Court Considers Question “What is suitable work for a paralegal?”

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that an unemployment law judge used the wrong standard in determining what was suitable work for a position advertised as a paralegal position. The unemployed person had had ten years experience as a contract manager drafting, analyzing, and negotiating contracts. She then accepted a position paralegal position with  an annual salary of $60,000:

The description provided by UCare summarized the position’s major responsibilities as: “Provide the General Counsel with legal support, particularly in contract drafting, review and management. Serve as a key legal resource for the Government Programs Department, providing assistance in regulatory research, review of RFP or application documents, and legal support in conjunction with regulatory audits.” Relator remained at UCare for 23 days. She attended some training sessions and meetings, but was given little work to do. Relator requested additional work from her supervisor and was given a couple of projects, including looking in the file cabinets where contracts were kept, but not the type of extensive contract work that she had been accustomed to working on in her previous positions. Relator later asked her supervisor if she could look into getting some contract database-management software for UCare, but “was basically making work for [herself].” Relator was also asked to look up agency addresses for the Government Programs Department.

There was a lot going on in this case, much of it confusing. The part that caught my interest was this:

In addressing suitability, we begin by reviewing relator’s challenge to one of the ULJ’s findings. The ULJ found that relator “has more than ten years experience as a paralegal and has extensive experience in contract management.” While it is undisputed that relator has extensive experience in contract management, there is nothing in the record to support the ULJ’s finding that relator has more than ten years of experience as a paralegal. As relator points out, she has over ten years of experience as a contract manager, but has never asserted that she has any experience as a paralegal. We agree that there is not substantial evidence in the record to support the ULJ’s finding that relator had more than ten years of experience as a paralegal. …. The paralegal position advertised by UCare required a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a similar legal-assistant program. UCare also required “[a]t least three years experience as a paralegal or legal assistant, including experience in contract review and drafting as well as legal and regulatory research.” The ULJ concluded the paralegal position with UCare was suitable for relator because “[t]here is no evidence in the record showing that the employer breached any promise to [relator] or made any misrepresentation as to the nature and type of work assigned to a paralegal in this organization.”

A lot of questions arise, including why UCare offered and the employee accepted a position requiring a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, when she did not have the required degree and experience she did not have for work the employer did not need to be performed. But most interesting is the fact that the Court of Appeal recognizes that being a paralegal requires more than just being able to “drafting, analyzing, and negotiating contracts.” It would have been dicta, but it still would have been especially interesting for the court to state exactly what more was required to convert experience drafting, analyzing, and negotiating contracts into experience as a paralegal. (The degree is education rather than experience.)  Inquiring minds want to know!

The court’s opinion is unpublished but posted at Leagle: Popularizing the Law

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