“A firm paralegal?”

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting on a law firm accused of falsifying documents for its clients. One of those arrested was “a firm paralegal:”

A Utah immigration attorney and four of his current or former employees pleaded not guilty Wednesday to various charges of conspiracy, visa fraud and inducing undocumented aliens to reside in the United States.

Appearing before U.S. Magistrate David Nuffer in Salt Lake City were James Hector Alcala, 41, principle attorney of The Alcala Law Firm; Carlos Manuel Vorher, 43, a firm paralegal and former U.S. Border Patrol agent; Andres Lorenzo Acosta Parra, 31, a firm employee who had worked as a visa assistant at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; and Gustavo Ballesteros-Munoz, 45, accountant for the law firm.

Nuffer ordered Alcala, Vorher and Acosta Parra released from jail and to be monitored via ankle bracelets.

Whether the allegation are correct will be for the courts to decide. If they are they provide yet another illustration of the difficulties a paralegal can face when their attorney is involved in, or asks the paralegal to become involved in, illegal or unethical behavior.

Another issue this brings to mind though is the use of the term “paralegal.”  I wonder whether this former border agent has had any formal paralegal training, education or experience.  All too often the label “paralegal” is applied to persons who are not really members of the paralegal profession.  Part of the problem is that many attorneys, much less the general public, really understand who paralegals are and what they do.  Perhaps the answer lies in a more formal system of paralegal certification, registration and (gulp!) regulation. More on this topic later.

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