Archive for October, 2011

Pro Bono Week

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

This morning I’m just passing along this from Brynne Williamson, PP, PLS’ post on the “Paralegal Jobs and Continuing Education” LinkedIn group board:

Celebrate Pro Bono Week!

Did you know that this week is “Celebrate Pro Bono Week”? The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service launched this national initiative to “be an effective strategic tool for enhancing and expanding local efforts to increase access to justice for all.” And the best part is, you don’t have to be an attorney to participate. There are many ways for legal staff members to give back to their communities, like volunteering with their local bar to assist at neighborhood legal clinics, assisting with local Wills for Heroes events, and helping out with free legal clinics. Contact your local bar association or check the “Celebrate Pro Bono Week” website to learn more: http://www.probono.net/celebrateprobono/. If you’d like to learn more about setting up your own volunteer event, check out the “Leading the Way” section in the June 2011 issue of “the NALS docket”: http://mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?i=73757.

Have a great week, everyone!

Brynne Williamson, PP, PLS
NALS Marketing Director

“National Access to Justice: A New Model”

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

From time to time Clifford S. Smith weighs in here with a comment to one of my posts. His most recent was this comment to my post, “ABA President Stuck in 20th Century:”

I disagree with the ABA’s position and have put together a short paper that provides an alternative basis that would meet the needs of people who have no access to justice.

The paper, “National Access to Justice: A New Model” can be downloaded from http://napa.club.officelive.com/Documents/NatAccessJusticeArticle.pdf

At my request Clifford as done a summary of his paper which I post here as a “Guest Blog:”

National Access to Justice: A New Model, presents a viable solution on expanding the role of paralegals using the existing federal framework of the Administrative Procedures Act, where a non-lawyer is authorized to represent people appearing before federal agencies and hearings.   

Many studies have shown that low to moderate income people can’t afford to hire a lawyer. More often than not, it has led to innocent people being convicted of crimes, only later to be exonerated by DNA establishing their innocence.   

Licensing paralegals under federal law and expanding their role would allow paralegals to provide limited legal services in areas of federal law, such as social security; patent, trademark and copyright; federal child support; bankruptcy; and limited representation in federal civil and criminal matters.  Such representation would fall under an adaptation of an exigent circumstance rule used in urgent situations; where a paralegal would only represent client if they could not locate a lawyer to take a case on a pro bono basis.

Because of the history of paralegals being targeted by state bar associations for unauthorized practice of law, the interest of state regulated lawyers would be balanced with the interest of federally regulated paralegals. This separation of legal fields would be good for competition.

Education would be adapted to train paralegals in specific areas of federal law where paralegals would practice, while also teaching the federal rules of civil and criminal procedure, evidence, legal writing and general advocacy.  Certificate programs would be based on practical skills for advocating cases before federal agencies and, in urgent situations, before federal trial courts.

Programs would be based on the California model of 24 semester units in law-related studies, thus avoiding the general studies areas required of longer degree programs, which have little practical application.  Continuing education would also be mandatory and lead to paralegal specializations.

Federal licensing would empower paralegals and lead to professional autonomy while also addressing the legal needs of millions of working people who have no access to justice. Once licensed, paralegals could be deployed to crisis regions across the United States, in order to effectively target the regions that need assistance the most.

The Administrative Procedures Act provides the perfect model to expand the role of paralegals while serving the legal needs of people who need it the most.  

Clifford is also a contributor to The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.

The Paralegal Society

Monday, October 24th, 2011

In my last post I discussed an article by Karen George, FRP, posted at The Paralegal Society.” I mentioned there that I was adding The Paralegal Society to my list of links to Paralegal Blogs. After exploring it a bit more, I decided to add the link to both the Paralegal Blogs and the Paralegal Resources link lists and to devote this post to giving additional information about the Society. Not that requires a whole lot of thought or work. I’m just copying from the website:

The Paralegal Society~ a forum created to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals to engage in the pursuit of excellence for all paralegalkind.

What is The Paralegal Society™ you ask? Think of it as a social conduit of information created for all paralegals. Whether you are new to the field or a savvy and experienced paralegal, you are welcome here. In fact, we created this blog just for you. You can find interesting articles, glean helpful information and career tips, ask questions and seek advice from our team of experienced paralegal mentors who will provide assistance, guidance and support.

Our mission at The Paralegal Society™ is to orchestrate a much needed change in the social aspects of education, mentorship and camaraderie for paralegals throughout the country. Heck, we like to think of it as a full blown movement. For us, it is a worthy endeavor and one we hope will perpetuate positive change for the paralegal profession. We are ready to give back. We have a strong desire to assist our fellow paralegals in the quest for excellence.

Again, we welcome you. Please peruse the array of articles and posts we have compiled for you and don’t hesitate to let us know if there is a particular topic or endeavor for which we can provide helpful information or assistance. Enjoy and welcome to the society!

Jamie Collins,
Founder

A Professional Reality Check

Monday, October 24th, 2011

It is no surprise I am sure that the New York City Paralegal Association has a LinkedIn group, nor that Mariana Fradman, President of that wonderful group, continues to post links to great materials and sites there. And certainly it is no surprise that Karen George, FRP, would produce a well-written article. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprise at Mariana’s link to Karen George’s article at The Paralegal Society entitled, “WANTED: Paralegal, No Experience Necessary. A Professional Reality Check.”

This is a very good article that is well worth a full reading. I particularly liked her emphasis on the paralegal as a professional:

A paralegal is a professional position. By becoming a paralegal, you have stepped away from the subordinate positions in the work world and stepped into a new realm on the employment list. You are a professional and that means there’s a new and harder set of rules in the “game of employment” for both sides: the employee and the employer.

…Whatever your expectations, you have them because you are A PARALEGAL. You now hold a certificate or a degree, you have studied long and hard, and incurred loans to become and be able to call yourself A PARALEGAL.

The employer seeking a paralegal has certain expectations as well: that the paralegal dress in a professional manner, conduct himself professionally, not have to be micromanaged, and to not be directed in an assignment the same way his legal assistant or receptionist or file clerk is directed. The attorney expects the paralegal to come to have those abilities and knowledge that are instantaneously helpful to the attorney. In sum, he is seeking a partner, not exactly an equal partner, but a partner in the representation of the client.

…The bottom line is this: by becoming a paralegal you have stepped out of the regular job market. You are no longer looking for the “regular job” you may have previously held. You are now a professional and the playing field is different. You bring not only your education to the application table, but you must also bring proof that you can fill a very important role in the firm from the moment you enter it – and for the most important person in the office — the attorney. A paralegal is not hired to be “taught” how to be a paralegal. A paralegal is hired to fill a position that is intricate to the process. The position requires critical thinking based on experience, which is knowledge.

Of course, Karen does not stop there. She goes on to explore the implications of seeking employment and experience as a professional and adds some sound advice.

As a side note, this is my first trip to The Paralegal Society and I have added it to my Paralegal Blogs list. While you are there reading Karen’ article, look around at the rest of what it has to offer.  Mariana’s LinkedIn profile states she is a “Mentor at The Paralegal Society.” Perhaps one day soon I can get her to do a guest post discussing The Paralegal Society mentors.

What is a Paralegal? More than just a skill set.

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

One of the categories here is “What is a Paralegal?” It’s a question that has received many answers on this blog. Lisa DiMonte provides a link on the KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals Linkedin Group discussion board to a good statement by Neal Huffman on the Aurora Community College Faculty and Staff Blog pointing out that the paralegal is more than just a person with a particular set of skills”

Then in terms of a career, three things about being a paralegal which transcend skill are the professional attributes, specialization possibilities, and life-long learning a paralegal enjoys in their vocation. These elements heighten the feeling of belonging in a meaningful, satisfying career path, as well as, exemplify a rewarding, challenging job that evolves accordingly.

Neal deals with each of these three areas more fully in the post, so check it out.

Attorney and paralegal sentenced for fraud

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I’m off to Duluth, GA, for the weekend tomorrow, so this article drew my attention because it involves both Duluth and a paralegal. Unfortunately, it is another story of a paralegal that allowed himself to be drawn into a fraudulent scheme rather than refusing and reporting the involved attorney.

Parmesh Dixit, 41, of Alpharetta, was sentenced to prison recently by United States District Judge Julie Carnes on charges of conspiracy to harbor aliens in violation of the law.

Punyapriya Patel, 37, also of Alpharetta was also sentenced by Carnes for his role in the same conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants.

United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, “Dixit, an immigration attorney, made over $1 million by submitting fraudulent applications for a specialized visa program for executives of foreign companies. Our immigration pathways are not for sale, and now Dixit is going to prison.”….

Dixit was sentenced to 2 years in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release. He was also ordered to perform 80 hours of community service and forfeit $1.2 million. Dixit pleaded guilty to the charges on May 6, 2011.

Patel, whom the court noted as contributing significant cooperation in the case, was sentenced to 3 years of probation, beginning with six months of home confinement.

He was also ordered to perform 80 hours of community service, and forfeit $100,000. Patel pleaded guilty to the charges on May 12, 2011.

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: Lawful visa programs exist through which certain high-level managers in overseas companies can legally come to the United States to work. DIXIT conspired with PATEL, a paralegal in his law office, with Hitesh Desai, 47, of Duluth, Ga, owner of “Intelli Infotek,” a software development and consultant company previously located in Duluth, and with others, to assist immigrants seeking visas that would allow them to enter or remain in the United States and work here.

There is no information in the story on which we can question Patel’s “right” to call himself an paralegal. It is, of course, unfortunate that his conduct reflects so poorly on the paralegal profession when so many paralegals are striving to improve the profession’s image.

I am wondering though whether local and national paralegal associations might be able to prevent some of these instances of paralegal participation in crimes (see the “Paralegal Crimes” category) by providing education and formal, but confidential support to paralegals who are being asked to participate in questionable activities. It seems likely to me that some paralegals “drift” into complicity because they do not know what to do even when they know it would be best not to do. The logistics might prove problematic. For example, it may be necessary for the paralegals providing the support to work under the supervision of a volunteer attorney in order to provide true confidentiality. But professional paralegals are quite adept at working out solutions to such logistical problems.

So who needs training?

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Much can, has, and will be said about the irony of Idaho Tea Party leader landing a government job, even if that job is to cut spending. However, my focus is on another part of the story:

“If you don’t have a free-market perspective, you’d be uncomfortable,” said Stout, whose title is paralegal assistant, though she’s not a trained paralegal.

My problem with this, of course, is the same as it has been with similar situations in the past. One would think that the first question that would come to  mind, especially for someone professing to be concerned about the cost of government, is “Why are we paying someone with no paralegal training to be a paralegal – or a paralegal assistant what ever that is?”  If the job actually requires performing the function of a paralegal, aren’t the taxpayers entitled to a person who has training in fulfilling those functions? If the job does not actually require performing the function of a paralegal, aren’t the taxpayers entitled to “transparency,” i.e., a job title and description that actually describes what the job requires? After all, this is as “$25,000, 19-hour-a-week post.”  How many actual paralegals get that kind of compensation for those kinds of hours? 

The real problem here, of course, is that it remains the case that just about anybody can call themselves a paralegal because there is no generally accepted set of qualifications for the title. There also has and will be much discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of licensing and other forms of paralegal regulation. “Free market” advocates may oppose the idea of government regulation in all of its forms including licensing attorneys, doctors, etc., but at least an established definition of “paralegal” and a standard set of qualifications for using the title would allow people who are paying $25,000 a year for 19 hours of work a week to know whether the person getting the job was actually qualified to do it.

FAPP’s Essential Piece

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Until a couple of weeks ago I did not know about FAPP – the Foundation for the Advancement of the Paralegal Profession despite numerous trips to the NFPA website. Fortunately, I received an email from Kathleen Miller, R.P. who clued me in. For those of you who might also be unaware of this excellent venture, here’s some info from the Foundation’s website:

The Foundation for the Advancement of the Paralegal Profession (the Foundation or FAPP) resulted from the desires of the member Associations of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) to create a repository for the profits from the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) to be administered by an independent organization. Through NFPA, the Foundation became the benefactor of the PACE proceeds.

Mission Statement
The Foundation’s mission is to promote and advance the professional and educational standards of paralegal professionals. In furtherance of the foregoing, the purposes of the Foundation shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

To promote higher professional standards within the paralegal profession;
To increase competency among paralegal professionals by sponsoring and conducting educational seminars and classes;
To sponsor publications devoted to issues relating to the paralegal profession; and
To serve as a resource for the public and private sector interested in the
paralegal profession.

But  the real purpose of this blog is to bring a particular FAPP program to your attention. This program just went up on the site so you are less likely to be familiar with it. As Kathleen put it to me Essential Piece is , “a new campaign the Foundation is developing–the Essential Piece–which is designed to impress upon all paralegals nationwide that they are an Essential Piece to the advancement and promotion of the paralegal profession.” This is, of course,  a point I’ve been making on this blog since I started it, so I was very pleased to see NFPA, which has always made this point implicitly through its work and programs, through FAPP take on the task of advancing the premise formally and expressly.  There’s even a lapel pin!

Read more about the program here.

Is your legal team really ready for trial?

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Much, if not all, of The Empowered Paralegal:Effective, Efficient, and Professional,  is about being prepared with one chapter being devoted specifically to trial preparation. Preparation is especially important at trial where it is often the best prepared case, not the best case, that wins. In a new post on Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog, Chancellor Deborah J. Gambrell  emphasizes this point from the point of view of the bench:

Q:  What is the main thing lawyers should know to avoid doing in your court room during a trial?

A:  DO NOT ANNOUNCE “READY FOR TRIAL” IF YOU ARE NOT. Being ready for trial means: 1) having three (3) copies of all proposed Exhibits; 2) having presented a copy of the proposed Exhibits and Exhibit List to counsel opposite; and 3) having all necessary parties present.

Indeed, being prepared is one of  three attributes of a good attorney for Judge Gambrell. However, on an well-working legal team, one that can “dance,” it is the paralegal who sees that the preparation is done. When the attorney stands, says, “We are ready for trial” and really is prepared, more often than not the paralegal is responsible – effective, efficient, professional, and proud.

Increasing Paralegal Use a “Win-Win” for British Firm

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

It ought to be a matter of simple math. Paralegals lower the cost of services for clients and increase law firm productivity, so it makes sense to use paralegals. This does not cost attorney jobs, but grows the legal profession. One major British firm has done the math, according to legalweek.com:

Addleshaw Goddard has grown the number of paralegals in its recently-formed transaction services team (TST) in Manchester to more than 40 as the national law firm prepares to send more chargeable work to the centre in a bid to keep costs down for clients.

The firm has increased staff in the team from five at the time it was piloted in November last year to 42, with the intention of boosting numbers to more than 60 as it is used by more practice areas.

The initiative was established to free up associates to work on client-facing matters by sending some administrative and process support work to the paralegal centre in Manchester.

Most of the work is due diligence and document management for the litigation and corporate practices, but Addleshaws is also looking to extend its remit to include more transactional support for the firm’s commercial and banking practices…

Addleshaws employment head Andrew Chamberlain, who oversees the project, commented: “Clients are telling us they don’t want to pay a lawyer hundreds of pounds an hour to do this type of work, but they also don’t necessarily want it to be sent overseas, either.

“This is the happy medium – we’re able to keep costs down and our associates are able to develop their skills in 
other areas.”…