Archive for July, 2009

A Professional Is Ethical

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Here I’m not talking about the legal ethics you studied in class, although for attorneys the rules governing their professional conduct are often referred to as “Rules of Professional Conduct.” Certainly every attorney will want you to know, respect and apply the rules of legal ethics demanded of them by the court or other body that supervises and disciplines them as professionals. They will require you do to so even if they are not naturally inclined towards following them simply to avoid discipline. Most attorneys are aware that they are responsible for what their staff does even if they do not understand the particular role of a paralegal and their special obligation to supervise paralegals.

What you need to show your attorney is not only that you understand the ethical requirements of the legal profession, but that you have and follow a personal ethic that raises you to the level of a professional. Now I am not suggesting that non-professionals are not ethical or never have to make ethical choices. My remarks are made in the context of our discussion of you as a paralegal having or wanting more responsibility – responsibility reserved to professionals as a result of their specialized knowledge and experience. With that responsibility comes more opportunity for non-ethical choices and an higher expectation for ethical behavior.

The Professional Paralegal and Fees

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Brian Craig at the Globe University/Minnesota School of Business Paralegal Program Blog posts an update summarizing recent cases upholding paralegal fees. He starts by noting:

A number of recent cases have upheld fees for paralegals when awarding attorneys’ fees to prevailing parties. Courts look at the reasonable prevailing market rate for awarding fees for paralegal services. Recent cases have upheld awards ranging from $50-$100 per hour for paralegals. In Nadarajah v. Holder, — F.3d —-, 2009 WL 1588678 (9th Cir. Jun. 9, 2009), the Ninth Circuit affirmed an hourly rate of $100 per hour for paralegals.

There are, however, limits to paralegal fees. Courts may reduce the hourly rate based on the given evidence.

This recognition of paralegal professionalism by the courts comes with a corresponding obligation on the part of the paralegal to be profession, effective, efficient and ethical, in performing the work.  There are many aspects to this including time management, solid knowledge of substantive law, and a firm grasp of how to do what needs to be done as well as what needs to be done. Perhaps the best short answer is that  in order to be considered a professional the paralegal must develop and demonstrate a professional work ethic.

Paralegal-attorney communication

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

The following comments are excerpted from a post on South Carolina Trial Law Blog, :

Dear Attorney:
You could make my job easier and I could be a more effective employee by considering the following:
1. Not everything is an emergency. Please prioritize my work.
2. Return phone calls the same day.
3. Do not micro-manage me, you hired me for my brain and ability to do the job.
4. Do not ask me to lie to the client or anyone else, if you don’t want to take a call. (I have a solid rule: Lie to me, because I won’t lie to your wife when she calls.)
Sincerely,
Your overworked Paralegal

Effective communication with the you attorney is an important component of paralegal professionalism. The topic is covered extensively in The Empowered Paralegal. One comment on the SCTL blog puts it this way:

I think it boils down to training and communicating. The attorney trains the paralegal. Then it’s time for the paralegal to train the attorney. Attorneys forget that paralegals can’t read their minds. Trust me were good! Most of the time, we can read your mind, but every once in awhile we need to meet with you! Once a system is developed for communicating and meeting everything flows — sort of like that VISA commercial (where everyone uses the credit card and all is flowing nicely. Watch out for the one paying with cash).

Does your attorney understand what you do?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

In PARALEGALS AS PROFIT CENTERS : Are You Utilizing Your Paralegals Effectively? , Legal Support Personnel says, “We have found that there tends to be misconceptions in the legal marketplace as to what paralegals can do. As a result, the uncertainty often leads to the underutilization of stellar talent.” Do you agree?

They go on to say,

“What we suggest is that attorneys examine their workload and, where appropriate, delegate substantive responsibilities to their paralegals. Attorneys who utilize their paralegal staff successfully will be rewarded with lower stress levels, quicker turnaround time on projects and a happier department all around. This article highlights what a paralegal can do for your department, explores different practice areas and tasks to which you should assign paralegals and offers some retention advice for keeping your paralegals both happy and motivated within your organization.” Are attorneys open to this kind of information? How is it best presented to them?

Do you feel you have a good understanding of the attorney(s) for whom you work and they of you? What could be done to improve that understanding?

Professional Associations

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Speaking of professional associations, I recently received this announcement through NFPA’s Facebook site:

Time is running out! Applications and nominations for NFPA®’s annual awards and scholarships must be RECEIVED at NFPA headquarters by July 31st. You still have time to nominate someone for these awards/scholarships but you must do it quickly! Please refer to the information on the NFPA website (www.paralegals.org) for specifics on who can nominate a candidate for an award/scholarship, the criteria and qualifications for candidates, and nomination applications and procedures.

Awards and scholarships are presented each year at NFPA’s annual convention, scheduled to be held this year in Portland, Oregon from October 29th through November 1st, and include The Hon. William R. Robie Leadership Award, National Paralegal of the Year Award, Outstanding Local Leader Award, PACE Ambassador Award, Association Pro Bono Award, Individual Pro Bono Award, two Thomson-Reuters Scholarships and a PACE Scholarship Award.

Georgette M. Lovelace, RP
President
National Federation of Paralegal Associations
treasurer@paralegals.org

Professional Associations

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Belonging to a professional association does not make one professional, and certainly one can be professional without belonging to an association. However, there does appear to be significant value in belonging to an association for paralegal professionals. If nothing else, membership can bring a sense of belonging to a profession as opposed to simply having a particular job or career. So I recommend that paralegals not only belong to an professional association but become involved in one or more.
o Be active in a local branch of the association.
o Subscribe to paralegal listservs and participate in discussions.
o Read, learn from and contribute to publications designed for paralegals.
o Become certified by your organization.
o Attend seminars and conference, especially those that include continuing legal education (CLE) credit.

In many instances your law office or other employer may be willing to cover the costs of such activities.

I have posted links to several paralegal professional association websites. If you are aware of others, let me know. You can post a comment or email me at theempoweredparalegal@live.com.

Your comments on this topic or on particular associations are welcome.

Welcome to The Empowered Paralegal!

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

We’re just getting started on this site and appreciate your patience. Please stop back often for new format, content and postings. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.