Archive for November, 2013

Can doing right be wrong?

Friday, November 29th, 2013

The AP is reporting that the paralegal who supplied documents in fight against tobacco companies died in Mississippi last week.  As reported in the Star Tribune:

He worked for a Kentucky law firm representing the then-Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and leaked thousands of pages of internal memos and studies concerning smoking and health that provided newfound ammunition to tobacco opponents.

The information made national headlines. News organizations reported the information showed Brown & Williamson executives knew decades earlier that nicotine was addictive and that they funneled potentially damaging documents to lawyers to keep them secret.

A few years later, the tobacco industry agreed to a massive settlement with the states over smoking-related health costs.

The paralegal, Merrell Williams, said of himself, “”I think to a lot of people Merrell Williams is a hero,” he said of himself in the interview. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”  Certainly Williams isn’t the only one who regards him as a hero. What he did changed a lot of lives and may even have saved some. Still it is difficult to say he didn’t do anything wrong. He was after all a paralegal. Persons who take on that role assume the same obligation of confidentiality as the attorneys for whom they work.  Words like “leaked” and “whistleblower” are euphemistic words that tend to obscure the fact that what he did almost certainly violated that obligation. It is wrong to violate that obligation.

Anyone who practices as a legal professional for over three decades will likely run into circumstances that make honoring that obligation very difficult. I certainly have. I recall many sleepless nights struggling with the implications of being bound by rules of attorney-client confidentiality. Each time the obligation to maintain confidentiality won that struggle. I honestly cannot say what I would have done in Williams’ position. But if I chose the path he chose I would not be able to shake the feeling that in order to do something right I had done something quite wrong.

No room for fossils

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog post today entitled, “Twenty-First Century Fossils,” discusses ““fossilization of the hard drive.” This occurs when, as the Judge states,

when lawyers time and again have the same erroneous matter in pleadings, PSA’s, or other documents, and, when (again) brought to their attention the lawyers sheepishly admit the error and promise (again) to fix it. But they don’t. Because that error is saved countless times in other documents on the hard drive, and changing it once does not solve the problem.

A harmless example of what I am talking about is the lawyer in our district whose divorce complaints pled grounds thus: ” … guilty of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment as codiciled in MCA 93-5-1 …” That’s hard to eradicate when it appears in 1,000 other complaints stored — and fossilized — on the hard drive. Every time I called it to his attention, he professed he would fix it. After five years or so, he managed to pull it off somehow.

There are a number of solutions to this problem, one of which is discussed by the judge. Here’s mine: Create a folder on the hard drive labelled “Templates.” Client work goes into a folder for that client. (The client’s folder can have sub-folders if the office is handling more than one matter for that client.) Only the most recent “clean” documents sit in the template folder. Everyone in the office must be instructed to only use the template folder for templates and not to write over the template documents with client work. (There is a back-up folder in case the latter rule is broken.) The templates are revised each time a new pertinent rule, statute, or case ruling is promulgated. The template folder should be divided with sub-folders for the various types of documents frequently used by the office, e.g., “PSA,” “Deeds,” “Wills,” etc.

Gambian Paralegals

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

As long as I’m on the topic of paralegal in Africa and access to justice (as I was in a post earlier this week) consider this from “The Point” on

Thirty-five students from the University of The Gambia Law Faculty recently concluded a four-day intensive paralegal training at NaNA Conference hall.

The training, which kick-started on Tuesday, was organised by National Agency for Legal Aid (NALA) in collaboration with the West African Law Institute, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In his official opening statement, the executive director of NALA, Sanna Dahaba, said access to justice being a fundamental right on its own and one without which other rights such as the right to a fair trial cannot be realized, is at the epitome of human rights. …

According to him, NALA has been engaged in the provision of legal advice and representation to poor persons in The Gambia since its inception.

However, he said challenges to provision of Legal Aid by NALA and other service providers are compounded by limited financial and human resources constraints thus making the services accessible to only a negligible number of deserving persons.

He said the establishment of a Paralegal Scheme in collaboration with Law Faculty of the University of The Gambia and FLAG, therefore, would go a long way towards bridging the human resources gap in the successful delivery of legal aid services countrywide.

They will operate from all legal aid centres across the country thereby ensuring accessibility to justices at even the primary stages of the justice system to the society as a whole. (Emphasis added.)

And that after all really is the point.

Pamela the Paralegal: Paralegals Assisting Legal Professionals Affected by Disaster

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Pamela the Paralegals reports on her friend and mentor’s, Lyza Sandgren (CanopyLegal, LLC), “program to provide volunteer, experienced support to any legal professional caught in the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster to meet their deadlines and/or filing commitments when offices and computer equipment are not usable.”  Here’s the short version cribbed entirely from Pamela’s blog (the first link in this blog post takes you to the full report):

Paralegal Relief’s members are primarily independent paralegal businesses willing to provide short-term, courtesy paralegal, docketing, filing and client support to attorneys, law firms of any size, and corporate legal departments, but we welcome any experienced paralegal, attorney or legal assistant who is able to volunteer their time.  Our members have the technology, resources, experience and capacity to provide courtesy, short-term assistance wherever needed.

Please join Paralegal Relief  if you are an independent paralegal, paralegal service, attorney, or legal services provider willing to donate your time to assist other legal professionals in their time of need.  We hope we are never needed, but preparedness is everything in managing a disaster, so if a need does arise, Paralegal Relief will be ready to assist.

Tanzania: Paralegal Training Vital for Justice Execution

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Even within the United States “paralegal” means different things to different people, leading to confusion even within the bar. However, within the United States there is overall agreement that paralegals assist and are supervised by attorneys. This is not the case in many other countries. In much of Canada and in Great Britain, there appear to be two categories of paralegals: those that work in supportive roles with attorneys and those who practice independently, representing clients in some limited capacity (limited in comparison to attorneys.) In Great Britain, for example, it appears paralegals have much greater leeway based on a common law right of British citizens to select there representatives. I have met with a paralegal who runs an independent office where he supervises other, less experienced and educated, paralegals. In one Canadian province, the second category of paralegal is licensed and regulated. (See the “Canada” category on this blog.)

According to a story on, entitled, “Tanzania: Paralegal Training Vital for Justice Execution,” Tanzania appears to have been working more on the British model since the concept of paralegals was introduced in the 1990s:

COMPREHENSIVE training for paralegals if well utilised will facilitate the implementation of government’s ambitious plan to enhance access to justice to all.

Quality, effective, efficient and professional legal aid provision will remain a dream if it is not supported by well-organised and strategic training of paralegals, who play a significant role in the provision of legal aid in Tanzania.

This is because legal aid provision is a dynamic and demanding undertaking that requires practitioners to have requisite legal skills and education. It’s true that in the past, paralegal training was not given priority due to, among other things, a limited number of legal disputes, underdeveloped socio-economic, political settings and illiteracy among Tanzanians.

This resulted in having a number of uneducated and non-trained paralegals, who are still operating at the moment. Keneth Sudi, an experienced paralegal practitioner, said “accommodation of unskilled paralegals in legal aid provision stemmed from a huge gap, which existed due to high demand for paralegal services.” (The full story is interesting and well worth the read, but too long to be repeated here.)

The common thread in all jurisdictions is the sense that somehow paralegals can be a significant part of the solution to access to justice problems. In the United States that has generally taken on two aspects – (1) the use of paralegals in traditional law offices to reduce charges to clients from those that would be charged if lawyers charged their hourly rate for all work that must be done on a case and (2) utilization of paralegals in projects specifically designed to meet the needs of those who cannot afford attorneys.

Despite a recognized need for solutions to the access to justice problem and some fairly wide ranging proposals for a national model for access to justice, there have been few systematic, comprehensive attempts to use paralegals in the way Tanzania, Ghana, and others. The Washington state effort to legalize and license legal professionals who are not attorneys is really the closest we have. As yet that program is limited to only domestic relations cases and is really a “paralegal plus” program, working off a base of formally educated paralegals in the traditional sense, but adding additional law school provided training and examinations. (Most law schools require 90 semester credit hours to graduate. The ABA requires 83 semester credit hours to accredit a law school. The additional training for LLLTs in Washington is only about 10% of that.) I hope to write more soon about this LLLT program and will certainly monitor its progress in Washington state. I remain hopeful that my prediction that the paralegals profession (in some form) will end up being an essential and substantial part of the access to justice problem in the United States.


Paralegal Personality

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor‘s, November 14 newsletter has a good article by Stephanie on personality traits needed by paralegals.  It’s good enough that I might even have just reprinted it here in its entirety, but this article does not have Vicki’s usual “reprint, but give credit” tag on it. So I’m just going to list the traits and give you the link so you can go directly to read what the article says about them:

Anticipative, Confident, Conscientious, Consistent, Disciplined,  Discreet, Efficient, Ethical, Flexible, Focused, Hardworking


If you feel like having some fun this Friday afternoon, try rearranging the traits in an order such that their first letters form a pronouncable acronym.

NALA Webinar

Monday, November 11th, 2013

I just returned from a very active and informative AAfPE conference in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ll have more to say on that later as I’m now faced with the usual pile of work resulting from a week’s absence. For now I’m just relaying information about a free webinar from NALA being put on as part of The Professional Identity Project:

For Students, Recent Graduates,
and those beginning a paralegal job search

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Check here for registration information as we near the webinar date.

This free webinar is for paralegal students or newly-graduated paralegals who are ready to begin their interviewing process. Attendees will gain insight into the skills needed for successful job interviews. Discussions on current career trends will assist attendees in determining tools needed to get THE job.

The webinar will include instruction to enhance interviewing skills, and resume writing. The webinar will conclude with examples of the correct make-up and dress to assist in creating the polished appearance needed for a successful job interview.

Subjects include:

Paralegal Career Trends
Resume Do’s and Don’ts
The Interview Process
Survival in the Legal Arena
Does this Briefcase make My Butt Look Big?

For more information and registration click here

Woman Accused of Stealing from Elderly Client Called “Paralegal” in News Article

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

A story on WFTV’s website reports “A Brevard County woman is accused of stealing thousands from a 92-year-old woman with dementia and a retired teacher who lives in a nursing home,” with the headline, “Brevard paralegal accused of stealing from elderly female clients.” This story raises a number of issues that are the subject of frequent comments here including the role of legal personnel in preventing elder abuse(and here,) the danger of legal personnel committing elder abuse, and the role of a supervising attorney in supervising (or the failure of the attorney to supervise) legal staff who embezzle from law firms or from clients.

In this instance my focus is once again on the tendency of the public (especially mass media) to refer to any person who works for an attorney as a “paralegal” without regard to the role that person plays in the law office or the qualifications of that person for classification as a paralegal. This problem derives from and at the  same time perpetuates the difficulty the paralegal profession continues to have in establishing a professional identity. Efforts such as Florida’s Registered Paralegal program should help in this regard, but this story emanates from Florida.

At first the story states, “Jenine Black was the office manager for an attorney of Estate Planning and Elder Law Center of Brevard.” Clearly a person can be an office manager without being a paralegal and a paralegal without being a manager. But later the story pegs her as both office manager and paralegal:

  The attorney who owns the office, Robin Petersen, first noticed money missing from his accounts.

“At the time, it was close to $200,000. Now we estimate it’s over $200,000 taken from him personally,” Sgt. Michael Casey of the Indialantic Police Department said.

Police said perhaps more outrageous is that the longtime office manager and paralegal is accused of targeting elderly clients.

The woman with dementia and the retired teached are each missing around $20,000, police said.

“She was actually taking it straight from their accounts and she was writing checks out of their accounts,” Casey said.

There is, of course, no indication as to the basis for that designation. It’s a shame. The paralegal profession, like all professions, has its share of “bad apples.” It does not help to the profession to also be pegged with responsibility for  acts committed by persons who a re  not really part of the profession.

The Researching Paralegal

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

During an exchange about my new book Cecil C. Elwell, RP, informed me of her relatively new blog, The Researching Paralegal. Lot’s of good information there already. Here’s one as an example:

Peter Martin’s Introduction to Basic Legal Citation — An ALWD and Bluebook Cheat Sheet

31 Thursday Oct 2013

Posted by Celia C. Elwell, RP in ALWD, Citations, Legal Writing, The Bluebook

ALWD Citation Manual, Bluebook, Legal Information Institute, Peter W. Martin

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (online ed. 2013), by Peter W. Martin, Cornell Legal Information Institute

This guide can be used for both the 4th Edition of the ALWD Citation Manual and the 19th Edition of the Bluebook. CCE

(See also Citing Legally Blog,

I’m adding this blog to my blog roll and RSS feed for sure!

California Limited License Update

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Melanee Cottrill, Paralegal at Civitas, provided this update the task force tasked with investigating implementation of a LLLT program in California through the NFPA LinkedIn discussion board:

There was a thread on this a while ago, but I can’t find it now it’s too old. As some of you know, the CA bar formed a working group to look at doing a limited license program, inspired by WA state. The working group passed a resolution supporting the general concept and asking to be directed to develop a program. Rather than direct the working group to develop a program, the RAD committee (responsible for the working group) instead ordered some studies on access to justice and other things related to the need for a limited license. I think we all know the easiest way to kill something is to order studies on it…I’ve been in touch with bar staff but it seems to be going nowhere fast. Disappointing to say the least.

But Lisa Vessels, RP, CP, FRP, was more optimistic in her comment:

Actually, this is exactly what the WA state committee did first as well. It was (in my opinion) the most compelling piece of the reasoning of why the WA Supreme Court ordered the creation of the WA LLLT program. It also became the cornerstone of how they approached which practice area would be tackled first, etc.

Also, you can subscribe to the page where they post the agendas for the committee, and get updates when they are posted.