Archive for the ‘What is a “Paralegal?”’ 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.

Important Paralegal Traits

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Amy Bowser-Rollins used the NALS LinkedIn discussion listserv to bring an article entitled “5 Most Important Paralegal Traits.” The article, written by Tonya Pierce and posted on’s blog has an interesting start in which the author appears to deny the implication of the title:

Can we just choose five traits as the most important paralegal traits that you must possess to succeed in a paralegal career? In my opinion, the answer is “no.” The paralegal profession has grown and expanded over the last few decades to encompass so many different positions and roles that it would be impossible to choose just five traits as the most important traits you need to have in order to be a successful paralegal. Furthermore, paralegals now work in numerous related fields that go far beyond a law firm. Therefore, the skills and paralegal traits a person needs to succeed depends more on the type of job, the industry, and the paralegal’s role than the standard definition of a “good paralegal.”

But it goes on to make a good case for five important personality traits for paralegals – good judgment, ingenuity, logic, persistence [which, I hasten to point out, is not the same as stubbornness,] and patience. A case can be made for other traits and I’d like to hear which you think are the most important.

In any case, the article’s final point is a good one.

However, attorneys will be attorneys and they love paralegals with these traits, skills, and characteristics. They’ll consequently look for paralegals who display these types of skills and personality traits. Learning coping skills to tame my problem with patience improved my efficiency and quality of work, which helped me obtain my position as project manager.

The real trick to becoming a great paralegal is to be honest enough with yourself to identify the areas where you need to improve. Take those necessary steps – that is a true sign of a great paralegal.

Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).

The entire article is worth reading. You can see it at the link posted above.

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.

A Judge’s Gentle Rebuke

Friday, December 12th, 2014

The judge in question is a federal district court judge whose blog is entitled, “Hercules and the Umpire.” His rebuke was directed at Columbia University law students. The point made by the judge and by Scott Greenfield in the video at the end of the judge’s post is also applicable to paralegals. Law and paralegal students should take the time to read the post and watch the video. Practicing paralegals will appreciate the points made in both and likely recall instances where they had to set aside personal trauma and do their job. The judge starts:

Dear Columbia Law Students,

I mean this in the kindest way possible: If you postponed your exams because the Garner and Brown cases “traumatized” your psyche, there is a distinct possibility that you are unfit to practice law. If you are one of those who claimed “trauma,” and you still want to practice law, you must toughen up before you agree to take on a client. The practice of law is not about you.

The reset, including Greenfield’s video is here. You can go directly to the video here:

Critical Thinking – An Essential Skill

Friday, October 24th, 2014

As so often happens, Marianna Fradman has started an interesting discussion on LinkedIn. This time her post is on The Paralegal Society’s discussion board. Her post consists of a single question and a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal,Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ But What Is It?.” Her question is, “How do paralegals define this skill?” In a later comment she also asks, “Does it mean that ALL paralegals have to possess this skill? How to measure it?” Here are my initial thoughts on the first two questions:

The ability to solve problems and “connect the dots” is a good way of describing the concept of critical thinking, but critical thinking involves a particular approach to problem solving. I like the way that approach is set out in this quote (I can’t remember the source for sure, but I think it’s from S. Contrell’s work:

Critical thinking means “weighing up the arguments and evidence for and against”. It involves:
• Considering an issue carefully and more than once
• Evaluating the evidence put forward in support of the belief or viewpoint
• Considering where the belief or viewpoint leads – what conclusions would follow; are these suitable and rational; and if not, should the belief or viewpoint be reconsidered? Critical thinking goes hand in hand with analytical thinking.

Critical thinking is essential for every good paralegal. It is what separates a paralegal from other support staff in a law office and makes them a member of the legal team. It is the second principle of my first book, The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional:”

The second principle has to do with the way the paralegal approaches any and all aspects of paralegal practice. It is a proactive rather than reactive approach. It seeks to understand and manage even those aspects of practice that the paralegal cannot control. This principle involves taking a rational empowered approach.
While the specifics were different in each of the chapters, in each chapter of this book we identified the areas of concern, analyzed each aspect of that concern, set priorities that addressed those concerns, sought a greater understanding of the area of concern, investigated solutions and barriers to those solution, and established procedures for implementing solutions and removing or overcoming barriers to those solutions. We did so in a direct, rational and professional way. We did so in a way that honored our own need to be efficient, effective and empowered, and honored the interrelationships and responsibilities of the first principle.

Critical thinking can be learned, but only through practice. You can’t just read about it and expect to become proficient at it. Legal professionals have some help in this regard since the methodology of legal reasoning, statutory interpretation, and case analysis all incorporate a critical thinking approach to solving problems. Therefore, we practice critical thinking each time we do one of these tasks. As we do more the task, we become more practiced in the skill. Perhaps more than anything else in our Paralegal Studies Program, the demand that our students engage in critical thinking exercises separates the program and our students from those described in the article:

According to research detailed in those books, students rarely study on their own for more than an hour a day, and most don’t write in-depth papers that require sustained analysis.

For their part, students seem to think they are ready for the office. But their future bosses tend to disagree. A Harris Interactive survey of 2,001 U.S. college students and 1,000 hiring managers last fall found that 69% of students felt they were “very or completely prepared” for problem-solving tasks in the workplace, while fewer than half of the employers agreed.

Judy Nagengast, CEO of Continental Inc., an Anderson, Ind., staffing firm, says she has come across young graduates who “can memorize and they can regurgitate” but who struggle to turn book learning into problem solving at work.

Students successful in our program can perform well beyond memorization and regurgitation, because they are required to practice critical thinking on a regular basis. This leads to a bit of a paradox: Although they are more prepared for the office than students who can only memorize and regurgitate, they are apt to see themselves less prepared because they know what the expectations are!

Paralegal Warrior Challenge

Friday, September 26th, 2014

If you are looking for a reason to be thankful today, perhaps you can be thankful this is not a part of the standard law office role for paralegals:

USARPAC paralegal Soldiers committed to ‘warrior trials’

The top paralegal Soldiers throughout the Pacific region participated in the seventh annual USARPAC Paralegal Warrior Challenge, Sept. 15-19.

The Paralegal Warrior Challenge tested Soldiers’ mental and physical resilience as well as their military occupation specialty knowledge. The challenge was held at multiple locations across Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter, and Aliamanu Military Reservation, Yongsan, Korea.

“The challenge is designed to test our paralegals that have shined throughout USARPAC and try to identify the best warrior paralegal in the command,” said Sgt. Maj. Craig Williams, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, Command Paralegal for I Corps. “The Soldiers are learning a lot about themselves and some are finding that mental toughness that they didn’t know they possessed.”

The five-day warrior challenge began like most challenges and that’s with an Army Physical Fitness Test. After the APFT, the Soldiers had to conquer a swim challenge. The following day consisted of an M16 range where noncommissioned officers had to qualify on the M16 and M9. The Soldiers also had to complete a 4.2 miles foot march in 45 minutes. The USARPAC paralegals had multiple written exams to take and a board. To prove their Soldier abilities, they had to perform several warrior tasks and drills.

At the end of the five-day competition, all participants received certificates of achievements and coins of excellence. The overall competition winners received Army Commendation Medals and plaques.

For the Soldier that scored the highest on the APFT that Soldier would receive the Iron Soldier Award. This year Sgt. Chris DeFrancisco, assigned to 8th Army in South Korea, earned the Iron Soldier award for scoring 334 points on the extended scale.

DeFrancisco also won the overall competition and became USARPAC’s 2014 Paralegal Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Spc. Glen Swanson, assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, was named USARPAC’s Paralegal Soldier of the Year.

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.

California Law Advocates

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Lay Advocates will be in California’s future if Barbara Liss is correct. She makes a good argument for them in an email to Chere Estrin, part of which is posted by Chere on The Estrin Report. Since I’ve provided a link to the full post, I won’t re-post it here. As a teaser, I’ll just post her conclusion:

Once a journeyman, however, a full-fledged paralegal may often be as able as a lawyer in many aspects to provide considerably beneficial direct services to the public and has great potential to significantly diminish the existing gap in access to justice in California. I look forward myself to being soon able to contribute my own services in that way when I am able to test and obtain a limited license as a California Lay Advocate.

New York Navigators

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

No, the New York Navigators are not another sports team. A colleague on the AAfPE Board of Directors provided us with a copy of New York Chief Judge’s State of the Judiciary Address. Here’s where the navigators come in:

Our efforts to find ways for non-lawyers to be of assistance begin in the courthouse. As of this month, specially trained and supervised non-lawyers will begin providing ancillary, pro bono assistance to unrepresented litigants in Housing Court cases in Brooklyn and consumer debt cases in the Bronx and Brooklyn. These are courts and case types in which virtually all defendants are unrepresented and are facing serious personal consequences as a result of litigation. It is shocking that in this day and age, over 95 percent of defendants in these critical cases are currently unrepresented. The new court-sponsored projects will offer an array of assistance to eligible pro se litigants ranging from general information provided at help desks and written material to one-on- one assistance, depending on the needs and interests of the litigants. This kind of one-on-one assistance will include providing informational resources to litigants and helping them access and complete court do-it-yourself forms and assemble documents, as well as assisting in settlement negotiations outside the courtroom.

Most significantly, for the first time, the trained non-lawyers, called Navigators, will be permitted to accompany unrepresented litigants into the courtroom in specific locations in Brooklyn Housing Court and Bronx Civil Court. They will not be permitted to address the court on their own, but if the judge directs factual questions to them, they will be able to respond. They will also provide moral support and information to litigants, help them keep paperwork in order, assist them in accessing interpreters and other services, and, before they even enter the courtroom, explain what to expect and what the roles are of each person in the courtroom.

Clear guidelines govern what a non-lawyer can and cannot do to ensure that they do not cross the line into the practice of law. They will receive training and develop expertise in defined subject areas. When these non-lawyers confront situations where the help of a lawyer is crucial, they will have access to legal service providers for help and referrals. (Emphasis added.)

This are not practitioners of the same nature as Washington State’s LLLTs, but they are another way for well-trained non-lawyers to help resolve the access to justice problem. They do sound a bit like a paralegal don’t they?

The Evolving Paralegal

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

I received an email from Andrew Deen (who I don’t know other than from this email) steering me to an infographic produced by George Washington University. I am familiar with GWU online Masters of Paralegal Studies program and know the Associate Dean in charge of that program. One of the programs graduates contributed an article to The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.” So, I’m pretty confident that the information contained in the infographic is accurate. Certainly its basic premises that the paralegal profession has evolved significantly over the last few decades (although some members of the bar have not evolved in their thinking about the paralegal profession) and continues to evolve. In any case, Andrew says it’s OK to share the infographic with my readers, so I am:

The George Washington University Master’s of Paralegal Studies Online