A question of identity

The paralegal profession continues to deal with questions of identity and definition as can be seen by responses to this post on the Legal Assistant Today listserv:

I am new to this blog, new to this profession-I’m actually finishing my certificate in the spring.Although I hope to get into mediation practice, I want to spread my skills out as far as I can over the legal spectrum. So in order for me to get started as an independent paralegal, I’m trying to design a business card. Does anyone have any ideas about what I can put on my business card other than just “Independent Paralegal”?

Aside from the question of whether there is a role for truly “independent” paralegals within the current American legal system and, if so, what that role should be, there is some confusion in this instance as whether the person making the post means “independent” or “freelance.”  The post also raises questions about education, certification, and experience. All of these questions are raised by Rachel in her response:

The paralegals I know who are freelancers all have years–as in 20, 30 years–experience in this profession and did not jump from a certificate to a full blown, attorneys knocking down their doors, career.

 
You might want to maybe get your feet wet a bit before you do this. From what I understand, the laws vary from state to state but even a freelance paralegal has to be beholden to an attorney in order to do any real substantial legal work independently. Check your states statutes concerning this.
 
Also, is this certificate you spoke of just that–a certificate, like a program you took that lasted a year or less? If so, you might also want to do some research into the area where you live as far as the minimum educational requirements for this type of work. The only way around not having at least an associates if not a bachelors degree where I live is to either 1.) start out in a different capacity, say, as a legal secretary or something along those lines, or 2.) to already have been in the field for many years and have the actual experience under your belt.
There does appear to me to be a distinction between indepenent paralegal providing services directly to clients such as Martin Legal Services, who wrote regarding his practice as discussed in this post, and freelance paralegals who work for attorneys as independent contractors rather than employees such a Outsourced Paralegal Services, who I discussed in a previous post.
There is a real question of whether there would be adequate protection to the public in a case where someone with minimum education and experiences attempting to establish a practice as a truly independent paralegal. It is far too likely that serious mistakes will be made when an undereducated, inexpereinced practitioner in any field attempts to practice without superision. One problem with which the paralegal legal professions still must deal is the fact that there  is, in most jurisdictions, no clear statement of what is “adequate” education and experiences to hold oneself out as a paralegal.
There are also dangers to the profession should the public not be well served in such circumstances. First, the perception of the paralegal profession as a whole is affected when members of the public suffer from such mistakes. Ultimately enough incidences will lead to a demand for regulation. Regulations as a reaction to an accumlation of such incidences rather than as a well-thought out effort to establish paralegals as a profession, it seems to me, is not likely to serve the best interest of the profession or the public.
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