Archive for June, 2012

Paralegal Certification and the ABA

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

As usual I am behind in my reading. I am just now noticing that 29 days ago Marianna Fradman of the NYCPA posted a link on the NYCPA LinkedIn discussion board entitled, “A Warning to All of the ‘ABA Certified Paralegals” on Law.com Legal Blog Watch, which itself was a synopsis of Chere Estrin’s article entitled, “Are you a “Certified Paralegal”? Maybe not.” The gist of the article is this:

I’m on my soapbox today with a pet peeve. I noticed that some paralegals are putting “ABA Certified Paralegal” on their resumes, social media or announcing it to friends and employers. Here’s a suggestion: Stop now while you still can! Save yourself some embarrassment or even keep yourself from getting rejected from a job!

The ABA does not offer certification. Certification is a process of taking a very rigorous exam that is based upon work experience and knowledge. It is not your final exam in paralegal school. Generally, you need to meet certain educational and work experience requirements, submit an application for approval, pay a fee and take the exam in a secured environment.

For example, The Organization of Legal Professionals, OLP, offers a certification exam in eDiscovery.

The full article is worth the read, especially since it includes the correct way to reference graduating from an ABA approved program.

This is just one of the many problems arise from the current state of the paralegal profession. As I previously noted here, and more extensively in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, even attorneys can be confused leading to must frustration for both paralegals and attorneys on the legal team.

Those interested in paralegal regulation and certification should check out the fine articles included in The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.

The Male Voice

Monday, June 25th, 2012

I recently returned to the topic of men in the paralegal profession, noting the first male graduate of a particular paralegal education program. So I am particularly pleased to see that in this month’s The Paralegal Voice Vicki and Lynne “welcome two male paralegals — one with extensive experience and the other newer to the profession — to get the male perspective and their interesting insight on male paralegals in the profession today.” Here’s more info from Vicki Voisin’ The Paralegal Mentor website:

Carl H. Morrison II, PP, AACP is a Senior Certified Paralegal with Rhodes, Hieronymus, Jones, Tucker & Gable, in Tulsa, Oklahoma where he specializes in insurance defense, medical products, medical malpractice, vaccine litigation, asbestos litigation, products liability and dram shop liability. He has a degree in Biological Sciences (Pre-Med) and is a NALS Certified Professional Paralegal (PP), as well as an American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP).
Zachary W. Brewer, CP is a paralegal with Hall Estill, one of the larger firms in Oklahoma. He specializes in medical malpractice and has expanded into other areas, including banking, transactional, divorce and nursing home litigation. Zach has an interesting educational background with an AA in History from Tulsa Community College (TCC) and a BA in History from the University of Tulsa. He received his teaching certification in secondary education from Northeastern State University and he graduated from the paralegal studies program at TCC. He also earned his Certified Paralegal credential from NALA.
Carl and Zach discussed:

What they do in their paralegal jobs.
What drew them to the paralegal profession.
Is there an increase in men enrolling in paralegal programs?
How they found their first jobs.
Does a “glass elevator” exist, allowing male paralegals to advance faster than females
Challenges male paralegals face.
Their advice for men considering the paralegal profession.

For information on how to contact Carl and Zach, and for Vicki & Lynne’s monthly practice tip and social media tip, be sure to listen to this episode. It’s easy…and it’s free! Just click on the following links:

Page URL: http://legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/paralegal-voice/2012/05/the-best-paralegal-law-technology-trends/

MP3 Link: http://legaltalkmedia.com/LTN/PLV/PLV_052912_NewTech.mp3

The Paralegal Voice also thanks its sponsor: NALA…The Association of Paralegals and Legal Assistants.

Update with Links:Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Rule approved‏

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

I’m still traveling, taking a side trip to San Francisco after the very productive AAfPE Board of Directors Meeting in San Diego, but wanted to pass on this from Brian Haberly of the Washington State Paralegal Association:

Last Friday, the Washington State Supreme Court approved a proposal from the WA State Practice of Law Board authorizing the creation of a new Admission to Practice Rule 28, setting out some basic guidelines for a new category of non-attorney legal service provider.

The Washington State Paralegal Association is still reviewing the order and we have long been advocates of expanding the role of well seasoned, tested, and bonded paralegals to help close the gap of unmet legal needs in our state.

He sent along a copy of the order, but I have not had time to review more than the first two of its 25 pages. What I’ve seen so far is interesting, especially in the court’s recognition of the role of paralegals in meeting unmet legal needs.  I’ll post more later and, if I can figure out how to do it, attach the order to that post.

Brian has been kind enough to provide these links:
http://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/?fa=newsinfo.pressdetail&newsid=2136

http://www.courts.wa.gov/content/publicUpload/Press%20Releases/25700-A-1005.pdf

AAfPE

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

I’m in San Diego for a meeting of the American Association for Paralegal Education Board of Directors Meeting. What issues in paralegal education do you think should be on our agenda?

Avoiding Missed Deadlines

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

In his blog post today, Judge Primeaux drew attention to the importance of proper calendar/tickler management, doing an excellent job of describing the system most of used when I started practicing 35 years ago. The point cannot be emphasized enough. If his post was lacking in any respect, it was that it did not make clear the way in which paralegals and attorneys can work as a team to minimize the the problem of missed deadline.

I followed up on his post with this comment:

This is an excellent and important point, one that I emphasize in all my paralegal classes and focus on in my first “The Empowered Paralegal” book [The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.] There are many intermediate methods for calendar management, including use of the Calendar function in Outlook and most other email program. A few points merit emphasis:

 1. Proper calendar management is a two person function. The paralegal and attorney should coordinate calendars and ticklers frequently, cross-checking each other. The problems avoided by having two persons ensuring timeliness far outweigh the little time it takes each person.;

 2. More than one calendar is helpful if you are using a paper system – the attorney’s calendar with all the entries important to her, the paralegal’s calendar for her deadlines, and a joint calendar for all major dates;

3. The calendar should contain not only deadlines, but intermediate steps – Answers to Interrogatories are due in 30 days, but the calendar should have dates for getting them to the client, getting necessary information from the client, a first draft date, etc.

 4. This type of organization should extend beyond the tickler/calendar to the attorney’s (and paralegal’s) workspace management, file management, client management, and -most importantly- time management.

NFPA

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Several items of interest today from NFPA (National Federation of Paralegal Associations.) They serve to illustrate the benefits to paralegal professionals and the paralegal profession of active membership in paralegal professional associations such as NFPA, NALA, and NALS. Check out this blog’s blog roll for links to many of these fine organizations.

1. Through Patricia Lyons of Roger Williams University on the AAfPE (American Association for Paralegal Education) listserv:

The NFPA-Thomson Reuters Scholarship deadline is fast-approaching!  All scholarship packages must be submitted to NFPA by July 1, 2012!  The first place scholarship is $3000 and second place is $2000 plus a stipend for travel to attend the NFPA Convention in Anchorage, Alaska!

The link to the application, etc. is at href=http://www.paralegals.org/associations/2270/files/2011content/2012_Thomson_Reuters_Scholarship_Application.pdf<

Also, for those who work with practicing paralegals or know of lawyers who work with paralegals, there are additional links to awards information so that paralegals can be recognized for their accomplishments to the paralegal profession.  They can be found at: href=http://www.paralegals.org/associations/2270/files/2011content/2012_Awards_Brochure.pdf

2. From NFPA through a LinkedIn announcement:

The new NFPA website (www.paralegals.org) is a complete redesign…We designed for both the technology of today and tomorrow…Behind the scenes, there are many ways the new website design will help NFPA HQ be better able to serve you and many more additions will be worked on over the summer.

Moreover, the new site’s technological underpinnings are very extensible. We will be able to add new features and enhance existing ones using HQ resources, not expensive web design firms. We feel that what we are unveiling is great in its own right, but more than that, we see it as a foundation to build upon for even more member value in the future.

3.  From  a LinkedIn discussion forum post by Rebecca Vazquez:

Statistics project…anyone’s stats would be greatly appreciated!!

I’m doing a Statistics project with regard to paralegals/paralegal students. Can anyone weigh in with the following stats:

1. Did you go to school for a certificate or degree?
2. What area(s) of law do you work in?
3. How many years experience do you have?
4. If you are no longer a paralegal but were once, how many years did you work before you quit?

I’m trying to determine the percentage of years that paralegals who graduate with a certificate/degree work in the field compared to the percentage of years those who don’t have a degree or certificate work.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

I can’t vouch for the scientific validity of a statistics project done through LinkedIn, but the results will be of interest in any case. If you’d like to add to the data, post a comment here or email me and I’ll forward the info to Rebecca through LinkedIn. Or you can do it yourself through the NFPA LinkedIn group.

Being Too Influential

Monday, June 4th, 2012

ABA Journal.com recently posted an article entitled, “Staff of Reclusive Heiress Coerced Her Out of $44M in Gifts, Executor Says,” regarding an action brought against nurses, doctors, a hospital, a lawyer and an accountant for reclusive heiress Huguette Clark claiming they coerced or influenced her out of more than $44 million in gifts. I know nothing more about the facts of the case and whether or not Clark was unduly influenced by these people. However, the article raises some issues addressed here previously and at least one that has not yet been the focus of a post here, although it is discussed extensively in The Empowered Paralegal: Working with the Elder Client.

One previously discussed issue is the role of a paralegal as a “watchdog” both in general and with regard to practices within ones own law firm. That is, it is incumbent upon the professional paralegal to see can be seen and sometimes notice what is not there to be seen, make an appropriate record and when necessary “do the right thing.” Another is how a paralegal should handle ethical violation on the part of an attorney.

Not previously discussed and thus the focus here is the danger that legal professionals might unduly influence their clients without intending to do so. Consider this excerpt from Working with the Elder Client:

Avoiding unintentional undue influence by the legal professional

The importance of the various methods of making advance decisions is that the client can make the decision that best suits their own beliefs. Having a living will or an advanced health care directive does not compel a client to choose an approach in opposition to their own beliefs. It simply allows them to make the decision rather than leave it to someone else, someone who may not share their beliefs. Establishing a “fair” estate plan, must be done using the client’s conception of fairness, not ours.

We must be careful in discussing these options with clients that we do not judge their decisions or let them feel we do not approve of their decision. As noted previously, the elderly, especially those who are seriously ill, can be particularly vulnerable to outside influences. While many people become less concerned about what others think of them as they grow older, some others suffer from loss of a sense of self that can make them more susceptible to such influence. Our role is to assist the client in determining and effectuating their wishes, not to judge, shame, or persuade the client to our way of thinking.

It is often difficult to gauge our own prejudices and the way they affect our demeanor and approach to client. It is important that we reflect carefully on our own preferences. For example, it is my belief that options for making decisions regarding end-of-life healthcare can be arranged in a descending order, i.e., that the first is better than the second, the second better than the third, and so on.

I view these options as belonging to one of three categories. In the first, the client makes as many health care decisions for himself in advance as he can and designates someone to make only those decisions which were not anticipated in advance. In the second, the client makes no decisions in advance except the designation of the person or persons who will make necessary decisions on her behalf. Finally, there is the option of taking no action. In this instance, the client should understand that taking no action is itself making a decision. The client decides to allow someone designated by state law to make the decisions on her behalf. However, throughout the discussion we must keep in mind that the paralegal’s role is to inform (and for the attorney to advise), not to convince or persuade, a client even unintentionally…

As discussed extensively in Working, it is often difficult to tell when a client is being unduly influenced by outsiders. It can be even more difficult when we ourselves are involved, even when that involvement is nothing more than the very provision of legal services for which our clients have turned to us.

Evaluating Paralegal Performance

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

After traveling for a week and relaxing for another here at our cottage in Maine, I’m catching up a bit on my internet browsing. This morning I found a reference to The Empowered Paralegal in a web article entitled “The Strengths of a Paralegal” and followed a link to “What is a Performance Contract for Paralegals.”* The latter article correctly notes that most of the time there is no specific “performance contract” written and signed by the paralegal and the employer. Rather there are a set of documents including a basic employment contract (although often even this is just an oral agreement,) a job description (although there is often nothing in writing in this regard either and often this leads to confusion, misunderstanding, and frustration on the part of both the paralegal and employer – In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I recommend creating a specific job description for the job you are actually doing for several reasons,” and some sort of “annual review evaluation form.”

The article gives a brief list and discussion of some of the strengths that are normally included on the evaluation form. It also included the statement, “Though few employees relish having their work scrutinized, a performance contract based on objective criteria can actually encourage paralegals to assess their own strengths so they can grow professionally.” This is also quite true and a point made here several times. Professional, empowered paralegals should look forward to annual evaluations. Indeed, in The Empowered Paralegal” I “join Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor in recommending requesting more frequent reviews – quarterly or even monthly. Rather than having the attorney/manager evaluating you on a year’s performance with you having no idea what they are thinking or looking for, ask for a copy of the evaluation form and prepare for it.

As I’ve stated previously, I suggest that paralegals request (at least) a quarterly review and, to a great degree, that they take control of the review process. As I point out in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, “Empowerment does not come from the outside. It comes from within. It is not granted, it is earned. The empowered paralegal gains that power and the confidence that comes with being professional, and by being a competent, effective and efficient member of the legal team.” Part of that process is going into a review already aware of your own value to the legal team.

Start by recording successes. This has several advantages. It provides a resource for review in preparation for evaluations and it can be useful in re-establishing self-esteem and self-confidence at the end of those (we hope infrequent) bad days. It is good to keep a notebook with copies of CLE certificates, thank-yous or compliments from clients and attorneys, certifications, volunteer activities, professional association activities, and every other honor or recognition you receive during the year (including times when you have patted yourself on the back for a job well done.) Include the plans you have implemented to deal with the “constructive suggestions for improvement” from the last evaluation and records showing the improvement has occurred.

Bring that notebook with you to all your evaluations. Even if you never open it, it will help empower you during the evaluation.

*Other than the mention of this blog on the first page, I have not connection with this site. The reference to it here is not an endorsement of the site or any of its advertisers.