Archive for the ‘International Paralegalism’ Category

Paralegal Outsourcing – India is too far!

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Over a year ago I did a post entitled, Paralegal Outsourcing: Is India too far?” noting, “If an attorney in Boston can “supervise” a virtual paralegal located in San Francisco, could she not also do so with one located in India? Since licensing is not required in the United States, is the door open to this sort of outsourcing? Perhaps, it is happening already. If any of you know, I’d like to hear from you.”

The answer, it appears, is that it had been happening for several years, but many of the problems noted in the post do indeed arise and, as a result, at least one company is moving its outsourcing back home. According to Law.com, “About a decade after it helped pioneer the trend of outsourcing legal work to India, Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner, a patent prosecution boutique, is bringing the work back to U.S. soil.”

One of the primary, although not the initial, reasons for the outsourcing was cost savings, but some of those savings are phantom savings, especially when you factor in the cost of doing the kind of supervision discussed in the original post;

“There’s a very large volume of paralegal work required to support patent prosecution,” Lundberg said. “It was working well for us because we were getting substantially lower pricing.” Schwegman’s Indian outsourcing peaked at about 15 people doing document or paralegal work for the firm.

The arrangement worked well for several years, but the firm “finally figured out that our productivity in the U.S. was substantially higher,” Lundberg said. Meanwhile, costs in India had risen, and automation was more prevalent. “It started to look less and less attractive to be in India,” Lundberg said.

The firm originally saved about 50% in labor costs for the outsourced work, assuming that productivity was equal. But shipping work to India also involves many layers of management, supervision and training expenses, plus work culture differences that can affect cost, Lundberg said.

“A U.S. employee would feel a lot more freedom to take action in gray areas than an Indian employee,” Lundberg said. “They would ask permission for things a U.S. employee would do without blinking an eye.”

The extremely hierarchical nature of work in India is also a factor, he said. If a copier runs out of paper, for example, a paralegal in India would go and find an administrative person to load the paper instead of just doing it, Lundberg said.”You get a lot of that type of thing going on that ends up slowing things down if there’s any question about how things are going to work.”

The ability to take initiative, to exercise judgment, and work  independently, I have argued here and in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is an essential element of professionalism.  This demonstrates that this kind of professionalism is an essential element of keeping United States paralegal work in the United States.

Paralegals to Help Filipinos in Dubai.

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Paralegalism takes on identities quite different than that exemplified here in the United States, as can be seen in the posts in the “International Paralegalism” category. However, the role of paralegals as persons who can assist in providing access to justice to those in need remains consistent. Here’s another example, this time from Dubai, published originally in The National

Paralegal ‘first aid’ builds a base for Filipinos to know rights
Ramona Ruiz

DUBAI // Filipinos facing legal and employment-related problems will soon be able to turn to a team of paralegal volunteers for help.

A series of paralegal training workshops starting on Friday in Dubai aims to educate Filipinos about their rights, the labour laws, the Filipino Migrant Workers Act and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

“Our main aim is to form the first paralegal team in the UAE, who will make our compatriots understand their cases better,” said Nhel Morona, the secretary general of migrant rights group Migrante-UAE. “This team will explain the local laws and ways to address their problems and concerns.”

The organisers, Migrante-UAE and the women’s rights group Gabriela-UAE, are targeting leaders and members of the Filipino community to be part of this pool of paralegal volunteers.

For the rest of the story click on the link for The National above.

Paralegals as Answer to Access to Justice Issue in Ontario

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The Law Society of Upper Canada continues to consider changes in its experiment of paralegal licensure and regulation to assist in remediating access to justice issues. At the moment there is controversy brewing because the LSUC is beginning its discussion of expanding the scope of permitted paralegal activity based on “a decade-old report that backed paralegal calls to practise in that area as the basis for a promised review of the scope of their practice.”

Here’s some of the back-and-forth as reported by Law Times:

Marshall Yarmus, the paralegal whose motion at the annual general meeting last year sparked the commitment to a review, says Cory’s report is a “good starting point.”

“In terms of family law, we’re looking for things beyond what he suggested because paralegals used to be allowed to make appearances in the family court for certain matters,” he says.

“But at least it also addresses other issues like wills, real estate, and other areas of law where paralegals are not currently allowed to practise and [that] he recommended.”

Chris Surowiak, president of the Paralegal Society of Ontario, welcomes the law society’s action on the scope of paralegal practice.

“The public needs assistance within many aspects involving family law and the public can only benefit in using the professional services of a paralegal in this area,” he says. “Expanding our scope of practice can be a win-win for lawyers, paralegals, and ultimately the public.”

But Cynthia Mancia, co-chairwoman of the Family Lawyers Association, isn’t so sure.
“The biggest underlying theme of justice Cory’s [report] was access to justice, and I think it’s a mistake to equate expanding the use of paralegals as an answer to the existing well-documented access-to-justice [issues] that exist,” she says.

“There is a perception out there that paralegals can provide the same services that lawyers provide but more cheaply. The fear family lawyers have is that that perception isn’t grounded in reality.”

I’m somewhat biased on this as I’ve been arguing for quite some time that paralegals should have an expanded role in plugging the access-to-justice gap.  So it may be no surprise that I take issue with Mancia’s characterization.  It seems to me that it is quite correct to equate expanded paralegal actions with an answer to access to justice issues.  The issue is not whether paralegals can provide the same service as attorneys. They cannot. However, there is no reason paralegals can’t provide some services now provided by attorneys at a lower cost thereby expanding access to justice for those who cannot currently afford any representation.

 The position of attorneys who oppose this type of role for properly educated, licensed, and regulated paralegals are contending that somehow people lacking any legal training at all who cannot afford an attorney are better off confronting the legal system on their own. This position is counterintuitive and I strongly suspect they cannot provide any data to back up the claim.

For more on these issues check out  the “Canada” and “Access to Justice” categories.

NYCPA’s Strategic Alliance with UK

Friday, February 18th, 2011

I’ve previously mentioned that one of the New York City Paralegal Association’s most interesting projects is an alliance with the United Kingdom’s Institute of Paralegals to create transatlantic paralegal competency standards. The February edition of KNOW Newshas a story with more details about this project. It notes, “The Standards will reflect the usual paralegal career structure, being set at introductory, intermediate and advanced levels. Modelled upon the IOP’s existing UK competency standards, the draft transatlantic paralegal competency standards will be circulated for comment to all UK and US transatlantic firms.” More important it provides the contact information for those organization that might wish to have input into the standards:

Contact Details

Any firm or other relevant organisation interested in either being on the Joint Standards Working Party or having a watching brief should contact either:

James O’Connell at james@theiop.org or Nikki Doughty at internationalliaison@nyc-pa.org

Read more here or check out the KNOW News for this and several other interesting articles.

Ontario Paralegal and Law Society on Same Immigration Page

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Since many Ontario paralegals are licenses and practice independently of attorneys, issues can arise over potential competition between the two. As previously discussed here, some paralegals there object to the fact that paralegals are regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada on this basis, i.e., lawyers regulate their competition. I’ve argued that in the United States, licensing paralegals for limited tasks would help solve the access to justice prob lem without causing competition because most of people with an access to justice problem simply cannot afford attorneys and are not serviced by them in any case.

A recent article in the Law Times, however, indicates that the Law Society of Upper Canada has successfully lobbied MPs to exempt paralegals from regulation as immigration consultants. According to the report, the paralegal society and the law society were “on the same page” on this. This may just be an example of the “common enemy” rule in practice, though. The issue is who is going to regulate paralegals providing immigration services. According to the article,

Bill C-35, the cracking down on crooked consultants act that’s currently winding its way through Parliament, is the federal government’s response to a string of controversies involving unqualified and unethical consultants who exploited prospective immigrants to the country.

The bill tightens up the rules on who can charge fees for immigration advice. In the meantime, hearings are underway to find a governing body to regulate consultants and thereby replace the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.

So people providing immigration services are going to be regulated by someone and the Law Society was essentially saying the turf was already covered:

After the government announced the legislation in June, the Paralegal Society of Ontario wrote to the federal government to request an exemption given the LSUC’s regulation of paralegals.

“We provide a valuable choice for the public and are recognized as a valuable provider of legal services,” wrote paralegal society president Chris Surowiak.

“Individuals wanting to immigrate to Canada can be assured they will have a qualified representative when they retain the services of a paralegal member of the law society.”

Last month, the law society backed him up, sending Treasurer Laurie Pawlitza to make the pitch for paralegals at the standing committee on citizenship and immigration.

She pointed to the law society’s 200-year track record of successful regulation and discipline and noted paralegals must carry professional liability insurance.

Surowiak tells Law Times the exemption will save paralegals who practise immigration law more than $3,000 per year in fees paid to remain members of CSIC.
Of course, not everyone is happy.

 “Sergio Karas, a past chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s citizenship and immigration section, sees the whole bill as an erosion of lawyers’ territory but finds the law society’s move on paralegals particularly galling.

“I think it’s a scandal because it is invading areas that are traditionally the province of lawyers,” he tells Law Times. “The law society is undermining the role of lawyers.”

One does wonder how many people have not had access to justice for fear of “undermining the role of lawyers” and an unwillingness to buck tradition.

Transatlantic Competency Standards for Paralegals

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Just yesterday I posted on my meeting with the NYCPA Executive Board at which I learned, inter alia of that organization’s joint project to develop internations competency standards for paralegals. The past couple of weeks have been quite hectic, so I have not had the time to check paralegal related press releases. It was only this morning that I found many of you may have already heard of the project through a 11/22 release on PR Newswire entitled “Project to Create Transatlantic Competency Standards for Paralegals.”

The story states:

LONDON, Nov. 22, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — Many UK law firms have an office in the United States of America, and vice-versa. A significant number of UK and US law firms have merged in a trend that shows no sign of abating.

Typically such transatlantic firms seek to apply uniform expectations and standards to all their fee-earners across the firm. To assist firms achieve this goal, the UK’s Institute of Paralegals (IOP) is proud to be partnering with the New York City Paralegal Association (NYCPA) to produce paralegal competency standards relevant to both UK and US paralegals.

The standards, which will be available at no charge, will assist firms to standardize paralegal recruitment, appraisal, development and competency benchmarks.

World’s First International Paralegal Standards Project

This project is the first by paralegal representative bodies to create international standards. It highlights the growing sophistication of the paralegal profession in both the UK and US.

About the Project

The IOP and NYCPA have formed a joint working party to create competency standards for paralegals working in transatlantic law firms. The Standards will reflect the usual paralegal career structure, being set at introductory, intermediate and advanced levels.

Check the story for more details and contact information.

There’s More to Canada than Ontario

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

I tend to focus here on paralegalism in Ontario because that province has a regulatory scheme for paralegals, allowing them to act independently of attorneys in some instances. However, as I’ve noted previously, there is a lot more to Canada than Ontario. Paralegals from across the country belong to the Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP), a thirty- year old organization which held its Atlantic conference last month in St. John according to the Telegraph Journal.

The announcement of the conference in this report shows the similarity of the paralegal profession and professional associations in Canada to those in the United States, including networking and an issue regarding professional identity similar to that being discussed currently on the Paralegal Today listserv:

“It’s a really wonderful opportunity for networking,” says Heather Tait, vice-president Atlantic provinces and board member of the national organization.

The conference is aimed at paralegals, law clerks and legal assistants and will be held at the Delta Brunswick Hotel. The “paralegal” designation is intended to standardize various designations, including legal assistant, legal technician, technical clerk, law clerk, etc., and to facilitate international exchange with paralegal associations in other countries.

CAP is a non-profit national organization dedicated to the professional development of its paralegals across Canada.

I found this to be of particular interest and look forward to hearing more about it:

Earlier this year, it oversaw the creation of a non-profit organization called Paralegals Without Borders Quebec, an initiative of CAP and its directors whose role is to contribute and actively participate in projects that respect and protect fundamental rights.

Paralegal UPL in Canada

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Licensing of paralegal does not, apparently, entirely eliminate the concern regarding UPL by paralegals, but may shift that concern to paralegals performing activities that go beyond their license as indicated by this report:

A disciplinary panel has reserved its decision to a later date whether to grant a former North Bay councillor her licence to continue practising as a paralegal.

The Law Society of Upper Canada which oversees paralegals and lawyers in Ontario held a four-day good character hearing in North Bay last month to determine if Maureen Boldt should be granted a licence.

Lawyers for the law society and for Boldt gave their closing arguments Tuesday at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

Boldt started working as a paralegal in 1992 and has three law society convictions for the unauthorized practise of law by performing tasks that only licensed lawyers in Ontario are allowed to do.

The last conviction put her in contempt of court for ignoring an injunction to stop illegally practising law. She was sentenced to four months house arrest and lost her seat on city council when she missed too many consecutive meetings.

The law society began issuing licences to paralegals in 2008 and it has allowed Boldt to continue practising pending the outcome of the hearing.

India aims to create an army of paralegal volunteers

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

As a discussion on the Paralegal Today listserv is currently discussing, the term “paralegal” can take on a variety of meanings. In many parts of the worl paralegals serve a function quite distinct from anything we consider covered by the term. I’ve previously posted on this phenomenon in countries such as Sierra Leone . Here’s an excerpt from recent story from The Telegraph in Calcutta, India:

To the downtrodden and the dispossessed in Andhra Pradesh, paralegal volunteers, sometimes referred to as barefoot lawyers, have proved to be a godsend. Now, four years after the Paralegal Volunteer Scheme was introduced in the state — it was started in Andhra Pradesh in October 2006 — the National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa), a body constituted under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, to provide free legal services to the weaker sections of society, is trying to replicate the scheme across all districts and villages in the country.

Nalsa recently announced plans to provide training to around one lakh paralegal volunteers who will help poor peasants exercise their fundamental rights and make them aware of different government schemes and their benefits.

“Our aim is to create an army of paralegal volunteers who would act as agents of legal awareness and provide legal aid to all sections of people. They are expected to act as intermediaries between the common people and the legal services institutions and help remove barriers to accessing justice,” says Nalsa member secretary U. Sarathchandran.

Click here for the rest of the story.

While I do not see paralegals here in exactly this role, I do consider the profession to be a key to solving the access to justice problem in the United States as discussed in this post.

It is interesting that paralegals in India are being used in this capacity and in a more traditional role, while being a potential outsourcing threat to paralegals in the United States.

Scotland: A clear routemap for paralegal professional progress needed

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

An blog post entitled, “Time to recognise paralegals and reform regulation of their role” is circulating through the AAfPE listserv. Its basic contention is that “As more non-lawyers provide legal services, it is only right that paralegals be offered a clear routemap for professional progress.” Here’s the beginning of the post, while it refers to current events in Scotland, much of which will sound as familiar to paralegals in the U.S. as to those in Scotland:

They are the legal profession’s underclass. Nobody can say exactly what they do, or exactly how many of them there are. But they are set to become ever more central to the delivery of legal services. They are paralegals.

In a first for the UK, this week the Law Society of Scotland, in association with the Scottish Paralegal Association (SPA), formally launches its “registered paralegal” scheme, introducing across-the-board competencies and adherence to a code of conduct for paralegals working with solicitors.

Read more here.

The post also notes events in the rest of Great Britain and in Ontario, both of which have been discussed here several times. (See the “Canada” and “International Paralegalism categories.):

The issue is also important in the context of the debate sparked by my previous blog on the imbalance between the number of law students and available training contracts and pupillages, as many of those unable to progress their legal training are instead taking paralegal roles.

Though in essence they are people doing legal work without a full legal qualification, a core problem is that there is no accepted definition of what a paralegal is. This is why nobody knows how many there are, but applying a broad definition there are probably an awful lot, because many roles have a legal advice element. While the Scots are focusing on paralegals employed by solicitors, perhaps of greater concern are paralegals flying solo and unregulated in areas of legal practice that are not reserved for qualified lawyers. Will-writers, for example, are in effect paralegals.

In Ontario, Canada, the government has forced the provincial law society to take on the regulation of paralegals. They only need a licence if appearing before a court or tribunal, but it sets an example that Finland – the most liberal jurisdiction on earth in terms of who can provide legal services – is to follow. Neither the Ministry of Justice nor the Legal Services Board has yet to really address the issue here, and there is no sign of them doing so.

There is some solace in the notion that the paralegal profession is facing the similar challenges in many countries and there is much to be gained by following developments in each of these countries. However, there is also much to be gained by taking the lead rather than waiting.  I have previously suggested that a joint commission of the ABA, AAfPE, and the major paralegal associations be established to deal with issues such as certification. This joint effort of the Scottish Paralegal Association and the Law Society of Scotland indicates there is some merit to that suggestion.