December 5, 2005

Drafting Complaints

The Wife's paralegal certification class continues, and she's been asked to draft a complaint. It's occasionally frustrating -- for both her and for me -- to help her out. I've been writing complaints and other pleadings for so long now that it's second nature to me. Seeing her go through the process reminds me of how precise the language in such a document needs to be. In a way, it's a good refresher for me; a reminder of exactly how the work gets done. It's also a test of my patience; I hope that she'll be able to get what I'm telling her the first time out and sometimes she doesn't.

(It's also a good distraction from how badly the Philadelphia Eagles are getting clobbered by the Seattle Seahawks, causing no end of damage to my fantasy football team's previously-halfway-comfortable lead. Just past halftime, Seattle is winning, 42-0. Ratings may decline in the second half. The only bright spot is that now our final backup QB may have a chance to prove his worth. Good luck, Koy.)

Mainly, though, I worry that I've helped her too much and that she won't be able to write a complaint on her own when the time comes. But I try and remember that once upon a time, I couldn't write like that, either; it takes practice. She needs the practice and along the way, she needs to have someone show her how to do it and where she has made mistakes, just like I did when I was a new lawyer. And unfortunately for her, she got hit with a complex factual scenario that has a good cause of action in it requiring some very technical pleading -- this while she is still learning the appropriate verb tense. It's a process. I'm glad to help.


Becky said...

Thank you for your help. You've been wonderful throughout this course.

However, like you, I also worry that perhaps I am too dependent upon your expertise and knowledge. However, when in the real world I'll hopefully be doing these tasks during the day at my job and not at home in the evening! Therefore, you won't be available to me and I'll have to sink or swim.

And, as you noted, this is all new to me and it will take time and practice.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to hear how involved paralegal training is. I've never expected a secretary to *write* a complaint for me. All I expect them to do is format and word-process a complaint. Frankly, I'd be happy if my current "legal secretary" could even do the latter.

She claimed she'd worked in a marriage-and-family law office for about a year, and in criminal law previously. Her resume had a community college "Legal Office Skills" class on it. Yet, I've had to explain to her what a caption is; what a pleading is; that those numbers on pleading paper are supposed to line up with the lines of text; that most documents filed with the court must be page-numbered and must have footers; what footers are; that page-numbering is NOT done by moving my text aside and tapping "1," "2," et seq at the bottom of each individual page. Each time, it's a big trauma. I tried printing out and highlighting the applicable Rules of Court for various documents; they might as well have been in cuneiform.

I have to oppose a demurrer next week, and I'm dreading it. In addition to making my legal argument, I'll have to learn every tiny thing associated with formatting the document, putting it together and getting it out, then teach it to her, slowly.

My point being, it sounds like Becky is going to be way, waaay ahead of the game, outside help or not. If she has a general idea of why the attorneys do what they do, that's gravy.

Hey, do you ever watch that "King of Queens" show? In what world do legal secretaries have to work like *that* chick does?

Anonymous said...

Hey, did that class assign you a textbook? If so, what's it called? It would be great if there were some book I could get her about how to be a paralegal. I'd read it myself, too.

Becky said...

Hey, did that class assign you a textbook? If so, what's it called? It would be great if there were some book I could get her about how to be a paralegal. I'd read it myself, too.

Well, if I weren't so damned displeased with the texts I'd be happy to provide you with the requested info; however, you're better off with something from the bookstore.

In my course there are 4 texts (and 3 different "classes"):

• 2 books are for the "core" classes which cover legal concepts, procedures, legal research and writing, blue book citations, etc.
• 1 text for criminal law (separate class)
• 1 text for civil law (separate class)

However, the texts are only available through the course (which is just as well since the formatting sucks, there are numerous typos, etc. – shocking since it was written by a paralegal!!!!).

I zipped over to a used book store in town and found several other texts to supplement the crap I paid $300 bucks for.

"Tort Law for Legal Assistants" 2 edition by Linda L. Edwards, J.D. and J. Stanley Edwards, J.D. is pretty decent.

"Understanding Torts" by John L. Diamond, Lawrence C. Levine, and M. Stuart Madden is straight forward – but only after one has the basics down.

In fact there are quite a few different paralegal texts out on the market. Some are published by West Publishing Company (go figure!) and other such entities. is another good resource if you don't feel like battling CA traffic. Here's just a quick glance at what they had:

This book ("Legal Secretary's Complete Handbook" 4th Edition by Mary A. DeVries) looks like it may cover what you need: