Commonly Confused Words, Part 2

writing-quotes-grammarThe English language has many words that are easily confused.  Words that sound alike or look alike can have completely different meanings.

It is imperative that legal professionals have superior communications skills.   Poor grammar can tarnish a reputation and image very quickly.  This is part two of our series on commonly confused words.

Its and It’s

While the differences between these words may seem obvious, misuse of these words is the leading grammatical error.

It’s is a contraction of it is.  The confusion is that it seems as it should be the possessive version of the pronoun “it.”  One of the confusing quirks of the English language is that the possessive form of “it” does not have an apostrophe.  Thus, “its” is the possessive pronoun of “it.”

  • It’s very cold outside this morning. [Contraction of “it is”]
  • TAPA is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. [Possessive of TAPA]
  • It’s time to go!
  • My hair seems to have a mind of its own.

They’re, Their, and There

They’re is a contraction of they are.  Their is a plural possessive of they.

  • They’re happy to be selected for the trial team.
  • The trial team members have been working very hard on their assigned tasks.

There has a variety of meanings.  

  • Used as a noun, there indicates a place or location.
    • I need to know how long it will take me to get from there to the courthouse.
  • As an adverb, there is the opposite of here.
    • Could you run by there and pick up my order?
    • Put the gifts there and join us in the dining room.
  • Used as a pronoun, there introduces a noun or a phrase.
    • There is too much street noise outside my office.
    • Are there nuts in these cookies?

Principal and Principle

Principal, when used as a noun, refers to head or chief.  In the U.S., it is most commonly used to refer to a head educator.  When used as an adjective, principal is used to describe something that is main or key.

Principal also has special meanings in finance and law.  In finance, principal refers to a loan amount requiring repayment.  In law, principal refers to a person having prime responsibility for an obligation or the main actor in the perpetuation of a crime.

  • Students who continually misbehave in class may find themselves in the principal’s office.
  • The drama department is holding auditions for the principal leads in the spring play.
  • By making payments above the minimum required payment on my mortgage, I hope to reduce the principal on the loan more quickly.

Principle is a noun that generally refers to the idea of a rule, belief, tenet, general law or a code of conduct.

  • As a matter of principle, I must take a stand against unethical conduct.

Complement and Compliment

Both of these words can be used as nouns and verbs, but have very different meanings.

A compliment is something said in admiration, praise or flattery.  It can also be used as a verb, when paying a compliment to someone.

  • My sister is always fishing for compliments about her long hair.
  • I don’t know whether to take your comment as a compliment or an insult.
  • I complimented my friend’s performance after her theater debut.

Complement is a noun that describes something which completes or brings to perfection.  Used as verb, complement means to make complete.

  • Red wine is a frequent complement to a dish with red meat; while white wine is the preferred complement to a poultry dish.
  • When I redecorated my home, I searched long and hard for the perfect drapes to complement my new furniture.

Capital and Capitol

Capital can be a noun or an adjective and can refer to uppercase letters, accumulated wealth, or the city that serves as the seat of government for a state or country.

  • Job titles such as doctor, lawyer, pastor, and teacher are generally not capitalized.
  • Specific names of places should begin with a capital letter, such as the Brooklyn Bridge.  

Capitol refers to a building that may be the seat of government or in which a governmental body meets.  (Memory tip:  capitol buildings often have a dome; capitol has an o in it).

One of those confusing quirks in our language is that capital is used to describe the capital city of a state or country, while capitol refers to the building that is the seat of government.

  • The United States Capitol Building is located the U.S. capital city of Washington, D.C.
  • When traveling, I make a point to visit capitol buildings in state capital cities.

What are some other words that are commonly confused?  What are some grammar and punctuation rules that are to keep straight?  Let us know and we will address these in future blog posts.

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Podcasts For Paralegals

Web_banner_itunesuHave you jumped into the podcast craze?  Podcasts have been around for at least a decade, but their popularity exploded with the release of the Serial podcast in 2014.  Suddenly, everyone was talking about the twists and turns of this true crime investigative narrative, told in episodic form over 12 weeks.

There are literally thousands of podcasts now, covering every imaginable genre and topic — entertainment, comedy, storytelling, hobbies, investigative journalism, books, education, health, lifestyle, and business promotion.  Some are series; others are are separate episodes with hosts and revolving guests.  Podcasts have surpassed blogs (present company notwithstanding) as the media trend of the moment.

For those who may be unfamiliar with podcasts, here’s a brief primer.  Podcasts are audio recordings that can be listened to either as a streaming file or downloaded to a computer or mobile device.  Podcasts can be listened to at any time, which has a lot of appeal in our world of on demand media content.  In 2015, nearly 70% of podcasts were downloaded to mobile devices.  If you are a multi-tasker, podcasts can be played while you are in the car, doing housework, during your lunch hour, in a waiting room, or anywhere you can wear a pair of headphones.

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Of course, our industry is not to be left out of the podcast trend.  Since 2009, Vicki Voisin, a former NALA President and commonly known as the Paralegal Mentor, has hosted a monthly podcast called The Paralegal Voice.  In August, Vicki announced her retirement from the podcast and passed the mantle to Carl Morrison, PP-SC, AACP.  Carl is a certified paralegal, published author, paralegal educator, and a former member of TAPA.  He has been a guest on previous episodes of The Paralegal Voice and is now the new host.

The Paralegal Voice is part of the Legal Talk Network, which broadcasts 25 different podcasts related to the law.   Our own President, Tracy Mosz, was the guest on the June 2017 episode of The Paralegal Voice, called  “The Life of a Litigation Paralegal.”  Lisa Stone, TAPA’s Communications Officer, was the guest on the most recent episode, discussing her post on this blog about Paralegals in Pop Culture.

The Paralegal Voice can be found here.  The archives of every episode since 2009 are available on the website and you may find many of these interesting or relevant to our industry.

Tracy Mosz’s episode, “The Life of a Litigation Paralegal,” can be found here.

Lisa Stone’s episode, “Paralegals in Pop Culture,” can be found here.

Stay tuned for future blog posts about podcasts that you may find interesting!

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Congratulations To Our New ACPs!

ACP_0Four of our TAPA members recently earned Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) credentials.

Lacey McPherson, ACP, has been a paralegal since 2004 and recently completed an ACP in E-Discovery.  Over her career, Lacey has worked in adoption law, insurance coverage disputes, and medical malpractice defense.  She currently works in a labor/employment law group at Newton, O’Connor, Turner & Ketchum.  When asked about an interesting story from her paralegal career, Lacey tells about an instance in which she demonstrated how paralegals often go the extra mile, even in the most unusual situation.  While staying in a hotel during an out of town two-week trial, Lacey and a paralegal co-worker had worked long hours ensuring that exhibits, arguments, witnesses and other details had run smoothly  One evening, the two paralegals had gone out to pick up dinner for the trial team and when they returned, discovered that an attorney’s plain cheeseburger was plainer than usual by missing…cheese.  Not wanting to admit defeat over something like cheese, Lacey and her co-worker ordered a piece of cheese from the hotel’s room service.  The cheese arrived frozen, so Lacey ingeniously grabbed her hair dryer and melted the cheese so perfectly that the attorney never knew about the mishap! Lacey is a lifelong Tulsan who loves to travel and has visited 35 countries so far, with plans to visit many more.

Bobbye Meisenheimer, ACP, has been a certified paralegal since 2006 and recently completed an ACP in E-Discovery.  Bobbye is a paralegal at Riggs, Abney, Neal , Turpen, Orbison & Lewis, working primarily in the areas of personal injury and civil rights violations.  She graduated with honors from Northeastern State University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice – Legal Studies and is currently working toward a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice.  In her spare time, Bobbye enjoys traveling, landscaping, and playing with her four young grandchildren.

Cristan Webb, ACP, has been a paralegal since 2011, most recently working in a family law practice.  She has also worked in corporate law.  She became a Certified Paralegal in 2016 and recently completed her ACP in Discovery.  Cristan has been married 23 years and has two sons, ages 16 and 22.  Her primary hobby is watching her sons play baseball.  Her oldest son was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers last year and Cristan tries to see as many of his games as possible, around also watching her younger son play.  Cristan also enjoys golf.

Jennifer Arnold, ACP, has been a paralegal for over five years and has worked in the legal industry for the last 11 years.  She currently works at Barrow & Grimm, primarily in litigation.  Jennifer has also worked in the Court Clerk’s office for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Okmulgee County Court Clerk’s office.  Jennifer became a Certified Paralegal in 2015 and completed an ACP credential in E-Discovery earlier this year.  She has an Associate’s degree in Business Management from Oklahoma State University and a Bachelor’s degree from Kaplan University.  Jennifer has been on the TAPA Board of Directors for the last two years, currently serving as the Board Member At Large.  She has three sons — 17-year-old twins and a six-year-old.  As the only female in her household, Jennifer’s hobbies include a lot of outdoor activities, including camping and fishing.

Congratulations, Bobbye, Cristan, Lacey, and Jennifer!

To learn more about NALA’s Advanced Certified Paralegal programs, visit the NALA website.

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TAPA’s Fall Seminar

TAPA’s Fall Seminar is scheduled for October 9, 2017.  It will be an evening event, with dinner, speakers, and 2.5 hours of CLE.  Register here for this event and join us for food and fellowship!

Fall Seminar (approved)

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Paralegals in Pop Culture

There’s an endless supply of TV shows, books and movies about lawyers — crusaders for justice (think Atticus Finch), morally bankrupt ones (like Damages’ Patty Hewes), and charming mishaps (such as Ally McBeal).  Paralegals in pop culture are harder to find, which can be attributed to our behind-the-scenes role.

Paralegals in pop culture typically have far from traditional roles and are rarely referred to as paralegals.  However, in all of these examples, these characters provide invaluable support to an attorney, without which the case at the center of the story wouldn’t be resolved.

Erin Brockovich

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Erin Brockovich, depicted by Julia Roberts in the biographical movie of the same name, is perhaps the most famous paralegal found in entertainment.  Lacking any education or training in the legal field, Brockovich forced her way into a job in the firm of Masry & Vititoe, where she stumbled upon medical records in a real estate file.  Her dogged (and some would say, stubborn) investigation led to a giant direct action toxic tort lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and a settlement of more than $333 million in damages to over 600 residents of the town of Hinkley, California.  While Brockovich was never referred to as a paralegal in the film, she conducted client interviews, served as an investigator, organized and maintained thousands of documents, and accompanied the lead attorneys to depositions and court appearances.  Roberts won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role.

Mona Lisa Vito – My Cousin Vinny

MyCousinVinnyMarisa Tomei’s character of Mona Lisa Vito in the film My Cousin Vinny could hardly be called a paralegal.  As the sassy girlfriend of Brooklyn personal injury lawyer Vincent Gambini, played by Joe Pesci, she accompanies Vinny to the rural Alabama town where he’s called upon to defend his cousin and the cousin’s friend in a murder trial.  Gambini is in his first trial and is clearly in over his head.  Lisa works through the facts and legal issues with him and, in a Hollywood twist, serves as an expert witness, providing the clue that ultimately blows the prosecutor’s case to bits.  Like Julia Roberts, Tomei won an Oscar for this role.

Deck Shifflet – The Rainmaker

Rainmaker

John Grisham’s book The Rainmaker (published in 1995 and made into a movie in 1997) is the tale of Rudy Baylor, a brand new lawyer, whose assured position with a large firm falls apart, leaving him to open his own practice as a personal injury lawyer.  Along the way, he meets up with Deck Shifflet, a middle-aged law school graduate who has been unable to pass the Tennessee bar exam after multiple attempts.  Shifflet calls himself a “paralawyer” and does the leg work for ambulance chaser lawyers.  Rudy manages to get one case, a bad-faith insurance claim, and ends up going up against the high powered firm that had fired him.  Like most new lawyers, Rudy is green and lost in the world of discovery and trial preparation.  Deck is very experienced and walks Rudy through every step, leading to a giant verdict for their client.

Hector Palma – The Street Lawyer

streetlawyer

This 1998 novel by John Grisham is the story of a Michael Brock, a partner in a high-powered Washington, D.C. firm, who undergoes a crisis of conscience after a homeless man enters the firm’s offices and takes several people hostage.  During the siege, the homeless man demands information about an eviction.  Later, Brock is unable to forget what he heard and begins to investigate.  He ends up leaving his law firm job and working at a local legal aid clinic that defends the rights of the homeless.  He discovers that his former firm had been complicit in an illegal eviction of several homeless individuals from a housing center.  In his quest to expose the corruption, Brock is aided by Hector Palma, a paralegal for the real estate partner at the center of the illegal activity.  Palma secretly slips information and documents to Brock that ultimately expose the entire situation.

Unfortunately, many of these depictions don’t show our industry in the best light.  These paralegals and legal assistants frequently cross ethical boundaries in pursuit of justice.  A lawyer and paralegal who always behave with integrity don’t necessarily sell books and movie tickets.  Maybe someday, one of us will be the inspiration for a best-seller about a paralegal superstar!

 

 

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September Meeting: An Overview of Oklahoma Auto Insurance

2.12.17-shop-insurance

Join us on Wednesday, September 13, 2017, for our monthly membership meeting, where we will hear from attorney Jon Starr about automobile insurance in Oklahoma.

Mr. Starr is the head of the district court litigation department at the McGivern & Gilliard law firm in Tulsa.  In 2016, Mr. Starr achieved the highest designation of “Diplomate” in the American Board of Trial Advocates, recognizing that he has tried more than 100 jury trials to verdict in courts of unlimited jurisdiction.  Mr. Starr has chaired the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Insurance Law Section for 11 years. He also works as a mediator and arbitrator with Mediators and Arbitrators of Oklahoma.

Mr. Starr completed his undergraduate education at Oklahoma State University, and earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.  He has written three articles that have been published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, including:  Attorney Lien Claimed:  It is Worth the Paper It Is Written On?  Some Major Points About Minor’s Claims, and Overview of Oklahoma Automobile Insurance Law.

Mr. Starr also serves on the Chairman of the Board of Plumbline Ministries Inc., a Christian counseling ministry, and is an active member on Church On The Move in Tulsa.

TAPA’s September meeting will be from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. in Cafe Room 1 of the ONEOK Plaza, 100 W. Fifth Street.  Visit the TAPA website for more details.

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Webcam Notarization: It’s Coming…

notary-public-400x300The cardinal rule of notarization has always been that the notary must be in the physical presence of the signer to properly witness the signature.  Violation of this rule, more than anything else, is the primary reason notaries are sued and have their commissions revoked.

Just like with so many other processes, 21st century technology has ushered in a significant change to the notarization process.  As of next month, five states (Ohio, Virginia, Montana, Texas, and Nevada) will now permit document signers to appear before a notary over the internet, using webcam technology.  Similar measures are being considered in nine other states, including Oklahoma.

Ohio House Bill 49 goes into effect on September 29, 2017, allowing signers to “visually appear” before “Electronic Notaries.”  Electronic Notaries require a separate registration process from traditional notaries.  The standards for the electronic devices permitted for this practice will be established by the Ohio Secretary of State.

The Texas law, House Bill 1217, goes into effect in 2018 and requires notaries to apply to become an Online Notary Public.  If the signer is not personally known to the notary, a multi-factor method of identifying signers is required.  Online notarization will be effected by two-way audio and video conferencing technology.oklahoma_notary_seal_stamp_large

To read more about this trend:

Notaries Are Starting To Put Down The Stamp And Pick Up A Webcam, All Tech Considered, NPR, June 12, 2017

Another State Says Yes To Webcam Notarizations, Notary Bulletin by Michael Lewis, June 21, 2017

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