10 Things for Paralegals to Consider If You Have to Take Over for Someone Who Is Leaving

The purpose of this list is so that none of the work that you have anything to do with falls between the cracks. Don't look at this project as "why me?" Look at this task as CYA (Covering Your Ass) in the event his or her responsibilities somehow become your responsibility.

If it is within the parameters of your office policy and the laws of your State and the rules and regulations of your State Bar or the "Other Powers That Be." do the following with regard to the attorney or paralegal who is leaving the firm/company:
1. Get their user names and passwords to their firm/company email, Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis, and any sites, directories and databases they've used in connection with your firm's work. There nothing like being assigned a case after they leave and some pivotal information, e.g., "the smoking gun," is locked behind their password... and now they're in their new office... in India, and you can't reach them... and the trial is tomorrow. Need I go on?
2. Get their firm/company voicemail login information.
3. If you monitor the office voice messaging, remove their name and mailbox from the outgoing greeting so that their callers are forced to leave the message in the general voice mailbox or some other more appropriate place.
4. Check their incoming email, SPAM filter email and voice mail daily until these things have been re-routed or dismantled.

5. After they've completely moved out, check their office, desk drawers, shelves and computer "my docs" directory or the equivalent for outstanding case-related issues or dates they may have overlooked or forgotten to mention.
6. Check their docket or calendars, including desk blotter calendar, etc. to make sure discovery deadlines, witness prep appointments, trial prep dates, pleadings deadlines, depositions, client meetings, conference calls, closings, etc. are all now assigned to someone else or adjourned or dealt with in some effective way.
7. Before a deadline sneaks up on the firm, make sure it's clear to everyone: who's taking over what tasks, and make sure everyone knows their role, so that if there is something you need to be doing, you can get started doing it. You don't want the assignee's inattentiveness to become your crisis.
8. Sit down with the person who is leaving and make a list of their office duties. This is not for you to take them on, but often we don't realize people are quietly responsible for something that will fall into your clueless lap. If they monitor the daily legal publication, get a "101" while they are there. You want to be able to learn all you can while the person is still there, and it's still fresh in their mind.

9. Make sure you get their contact information, address, office phone, cell phone. The reason you want a personal email is because a work email may be a conflict of interest, especially if they going to an office that practices the same field of law. More than likely, you will be asking them something case-related, and you don't want this information to end up in their new firm's system. Of course, you will be using fictitious file names and code words to protect the interest of your clients, but, still, it's better to take precautions, even if it's just their personal email.
10. Get a list of all outstanding matters, despite the fact that you will conscientiously plumb the depths of their office and computer after they leave.
Bonus: 11. Type this up and store it somewhere b/c, I promise you, you will wish you had if you don't. It will reduce your stress later when you recall you have this information in the right place.
Note: There may be a manager in charge of this administrative stuff, but don't trust any work that you are responsible for to be handled with precision. These things that you need in order to do your job may not be on that managing person's "comprehensive" list. It's not personal, so don't worry about offending anyone for doing what everyone will hold over your head when this information is left in the ether and not dealt with. Heads may roll, and yours may be one of them, so avert the predicament anyway you can.
Warning: Check with your firm's managing partner to make sure doing any of this is copacetic BEFORE you do it! Don't simply check with the office manager, unless that person is a lawyer and is authorized to make such decisions.


Jamie C. said...

Terrific article with great (and candid) advice. Just what paralegal need. Keep up the great blogging!

p.s. We plan to add you to The Paralegal Society's blogroll!

~ Jamie

Anonymous said...

I started my job after the paralegal left and was hired to handle real estate matters. The paralegal that left didn't leave any notes and digging through the files made me cringe at the things I found.
I have a background in litigation and 3 days after I started a litigation associate quit. I was then tasked by the managing partner to review the files he had been working on to make sure that any motions for final summary judgment included all counts of the complaints and if not, to draft documents. Nothing like getting thrown into the fire during your first week!

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