Archive for November, 2009

Paralegals Stepping Up Professionally

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Somewhat overwhelmed by unexpected Thanksgiving break guests and end of semester grading I, like most attorneys in such circumstances, look to paralegals to take up the slack. Fortunately, Patty Deitz-Selkie on Paralegal Gateway with an assist by Melissa H. at Paralegalese, has stepped up to the plate with a post entitled, “Paralegals Are Professionals.” It’s a long and very good post. Here’s the meat closest to the bone:

It starts on the individual or personal level with how each of us are perceived and what each of us does to promote the “professionalism” of the Paralegal occupation. 

 Next, it goes to the national level and how Paralegals as a group and, in particular, how our national organizations work in cohesion….in unity!…..to promote our profession. Do we speak with one voice, with one mission/purpose, for the common good of our profession? In that endeavor, the Paralegal profession needs to stop abrogating responsibility for itself – we have to stop relinquishing control to Attorneys, the ABA, and other organizations or professionals!

Paralegals need to step up. We may work for and with Attorneys, but we need to take ownership of our profession starting with the education of our new/prospective members (Paralegal education/certification).  We need to determine our own destiny, set our own course and resolve to approach the legal business/environment from the standpoint of being valuable and significant contributors. When that happens, I believe we will not have this discussion on professionalism again. As ParaMel stated, “stepping off the soap box now” and closing my comments.

Those of you who are regular readers here know that this blog revolves around establishing paralegals as the professionals they are through many of the steps mentioned by Patty. Ultimately paralegals will be treated as professionals when they uniformly present themselves as professionals, take control of their profession and educate both the bar and the public.

So take a few minutes and read Patty’s post. Then ask yourself, “What can I do?”

Paralegals Providing Free Legal Services

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Another in our series on the good paralegals can, and do, do. This one reported by WCTV in Georgia:

Assistance is available for those who cannot afford an attorney. Three Rivers Legal Services offers free civil legal services to low income and other eligible residents.

Paralegals set up at the Taylor County library every fourth Monday of the month to help people with legal issues such as family law, wills, property cases, and more.

Shirley Rentz, a paralegal for Three Rivers, said, “For instance, homeownership is a big thing–foreclosures. When we’re able to keep a family in a home, that’s just wonderful. So, it’s something that’s definitely needed out there.”

Three Rivers is federally funded.

While these services are federally funded, this post is not about the value of federal funding. Rather I focus on the fact that even with federal funding the ability to provide such services is greatly enhanced by the paralegal profession. Far more people get help when paralegals are properly utilized than when there are no paralegal utilized. This is true even in private firms.

Give the Judge His Space

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Another entry in our “Consequences of Sloppiness” series, but this one seems like more than just sloppiness. ABAJournal.comhas a post entitled, “Judge Warns Lawyers for Blackwater Defendants About Single Spacing.”  Here’s part of it:

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has put lawyers for five Blackwater Worldwide contractors on notice that their failure to double space won’t be tolerated.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina wrote in a short notice (PDF) filed on Monday that the lawyers submitted a legal memorandum in single-space type, according to the Washington Post blog The Crime Scene. Urbina said the filing was “an apparent attempt to include more information in their submission than would otherwise be permitted.”

Urbina said the parties are now on notice that any further single-spacing will result in sanctions. The lawyers represent five former security contractors accused of shooting 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007.

As is often the case, it may appear that this judge has gotten angry over a minor matter, but the rules are the rules and a line must be drawn somewhere. More important here, this does not appear to be a simple matter of a clerical error, but  “an apparent attempt” to gain an advantage by violating the rules.

As yet the judge has not applied any formal consequences, but there are informal consequences associated with this type of thing. Think about it – the lawyers who are representing people accused of violating rules have a problem following rules! Seems that must influence how the defense is perceived.

Is Canada showing us the way?

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I’ve previously posted on The Canadian Perspective regarding the role of a paralegal. Today The Paralegal Gateway has a post covering a story I was planning on including here, but had not yet had the time. They even provide the commentary making less work for me, so here’s the teaser and the link:

We’ve been keeping an eye on our Paralegal colleagues in Canada for some time. They are truly leading the way for our Profession and it would be great to see the same take shape in some form in the US.

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Nov. 18, 2009) – Licensed paralegals in Ontario will mark a major milestone in March 2010 when they take part in the first ever vote to elect five of their colleagues to join the Paralegal Standing Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada. The first five paralegal members of the current committee were appointed by the Ontario government in November 2006 to develop the paralegal regulatory framework.

Licensed paralegals are eligible to stand for election and vote in the province-wide election. Online voting will take place throughout March 2010, ending at 5 p.m. on March 31.

“Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to regulate paralegals in 2007,” says Law Society Treasurer W. A. Derry Millar. “Today, we have more than 2,500 licensed paralegals in the province, and we encourage them to nominate their colleagues and to make sure they vote in this important election.

At the very least the system in Canada provides the petrie dish for experimentation that we do not have here. It should provide fodder for several research projects and publication opportunities for tenure track paralegal education faculty. 

I’m in the process of putting together a paralegal professionalism anthology with a peer-review editorial panel. Anyone like to tackle this topic? Articles from practicing paralegal will accepted for review.

ABA, meet Efrem Martin.

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Efrem Martin is an “independent” paralegal whose emails have engendered some discussion here (with a very good side dialogue through Melissa H. at Paralegalese of the role of “independent” paralegals in the U.S. Legal System. I use the “” marks on independent because the ABA/NALA definition of paralegal states that a paralegal must be supervised by an attorney. By that definition, there can be no “independent paralegals.” In the last installment Mr. Martin informed us of recent action taken by the Colorado Bar Association to charge him with UPL. As indicated in this morning’s email Mr. Martin has met fire with fire and filed a lawsuit against the ABA and CBA in Federal Court. I’m posting the email without further comment this morning because I have a class to teach shortly, but I hope to say more on this soon. In the meantime, here’s the email:

Hello Professor Mongue, this is the last email I will be sending you, just wanted to give you an update. I filed a Federal Lawsuit yesterday in Federal Court to challenge the Constitutionality of the UPL investigation of me and also to challenge the UPL Rules and Statutes here in Colorado as Unconstitutional, as they are applied to everyone. Now once again I do not care who you choose to share this email with. As I stated in my last email this is not about my business as a Independent Paralegal Services Provider, this is about my constitutional rights as a Pro Se Litigant. I am going to represent myself in court, I believe that this is in my best interest and the only way to expose the ABA and the Colorado Bar Association and the Office of Attorney Regulation who oversees attorneys in Colorado. I have received so much support from around the country from other paralegals and Pro Se Litigants that it really makes me proud to be in this profession.

I am not going to allow the Office of Attorney Regulation here in Colorado intimidate me or punk me and I am sure as hell am not going to allow them to coerce me into admitting that I have practiced law. 100% of the emails that I have received from paralegals around the country state that they truly hope that I am able to get the Federal Court to find UPL unconstitutional, because they fill the same way that I do and fill that it is time that someone challenge the ABA and all State Bar Association, because it is paralegals who do the work and attorneys get paid for the work. I am so humbled, I am blessed on so many levels and I continue to become more encouraged with the support that I am getting throughout the United States. Pro Se Litigants are saying that I am their voice for doing the right thing and that we Pro Se Litigants have constitutional rights to represent ourselves in court. If I were the ABA I would take notice of what is happening, because sooner or later they are going to have to be in court at the Federal Level to address UPL, they have gotten away with hiding and using their association to continue to take advantage of paralegals and their services for too long. I want to share an email with you that I received today verbatim.

“Hello Mr. Martin, I pray that all is well. I am a certified paralegal in Vermont and support you 150%, I am a white female in my 30’s and like you have had enough of the ABA, Vermont Bar Association and all paralegal associations that continue to pimp out paralegals like we are their property. The reason why paralegals are not regulated in the United States or in some states and not other states is simple, attorneys have a monopoly and will fight like hell to keep their monopoly, I see it everyday in my law firm. There is not another industry where a person has to be under the direction of anyone, only in the legal profession and since no one challenges this none sense the ABA and all the State Bar Associations continue to abuse and use it to their advantage. Paralegals don’t practice law, please we are trained to understand the difference between giving legal advice and answering questions. Just the other day I was put in the position to give legal advice because one of our partners was not able to make the meeting with our client so here I am again as usual telling our client what they have to do. I wonder if I am ever going to be charged with UPL, oh that can’t happen to me because I work under an attorney.

… [Edited for length by R. E. Mongue] I work for a law firm that would not even look your way, because you are a threat to their pockets and I can tell you that attorneys take care of their own, there are no ethical or moral boundaries when it comes to greed. It is a good thing that you filed a Federal Lawsuit because that is the only place where you can get justice. Mr. Martin never feel like you are alone, paralegals like myself are out there just like you are and trust me we are so grateful that you are going to take this for the team. I support you and pray that we get justice, all UPL Statutes need to be found unconstitutional and struck down in every state, you have been in this field far to long to be challenged and treated the way that you are being treated. Mr. Martin knowledge is power and they know that you have the knowledge and power to help people. Mrs. C

Professor these are the emails that I continue to receive daily so I know that I am doing what is right for all Pro Se Litigants. I have been asked over and over again do I worry about the ABA, Colorado State Bar Association and the Office Of Attorney Regulation in Colorado and what they can do to me. My answer is always the same, “FEAR CREATES PARANOIA” they pick the wrong Marine to mess with and they are about to see be very careful what you ask for, I fear God not men or women. So with that being said it has been a pleasure corresponding with you, I am sure that you will read about my case sometime in the future. I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity on your forum it has been a good thing for me. Thank you Professor Mongue. Efrem B. Martin

Efrem B. Martin BA, Certified Paralegal & Owner
Martin Paralegal Services LLC
www.martinparalegalservices.com

I have notified Mr. Martin that future emails updating on the status of this lawsuit would be welcome.

“Deluge of information” flows downhill

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

ABAJournal.com posts on a Law.com article with suggestions on how attorneys can “streamline the flow” of information deluging them each day, especially information delivered electronically. One of the suggestions is to delegate initial email reading to others. And who in the office can be trusted with the confidentiality issues while exercising sound judgment, knowledge of law and understanding of both office and legal process?

Shifting of initial attorney email reading to paralegals makes sense, but only if it is not going to overload and overwhelm the paralegal. Doing so will only pass the deluge down to the paralegal who, one presumes was fully occupied already. Of course, a deluge rolls down hill, so perhaps the paralegal will shift initial reading of their email down that hill! I prefer the use of email rules and other technological solutions before simple task shifting.

I also prefer some of the other suggestions of the Law.com article better. Suggestions such as eliminating unnecessary information flow at its source. And I certainly agree that a team approach to solving the information overload problem is best (although the article using the team approach in a different context than I intend here.)

In The Empowered Paralegal I focus on eliminating and controlling not only information overflow but other distraction based on my conclusion that multi-taskers, even young multi-taskers, really do not work as well as uni-taskers, and certainly not as well as multi-taskers think they work.  So, it is nice to find some confirmation of this in the Law.com article:

A recent study of 100 students concluded that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time. The heavy multi-taskers couldn’t help thinking about the tasks they weren’t doing. These high multi-taskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds. One researcher reportedly stated that heavy multi-taskers are “suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.”

Thus, my goal of having only one file on the desk at a time. If you can stand a bit more information check out the Law.comarticle for more tips on controlling electronic information deluge.

What Constitutes “Qualifications” for a Paralegal?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

When an employee loses his or her job through no fault of their own that person is generally entitled to unemployment compensation. However, sometimes their right to receive this benefit is challenged by their employer, generally because payment into the benefit fund will increase for that employer. BlueRidgeNow.com today carries a story regarding jobless N.C. residents fighting for their benefits which includes this:

Fayetteville lawyer Sharon Keyes fired a paralegal after just eight days on the job because she wasn’t qualified. When the paralegal filed a claim for $197 a week in benefits, Keyes tried to block it, arguing that as a small business owner she should be able to decide whom to hire and whom to fire.

The ESC disagreed and ruled in the former paralegal’s favor three times before Keyes finally gave up last year.

I don’t know enough about the situation to say whether this should be a sign to all N.C. paralegals to be wary of working for attorney Keyes. My interest here is in the claim that the paralegal “was not qualified.” What does that mean given the overall uncertainty and confusion as to what constitutes qualification for paralegals?

The North Carolina Bar Association has created a voluntary program for certification of paralegals. However, one has to wonder whether Keyes used this as a standard for “qualification” and, if so, whether it was made clear in advertisements and interviews for the job. If one has a clear understanding of what they expect in order for an employee to be qualified and conveys that understanding to applicants, it is hard to see how it can be determined only eight days later that the person is not qualified. If the person misled the employer into believing they had qualification they did not have, then surely that would constitute fault on the part of the employee, would it not?

In any case, this story does seem to serve as another indication that the profession needs to focus more seriously on the issue of paralegal qualification.

Update on OLP e-discovery Certification

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

The Organization of Legal Professionals provides this update on e-discovery Certification:

  • The certification exam for non-attorneys in e-discovery core competencies is well underway.  A certification exam is a complex undertaking and many important decisions are made in the planning and development phase.  We expect to roll out the first exam by March 1st.
  • Training for e-discovery is being made available to The OLP members and non-members. Be sure you are on the mailing list for the most recent courses.
  • As previously discussed  here the need for expertise, and thus training and certification, in the e-discovery field continues to grow. So, watch for the opportunities provided by OLP.

    In the interest of full disclousure, I am on the OLP Advisory Council.

    This is not a job for Warren G or Nate Dogg

    Sunday, November 15th, 2009

    Among the reactions to my recent participation in the Paralegal Mentor Mastermind call is this email from Barbara Parkes, which I am sharing with permission:

    Hello, Mr. Mongue. I was a participant on the Paralegal Mentor Mastermind call with Vicki Voisin on Tuesday evening. I very much appreciate what you are doing for the paralegal profession, and I agree with you that it should be more regulated. I wish there was more of a clear cut educational path for a paralegal that the ABA would approve and require on a national level. As you mentioned, just as attorneys are required to go through a three year law school program, paralegals should have to complete a program with the same curriculum at every school where it is offered, and paralegals should receive a designation at the completion of this program (whether it’s an associates degree, bachelor’s degree, certificate or certification — whichever the ABA decides upon) without which they should not be permitted to be hired by any lawyer and be titled a paralegal.

    However, I think we have a long way to go to get to this point. I recall reading that, a few years ago, this very issue was brought up in New Jersey and it was decided that paralegals did not have to have specific educational requirements to be titled as a paralegal or legal assistant. I’m guessing this was decided primarily because attorneys assume that paralegals’ salaries may be raised as a result of the educational requirements and did not want this extra financial burden. How do we get past this obstacle? I think, as you do, that the paralegal profession would be more respected as a result of this requirement, and attorneys would have a clearer vision of how the paralegals were trained and what they are capable of doing. I would be interested in your thoughts.

    This email addresses several substantial issues and I cannot say that I have fully formed opinions on them as they are all subject of my ongoing research.

    I do believe that the paralegal profession needs a better established identity if it is to gain the recognition and respect of the bar and the public as a profession. Establishing that identity will require more than the current ABA/NALA definition of “paralegal” which describes the paralegal as “qualified by education, training or work experience” without any content to what education, training or work experience makes one qualified. There does, it seems to me, to be more content and standardization in that regard. However, it is not clear whether that content and standardization should be through licensing, regulation, certification or another means.

    Nor is it clear whether whatever form is adopted for this purpose whether it should be imposed through government. If the government is involved, this does not seem to be a federal issue, but I am concerned that each state devising its own definition and requirements will lead to a patchwork that is more confusing than it is helpful. Thus, it would seem to make sense to have some national organization or consortium of organizations develop a model or uniform act for consideration by the states.

    It is not at all clear that the ABA should be the organization making these determination, at least not in isolation. Within AAfPE (American Association for Paralegal Education) there is some ongoing discussion about whether the ABA is the correct institution to be “approving” paralegal programs: does it make sense to have lawyers rather than educators determining what makes a good educational program, even if the topic being taught it law?

    The same may be true on the issue of standardization of criteria for paralegals. A topic that frequently comes up on this blog and others is that attorneys frequently on an individual basis do not understand the role and abilities of paralegals. Are we to assume, then that as a group attorneys are able to best decide the criteria for those persons who fill the role of paralegal?

    Perhaps we need for all interested groups to chose a representative to a committee to establish a model act – ABA, NFPA, NALA, NALS, AAfPE. It may be there should even be a seat at the table for a group representing “independent” paralegals.

    I am working on an anthology on paralegal professionalism that will, in part, provide a forum for peer-reviewed articles addressing these topics from educators and professionals. Like Barbara, I would interested in your thoughts.

    Writing as a Team

    Friday, November 13th, 2009

    Two of my favorite bloggers, Lynne DeVenney of Practical Paralegalismand Melissa Hinote of Paralegalese have teamed up to illustrate the importance of the attorney and paralegal to write as a team. The post on Lynne’s blog is entitled, “Who’s the “Nice One” on Your Legal Team?” It’s short but effectively makes the point, so check it out.

    Coincidentally, acting as a team was a major topic of discussion in my professionalism class last night. The post above shows how each member of the team can use their strengths to balance the other member’s weaknesses. As much work as possible should be done as a team from initial analyzing of a client’s fact situation to final implementation of a plan for dealing with that situation whether it’s a matter of litigation or a real estate closing. In addition to working as a team with the attorney, in larger firms you can work as a team with other paralegals. Even if they are working on other matters, you can consult with each other, proofread each other’s work, use each other as sounding boards, etc.

    For these purposes, let’s all be the nice ones!