environment to one that practices civility and empathy by simply remembering that being kind to people, no matter who they are, doesn’t cost us a thing. Our attorneys may be knee-deep in battle, but that doesn’t mean we also have to war with the staff on the other side.

Stop and Listen: Our clients are likely the most stressed people we are communicating with, and they often do not understand what is going on. Are they really upset about the email you sent them, or could it be that they don’t understand it? We take our knowledge for granted. Most clients, even the most sophisticated ones, have very little working legal knowledge, and what they know usually comes from television and movies. They expect because it’s what they see, that we’ll sign them up as clients in the morning, have a hearing at 2 p.m. and celebrate our victory before 5 p.m. Wouldn’t that be the life?! In reality, it’s our job to help them understand the process and how it will affect them. They are our clients because something has happened to them and they aren’t able to solve it on their own. When you take your paralegal hat off just for a moment and look at the world through their eyes, you gain a better understanding of how you can help. Be present, even when they are unhappy and it’s uncomfortable. The attorney-client relationship can benefit greatly if clients know they can call you to find out what is going on, or even just to talk through their issues. This of course is a fine line, because we aren’t allowed to give legal advice. Practice kindness and be willing to listen.

Be the Bridge: Attorneys are busy people, and sometimes have higher than necessary expectations about what they need (and want) from us. This can also be true of the opposing counsel. I have received sharply worded emails, often late at night that were, frankly uncalled for and unnecessary. I can count two times in my professional career that I responded back with the same tone and sharpness I was given, and to this day I regret it. I have learned to practice “the pause.” Pause before reading an expected email (especially when you know it’s going to contain bad news.) Pause before responding. It’s ok to capture your thoughts but maybe do them outside of outlook (like a blank page of Word) so that you can say what you want to, get it out and then delete. If after practicing “the pause” you still need to respond, pause again. Remember that outside of the “heat of the moment” your words will look different. Would you say the same thing if you knew for a fact your email would then be attached to a motion for sanctions, or worse, part of a state bar complaint? I also try to think about who my audience is, and how my message will be received. Practicing kindness applies to each thing you do, and especially your correspondence. You can be the bridge between your attorney and the world outside of your office simply by thinking about your audience and being kind in your delivery.

Take a Deep Breathe: Even after practicing kindness and patience, there will be people that are just not easy to work with. Take a deep breath, and remember this too is part of the process. If you can always remember that they are your client because they are under some type of stress either professionally or personally, it will help. I will admit that there have been times in my career as a paralegal that I let a snippy, biting client get the best of me. If you can reframe from the urge to “give it right back,” your relationships will be stronger. Let things roll off your back, lay down the irritation and remember that your ability to do so will indirectly keep you gainfully employed. Even the best paying clients can be difficult, and however miserable that makes our legal team, they are keeping the lights on. The same can also be said for the attorneys we work for and with. The majority of the time, their frustration is not at us, but the situation before us. Being the calm, focused member of the team and being the bridge between yourselves and the other side not only keeps things moving, but is the right thing to do.

Stephanie B. Elliott, NCCP is a senior litigation support paralegal for the law firm of McNair Law Firm in Charlotte. She specializes in litigation, and her experience encompasses commercial, corporate and complex business litigation, employment litigation, personal injury, insurance defense, and medical malpractice. She has experience with filings in the North Carolina Complex Business Court; State Court filings in counties across North Carolina, Federal Filings in the Western, Eastern and Middle districts of North Carolina, the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (Richmond, VA). Ms. Elliott is a faculty member of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Continuing Education Paralegal Certification Program, where she teaches Paralegal Profession and Legal Technology. She is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board and a faculty member of Gaston College’s Paralegal Program. Ms. Elliott received her B.S. degree in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1998. She is a Paralegal Technology Post-Baccalaureate Diploma Graduate from Central Piedmont Community College. Ms. Elliott obtained her North Carolina State Bar Certification in 2005.


Paralegal Potpourri: Celebrating Members, Our 20th Anniversary, Annual Meeting & More

Past Paralegal Division Chairs Virginia Burrows, Annette Phelps, Grace Ward and Karen Mendorg attended the PD Annual Meeting in Pinehurst

May is an exciting month at the Bar Center. Hopefully you’ve seen the various announcements about May being Member Appreciation Month where, “Members come first at the NCBA, and this year we wanted to do a little extra to express our gratitude, so we’re kicking off our first-ever Member Appreciation Month.” Check out the blog post on May Member Benefits for more details.

The Paralegal Division agrees 100 percent that members come first!  For years, May has always been the time for members to gather and attend our Annual Meeting and CPE. This year’s Annual Meeting was made extra special by celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Paralegal Division! We celebrated May 3-4, 2018 in Pinehurst with a Thursday evening reception followed by a 6-hour CPE seminar and lunch Annual Meeting on Friday! The CPE Committee did an outstanding job with the course offerings and speakers!

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