Archive for February, 2010

Delegating your way to effective time management

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

As discussed in The Empowered Paralegal, time and work management requires analyzing the work you do and the way you use your time to do it. Once the work is analyzed, it can be prioritized and managed. Sometimes tasks are best managed by being eliminated.  (Yes, some of what you are doing may simply be a waste of time with no real purpose. It only feels like most of it is.) Often, tasks are best managed by being delegated to others, even if this means convincing your employer to higher an “other” such as a high school student willing to do filing after school for a couple of hours. Delegation only works, however, if done properly.

All this is just a lead-in to an article you should read by Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor. It appears in the most recent issue of her newsletter, “Paralegal Strategies.” Vicki not only lists, but explains, five important steps to successful delegation. Here are the steps:

1. Plan.

2. Decide to whom you’re delegating.

3. Give clear directions.

4. Follow Up.

5. Reward success.

Head over to www.paralegalmentor.com and sign up for the “Paralegal Strategies” newsletter for the full article.


Paralegals Picked in Politics

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Lately it seems there seems to have been steady flow of reports of paralegals (or alleged paralegals) “gone bad.” However, for every such report there are hundred, if not thousands of hard working, competent, reliable, trustworthy…just overall professional paralegals.
Here are some reports of paralegals who have demonstrated their professionalism and competency to the point that they have been chosen for important positions by their communities:

KVEC News: San Luis Coastal Trustees on Tuesday appointed Ellen Sheffer to the school board. Sheffer will complete the remaining 10 months of the term vacated by John Spatafore…Sheffer, a paralegal, has a long history of volunteering with the district’s schools and has served as a translator for Spanish speaking families attending school events. She has lived in San Luis Obispo for 15 years and has a bachelor’s degree in education and Spanish from Lindenwood College.

Woonsocket Call: The City Council has chosen Andrea M. Bicki, a paralegal in the law department, to serve as the next city clerk. The council is expected to confirm Bicki during a meeting in Harris Hall tonight. Bicki is to succeed longtime City Clerk Pauline Payeur, whose retirement takes effect tomorrow. City Council President John Ward said he expects Bicki to win the unanimous support of the seven-member panel. “She’s done some great work as a paralegal,” he said. “She’s good with detail and there was a unanimous feeling that she’d make a great city clerk.”

Arizona Capital Times: In what Chairman Don Stapley acknowledged is becoming a regular event for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the group on Feb. 17 chose another new state lawmaker. Amanda A. Reeve, a paralegal with Bryan Cave, LLP, was unanimously chosen to replace Sam Crump, who resigned his Legislative District 6 House seat to run for Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District. “I hope I will do you justice out there,” Reeve told the supervisors moments after being chosen from a panel of three candidates….Supervisor Andy Kunasek … said she is ready and “she’ll do a great job.” Stapley said he’s “very impressed and excited for her to get the budget done.”
Reeve, who is active at the grassroots level of the Republican Party, said she hasn’t fully developed positions on the budget or specific legislative priorities at this point. She painted her budget philosophy in broad strokes, saying she is a fiscal conservative who supports tax cuts.

Congratulations to all three – even the Republican. Your selection and service speaks well of you, but also of the paralegal profession!

Suggested Reading

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

It should be clear by now that I’m a fan of Practical Paralegalism and Paralegalese and recommend each of them be added to your RSS feed. In case they are not, please do take the time to check out these two recent posts which relate to topics discussed here with some regularity: “Today’s Quote: I Have a ‘Paraprofessional’ Headache” by Lynne DeVenny and “Legal Aid and Paralegals” by Melissa H.

Free one-on-one counseling with trained paralegal students

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The Hartford Courant reports on foreclosure prevention forums presented by the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors. They are “aimed at borrowers who have questions about the foreclosure process, avoidance programs and legal services.”  According to the report:
The forums will include a panel of experts that include: an attorney from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center; an official with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority; and a real estate agent.

Free one-on-one counseling with trained paralegal students from the University of Hartford and the University of Connecticut. Real estate agents also will field questions.

Aside from the fact that “Free one-on-one counseling with trained paralegal students from the University of Hartford and the University of Connecticut” is not a sentence (I often threaten to have a “Not a sentence” stamp made for correcting papers), it is an interesting concept. I assume the students are somehow working under the supervision of the attorney. In any case, it is an excellent opportunity for the students to gain experience, begin what I hope will be a lasting practice of providing pro bono service, and for the borrowers to gain useful information – not only about foreclosure but about the role paralegals can play in providing access to justice.

I’d like to hear from anyone who knows more about this project.

Maybe he just wasn’t professional enough

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

wsav.com reports on a man who pled guilty to smuggling contraband into prison. It would be of little interest except that he initially claim he was paid for paralegal work, not for contraband. It is likely that his claim was inherently suspect due to a lack of professionalism on his part. As even drug lords’ paralegals know, you have to be professional even when performing duties in prison for prisoners.

This is in no way to suggest any misconduct on the part of the drug lord’s paralegal, who did appear to be both a paralegal and professional. Rather it is another lament at the ease with which people call themselves paralegals and claim to be doing paralegal work. At least in this case the police might have been helped by the ABA, NFPA, NALA, AAfPE definition of paralegal which requires that services be performed with attorney supervision – simply ask the claimant to produce the attorney by whom he was being supervised.

Competition in Canada

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

While others are focused on Vancouver, I continue to follow events in Ontario. There Harry Kopyto is challenging the system that regulates paralegals. I’ve mentioned Harry before and the regulatory system has been the subject of several posts here.

I’m not really very interested in Harry himself. Rather it is the way this story highlights the various factors that must be considered in paralegal regulation. On the one hand we have this:

The provincial government vested the law society with the responsibility to govern paralegals over concerns that the public was exposed to the risk of harm at the hands of unscrupulous or incompetent practitioners.

“We heard lots of different horror stories,” says Steven Rosenhek, chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s paralegal task force, adding that complaints against paralegals “came up fairly frequently and sometimes with disastrous results.”

The prevailing lack of any regulatory structure meant paralegals were free to operate without any disciplinary mechanism or minimum standards of education.

On the other, this:

In barring paralegals from family law, the current rules have made a dysfunctional system even worse, Kopyto charges.

Particularly vulnerable, he says, are women in divorce and custody litigation who don’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford a lawyer.
“Now, these women are streaming into court without any representation and they’re being eaten alive by the [high-priced lawyers] of the world,” Kopyto says.

“It’s a zoo down there. People who have clearly meritorious cases are losing them.”

Ontario decided in favor of public protection over access to justice:

“There’s always tension between access to justice and public protection,” he [the chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s paralegal task force] says. “We said and we will continue to say the paramount concern is public protection.”

These two factors are also at work in the debate over paralegal regulation in the United States. There is also concern here, as in Ontario, over disbarred attorneys practicing as paralegals.

 However, we must also keep in mind that Ontario’s program was developed in different context for the role of the paralegal, many of whom had practices independent of attorneys unlike here where paralegals are required to have attorney supervision. In fact, paralegals were (and are) often viewed as competitors to attorneys.  And therein may lie the virtue of Harry’s challenge. He states he is not opposed to paralegal regulation, but objects to the paralegal profession being regulated by the Law Society, i.e., by the lawyer profession with which it competes.

This is a very different perspective than that considered in a previous post here, which celebrated the paralegal profession being brought into the Law Society as a recognition of paralegals as  legal professionals. There is, apparently some merit to that perspective.  Judi Simms, president of the Paralegal Society of Canada, states on the one hand, “The only thing it’s accomplished so far is it’s restricted our capability to practise,” but also says “For many paralegals, particularly those who had established practices in small claims, landlord and tenant law, and traffic matters, regulation has legitimized their functions and advanced them professionally.” According to the most recent report in the Law Times News, “Simms, in fact, praises the LSUC for its “spectacular job” in bringing paralegals into the fold.”

I suspect that even in the context of competition, there are more similarities between the paralegal/lawyer professions in Ottawa and the United States that might immediately meet the eye. See for example the discussion here and on the Paralegal Today discussion forum, on Combating the “Hire an Out-of-work Lawyer as a Paralegal” Trend. “Independent” paralegals also claim that fear of competition and a desire for a monopoly is behind the efforts of bar associations to shut down businessess such as Efrem Martin’s.

So this competition in Canada should remain of interest to United States paralegals as more than just a spectator sport. I hope in the next few weeks to take a closer look at California’s regulatory system both in terms of its mechanisms and its implementations. Anyone who has a fact based opinion on either is invited to contact me at theempoweredparalegal@live.com.

Good Character Assessment

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

A while back I posted on a proceeding in Ottawa where an applicant was challenging The Law Society’s denial of his application for a paralegal license based on the good character assessment requirement of the licensing procedure. In that post I focused on the incompetence of the applicant based on his own filings in that proceeding. However, I ended with this:

Not surprisingly, the panel denied Alessandro’s application for a license. A bit more surprising is that an appeal panel recently issued this decision:

By Decision and Order dated November 24, 2009, the Appeal Panel ordered as follows:

The Appeal is allowed.
The Order of the Hearing Panel dated April 30, 2009 is set aside.
A new hearing before a different Hearing Panel is hereby ordered. The matter is to be expedited.

No reason is given for the decision, but based on my reading of the history of this proceeding I suspect the appeal was granted based on procedural grounds. It is quite likely the decision of the next panel will be the same, but I’ll be checking back to see the results.

Yesterday in a comment to that post we heard from Jack at torontoprosecutor.com with this update:

You are right sir! Nic Alessandro asked for an adjournment of the hearing and it was denied. The appeal was allowed on that basis only. At the new hearing, he was represented by counsel who again asked for another adjournment. That request was denied and again his bid to be licensed was denied. Nic(olino) and his brother Giovanni (Joe) Alessandro were convicted of criminal offences based on the way that they conducted their practice before licensing. For a fee of about $4,000 they guranteed people that they could get their convictions off of their driving records. In order to accomplish what they promised they forget court documents and sent them to the Ministry of Transportation. They were eventually caught, tried and convicted. If they had actually passed the good charatcer test most of us would have been shocked.

The scary part is that there is nothing to prevent our own Nics from calling themselves paralegals here in the United States. We are hopeful that UPL laws will prevent them from operating independently, but depend on law firms to do the character assessment and background checks to keep Nic and his ilk out of the legal system. Unfortunately, this procedure all too often fails. Indeed, some paralegals are so un-reviewed and unsupervised that they are able to embezzle huge sums from the law firms themselves. One managed to grab $1.7 million before being caught!

Paralegal Representation Opportunities

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

A recent post on the Paralegal Today discussion forum came from a paralegal whose employer wants her to become licensed by the NYS Workers’ Comp Board to represent clients in hearings. One person responded that she was in a similar position, only her employer wants herto be qualified for representation before the IRS.

I’d like to formulate a listing of these types of opportunities for paralegals to represent clients by qualifying as non-attorney representatives before governmental boards and agencies. These two are a good start. If any of you know of others, please let me know via comment here or email at theempoweredparalegal@live.com. Please provide the citation for the statute authorizing the non-attorney representation if you know it.

Thanks!

Jury finds for Paralegal on Unethical Oral Contract

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

A Florida jury has found in favor of a paralegal had an oral contract with her attorney for a bonus based on a percentage of attorney fees she generated. This is an interesting case on several levels.

One is the contract level, of particular interest because I’m teaching contract law this semester. The jury found there was a contract for 2004 but not for 2005, but of course there is no explanation why they so found and we do not have enough facts from the news report to come up with anything other than pure speculative theories.

On the level of ethics, there is the issue of an attorney sharing fees with non-lawyers, something prohibited by the Rules of Professional Ethics. If the attorney made this contract, which she continues to deny, it is clearly a violation of the rules. Presumably the paralegal knows the rules of professional ethics and consciously agreed to engage in conduct that violates those rules simply because it benefited her. I’m not sure I’d want to based a legal case on that! Even if you win, you lose your ethical reputation. By the way, did the paralegal have an obligation to report the offer of a bonus based on sharing of legal fees to the proper authorities when it was made

Also on the ethical level, is this an instance that illustrates a problem with the concept of a paralegal being regulated through the ethical rules governing their supervising attorney. Given the court ruling under the present system their is no penalty to the paralegal for entering into the unethical agreement or for failing to report the attorney’s unethical conduct. The entire penalty goes on the attorney even though the paralegal was clearly engaged in the same unethical conduct. It is difficult for paralegals to claim the status of a separate profession and the respect of being a professional under these circumstances.

There is, of course, also much to be said about the paralegal – attorney relationship and the necessity for clear (and in this case written) communications. There is not enough time to deal with this one here today. The topic is touched upon here and in The Empowered Paralegal.

Finally, combining the contract and ethical levels, the court ruling that the attorney cannot defend against the alleged contract on the basis that it violates the rules of ethics is an interesting application of the concepts of malum in se versus malum prohibitum, estoppel, and quasi-contract. (Recognizing, however, that there may be a difference between laws governing act such a gambling and the like, and “mere” ethical rules.)

In any case, you can find more on the case here and here with commentary on the first report of the case by Lynne DeVenney of Practical Paralegalism here.

Paralegals dating lawyers II

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

A surprising (at least surprising to me) number of search queries that bring viewers to this blog relate to romance between paralegals and attorneys. I previously commented on this in a post involving a legal partnership that dissolved and devolved into assualt charges when one of the partners married the firm’s paralegal. The final act of that drama, appears to have ended. The Roanoke Times reports

Vinton lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, whose bankruptcy partnership with attorney Ann Marie Miller dissolved last year with an assault charge and hundreds of abandoned client files when he married an office paralegal, surrendered his privilege to practice bankruptcy law.

Those of  you prone to remembering such things will recall that it was Mr. Kessler who said of Ms. Miller, “I don’t know why she is behaving so inappropriately.”  One would think, however, that not all of the inappropriate behavior was on the part of Ms. Miller since,

In a federal bankruptcy court order filed Wednesday, Kessler agreed to give up his bankruptcy practice and to repay $35,000 he and Miller received from clients for work they didn’t do, said Carter “Chip” Magee, the Roanoke attorney appointed by the court to close Miller’s practice. That money, along with about $7,000 left in Miller’s bank accounts, eventually will be returned to the couple’s clients.

No word on the paralegal in this story, but this cannot help but to serve as a cautionary tale to those persons searching for “paralegals dating lawyers.”