What’s In Your Briefcase? 5 Essentials That Could Save Your Reputation

I recently helped to save the professional reputation of one of my attorney-clients (that might be a reach, but I did save her some embarrassment).  I did not do it with my paralegal expertise; I did it with a few things I carry in my brief case/laptop bag. Maybe these items could save your reputation as well.

Back story: My attorney-client is a solo who was preparing for a deposition where opposing counsel was a mid-size firm.  We prepared the exhibits, wrote the outline, and  made sure we had everything ready for the deposition.  We loaded everything into her car and headed out to lunch. The following items rescued her from going into the deposition looking less than professional…

1. Tide To Go Pen  

My attorney-client had gotten a little something on her blouse during lunch.  Nothing says “slob” more than wearing your lunch, but my Tide To Go Pen removed the spot completely. Some people keep an emergency shirt or blouse at their office, but that is of no use when you are away. This little Tide Pen works wonders.  I have even seen it remove ink. They are $4 at most stores.


2. Colgate Wisp Mini Disposable Toothbrush

I don’t remember what she had for lunch that day, but my client needed to freshen up.  I gave her a Wisp and it was as if she had just brushed her teeth. The Wisp cleans your teeth and freshens your breath with no water or rinsing necessary. It also has a tooth pick on the end for that stubborn piece of food.  $8 for a bag of sixteen, sold everywhere.

3. Mini Lint Roller

If you are headed to court, you are probably wearing a dark suit.  Dark material shows every little piece of fuzz, hair and dust.  A thorough lint rolling can take your look from untidy to polished in 30 seconds.  My client was wearing a grey suit that had picked up particles from the banker’s boxes. The lint roller quickly had her looking freshly dry-cleaned.

4. A Comb or Lipstick

Keep on hand a comb, lipstick  (ladies only), or whatever you need to give yourself that little touch up. A freshly groomed look will boost your confidence as well as your appearance. (My client had her own lipstick.)

5. Hand Sanitizer

You may think this one has nothing to do with your apperance, but it does.  Court houses, even with all the marble, mahogany and glass, are very public and nasty places. Keeping your hands clean  will cut down on colds.  A bright red nose  is not your best look.  If you visit clients in jail, double up on the hand sanitizer.  It also comes in individual wipes that are about the size of a business card.


Attorneys and paralegals must be prepared for court dates, depositions, meetings, and interviews. These five simple items could preserve your professional reputation, something you can’t afford to lose.


27 Responses to What’s In Your Briefcase? 5 Essentials That Could Save Your Reputation
  1. Jim Connolly
    December 8, 2011 | 2:10 pm

    Number 4 was a MUST for me, Misty 😉

    Great list and packed with good, common sense!

  2. Misty Sheffield
    December 8, 2011 | 2:28 pm

    Well Jim, there is one less thing you have to worry about!

  3. Paralegal
    December 8, 2011 | 11:12 pm

    A professional paralegal is not a baby sitter.

    If you want to be a Girl Friday that’s your choice. But don’t expect others to follow you down that path.

  4. Misty Sheffield
    December 9, 2011 | 9:50 am

    I agree, a paralegal is not a baby sitter. I have never had a supervising attorney to treat me as one either. The attorney in the story above gives me hefty, substantive legal work and pays me well to do it. The attorneys I work with know I’ve got their back especially when preparing for a deposition or court appearance. I would not have allowed my client to go into that deposition without the proper exhibits, outline and information. I don’t consider it degrading to the profession that I also would not allow her to go into it with a stain on her shirt and food in her teeth. What I did was not baby sitting; it was common courtesy.

    • Jim Connolly
      December 9, 2011 | 9:59 am

      Hi Misty,

      I have over 20,000 comments on my blog, and the above comment reminds me why I don’t allow anonymous comments.

  5. Patti
    December 9, 2011 | 10:17 am

    Misty, I totally agree with you. It’s my job to make sure my boss is where he is supposed to be and has what he is supposed to have. Is that babysitting? Maybe, but its my job. If I have to help him by sewing a button back on along the way, then so be it. I am not above helping wherever I am needed; if you are, then you are in the wrong profession. Paralegals have to be quick thinkers, team players and multi-taskers.

    Gotta run now and clean our office fish tank. 😉

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 9, 2011 | 12:13 pm

      Patti, As a team player you become invaluable to your firm. You have a great attitude which I am sure has furthered your career as a reliable paralegal.

    • Lora Gardner
      December 13, 2011 | 9:02 am

      Hi All, I agree. Sometimes I see people that I have never met and they are walking around with something in their hair or teeth and I want to tell them so bad just to keep them from getting embarrassed. I don’t see what is wrong with common courtesy. After all, if your attorney looks bad, what does that say about you (someone that works for them). I would want someone to tell me. Put yourself in their shoes.

  6. Mary Hanson
    December 9, 2011 | 11:15 am

    As a “newbie” to the paralegal profession, I really appreciate tips like this. Anything that will help my “team” is what’s important. (And I don’t consider this kind of preparedness as “babysitting” either; I see it as being proactive and resourceful… so, thank you again for your post.)

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 9, 2011 | 12:18 pm

      Hi Mary, Welcome to the paralegal profession! You are right on target with seeing the value of being proactive and resourceful. You will find that paralegals wear many hats. If a paralegal is not seen as a team player, she could get kicked out of the game. I hope the tips are helpful.

  7. Ann Bruce
    December 9, 2011 | 11:24 am

    I enjoyed reading this it reminded me of the time when a client of ours flew into town for court with her infant. Our court house is not equipped to handle infants so I had to babysit. As a paralegal or assistant you have to be ready to expect the unexpected including client hygiene issues. We have counseled many clients on what and what not to wear to court. It goes with the job.

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 9, 2011 | 12:30 pm

      Hi Ann, I am sure your firm appreciated you stepping up to the plate. The point that you understand that the anonymous paralegal is missing is that your firm did not see you as “the babysitter” after that. They saw you as a paralegal was does what it takes to get the job done.

  8. Loretta
    December 9, 2011 | 11:50 am

    Hi Misty,

    Great article, all good items. I agree that it is not baby sitting but, rather, good teamwork. If you had let her walk into the deposition looking as she did, it would have reflected on you and the practice as a whole. Especially since she is a solo. I might add for the guys a fresh tie.

  9. Misty Sheffield
    December 9, 2011 | 12:34 pm

    Thank you Loretta. I usually become friends with the attorneys I work with. I would not let a friend go into a meeting looking unprofessional. Whether it is a friend or your boss, it is just the right thing to do. I like the tie idea too.

  10. Tina
    December 9, 2011 | 3:13 pm

    I am a paralegal student and I enjoy reading blogs by paralegals, including yours. When I decided to pursue a paralegal career, I had no intentions of being a babysitter. But everything you explained is not doing anything a babysitter would do. You are being a resourceful assistant. One I’m sure any attorney would appreciate. I wonder what that attorney would have thought had you let her go into the courtroom with stains on her shirt and food in her teeth?

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 9, 2011 | 3:39 pm

      Welcome to the blog Tina. Attorneys do appreciate paralegals who are adaptable to the crazy situations of the legal world. If I had let the attorney go into the deposition in that condition I think she would have been pretty perturbed when she looked into the mirror. It really was just plain ole common courtesy.

  11. Lisa
    December 9, 2011 | 3:18 pm

    Great comments! I appreciate your attitude and suggestions. As a paralegal educator, I am always telling students how important it is to be prepared for anything!

  12. Misty Sheffield
    December 9, 2011 | 3:42 pm

    Hi Lisa. That is great practical advice for paralegal students. Variety of tasks and responsibilities keeps the profession interesting. Thanks for the comment.

  13. La Kwanza
    December 10, 2011 | 11:42 am

    Misty, I laughed when reading your list because it just confirmed how important we paralegals really are. We have to constantly think outside the box. The only thing I would add to your list is a mini tissue set and for a male atty handkerchiefs. I once had to drive all over town looking for handkerchiefs while my atty was in trial because he lost his. I have now added those items to his trial kit. :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  14. Misty Sheffield
    December 10, 2011 | 1:07 pm

    La Kwanza, We are indeed important! Tissues or handkerchiefs are a must have. Thanks for the great addition.

  15. Beverly
    December 10, 2011 | 3:30 pm

    I really enjoy the comments about team work and watching your attorney’s back. After all they sign the pay checks and are the one who likely will evaluate your work. I believe the thoughtful preparation of paralegals speaks to their work ethic and ability to be kind. One thing I might add to the list, especially during the winter months, is a non-oily hand lotion. I carry a little 2 oz. bottle with me at all times.

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 13, 2011 | 3:14 pm

      Hi Beverly, Thanks for contributing. This thread really shows that paralegals are resourceful team players in addition to being great people.

  16. Deb
    December 15, 2011 | 9:05 am

    Although the items I normally add to a hearing/trial kit don’t make your top five, I’ve found that my attorneys appreciate mints, their favorite power or snack bar and bottled water (although it is available in most court settings).

    • Misty Sheffield
      December 16, 2011 | 8:00 pm

      Those are smart items to have Deb. I am sure the attorneys you work with appreciate having a prepared paralegal who watches out for them during the stressful time of trial.

  17. Cheryl Meyer
    March 3, 2012 | 3:58 pm

    Love it, Misty ! I have this thing with setting up the conference room a certain way for meetings. I also am a fan of hand wipes in the briefcase.

  18. Santana Williams
    November 25, 2012 | 11:53 pm

    Hey Misty that’s the kind of paralegal I envision myself being. I want to be a litigation paralegal and I’m all about professionalism. Thannks

    • Misty Sheffield
      November 27, 2012 | 10:36 pm

      It sounds like you are on your way to having a great career as a paralegal Santana. I hope the blog is helpful to you along the way.

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Misty L. Sheffield is a freelance paralegal helping solos and small law firms in civil litigation. She has been assisting attorneys for over 12 years. Read More »