Archive for the ‘Relationship with Attorney’ Category

Jamie Collins Strikes Back

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Yesterday at The Paralegal Society website, Jamie Collins posted a response to an attorney who predicted the death of the paralegal profession. As usual, Jamie is right on target. There is no doubt that the practice of law is changing (as it always has) and that the paralegal profession must change with it (as it always has,) but there is nothing to indicate that the role of the paralegal will be made obsolete by technology. Jamie addresses this point well:

Have things changed? Absolutely. Will they continue to? You better believe it. The roles of paralegals will continue to evolve based upon firms’ and societal needs, more advanced skillsets and education, occupational trends, and yes, with the rise of technology and its continued immersion in our daily work lives. We will be doing far more with less.

But does that equate to the death of the paralegal? No. (Trust me, if the stress, deadlines, workload, and attorneys haven’t killed us yet, nothing will.) The role may change. The tasks may evolve. You may get new software or better systems. You may learn how to do things faster or better. Heck, one day, your attorney may even learn how to locate his own files or properly format a legal document—it could happen. One day, they may even potentially call us by an alternate title. But don’t go picking out your career tombstone just yet…

I’ll also let her conclusion serve for mine – other than suggesting that you use the link above to go read the entire post:

The day the robot can actually field phone calls like a living, breathing, caring human being, act as a liaison to clients, work on trial strategy, prepare clients for depositions and trial, make clients over for trial purposes which includes a hell of a lot of shopping, read an esquire’s mind, find inconsistencies in case-related matters, make the attorney look damn good, and fetch all those missing files/documents, along with my sanity—do send it immediately. I’m all in. I will seriously begin to contemplate my severance package and cabana rental at that time.

16 Awarded Ohio State Bar Association’s Paralegal Credential

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

According to a Hudson Hub-Times (I have no idea where Hudson is other than in Ohio) article, sixteen people were recently award the Ohio State Bar Association’s Paralegal Credential. I, of course, offer them my congratulations, but the bigger story is that the OSBA recognizes the role of paralegals in this way. So, aside from the individual acheivment of these 16 individual, here’s the real take-away from the article:

“The OSBA includes paralegals as members of the Association in recognition of their valuable service to lawyers and to the public,” said OSBA President John Holschuh. “We applaud those OSBA Certified Paralegals who are bringing objective, uniform standards of competence and professionalism to their work.”

An applicant for paralegal certification must first meet specified education/experience, continuing legal education and reference requirements, and then must pass a written exam.

I realize there can be some problems with having a bar association in charge of paralegal credentials including a possible conflict between the bar’s interest in protecting its own monopoly and the interest of providing the public with both the protection and legal services it needs. However, all state bar associations should be including paralegals as members of the association and recognizing their valuable service to lawyers and to the public.

Washington OKs Fee Sharing and Joint Ownership Between Lawyers and LLLTs

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

I’ve posted here previously on Washington State’s LLLT program and hope to post soon about AAfPE’s Task Force on Legal Education’s report regarding similar proposals in other states. But, Washington continues to jump ahead of other states according to this report by Robert Ambrogi:

The Supreme Court of Washington has approved revisions to the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers in that state that allow lawyers and limited license legal technicians to form partnerships and share fees. To my knowledge, this makes Washington the first state to allow fee sharing and joint ownership of a law practice between a lawyer and nonlawyer. (The District of Columbia also allows ownership and fee sharing by nonlawyers in limited circumstances.)

The new Washington rule was part of a package of changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) proposed by the Washington State Bar Association to bring the rules into alignment with the LLLT program and to provide guidance to lawyers concerning their interactions with LLLTs and the clients of LLLTs. LLLTs are subject to a separate set of professional conduct rules.

For more information, read Ambrogi’s full post.

More on Supervision and Embezzlement

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

In the past when reporting on alleged paralegal embezzlement, I’ve harped on the fact that the paralegal’s attorney has a problem due to having provided inadequate supervision of the paralegal, a duty owed to both the public and the paralegal. Today’s ABAJournal.com feed has a post that supports my thoughts on the topic, although it involves an “office manager” rather than a paralegal. The problem was discovered when a client went to another attorney who discovered that her personal injury case had already been settled. Apparently the office manager had negotiated a settlement and run off with the funds (and her office computer containing records of client settlements.) The Kansas Supreme Court suspended the attorney for three months stating, ““The facts are clear and convincing that respondent did not properly supervise his office manager, he failed to keep a master list of clients, and he failed to keep proper accounting records. ”

Should lawyers be nicer to their paralegals?

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Above the Law has a nice post by Joe Patrice entitled, “We Should All Be Nicer To Our Paralegals.

Law firms routinely abuse paralegals. You remember the paralegals, right? They’re the fresh-faced youngsters who inexplicably think it might help their future legal career to spend a couple of years compiling binders full of documents that lawyers will look at once and discard. Or most likely forget about and make the paralegal do again four months hence. At least they make overtime when caught in the thresher maw. But other than a slight bump in pay, paralegals don’t get much appreciation for doing all the tasks lawyers would never be caught dead doing at 2:00 a.m.

His comments are followed by a bunch of memes to describe the job of a paralegal compiled by Legal Cheek.

Kudos, Mr. Patrice and Above the Law!

Virginia Paralegals’ Week

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Last week I finally  added the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations to my blogroll in response to a June request from Karen Axell, RP, President of VAPA. While looking at the site I noticed this: Governor Terence R. McAuliffe proclaims October 12-18, 2014, as Paralegals’ Week. The Governor’s proclamation includes several reasons for the week including recognition that “the research and administrative duties performed by paralegals are essential to the ability of attorneys to provide their clients with quality legal services.

Lawyer Applies for Paralegal Position

Monday, June 30th, 2014

I am drawn out of summer vacation haze by a post on Above the Law by Alex Rich entitled, “Lawyer Applies For Paralegal Position. What Happens Next Will Surprise You.” Basically Alex is complaining because a lawyer was not considered to have the minimum requirements for a paralegal position. While Alex may be surprised I, regular readers of this blog, and practicing paralegals are not. The fact is that lawyers and paralegals are trained differently for markedly different roles. Alex’s surprised is based on the common misunderstanding of attorneys of what paralegals do and how they do it. I’ve addressed this extensively in some early posts, so I won’t go over it all again here, but here’s a link for those who have interest in hearing more.  It is unfortunate that a quality blog like Above the Law perpetuates this misunderstanding.

Judging Bonuses

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on managing the paralegal’s relationships with the attorneys with whom they work, although there is a whole category on the topic with more than 90 posts and it comprises an entire chapter of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. This post is prompted by a response to a question posted on the Paralegal Group’s LinkedIn discussion board by Joanna Bila:

Question to all my fellow paralegals. If your firm offers bonuses to paralegals, what structure does your firm use? Do any firm offer bonuses based on billable hours and if so, how do they calculate?

One response indicated that in six years she had never received a bonus, a response that is all two common. I have commented here often criticizing firms who do not recognize the contribution of their legal staff to their firm’s success. But the response that prompted this post was this one:

I’m new at my firm so I didn’t get a bonus this year. From what I understand it’s based on years of service, which is a joke as far as I’m concerned. I am the only paralegal in the firm that supports two attorneys. The other paralegals are one on one and a couple of the attorneys have more than one assistant.

Here is my reply. Let me know what you think:

Judging your firm’s policies this early in your tenure with the firm, especially when naming the firm on a public board, does not bode well for the future at that firm. At this stage the best policy is to figure out what the bonus structure is for the position you were offered and accepted. Then judge the fairness of the bonus by how well it recognizes your work based on the firm’s standards for that position. Keep in mind that the paralegals with the firm have their own “deal” based on the positions they were offered and accepted and that they apparently have a longer relationship with the firms and the attorneys for whom they work than you do.

Supervision Abdication

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

As discussed in several posts here attorneys owe a duty to both the public and the paralegal to provide adequate supervision, a duty that may extend to supervising paralegal sexual relations under certain circumstances. Supervision can range from micro-management to total abdication of responsibility. While in some instances questions can arise as to whether an attorney has provided sufficient supervision especially in cases of embezzlement by paralegals and other situations, cases of total abdication are easier to spot but all the more difficult to understand seeing that they can lead to disbarment. Today’s example comes from ABA.Journal.com which reports that”A San Diego lawyer has agreed to be disbarred for allowing a nonlawyer to open and operate a law firm in his name that offered credit-repair services. Ernest George Georggin, 68, agreed to give up his law license and to pay $90,000 in restitution, plus interest, to 25 former clients of the law firm who filed complaints, according to a California State Bar press release, U-T San Diego and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise. According to a stipulation of facts (PDF), Georggin formed Georggin Law with nonlawyer Eric Phillips in 2010 and “completely abdicated” the firm to Phillips and other nonlawyers. Georggin collected a salary, but Phillips managed the firm.”

In this case there sounds like there was something particularly nefarious going on. But the point remains that if your attorney truly leaves you in charge of the office for an extended period of time or even for a short period of time if during that time you to ” decide[d] which new clients to accept, set legal fees and use[d] a stamp with Georggin’s signature to conduct legal business” it jeopardizes the attorney’s license, your job, and may actually subject you to charges of UPL.

The Wall

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

A recent post on the Paralegal Gateway LinkedIn Discussion Board linked to an posting at Law21 entitled, “And the walls came down…” in which Jordan Furlong explains “the challenges facing the legal profession today and outline the contours of the legal market of tomorrow.” The whole post is well worth the read, but of most interest to most of the readers of this blog (or at least to this blogger) is:

In my home province of Ontario, paralegals are members in full standing of the Law Society of Upper Canada, lawyers’ governing body. The United States will hold out against this trend longer than anyone else — except possibly India — but its arrival here is still only a matter of time. Lawyers will be sharing the market with non-lawyers, and I cannot overstate how important that will prove to be.

Furlong and I agree on this.  We are also in agreement regarding the conclusions to draw from it and the causes of it:

2. Non-lawyers will have proliferated throughout the market.

I dislike that term intensely, by the way: “non-lawyers.” We are the only profession I know that divides the world into “us” and “not us.” We use that term all the time, and we rarely appreciate how insulting it is to the people thus described.

But non-lawyers are coming. We are going to share this market with them. The sooner we accept that and start working to accommodate its impact, the better. They’re coming because they are proving their abilities and reliability every day. They’re coming because lawyers have claimed too much territory under the all-powerful description “the practice of law,” too many activities that do not require a lawyer’s rare and valuable skill and judgment.

And they are coming because we have done a lousy job of serving the entire legal market. Clients, both individual and corporate, are spending more and more and waiting longer and longer for outcomes that leave them less and less satisfied. And that’s just the people who can afford lawyers and the legal system in the first place. Many people are not even in the game at all.

And that is on us. These problems developed on our watch, under our administration and stewardship of the legal system. They are our responsibility. We have had ample opportunity to rectify them, and as everyone here knows, we have not moved fast enough or far enough. So governments and citizens are going to start saying, “Time to let someone else try.” Time to start putting the “Unauthorized Practice of Law” in the history books. Look at what’s happening in England and Wales, and recognize that eventually, inevitably, it will happen here.

I especially focus on the first point, a digression from Furlong’s main point that serves well to illustrate a large part of the problem:

I dislike that term intensely, by the way: “non-lawyers.” We are the only profession I know that divides the world into “us” and “not us.” We use that term all the time, and we rarely appreciate how insulting it is to the people thus described.

This is especially disturbing in its implications for the paralegal profession as it at least suggests that lawyers simply classify all “non-lawyers” as one group, not recognizing the special nature of the paralegal profession and its potential for resolving access to justice and other problems without simply abandoning the “unauthorized practice of law” concept. At the very least, if lawyers are going to create a wall between “us” and “them,” they should recognize that paralegals are and should be on their side of the wall. Working together as two professions that complement each other the two professions can tackle many of the problems set out by Furlong.