Archive for April, 2012

Melissa Moves On

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Melissa of Paralegalese, one of my favorite paralegal bloggers, last posted in January. At that time she was, as she described i,t “pensive:”

I’ve been reflecting on my career a lot since starting school this past fall. Big life changes are typically followed by reflection, so there is no surprise there. Some of the questions I have been asking myself lately are questions the younger me glossed over, or would have answered with blissful ignorance of the way the real world actually works.

I still love working in the legal field, and I remain proud of my profession and the many wonderful people I get to call colleagues. I have learned so much, and I still crave so much knowledge that I cannot fathom taking any other than the course I chose for my career several years ago. But being back in school has broadened my network. I am associating with successful people from all sorts of fields, and I’m learning that my education could take me almost anywhere I want to go… should I choose to go there.

Recently, Melissa updated her LinkedIn profile indicating that she had in fact moved on! While this is likely best for Melissa and I wish her the best in her new career, it is a loss to the paralegal profession.

Coincidentally, Steven Dayton, the Director of Paralegal Studies at Fullerton College, posted on the AAfPE listserv this list of careers for those with a paralegal degree who might not want to do traditional paralegal degree. (Dr. Dayton does not claim credit for creating the list, but can no longer remember from whom he received – a position I find myself in more and more these days!)

Administrative Assistant

Arbitrator
Bar association administrator
Billing professional
Claims adjuster, administrator, appraiser, examiner and investigator
Compliance and enforcement inspector
Compliance officer
Computer consultant
Conflicts analyst or specialist
Contracts administrator
Corporate trainer
Corrections officer
Court clerk
Court interpreter
Court reporter
Design/developer of trial visual aids
Editor for a legal or business publisher
Equal employment opportunity specialist
Evidence technician
Fingerprint technician
Grant writer
Investigator
Judicial assistant
Jury consultant
Law librarian
Law clerk
Legal analyst
Legal secretary
Legal software representative
Legislative analyst
Loan closing coordinator
Loan interviewer and clerk
Mortgage processor
Municipal clerk
Occupational health and safety specialist and technician
Paralegal instructor
Parole officer
Patent database administrator
Probation officer
Property manager
Real estate agent, broker or assistant
Risk management technician
Securities analyst
Securities compliance officer
Small business owner
Tax Preparer
Technical Writer
Title examiner, abstractor and researcher
Title insurance administrative assistant
Trial court coordinator
Trust officer
Victim or witness advocate for county district attorney’s office or U.S. Attorney’s office
Virtual Assistant
 
 

It’s Thursday – Have a Conversation!

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The ABAJournal.com recently posted on a topic as pertinent to paralegals as to lawyers in many respects:

Wired Lawyers Are Example of Changing Workplace: We Communicate, But We Don’t Converse
Posted Apr 24, 2012 By

There’s a new bubble that doesn’t involve the costs of law school or high law firm billing rates.

It’s the bubble we all live in when we communicate electronically, according to psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle. In-person conversations are falling by the wayside, as people tied to their electronic devices have learned to be “alone together,” she says in an op-ed for the New York Times. People who communicate by texting or email can edit or delete to present themselves as the people they want to be, avoiding the messiness of real relationships, she says.

“We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship,” she writes.

The change is affecting the workplace, where people don’t talk in person. A senior partner at a Boston law firm told her about a typical scene in his office. Associates lay out their laptops, iPods and multiple phones, and put on their earphones. “Big ones. Like pilots,” the partner said. “They turn their desks into cockpits.” The office is quiet, Turkle writes, “a quiet that does not ask to be broken.”

Turkle calls for digital-free zones at home and a possible change at work. “Employees asked for casual Fridays; perhaps managers should introduce conversational Thursdays,” she says.

I suspect though that paralegals are a bit less susceptible to this particular disorder as their roles frequently require them to interact with others – clients, clerks, witnesses, etc. But just in case, monitor yourself. Don’t wait for a manager to start up a conversation!

 

Drop That Cliche

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Many posts here discuss the importance of writing right and the consequences of sloppiness in writing. Today’s entry is on the writing right side and comes in toto (note: avoid using latin terms when writing) from Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog:

Clichés in your legal draftsmanship should be as unwelcome as a skunk at a lawn party and as rare as hen’s teeth, but, unfortunately, they’re a dime a dozen. The cliché site can at least tell you what that hackneyed phrase really means, so maybe you can find a more original way to say it.

I don’t really have a dog in this race but remember, when it comes to using cliches, that dog won’t hunt.

North Carolina’s Program for Paralegal Certification

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Patti’s Paralegal Page today posted the link to the  new The North Carolina State Bar Handbook noting that the rules governing the certification of paralegals can be found in Subchapter G.

The stated purpose of the rules is certainly laudable:

The purpose of this plan for certification of paralegals (plan) is to assist in
the delivery of legal services to the public by identifying individuals who are
qualified by education and training and have demonstrated knowledge, skill,
and proficiency to perform substantive legal work under the direction and
supervision of a licensed lawyer, and including any individual who may be
otherwise authorized by applicable state or federal law to provide legal services
directly to the public; and to improve the competency of those individuals
by establishing mandatory continuing legal education and other requirements
of certification.

And the powers and duties of the certification board are quite formidable:

Subject to the general jurisdiction of the council and the North Carolina

Supreme Court, the board shall have jurisdiction of all matters pertaining to certification

of paralegals and shall have the power and duty

(1) to administer the plan of certification for paralegals;

(2) to appoint, supervise, act on the recommendations of, and consult with

committees as appointed by the board or the chairperson;

(3) to certify paralegals or deny, suspend or revoke the certification of paralegals;

(4) to establish and publish procedures, rules, regulations, and bylaws to

implement this plan;

(5) to propose and request the council to make amendments to this plan

whenever appropriate;

(6) to cooperate with other boards or agencies in enforcing standards of professional

conduct;

(7) to evaluate and approve continuing legal education courses for the purpose

of meeting the continuing legal education requirements established by the

board for the certification of paralegals;

(8) to cooperate with other organizations, boards and agencies engaged in the

recognition, education or regulation of paralegals; and

(9) to set fees, with the approval of the council, and to, in appropriate circumstances,

waive such fees.

Here are the “Privileges and Limiations” of certification under the program:

Privileges Conferred and Limitations Imposed

The board in the implementation of this plan shall not alter the following

privileges and responsibilities of lawyers and their non-lawyer assistants.

(1) No rule shall be adopted which shall in any way limit the right of a lawyer

to delegate tasks to a non-lawyer assistant or to employ any person to assist him

or her in the practice of law.

(2) No person shall be required to be certified as a paralegal to be employed

by a lawyer to assist the lawyer in the practice of law.

(3) All requirements for and all benefits to be derived from certification as a

paralegal are individual and may not be fulfilled by nor attributed to the law firm

or other organization or entity employing the paralegal.

(4) Any person certified as a paralegal under this plan shall be entitled to represent

that he or she is a “North Carolina Certified Paralegal (NCCP)”, a “North

Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal (NCSB/CP)” or a “Paralegal Certified by

the North Carolina State Bar Board of Paralegal Certification.”

Of course, the real nuts and bolts of the program are in the Standards for Certification which are too long to post here. However, the issue of certification and regulation of paralegals is important enough that it is worthwhile reading through the requirements of North Carolina’s program. 

I do note that the educational requirements can be satisfied by obtaining a J.D. While I understand the reasoning behind this, we do need to keep in mind that there are significant differences between the roles of attorneys and those of paralegals. A J. D.  does not necessarily (and most likely does not) provide a person with the skills necessary to be a professional paralegal. The hope, I suppose is that the other standards for certification compensate for this, thus ensuring that those certified are qualified to do paralegal work.

In any case, I’d like to here from North Carolina paralegals and attorney with their impressions of the program and how it is working.

Managing Mobile Technology Risks

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Two posts in a recent edition of ABAJournal.com News , directed at lawyers, seem of equal importance to paralegals. Apparently Mark Hansen has been attending the ABA Techshow as he reports on two presentations whose initial lines seem to be contradictory: “Hot Topic: Keeping Data Secure at the Coffee Shop” that warns “freedom to access the Internet practically whenever and wherever we want carries risks from thieves, hackers and nosy neighbors—a possible ethical violations of client privacy” and “Don’t Let Fear Block Your Mobile Versatility” that states, “lawyers can reasonably protect sensitive data by taking a few fairly simple precautions.”

However, the theme is really consistent – and important: The mobility technology on which we are all coming to rely more and more presents great opportunities, but also some risks. The key to take advantage of the opportunities, but take steps to manage the risks. The theme of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” is such management. The point is to identify a problem, survey and develop options for resolving the problem or at least managing its effects, deciding on a plan for addressing the problem, implementing the plan, and assessing the results. The principles are applied to time, work space, workload, client, attorney, and litigation management, but can – and should – be applied to management of the use and risks of that use of technology, especially mobile technology. Perhaps I’ll cover the topic in the next edition, but since a new edition is not even in the works at the moment, take a few minutes to read the ABAJournal.composts by clicking the links above.

More Paralegal Crimes

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

After a little span marked by the absence of paralegal crimes on my news feed, I find two such stories today.

There is an inherent conflict in the role of paralegals. On the one hand they are expected to be reliable, responsible, self-starting individuals able to work independently of hands-on direct monitoring. On the other, they are supposed to work under the supervision of an attorney. The extent of the necessary supervision is open to discussion and has been discussed here several times. However, without offensive to the thousands of honest paralegals, that supervision really ought to include regularly double-checking and auditing of accounts under the charge of the paralegals as this story indicates:

Ex-Pima County paralegal pleads guilty in fraud case

Kim Smith, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Monday, April 2, 2012 12:02 pm

A former paralegal with the Pima County Attorney’s Office pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery with intent to defraud Monday in Pima County Superior Court.

Brenda Pinckney could be placed on probation by Judge Michael Miller next month or she could receive a prison term of between 1 1/2 and 7 1/2 years.

Pinckney, who worked for 12 years at the Pima County Attorney’s Office, was indicted Jan. 5 on charges alleging she stole more than $4,000 from the office – money intended to reimburse crime victims and witnesses for travel to Pima County Superior Court and per diem costs.

She faced 19 felony charges including fraud, theft, forgery and aggravated taking the identity of another person.

As part of her job, Pinckney, 36, was responsible for obtaining funds from petty cash and giving them to the witnesses.

Pinckney was accused of submitting reimbursement requests for nonexistent addresses and for court events that didn’t happen, according to a letter notifying Pinckney of her impending termination. She was also accused of not returning the required receipts or forging the signatures of victims and witnesses on the receipts she did return.

Some of the receipts were for travel from as far as San Jose, Calif.; Hermosillo, Sonora; and Page.

On Monday, Pinckney admitted submitting false reimbursement forms for travel to and from Yuma and Flagstaff for more than $442.

The key here is probably the fact that she worked in the office for 12 years and played off the trust she had built up over those years.

The next story is not so easy to fathom. First there is no indication as to why the alleged prepetrator is being labelled a “paralegal” and there is little indication as to what the “paralegal’s” role was in the scheme. But we have seen the phenomenon before. In all likelihood there is a split in this cases. In some the paralegal is a knowing, willing, and perhaps avid participant because of their inherent character. But I also suspect there are a fair number of paralegals who start out honest, but become involved in schemes hatched by attorneys or other persons in power over the paralegal out of fear of saying “No,” desire to please, or lack of understanding of the import of what they are being asked to do. In any case, here’s the second story of an alleged paralegal crime.

Massachusetts Paralegal Charged in Property Mortgage Scam

 

(Source: IRS) – MARCH 30, 2012 – BOSTON – A paralegal was charged late yesterday in connection with a multi-year, multi-property mortgage fraud scheme.  Rebecca L. Konsevick, 40, of Roslindale, was charged by Information with bank fraud and money laundering.

The Information alleges that from 2006 through 2008, Konsevick committed fraud in connection with condominium sales in Massachusetts. It is alleged that a developer identified multiple-family buildings for sale, recruited straw buyers to purchase the buildings and that the developer and others then recruited straw buyers to purchase individual units in buildings that the developer controlled.

According to the Information, the straw buyers’ financing for the purchases was obtained by falsely representing key information to lenders. The developer and others allegedly caused loan applications containing false representations regarding the buyers’ income, employment, assets, and/or intention to reside in the condominiums to be submitted to mortgage lenders. In addition, Konsevick and the developer caused HUD-1 settlement statements to be submitted to the same lenders, falsely representing that straw buyers had paid funds in connection with the property transactions, and falsely representing how the proceeds of the mortgage loans were disbursed. It is further alleged that Konsevick falsely signed certifications on these HUD-1 settlement statements and closed the relevant property deals.

If convicted on the bank fraud counts, Konsevick faces up to 30 years in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release and a $1 million fine. If convicted of money laundering, Konsevick faces up to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.