Archive for July, 2012

Dealing with Diva -or Divo – Attorney

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

ABAJournal.com posts a “law office worker” who wrote to a newspaper advice column (I hope this is not becoming a trend) who “worked for three male “diva” lawyers…Each expects the staff to bump the other two lawyers’ work for their projects and throws a snit fit when he needs something done and those of us ‘here to serve’ can’t make ourselves immediately available .” I suspect many of you will recognize the situation. At times this sounds like a description of the typical law office!

Here the situation got out of hand, however, according to the writer, ” one of the lawyers, “John,” became enraged after the worker said “no can do” to his new rush project that needed to be completed by noon. The worker was already swamped with two other rush projects. “Before I could explain, John lunged toward me cursing loudly,” the worker writes. “He had his fists raised and was almost on top of me with one fist an inch from my nose. I panicked, jumped out of my chair and headed for the door. John got between me and the door and pointed at the desk, yelling, ‘Sit down and do it!’ ” John retreated when the office manager walked by with two clients.

The advice columnist, advised that the worker could sue the lawyer for, e.g., assault. I suspect that the “law office worker” already knew that (he or she almost certainly did if he or she was a paralegal), but was asking for advice on whether, as her friends suggested, he or she would be “out of her mind” for doing so. The writer was astute enough to know that being able to sue does not necessarily mean one ought to sue. (A concept client often have difficulty grasping.)

Handling difficult attorneys can indeed be difficult and at times we can all be difficult! Managing the attorney/paralegal relationship is the topic of an entire chapter of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. Suing the attorney or the law office is not an option discussed there because the goal is to preserve and nurture the relationship. Here though it appears the situation is beyond managing, especially since the worker received no support from the office manager, and the worker rightly terminated employment at the law office. Certainly the attorney’s conduct is reprehensible and my initial inclination is that somebody should do something about that conduct. Still it is not necessarily in the worker’s best interest to be that somebody.

While the attorneys may all be divas, they will likely band together and “circle the wagons” in the face of a lawsuit. (Note that the worker received no support from the office manager.) Anything and everything bad that can be said about the worker will be said – in a public forum. Even in a large legal community, this sort of dispute makes the rounds real fast. While workers and even office managers in other offices will be quite sympathetic and empathetic, it is also likely that the chances of the worker being hired in another law office will be greatly diminished. Some will wonder who was really at fault, some will recognize that their office is really like the other one and suspect the worker will not be able to handle the attorney there either,  some will not to risk offending the law office the worker left, etc., etc.  Thus while I agree the worker could sue on several grounds (many of which will be covered in The Empowered Paralegal Cause of Action Handbook), I would need to know a lot more about the worker and the situation itself before advising the worker as to whether he or she should sue. What do you think?

On a separate issue can John be a diva? The  traditional definition of “diva” is “a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality <a fashion diva>; especially : a popular female singer <pop divas>.” Clearly John meets no part of this definition, but the word has taken on a wider connotation in modern usage. However, according to Urban Dictionary, all usages seem to contemplate a female rather than a male.  But there is more. Consider this:

But the distinguishing factor is that her talent permits somewhat uncouth behaviour. A diva is not necessarily difficult to work with, she is just very professional and and has a low tolerance for incompetence. A diva is NOT just some no-talent pop singer who thinks everyone should acquiesce to her every whim, or even worse, some woman who is unecessarily rude, mean, bitchy, and often stupid just because she “knows what she wants” and revels in being high maitenance. These woman do not deserve the title of diva, because they have no redeeming talent or quality. They are simply loud and oboxious bitches. True divas should be treated with respect for their enormous talent and strong will.

Aside from the fact that it appears one need not know how to use a dictionary to get spelling correct in order to make an entry in the Urban Dictionary, the entry makes a good point, at least as I understand the term “diva.” While there is little information provided about John, the assaulting attorney, it seems quite questionable whether he has the redeeming talent or quality to be considered a true diva as opposed to just being “unecessarily rude, mean, bitchy, and often stupid.” Even so, John does not appear to be female. So what, assuming he has some redeeming talent or quality, would be call a male who, if female, would be a diva? Be careful what you chose – it may appear in the pleadings.

NALA Releases Job Task Analysis Report

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
From the NALA via AAfPE listserv:
Greetings! 
NALA’s Certifying Board has recently released the attached Job Task Analysis Report based on a nationwide survey of paralegals earlier this year. I’m also attaching the Press Release announcing the release of the report. This report should be of great interest to paralegal program directors, and I believe you will find it informative. 

The report is also posted on the NALA website, free to all, if you have a problem uploading it because of its length. Here’s the link to the report – http://nala.org/Upload/file/PDF-Files/Certification/Report-for%20web%20site.pdf.

Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions.
Karen

Karen Greer McGee, ACP
NALA President 2010-2012

To Peek or Not to Peek / To Complain or Not to Complain

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

ABAJournal.com posts today about a paralegal that was mistakenly given a part-time attorney’s paycheck and was shocked to see the attorney was paid more than the paralegal. The post entitled, “Paralegal Peeks at Part-Time Lawyer’s Check, Takes Pay Peeve to Advice Columnist
was posted by Debra Cassens Weiss, reports that the paralegal then wrote to the “Ask Amy” advice column to complain about pay inequity saying,
“I’ve made a lot of money for the firm. Because of all my hard work, the firm has hired two new attorneys (one is part-time). By accident my manager gave me the part-time attorney’s paycheck, and I was floored. She makes way more than I do!”

Weiss states:

Ask Amy replies that it’s possible the firm’s success is due to more than just the paralegal’s efforts, and it’s the marketplace that determines worth. “You are comparing apples to wheelbarrows,” the columnist writes.

She says the paralegal should negotiate for more money by getting a job offer from another firm and leveraging it into more money from the present employer.

Some of the commentors to the post think the last piece of advice is not good. What do you think? Once the paralegal realized the check was not hers, should she have “peeked” at the amount as is implied by the post’s title? Was it a good idea to air her concern in the “Ask Amy” column? Where else could/should she have gone for advice? What advice would you give her?

More on Washington State Licensing Rule

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

I’m just now finding my way to looking closer at the new Washington Admission to Practice Rule 28 which creates a new legal service provider category named Limited License Legal Technician assisted by the post on the AAfPE LinkedIn discussion board by Sally Bisson, J.D., Professor and Director of Paralegal Program at College of Saint Mary. She links to a news release at legaco.com that provides a nice synopsis of the rule.

Those of you who have read my posts on great need for a solution to the access to justice problem in the U.S. and my strong belief that paralegals are likely to be a major part of that solution (See “Access to Justice” category) would probably guess my enthusiasm for the Court’s reasoning:

According to the Washington State Supreme Court:

“ there are people who need only limited levels of assistance that can be provided by non-lawyers trained and overseen within the frameworks of the regulator system. … This assistance should be available and affordable. Our system of justice requires it…[P]rotecting the monopoly status of attorneys in any practice area is not a legitimate objective.”

While the licensed personnel will be called “Legal Technicians” it is interesting to note the requirements for the license include paralegal training:

Requirements

In order to be licensed, Legal Technicians must:

  • have a formal paralegal training, and paralegal job experience,
  • have completed at least 20 hours of pro bono legal service in Washington State within the prior two years,
  • take and pass an exam and pay annual license fees,
  • show proof of financial responsibility,
  • have a principal place of business with a physical street address in Washington State,
  • personally perform services for the client,
  • complete a number of credit hours in courses or activities approved by the Board,
  • enter into a written contract describing their services and fees with their client prior of the performance of services.

While the license will not permit activities as extensive as those allowed in Ontario (see “Canada” category,) the list of permitted activities goes well beyond what is allow in most (if not all – I did not check California’s rules today) American jurisdictions:

Scope of Practice

Legal Technicians are allowed to:

  • explain facts and relevancy,
  • inform the client of procedures and “anticipated course of the legal proceeding,”
  • provide the client with self-help materials approved by the Board or prepared by a Washington state lawyer,
  • review and explain the other sides documents and exhibits,
  • select and complete forms approved by various groups,
  • perform legal research and write legal letters and documents, but only if reviewed by a Washington lawyer,
  • advise the client about other needed documents,
  • assist the client in obtaining needed documents.

One concern for those of us advocating an expanded role for paralegals is the ability to monitor for “bad behavior,” a task now rather cumbersomely performed indirectly through discipline of the supervising attorney. The Washington rule applies many of those rules directly to the practitioner:

Legal Technician-Client Relationship

Additionally, rules regarding attorney-client privilege and fiduciary responsibility to the client apply to the Legal Technician-client relationship to the same extent as they apply to attorney-client relationships.

I will definitely being keeping an eye on the implementation of this rule and the effects of that implementation on the public and the practitioners. In a few years perhaps we will have a report similar to that just issued on the “Ontario experiment.”

Canadian Experiment Report

Friday, July 6th, 2012

I’ve often discussed or referred to the particular form of regulation of paralegals established in Ontario, Canada.  That discussion has included comments about or from persons who do not view the program favorably. (See “Canada” category.) Under the program, regulated paralegals can perform many lawyer-type functions without the supervision of an attorney. The program has been in effect for five years now and the Law Society of Upper Canada has presented a report to Attorney General John Gerretsen, declaring it a success. Of course, those who object to the role of the Law Society in the program (and other more objective observers) will be somewhat cynical about the objectivity of the report.

Nevertheless, the report is important reading for those concerned about the future of paralegal regulation and indeed the paralegal profession itself in American. According to the press release,

…the report shows that paralegals and the public have both benefited from regulation.

The extensive review looked at whether Law Society regulation had established fair and transparent licensing processes, reasonable standards of competence and conduct, and fair and transparent investigative and disciplinary processes for paralegals. It also examined the effect that regulation has had on licensed paralegals and the public who have used their services…

As part of the review process, the Law Society solicited submissions from paralegals, lawyers, legal organizations and members of the public, and received 26 submissions – 12 from organizations and 14 from individuals. All of these submissions were considered in the preparation of the report.

A consultant conducted extensive research, including focus groups with paralegals and members of the public who have used paralegal services. Online surveys of licensed paralegals and users of paralegal services were also conducted. These research findings helped to inform the report’s analysis.

“Results show that paralegals are well on their way to establishing a prestigious and well-regarded profession,” said Law Society Treasurer Thomas G. Conway. “Paralegal regulation has provided consumer protection while maintaining access to justice. The Law Society is proud of all that has been accomplished in the past five years and we are pleased to present this report to the Attorney General.”

When I return to campus at the end of the month, I will try to get a copy of the complete report for further comment and discussion.