Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The pen that saved my GPA while chemotheraphy was saving my Mom.

My mom has cancer.  Her diagnosis came September 15, 2011 with few symptoms, although it had been working on her for awhile.  She became very sick very fast.  Ovarian cancer is nearly symptom-free until Stage III at which point you're in pretty big trouble.  Mom was Stage III.  It took about 2 months of chemotherapy for her to be able to get out of bed;  she has been improving ever since.  She's having surgery on January 19th.  (For those among you reading this who may be my professors, I'll be out of class that day.)  After surgery she'll tough out four more months of chemotherapy and then, we hope, cure.  For Christmas I bought us tickets to go see Wicked in NYC next Fall.  Positive thinking works.

When my Mom was first diagnosed I was sure I would have to quit school.  I really didn't know what to do.  I was very stressed, and even more distracted.  I had 7 classes, including Civil Lit 2 which is a challenging class that ends with a mock trial.  I had a crazy client to zealously represent;  there was no room for distraction.  I decided to take a "wait and see" position on school.  I could always drop later, and take incompletes if I had to.

The point of this post isn't to bum you out;  it's actually to tell you how I managed to get through the semester while the universe was testing my resolve;  it's called a Livescribe Echo Pen.  I have been using it since I started school, but it became a dependable friend last semester.  The Pen uses special spiral notebooks that have a nearly invisible dot pattern on them.  It is really a standalone computer programmed to recognize the dots on the paper which causes it to actually take little videos of what you write or draw.  If you want it to, you can also turn on the actual audio recorder.  If you do this, then it records not just what it wrote, but also everything it hears.  After class, you go back to your home computer and plug in your Pen.  Everything the Pen recorded will transfer to your own computer. The written notes are saved as printable, shareable PDFs.  When studying, the Pen will allow you to tap on a word in your notebook causing the playback of that exact moment in the lecture, meeting etc.  It's great if you can't read your own writing!   My Livescribe Pen recorded all class lectures, which I then put on my iPod, so I could listen in the car, at the hospital, in the chemo room..... wherever.  I ended the semester with my 4.0 in tact.

The Livescribe Echo Pen is reasonably priced starting at $99.  (I checked Amazon and the prices are about the same)  They come in 2, 4 or 8 gigabyte.  I use a 2GB which is the cheap model and it's amazing.  You do have to buy the notebooks separately, but they are priced fairly considering how thick they are.  I have used the same four spirals for two years at school.  I simply added dividers to separate the classes.  Very helpful for future reference, since I plan on keeping these notebooks to study for the state exam as well as a reference in my career.  When my Livescribe Pen bites the dust, I will invest in another one. Whether you're a new student, nearly done, or in the work force, this is a great product.  I don't get a kickback for purchases made as a result of my endorsement;  but I should.

Thoughts and prayers for my Mom are appreciated.

The Paralegal Student

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Frustrated Paralegal Student

Hi readers,  it's been awhile!

As with everything else, life happens, and I have not had as much time to blog as I would like.  Second year in school is well underway with another crowded 21 hour semester!  Graduation is on-target for Spring 2012, which is great because I will get my diploma before the world ends in December.  Just kidding.  I'm too busy to even think about stuff like that.

School is..... well...... complicated.  I have amassed a pile of issues with the program I am in, the teachers I have had, and my co-students.  This becomes a sensitive issue since some of those groups may be reading this blog.  I have therefore excluded names to protect the guilty.  For those of you out there who are finished with school, and are fortunate enough to have jobs in the paralegal field:  you should be worried about the future of the profession. There are simply too many people in this program who have no business being here, and some (not all) teachers who just don't care.

There, I said it.

In addition, the program is not set up to allow natural attrition to occur.  For example, specialty classes such as Real Property, Bankruptcy, Wills and Trusts and so on, do not have prerequisites.  We spend way too much time in those classes explaining things like"jurisdiction" to those students who have not yet taken basic legal research classes.  In addition, there are a lot of "C" students floating around who have already, or will graduate from the program who frankly have zero chance of getting a job in the field.  I have a 4.0 overall GPA and I'm worried about getting a job in the field - so it frustrates me that so many are in the program who can't handle it, and won't get hired.  It's a waste of time for those students who are struggling, and it's a waste of time for those of us who are not.

As for teachers, I have had several who, because of their greatness, have kept me in the program.  The rest, seem to not care very much one way or another, and we are left to teach ourselves.  Those students not willing to put extra effort into outside reading or my immersion theory are pretty much looking at an overall "C."

For those of you out there thinking about adding some entry level paralegal staff in the near future....... ask for transcripts, and a legal writing sample!  I am already assembling my portfolio.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Podcasts for Paralegal Students

I am totally into podcasts and have found them to be an amazing way for me as a paralegal student to learn, laugh and sometimes both at once.  The easiest way to get access to podcasts is to download iTunes to your computer.  iTunes is free, and is easy on PC resources.  Most podcasts are also free, and the ones that aren’t should be in my opinion.  I personally refuse to subscribe to any podcasts that charge a fee, but I’m sure there are some good ones if you wanted to search for them.

Listening to podcasts is simple.  Listen directly from your computer, put the files on your MP3 player / iPod or burn them to a CD.  I use an iPod and also have an iPod hook up in my car so I can listen in the car.  Since I spend so much of my time in the damn car, making it as homey as possible is worth the investment to me. I'm thinking of installing shelves.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts (all free of course):

The Paralegal Voice - Legal Talk Network
The Paralegal Voice is co-hosted by Lynne DeVenney and Vicki Voisin.  Lynne is a North Carolina Certified Paralegal in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Vicki is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal in Charlevoix, Michigan. The podcast is monthly and covers issues and trends for paralegals and other legal staff.  Let me just say this; when you listen to this show be prepared to take notes.  The information they provide is so awesome, that I listen to some of the old podcasts over and over again. 

Law Technology Now - Legal Talk Network
Monica Bay, editor-in-chief of Law Technology News, interviews key experts in the field of legal technology.  This is podcast is great if you're kind of a geek (like me) and you have a good grasp of technology.  It probably is not the best if you are a tech newbie.  I personally get a lot out of this podcast, and I think their coverage of legal software and cloud computing are invaluable to a paralegal student in this job market.

SupremeCourtClassic’s Podcast -  Kelli Robinson
This is a set of 10 podcasts posted in 2008 of the audio recordings from some of the most important Supreme Court arguments in United States history.  Cases include Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson and Skinner v. State of Oklahoma.  These are great to help improve your legal terms of art!  If you have never listened to an oral argument before the Supreme Court you need to listen to some of these.  They give a whole new meaning to the word "intimidation."  I am honestly in awe of the kind of preparation an attorney has to do to field a barrage of questions from the entire U.S. Supreme Court.

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! Podcast – NPR
This is a weekly radio show on NPR that is hysterical and a great way to get your political humor fix while keeping up on current events.

Digital Detectives – Legal Talk Network
The hosts on this podcast talk about computer forensics and electronic discovery.  This is the future in discovery everybody… so we need to stay up on it.

The ESI Report, E-Discovery News & More – Kroll Ontrack – Legal Talk Network
ESI is a another great electronic discovery podcast hosted by Michele Lange.

There are thousands of podcasts out there in almost every subject.  iTunes lets you power search through podcasts by author, title or description so a keyword like “comedy” or “paralegal” will net a lot of results.  Choose a variety of podcasts that suit your interests both personally and in the areas of the law that interest you to give yourself the edge you need to be competitive when you finish school.  Listen in the car, in your headphones or while you're doing laundry.

Immerse yourself!


Sunday, February 6, 2011

How to keep textbooks from becoming your personal Nigerian princess.

The following facts were posted in June 2010 on the blog for the Worldwide Center of Mathematics:

  • There are 17 million college students in the U.S.
  • Each student uses on average 5.3 textbooks per semester
  • 180 million+ textbooks are purchased annually (new and used)
  • The average 40 ft tree yields 8,333 sheets of paper
  • The average textbook is 715 pages
  • 11.6 textbooks = one tree
  • 15.5 million trees per year killed to make our textbooks
Most of my peers are spending between $500 and $1000 per semester on text books alone. I have learned some tips and tricks for keeping that number easily below $500 while saving a few trees along the way. Whose trees are we clear cutting to make all these textbooks anyway?  Rainforest?  Probably.

I always start with the possibility of buying used, unless the course requires a newer version not yet available from used booksellers. The versions change at least every two or three years, with some books changing versions annually. Is there really that big of a difference between the North Carolina Rules of Court versions 2011 (retail $140) and 2010?  I can get the 2010 version on the free shelf at local used book seller Ed McKay.

The biggest waste of money is in the textbooks I purchase and never use or hardly use at all. If a teacher doesn’t really like a textbook that the college requires, they just don’t use it. Most of my classes are dependent on Power Point presentations and lecture notes anyway. The way to deal with this problem is to 1) either hold off buying your books until after school starts (not recommended) or 2) make sure you can return the books within the first week or two of school for full refund. Do this by keeping them pristine!  Also, read your syllabi. Most teachers post them online the first week of the semester. They might tell you not to bother getting a book at all, or that it’s okay to buy an older used version.

Here are some tips and links that may save you a few bucks and the Rainforest a few trees:

  1. Rent. has pretty much everything you need and rental prices are at least half the cost of buying new. They make it super easy to return books at the end of the semester. The books are in good condition, meaning they may have some highlighting or annotating but spines are in good shape. They don’t penalize you if you did some highlighting of your own either. Choose to rent instead of purchase when you know you won’t want to keep the book in perpetuity. I know for myself, there are some paralegal books worth keeping. I freely annotate and on those pages because I’m keeping them until they give up the ghost. Consider Chegg for selling books also. If Chegg buys your used textbooks the shipping is prepaid to send them to Chegg, plus you can either get cash or put the credits toward your next rentals. Either way it’s a good deal. 
  1. Compare prices when buying new books. Try websites like, which is almost always less than college bookstores. You can also try and The downside is that if you need to purchase paralegal books exclusive to your state such as Rules of Court, the major websites don’t have them and you will probably have to purchase from your college bookstore. 
  1. Buy used. There are several websites that deal exclusively with used books that I have had great success with. One is and the other is Don’t forget about Ebay
  1. Consider buying an e-version of the book you need. This is pretty impractical for most paralegal books, but if you have to read novels for any general education classes then by all means get an e-book or better yet an audio book. Just make sure you get unabridged if you choose an audio book.

Happy book buying!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How Not to Be an Asshat in the Classroom (Courtroom)

Okay... so the title of this post is partly borrowed but it was a good excuse for using the word Asshat in my the heading. I found a link to How Not To Be An Asshat in The Courtroom written by Michael Mortimer of the Business Litigation Group in 1996, also reprinted in Plaintiff Magazine in 2008. Besides using a word (Asshat) that I find pretty darn funny, the article is really good. I also discovered an analogous relationship between courtroom and classroom behavior. I encourage everyone to read this, especially the heading "Know When to Shut Up" which is particularly important in both court and class.

One of my professors (Mr. Payne) has been trying to drill into our heads since the beginning of the program to think of being in class akin to being in court. Things you wouldn't do in court, you don't ever do in class. Clothes you wouldn't wear to court, shouldn't be worn to class. Cell phones, gum chewing, excessive paper shuffling, whispering, etc. are grounds for contempt in his classroom. He's a pretty intimidating old crust of a lawyer and so I have yet to see anyone call his bluff. We see him as The Judge, and treat his class like court. I personally like it this way. I have other classes / professors who are very lenient about the very things that Mr. Payne finds contemptible and those classes don't flow nearly as well, with students violating pretty much every rule of court especially the rule of knowing when to shut-up.

If you haven't been to court I suggest you go. I've been to court a few times; jury duty, my kid's speeding tickets, and one criminal matter in which a family member was a victim. You can learn a lot from just observing traffic court. Pay particular attention to what defendants wear to court. You won't believe your eyes.  Read the article linked above before you go, then just sit quietly in the back and act like you're supposed to be there. And don't be an Asshat.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Immersion Theory

During my first semester in the paralegal program I began using Rosetta Stone to improve my Spanish skills.  I didn’t have any room in my class schedule to take in-school or even online Spanish, so I invested in the program. 

Rosetta Stone uses something called Dynamic Immersion® which is really no more than putting you in an environment that speaks only the language you want to learn.  I need to learn Spanish, and so each lesson is taught 100% in Spanish.  There isn’t a single English word in the program; and it works. 

I began thinking about how the theory of immersion could be applied to my education.  If immersion was successful at teaching me a new language, then it should help me become more successful at school.  I decided to put the theory to work by totally immersing myself in legal studies.  There was a huge commitment involved in doing this.  My personal life suffered including television addictions (Real Housewives, Glee, 30 Rock, Community and The Office), socializing and sleeping.  I told my husband I would see him when I graduated.  Not really.  But you get the picture.

Here’s the breakdown on my immersion experiment:

  1. I carried 19 credit hours and received straight A’s.  Only stellar grades will get me a job when I graduate.  Employers will request to see my transcripts so when I say stellar, I mean A’s and B’s, with emphasis on the A’s.  B/C students are not going to get jobs as paralegals.  If you don’t believe me, ask any attorney.   
  1. I read everything I can that applies to the law, especially the areas I’m interested in.  I read blogs, Twitter feeds, magazine and newspapers and look at relevant websites.  I don’t skip over stuff in my textbooks either.  I keep up on the trends and follow the courts. 
  1. I don’t miss assignments and I have to be throwing up or stricken with violent diarrhea and fever to miss a class.  Period. 
  1. I know the names of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices.  
  1. I read the U.S. Constitution.  It’s a short document.  Every American should read it, paralegal program or not!  I am ashamed that I did not know that document well.  I do now. 
  1. I join organizations!  There should be chapters of paralegal organizations near you and most offer student memberships that are cheap.  Try to attend the meetings if your class schedule permits, but if you can’t, you can volunteer to do something for them from home.  Networking is really really important.  I’m not waiting until I graduate to start building my network. 
  1. I volunteer.  I accept that I am going to have to give it away for free.  If you think that at the end of your two year or four year degree program you are going to walk into a paralegal job without experience you’re wrong.  The only way to get experience is to work for free.  You can volunteer at a law office or a non-profit legal service; it really doesn’t matter as long as you can put on a resume that you have paralegal experience.  In this economy, and in the current job market, experienced paralegals are not finding jobs.  How am I going to get a job if they can’t?  Check the online job boards like for a reality check on jobs. 
  1. I hope this doesn’t offend, but work on your spoken language skills.  I think college professors have to be careful about what they say to people so they don’t get into trouble and therefore rarely correct a student’s speech.  I’m just a student so I have nothing to lose by telling everyone that if you are still speaking in slang or have a strong accent (I live in the South) that makes it difficult for people to understand you then changes have to be made.  When you’re watching the news does anyone speak like they’re from the Jersey Shore, Brooklyn or the Deep South?  No.  That’s because broadcasting schools teach people to drop the accent.  Also lose the contemporary slang.  Is anyone else tired of hearing the word “Dude?”  Or how about those who pronounce “ask” as “axe?”  Saying “I axed her a question” sounds like a crime has been committed.  We all get into these little habits and we can all get out of them.  If we are going to be whispering Rules of Civil Procedure into an attorney’s ear in a court room some day, he/she needs to understand what we are saying.  For the record, the word “nuclear” is pronounced “noo-klee-err” not “noo-kue-lerr.” 
That’s it for now.  I’ll go into more details about each of these areas of immersion and share whatever information I have.  I have 21 credit hours so I am literally immersed but I plan to post at least weekly this semester. 

Thanks for reading.

Lynne Koenigsknecht
The Paralegal Student

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

First Post: Taking Down the Christmas Tree

I am trying to get organized for the new semester.  I've completed one term in the Paralegal program at Guilford Tech Community College (  I am reinventing myself by going back to school at this point in my life and I have taken an immersion approach to the field of legal studies;  more on my theory about that later.

I have a lot of ideas for this Blog.  I already have a list of things to share with all of you about school and getting jobs, and stuff I think we should all learn about the field that school may not teach us.  I also have a lot of tips about technology having been in that field for a number of years.

So this Blog is for and about being a paralegal student.  My hope is that after I finish school in a few years I could perhaps hand the Blog over to a new student, passing the torch as it were.  For now, since it's my first post, I'll keep in short.  Since school starts back up in less than a week, I know that if I don't take the Christmas tree down it will stay up until Spring Break.

Lynne Koenigsknecht
The Paralegal Student