Archive for June, 2010

Volunteering Opportunities and Stories

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Today’s post returns to a frequent topic here – volunteering as an essential part of being professional. (See the “Volunteering” category.) But today instead of the sermon coming from me, I’m relying heavily on two posts from other blogs. First, Lynne DeVenny at Practical Paralegalism has a post entitled “Be the ONE – Message to Paralegals,” that reports, ” Kathy Para, an attorney for Jackonsville Area Legal Aid in Jacksonville, Florida and the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee Chair, is looking for legal professionals to be “The One” to help make a difference, even if it’s in a single pro bono case.”

This post is excellent not only for the report, but for the additional information Lynne provides including these links:

The National Pro Bono Volunteer Opportunities Guide
Directory of Pro Bono Children’s Law Programs
The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory
CASA State and Local GAL programs

Finally, Lynne provides her own story as encouragement:

It is an incredible feeling to make a difference in the life of a person who could not otherwise afford representation in the legal system. Volunteering your time will make a difference in your life, too. The years I spent as a Guardian ad Litem changed the way I see the world forever, and may have contributed to a decision I made years after I submitted the report in my last case: to adopt a child from the foster care system.
 
Which brings me to the second post. Apparently coincidentally Melissa at Paralegalese also tells of her recent experience in a post entitled, “Giving Back, Paying Forward.”  I’ll not repeat the entire post here, but here are the first and last paragraphs, which echo Lynne’s feelings about volunteering:
 
 
I’m ashamed to say that it has been years since I sought out volunteer work of any kind. But I broke that streak recently when I volunteered at the monthly Saturday legal clinic sponsored by the Memphis Association of Legal Services (MALS). Thank goodness that I did.
 
….

I’ve decided to make the MALS Saturday clinics a monthly habit. It feels good to be donating time toward the field I love. If you are a legal secretary, paralegal, law student, or attorney in the Memphis area, and you are interesting in volunteering, visit the MALS website.

 

Many of my posts here have pointed out that volunteering is an opportunity to network, gain experience, and satisfy ethical obligations. The bottomline though is that it is an opportunity to do good. Networking, experience, satisfying ethical obligations and feeling better about oneself are just terrific side-benefits that contribute to professionalism.

Court Finds Added Value of Paralegal Work

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

From time to time the paralegal profession receives a boost from the recognition it receives from a court and I’m always pleased to post about those boosts. Today’s example is the matter of STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY v. EDGE FAMILY CHIROPRACTIC, P.A. et. als., Case No. 1D10-0565 from the First District Court of Appeal in Florida as reported by leagle.com. The primary issue in this case was whether it is proper for a court to apply a “multiplier” to paralegal fees as well as attorney fees when awarding fees to a party.

As the court notes, “the purpose of the multiplier is to enhance the fee calculated under the lodestar methodology to take into account the fact that an attorney working on a contingent fee contract is generally not compensated for any of the services provided to a client when the client does not prevail. See Fla. Patient’s Comp. Fund v. Rowe, 472 So. 2d 1145, 1151 (Fla. 1985) (“Because the attorney working under a contingent fee contract receives no compensation when his client does not prevail, he must charge a client more than the attorney who is guaranteed remuneration for his services.”), reaffirmed in pertinent part by, Standard Guarantee Ins. Co. v. Quanstrom, 555 So. 2d 828, 834 (Fla. 1990). Because the potentially uncompensated legal services provided to the client include not only the attorney’s work, but also the paralegal’s work, it is appropriate to apply the multiplier to the paralegal fees included in the award. Stated another way, because the paralegal’s work is part of the legal services provided to the client, there is no principled reason to treat paralegal fees any different from attorney’s fees in regards to the application of the multiplier.”

The court relied a great deal on section 57.104, Florida Statutes, which provides:

In any action in which attorney’s fees are to be determined or awarded by the court, the court shall consider, among other things, time and labor of any legal assistants who contributed nonclerical, meaningful legal support to the matter involved and who are working under the supervision of an attorney.

It also relied on U. S. Supreme Court decisions:

In Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274 (1989), for example, the Court held that the term “reasonable attorney’s fee” in 42 U.S.C. § 1988 encompasses not only the work of the attorney, but also that of paralegals whose labor contributes to the attorney’s ultimate work product. Id. at 285 (“We thus take as our starting point the self-evident proposition that the `reasonable attorney’s fee’ provided for by statute should compensate the work of paralegals, as well as that of attorneys.”). The Court also observed that the use of lower cost paralegals rather than attorneys encourages cost-effective delivery of legal services and reduces the cost of litigation because, if paralegal fees were not recoverable as part of the attorney’s fee award “it would not be surprising to see a greater amount of such work performed by attorneys themselves, thus increasing the overall cost of litigation.” Id. at 288 n.10.

The Court recently reaffirmed Jenkins in Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff, 128 S. Ct. 2007 (2008), where it held the term “attorney’s fees” in another federal statute included fees for paralegal services as well as compensation for the attorney’s own labor. As in Jenkins, the Court declared that it was “self-evident” that the statute embraced not only attorney’s fees, but also paralegal fees. Id. at 2014-15.

Thus, it appears that both the Florida Legislature and this Florida court have a firm grasp on the role and value of paralegals to the lawyers they assist and the legal system as a whole. This recognition can only help resolve some of the confusion in this regard still held by much of the public and many members of the bar.

Paralegal Voice: NFPA on Regulation

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Lynne DeVenny of Practical Paralegalism and Vicky Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, have announced the of
“Regulation of the Paralegal Profession – NFPA Says “Yes,” is now available at Legal Talk Network. While The Paralegal Voice episodes are always interesting and informative this one is especially so since it deals with regulation, an issue frequently discussed on this blog. I previously mentioned that NFPA was holding a “Regulation / National Leadership / PACE® Ambassadors Joint Conference” on June 4-6 in Washington, D.C., that would tackle the important issues of certification, registration, and licensing. This episode of The Paralegal Voice includes some discussion of that conference. I would like to hear reports from any of you who attended that conference.

Regardless of your views on this topic, I recommend that you tune in and hear NFPA explanation of its position in favor of regulation.

Attorneys and Paralegals: What, Why, Who, and How

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Almost time to return to Oxford, teaching, and regular blog posts. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the peace and quiet of a small cottage on a small lake in Maine, having sent The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Clientoff to the publisher. (Expected publication date is September 28, 2010.)

In the meantime, I do get some short opportunities (such as half-time in the World Cup games) to scan the internet. Recently I was particularly drawn to a question posted on the Paralegal Today listserv: “Should I become a paralegal or an attorney?” Actually it was a response rather than the question itself that interested me as it provided a good statement of the different roles played by paralegals and lawyers as members of the legal team, a topic of frequent discussion on this blog. Paralegals are not just lawyers who did not go to law school and lawyers are not just paralegals who did go to law school. Each fills a unique role on the legal team. Most lawyers cannot do well what paralegals do well. The reverse is also true. With permission of the author of that response, I am providing it here in full:

Tamika: I think it depends on what you want to do in your career and where
your strengths lie.

From my observations, attorneys spend more time with the “why” and the
“what” while paralegals spend more time with the “who” and the “how.” For
example: I work in transaction law (estate planning, business planning,
etc.). A client meets with my attorney and they discuss “what” the client
wants or needs, and “why” they want/need it that way. Big picture stuff.

After the meeting, I’m involved in more of the detailed daily contact with
the client, their family members, the other parties, other counsel, other
members of our staff — the “whos.” And I’m involved in the “how” — how
does this need to transaction need to close, how do I get the clients
wants/needs in writing, how do I best help communicate the goals and end
results to the clients, how do I keep my attorney in the loop, how do I need
to communicate with others in the office to get the job done properly for
the client, how do I best organize the documents for the meeting? Almost
all the details fall within that.

Sometimes, I really wish I’d gone to law school. Sometimes . . .not. Like
several others have said here: I don’t want the headaches of a law
practice. I’m glad I can go on vacation and not have my cell phone ring.
Plus, my strengths lie in handling the details. I can see the big picture,
I can even help paint the big picture; but I truly enjoy the communication &
organization aspects of my job.

So, take some time to think. What do YOU want out of your career? What are
you best at? When you picture yourself working, what does that picture look
like? If you still can’t see it: ask to shadow someone from each
profession. I’d suggest shadowing them for several days; because no two
days are ever the same. Plus, go sit in court and watch what happens. See
what appeals to you. That will give you your answer, I think, quicker than
us telling you whether we like our careers. :-)

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you! And congratulations on finishing
your BA!

Tina Brower Medlock, ACP
Certified Paralegal
Advanced Certification — Probate and Estate Planning
Hyden, Miron & Foster, PLLC

Blogging from Paralegal Hell

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

There’s another new blog in the paralegal neighborhood entitled “Paralegal Hell.”  You may have noted the blogger’s comment to my last post about a new blog, “Paralegals on Trial,” but I have removed the comment because it identified the blogger. In an email to me, Paralegal states that the blog helps her relieve stress. She notes, “I do have a sarcastic bite to my blog, but if you read the actual conversations I have with my clients, you will understand why.”

The blog does provide an interesting read and will likely provide stress relief for paralegals who follow the blogger’s candid reports of some of the most frustrating aspects of legal work for all involved in the profession. Many of those frustrations come from clients, making client management a significant topic in my first two books and a frequent topic in workshops and seminars.

While I’m sure to read the blog on a regular basis, there is some danger to relieving stress by reporting office occurrences, even anonymously, on the internet, as reported in previous posts on this blog.  Consider this for example,

ABAJournal.com has a post dealing with an attorney in trouble because of posts on her blog which states in part,

A former Illinois assistant public defender’s blog musings about her difficult clients and clueless judges has landed her in trouble with disciplinary officials.

Kristine Ann Peshek has been accused of revealing client confidences, allegedly for describing her clients in a way that made it possible to identify them. Peshek referred to her clients by either their first names, a derivative of their first names, or by their jail identification numbers, according to the disciplinary complaint filed on Aug. 25. The Legal Profession Blog noted the accusations.

Peshek counters that she would never have posted information that she believed would lead to identification of a client, absent the client’s permission or unless the information is a matter of public record. She tells the ABA Journal she is in the process of hiring a lawyer.

This is, of course, a problem not only for attorneys, but for their paralegals. Less obvious it the fact that it is a problem that extends well beyond blogging to Facebook and other social networks, emails with friends and family and off-line conversations. It is one thing to talk about a difficult, exciting, or interesting “day,” and another to talk about a difficult, exciting or interesting case or client. The latter requires extreme care and in most instances the best advice is “Don’t.” Keep in mind that later the well-known “Monday morning quarterbacks” may be judging whether your musing have cross the line with regard to confidentiality. They will be doing so with the benefit of hind sight and often without the proper context.

It is true that confidentiality is not broken if the client gives permission or the information is part of a public record. But there will be questions:  Do you have a record of the client’s permission? Was the permission given independently with complete knowledge of the facts, circumstances and consequences? Did the client have time to consider all this before giving permission? Was the client influenced by his dependent relationship with you? Was ALL of the information you revealed part of the public records? And many more. The best way not to cross the line is not to come near it.

For more on problems with mixing your professional life and social media see Lynne Devenney’s post “Social Media 101: Mojitos and Mourning Don’t Mix on Facebook” on her blog, Practical Paralegalism.

One good aspect of the blog is that the blogger manages to maintain the sarcasm, while making it clear she still enjoys her career. Another is that the blogger takes an occasional serious turn such as her excellent post on payday lenders. While it will be better if clients do not read most of the posts on her blog -one may recognize themselves and get angry, all clients should read the post on payday lenders.

California Paralegal Day Celebration

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

The San Francisco Paralegal Association’s website announces a Paralegal Day celebration this Friday, June 18th. I’m a fan of declarations establishing a day to recognize the contributions of paralegals to the legal profession and the communities they serve and I’m a fan of celebrations. This celebration is particularly noteworthy because it appears to involve the San Francisco Bar Association acting together with the paralegal association. The keynote speaker, Michael P. Carbone, Esq.,’s topic is “Paralegal Utilization,” a frequent topic here. I’d love to hear from anyone who attends and takes notes on the speech. If it’s good perhaps we can prevail on Mr. Carbone to go a guest post for this blog – or at least crib a post from the notes!

I can’t end this post without noting that the brochure for the celebration contains this notice:

***BRING ITEMS FOR OUR ADOPTED PARALEGALS SERVING IN IRAQ***
(Beef jerky, toiletries, gum/hard candy, paperbacks, stamps, notepaper, single serving powders drink packs, band aids)

Even if you do not attend the celebration, San Francisco paralegals, send over an item or two from the list with a colleague who is attending.

Paralegal Horsing Around – Loses Race

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I’ve often commented that the paralegal profession can benefit from the term “paralegal” being applied to persons in fields other than law. Paralegal characters in movies, TV shows, and books can reinforce in the public mind the concept of paralegals as a separate profession, even when the characterization of those paralegals is fanciful or inaccurate. Of course inaccurate portrayals can lead to additional problems for paralegals as clients who buy into those characterizations arrive at the office with misconceptions that the paralegal must then overcome before establishing a viable relationship with the clients.

Today, however, I ran across an instance of this phenomenon that is of uncertain impact. Rather than attempt any great insight, I’ll just give you some of the facts and let you decide:

JASON Holder believes firmly in capitalizing on your opportunities. That philosophy has won him many races and it was most evident at Corbould Park yesterday. Holder picked up a late ride in the Calty Constructions Handicap upon Tetra after its original jockey Ken Pope was unavailable earlier in the morning. Holder jumped at the chance to ride the Toowoomba-trained, five-year-old gelding and it proved fruitful as he cruised to a win in the 1400-metre race.

The Harry Richardson-trained Tetra ($8) survived late charges from Paralegal ($4.60) and Mystic Vibe ($5) to take out the Class 6 gallop.

A separate point may be that many paralegals feel that racehorses are treated better by their owners and trainers than they are by their attorneys.

Professional Advice from Arizona

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

azcentral.com has an article by Justin Doom that collects advice for persons working in offices from local experts including a Phoenix-area firm that specializes in recruiting attorneys, paralegals and receptionists. The advice is much like that given in this blog, but worth the read for the emphasis and clarity of presentation. While cast as “Mistakes to avoid if you want to move up,” it is basic advice regarding professionalism. Here are the headers:

• Be aware of office politics.

• Communicate effectively.

• Hustle and show initiative.

• Sick pay is for actual sick time.

• Avoid excessive breaks.

• Stay off the Internet.

• Dress professionally.

• Be careful with e-mail.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2010/06/12/20100612career-mistakes0613.html#ixzz0qkTobekD

Significant Signing Opinion from NC State Bar

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Thanks to Kimberly Johnson from Carolina Paralegal News who sent me links to the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly and the South Carolina Lawyers Weekly. Opening the link to the NCLW, revealed an interesting story about an ethics opinion ruling that an attorney may let a paralegal sign the lawyer’s name to a pleading if “exigent circumstances” exist. According to the story:

Although the phrase “exigent circumstances” isn’t defined by the opinion, letting a paralegal sign an attorney’s name could not be done “as a routine matter,” cautioned Alice Neece Mine, the Bar’s assistant executive director.

“It has to be some extraordinary situation, like you’re out of town or deathly ill or can’t get out of court because you’re trying a case, and it has to be signed that day,” said Mine.

Under these circumstances signing the pleadings may appear to be a mere ministerial act.  So we am I posting about it? I think it is important that the topic was brought up and an opinion published at all.  It indicates a recognition of the role of the paralegal in the law office. Much of the discussion I see in state bar opinion seem to “talk around” or simply ignore the existence of paralegals as a member of the legal team. Here the panel seems to have at least attempted a realistic evaluation stating:

Rule 5.3, dealing with an attorney’s responsibilities for non-lawyer assistants, and Rule 5.5, regarding the unauthorized practice of law, were also relevant, the opinion states.

“Before permitting a paralegal or other non-lawyer staff member to sign the lawyer’s name to any court document, the lawyer must carefully review pertinent case law, local rules, or rules of civil procedure to determine whether such delegation is permissible and therefore compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations,” the opinion states.

“In addition, the lawyer must exercise the appropriate level of supervision to avoid aiding in the unauthorized practice of law.”

As regular readers are aware I’ve often commented on the attorney’s obligation to  the paralegal to provide “the appropriate level of supervision.”

Paralegal Wins JAG Award

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

This is a busy time for paralegals at Maxwell/Gunter Air Force Base. I recently posted on a training program there that trains JAG attorneys and paralegals as a team. The Maxwell/Gunter Dispatch now reports:

A Maxwell Air Force Base JAG school team member has been recognized with an Air Force-wide award.

Ronald Frazier, the chief of paralegal training and curriculum of The Judge Advocate General’s School, earned the Harold R. Vague Award as outstanding legal service civilian as part of the 2009 Judge Advocate General Award.

These two announcements may be related as Mr. Frazier appears to have some significant involvement in paralegal training programs at the base:

“Mr. Frazier was selected based on his demonstrated excellence, initiative and devotion to duty with special emphasis given to his development and improvement of paralegal training programs and procedures,” said Col. Tonya Hagmaier, commandant of The Judge Advocate General’s School.

Congratulations to Mr. Frazier!