Archive for November, 2012

Who is he talking about?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

According to ABAJournal.comVermont Law School Plans to Downsize Staff; Dean Says Nonlawyer Specialists Will Do More Legal Work The dean and president of Vermont Law School states:

The field of health care has been transformed with more cost-effective treatment by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and the legal field will follow with less work being done by lawyers, according to a law dean who is preparing for changes ahead by downsizing…

Mihaly told AP that law firms will no longer be staffed only with lawyers. ‘‘The market and technology are going to take that model and shake it,” he said. Firms will instead give more work to specialists who have less than three years of legal training, he said.

This is not surprising.  As regular readers of this blog know I view paralegals as a large part of the solution to the access to justice problem in the United States. However, the profession will not be able realize its full potential until it is recognized as a profession in the same sense that physician assistants and nurse practitioners are in the medial field as mentioned by Mihaly. There has been great progress in this regard, usually lead by paralegal professional associations such as NALA, NFPA, and NALS.

But let’s talk a bit more about  who these “specialists who have less than three years of legal training” are as it presents quite an array of opportunities for paralegals. For example, I am presently schedule to present as part of a six part webinar sponsored by the Organization of Legal Professionals on the Role of the Trial Technician. This edition starts in February of 2013. (It was last presented at the end of 2011 and this will be a “new and improved” version.) OLP also provides training and certification in e-discovery specialties.  In short, Mihaly is talking about a paralegal with specialized experience, training, and certification. If he sees the future correctly (and I think he does), the world is just beginning to open up for the effective, efficient, and professional paralegal.

Disclosure: I am also on the OLP Advisory Board although OLP seems to do quite well with little advice from me!

Interview Anyone?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

I’ve received the following email from a paralegal student in Beaver Dam, WI:

I’m a student and I’m looking for a paralegal to interview. I was wondering if you could help me out or direct me to someone. I’m not having much luck locally finding someone so I just began searching online.

Thank you,

Dawn

If you are willing to do an online interview (or an in-person interview if you are in or near Beaver Dam, WI), please contact me via email or comments. Thanks!

It Can Happen to You

Monday, November 19th, 2012

I recently posted about my needing to learn to tweet. I fully intend to do so over the winter break at Ole Miss. However, more important than simply learning what to tweet is knowing what and when to tweet! Consider this from  ABAJournal.com:

A research lawyer for a Kansas appeals court has been suspended pending an investigation into her critical tweets about the state’s former anti-abortion attorney general during a supreme court ethics hearing.

The lawyer, Sarah Peterson Herr, posted tweets calling former Attorney General Phill Kline a “naughty, naughty boy” and criticizing his facial expression, report the Associated Press, the Topeka Capital-Journal and WND. “Why is Phil Klein [sic] smiling?” she wrote. “There is nothing to smile about, douchebag.”

Herr predicted Kline would be disbarred for seven years as a result of charges claiming he or his subordinates misled others during an investigation of abortion providers. WND describes Herr’s tweets as “snarky” and “self-satisfied.”

True this is about a lawyer, not a paralegal, but paralegals are often in the same position and the same seemingly irresistible temptation. There was a time when yielding to such temptations was limited in scope, at least, to those time when one was off-guard, perhaps having had a cocktail too many at a social gathering, so the damage was also limited to a degree. But with today’s social media there is almost literally no end to the ripples that are set in place when one drops a pebble – or in this case a number of rocks – into the water. This is just one of the many perils of social media. (Leading me to create the new “Social Media” category.)
As many of you may have noticed though there is an even larger issue here as illustrated by one of the comments on the original ABAJournal.com post:

Herr should have keep her thoughts to herself at the least until after the matter was concluded.  The fact that her remarks became public is not what makes her conduct wrong.

Another Paralegal Honored by Military

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

As long as we are on the topic of the military honoring paralegals, (why don’t more private firms do this?):

Raising the bar

Master Sgt. Elena Lund, 94th Airlift Wing legal office superintendent, recently received the Air Force Reserve Command Outstanding Air Reserve Component Paralegal of the Year Award for 2011, also known as the David Westbrook Award. Lund was also presented a commander’s coin for her accomplishments.

The full story is not long, but it does emphasize the expectations for paralegals:

“It is pertinent that paralegals do what is asked of them,” said Lund. “It’s not necessarily expected that you go above and beyond, but it is certainly appreciated. You have to define your level of dedication to the corps by surpassing the standard.”

Although I do discuss with my students the reality that paralegals are expected to go above and beyond. Simply doing what is asked of you is seldom an option for any legal professional.

Congratulations, Lena!

Honoring honorees

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

When a paralegal is honored by his or her employers, by professional association, or by a public group, I like to recognize that recognition by posting about it here. Thus the “Awards and Honors” category. The problem is keeping up with all the news, especially during the busy parts of a semester. This semester I’ve required the students in our Advanced Seminar class to maintain a blog (their choice as to whether it’s a public blog or one available to the class only) and I have one of those students to thank for bringing this one to may attention and that of her classmates:

Raye Thornton, a paralegal with the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Office of Counsel, is presented the prestigious USACE Chief Counsel Keystone Award by District Commander Col. Michael Teague. The award recognizes professionalism and valued service of an individual member or of a team comprised of members of the USACE Legal Services System who made a significant contribution to the Corps Legal Services System and its mission.

Raye Thornton, a paralegal with the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Office of Counsel, is presented the prestigious USACE Chief Counsel Keystone Award by District Commander Col. Michael Teague. The award recognizes professionalism and valued service of an individual member or of a team comprised of members of the USACE Legal Services System who made a significant contribution to the Corps Legal Services System and its mission. (Photo by Sara Goodeyon)

Tulsa District attorney, paralegal honored with prestigious awards

Posted 10/16/2012

By Sara Goodeyon
Tulsa District

TULSA, Okla. – Two members of the Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of Counsel staff are winners of USACE Chief Counsel Honorary Awards for 2012.

The prestigious Keystone Award and E. Manning Seltzer Award were presented to Raye Thornton and Stephanie R. Darr in a ceremony at Tulsa District Headquarters Oct. 5 by District Commander Col. Michael Teague.

“I was surprised and kind of speechless when I heard about the award,” said Thornton, winner of the Keystone award. “I was very honored and humbled, and just completely surprised.”

….

Thornton is the sole paralegal in the Office of Counsel and also serves as the Freedom of Information Act officer. The Keystone Award, established in 1997, recognizes professionalism and valued service of an individual member or of a team comprised of members of the USACE Legal Services System who made a significant contribution to the Corps Legal Services System and its mission.

In a letter notifying Thornton of her selection as the award winner, Chief Counsel Earl Stockdale said, “the name of the Keystone Award refers to the arch which is the supporting element of the structure, without which the arch would fail. The term is reflective of the indispensible [sic]roles non-attorneys perform in the successful accomplishment of the Corps’ legal services mission.”

“Raye just does a great job in the FOIA program,” said Klein. “We’ve had a lot of big complex cases this year that she has dealt with really well, along with managing the office during a time of a lot of change.”

The story is about awards given to an attorney in the office as well as the paralegal, but I’ve edited to focus on the paralegal for obvious reasons. But there is also this:

 “Both Stephanie and Raye are just really, really top notch people who are always contributing and they deserve it immensely,” said Klein. “Usually a district will do well to have one chief counsel award; getting two in the same year is a good reflection of the caliber of people in our office.”
It may also reflect on the ability of attorneys and paralegals to work as a team and the excellence that results when they do!

The Wall

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

A recent post on the Paralegal Gateway LinkedIn Discussion Board linked to an posting at Law21 entitled, “And the walls came down…” in which Jordan Furlong explains “the challenges facing the legal profession today and outline the contours of the legal market of tomorrow.” The whole post is well worth the read, but of most interest to most of the readers of this blog (or at least to this blogger) is:

In my home province of Ontario, paralegals are members in full standing of the Law Society of Upper Canada, lawyers’ governing body. The United States will hold out against this trend longer than anyone else — except possibly India — but its arrival here is still only a matter of time. Lawyers will be sharing the market with non-lawyers, and I cannot overstate how important that will prove to be.

Furlong and I agree on this.  We are also in agreement regarding the conclusions to draw from it and the causes of it:

2. Non-lawyers will have proliferated throughout the market.

I dislike that term intensely, by the way: “non-lawyers.” We are the only profession I know that divides the world into “us” and “not us.” We use that term all the time, and we rarely appreciate how insulting it is to the people thus described.

But non-lawyers are coming. We are going to share this market with them. The sooner we accept that and start working to accommodate its impact, the better. They’re coming because they are proving their abilities and reliability every day. They’re coming because lawyers have claimed too much territory under the all-powerful description “the practice of law,” too many activities that do not require a lawyer’s rare and valuable skill and judgment.

And they are coming because we have done a lousy job of serving the entire legal market. Clients, both individual and corporate, are spending more and more and waiting longer and longer for outcomes that leave them less and less satisfied. And that’s just the people who can afford lawyers and the legal system in the first place. Many people are not even in the game at all.

And that is on us. These problems developed on our watch, under our administration and stewardship of the legal system. They are our responsibility. We have had ample opportunity to rectify them, and as everyone here knows, we have not moved fast enough or far enough. So governments and citizens are going to start saying, “Time to let someone else try.” Time to start putting the “Unauthorized Practice of Law” in the history books. Look at what’s happening in England and Wales, and recognize that eventually, inevitably, it will happen here.

I especially focus on the first point, a digression from Furlong’s main point that serves well to illustrate a large part of the problem:

I dislike that term intensely, by the way: “non-lawyers.” We are the only profession I know that divides the world into “us” and “not us.” We use that term all the time, and we rarely appreciate how insulting it is to the people thus described.

This is especially disturbing in its implications for the paralegal profession as it at least suggests that lawyers simply classify all “non-lawyers” as one group, not recognizing the special nature of the paralegal profession and its potential for resolving access to justice and other problems without simply abandoning the “unauthorized practice of law” concept. At the very least, if lawyers are going to create a wall between “us” and “them,” they should recognize that paralegals are and should be on their side of the wall. Working together as two professions that complement each other the two professions can tackle many of the problems set out by Furlong.

Fifty Years of Service

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

For most of you it’s likely difficult to imagine doing anything for fifty years. (I’m frequently amazed that I’ve practiced law for over 35!) It’s especially hard to envision a paralegal working as a paralegal for fifty years when the ABA did not recognize the profession until 1968. However, the ABA is frequently at least a few years behind the real world. I’m presently working on a course syllabus for a course that studies the paralegal profession through film, including 1949’s “Adams Rib” and, of course, Della Street from “Perry Mason.” But those are fiction, and now we have real life proof that there were people performing the functions of paralegals before the ABA recognized the profession as NewOK reveals in its story, “Paralegal marks 50 years with Oklahoma City law firm.”

Jo Balding “stumbled” into the job starting as a legal secretary according to the story, but it’s clear that the job ultimately demanded all the skills of a paralegal, including the ability to relieve stress. Here’s a bit of the story:

Balding said her job takes strong organizational skills and, with a lot of last-minute tasks, the ability to handle stress.

As a way of relieving stress, she said she joins friends she’s made through various quilters guilds in making quilts for wounded soldiers who return to the U.S., quilts for soldiers in Afghanistan and quilts for preemie babies at the various hospitals.

“It feels good to do something for someone else, and it’s calming and relaxing,” Balding said.

Crowe & Dunlevy directors Michael Laird and Brooke Murphy praise Balding’s five decades of service.

“For 50 years, Jo Balding has invested her intelligence, savvy, courage and wit in this firm and in the clients we serve. She has truly been the professionalism benchmark by which so many others who have come after her are judged,” Laird said.

“She understands the importance of strict attention to detail for each client matter on which she assists our attorneys,” Murphy said, “and she has dedicated her career to consistently maintaining high standards.”

So, congratulations to Jo Balding and to her firm!

Sandy Relief

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

The NYCPA, one of the most active and professional of all paralegal associations, has sent out this link for those seeking assistance from the effects of Sandy or seeking to help. I’m just passing it along: http://www.mynewyorklegalhelp.com/hurricanesandynyassistance/