Heading to Tulsa for the NALA 2015 National Conference. Looks like there’ll be several paralegals from Mississippi and from Maine there! I’m looking forward to mingling with some of the best paralegal professionals in the country and getting up to date on the paralegal profession.
According to a Hudson Hub-Times (I have no idea where Hudson is other than in Ohio) article, sixteen people were recently award the Ohio State Bar Association’s Paralegal Credential. I, of course, offer them my congratulations, but the bigger story is that the OSBA recognizes the role of paralegals in this way. So, aside from the individual acheivment of these 16 individual, here’s the real take-away from the article:
“The OSBA includes paralegals as members of the Association in recognition of their valuable service to lawyers and to the public,” said OSBA President John Holschuh. “We applaud those OSBA Certified Paralegals who are bringing objective, uniform standards of competence and professionalism to their work.”
An applicant for paralegal certification must first meet specified education/experience, continuing legal education and reference requirements, and then must pass a written exam.
I realize there can be some problems with having a bar association in charge of paralegal credentials including a possible conflict between the bar’s interest in protecting its own monopoly and the interest of providing the public with both the protection and legal services it needs. However, all state bar associations should be including paralegals as members of the association and recognizing their valuable service to lawyers and to the public.
Teachers use the classic example of the difference between “Let’s eat, Grandma” and “Let’s eat Grandma” to illustrate the importance of a comma to the meaning of a sentence. (Just yesterday I saw it posted on a professor’s bulletin board at the University of Maine School of Law.) However, Celia C. Elwell, The Researching Paralegal recently called a real-life example to our attention by posting a link to a Washington Post article
“Ohio appeals court ruling is a victory for punctuation, sanity” together with some of her own commentary. It turns out that there is a difference between a “motor vehicle camper” and “motor vehicle, camper.” Of course, we all know that, but apparently the people who wrote the ordinance did not, thus providing us with another entry in the Consequences of Sloppiness category. So, I join Celia in celebrating Judge Robert A. Hendrickson, of the Twelfth District Court of Appeals in Ohio and this victory for punctuation.
Marianna Fradman, frequently as source for materials that end up here, posted a link to “Pro Bono Report 2015: Treading Water” on the New York City Paralegal Association‘s Linkedin discussion board. The report itself is interesting as are other articles on the “Justice Gap” on The American Lawyer‘s website. I was drawn to the post by Marianna’s lead-in comment, a reminder that all legal professionals be part of the solution to the justice gap problem:
Special Report: The Justice Gap
Big Law is flourishing, yet legal aid is in crisis. Is it something we, paralegals can do? The answer is yes. We can volunteer. It gives a satisfaction, much needed experience and yes, it looks good on a resume too.
Volunteering for pro bono projects benefits you, the paralegal profession, and the public. There’s more on the topic, including some typical volunteer projects in the Volunteering category on this blog. Contact your local paralegal association for opportunities in your area. Maybe you lead by example your attorneys into doing more to assist in resolving the justice gap!
Bloomberg BNA has a decent article on the “Washington State Experiment with Legal Technicians.” It’s an interesting read because it covers the newly licensed technicians, the 2003 study that provided the foundation for the program, the conflicting positions on whether the program is the or even a “right answer” to the problem, and the bit of vagueness about what group of people its intended to help and how it will accomplish its goals. I like the way it ends with the personal prospective of one of the recently licensed LLLTs:
For the LLLT graduates, the experiment is personal. Wright said she put $4,500 on her credit card to pay for books and classes. Her goal is to eventually join her daughter’s law firm. “I’m treating it a little bit like retirement,” she said.
“I’ve been in the legal field since 1998. This is basically a dream come true,” said Michelle Cummings, a paralegal in Auburn. “Not only will I be able to offer a whole new kind of service to the public, I can actually become a partner of a practice or even own my own practice someday.”
“There will be cases that must and should be handled by an attorney. However, for those who just need a little bit of help and only have a little bit of money, this is where an LLLT can make a difference,” she said.
Lawyerist.com has a good article about a recent report from a Minnesota Bar Task Force. It reports:
Two years ago, the Minnesota State Bar Association launched two task forces to study the future of law practice and legal education. Those reports will be made public at the MSBA Annual Convention next Friday, but Lawyerist obtained copies ahead of schedule. Here are the highlights.
Limited License Legal Technicians
In its report (pdf), the MSBA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education says the MSBA should consider establishing a limited-license legal technician (LLLT) certification in Minnesota.
The Lawyeris.com article contains a link to a .pdf of the report and the substance of that recommendation from the Executive Summary portion of the report:
In order to identify a less costly path to a career in legal services and address unmet needs for specific types of legal services, the MSBA should establish a separate task force focused on studying the viability of certifying Limited License Legal Technicians (“LLLT”) with authority to provide supervised legal services in defined practice areas. This task force should consist of representatives from the state court administrative office, civil legal services and pro bono programs, private practices from diverse practice settings throughout the state, potential clients, and institutions of higher education (including, but not limited to law schools). The task force should prepare a recommendation to the MSBA Assembly on the question whether to submit a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court to establish an LLLT practitioner rule by June 2016.
For the last couple of days, my news feed has featured two artifices with “former paralegal” in the headline. The first say, “A former paralegal welcomes children into Heaven’s House.” The second is entitled, “Former paralegal who stole nearly $600,000 get 20 years in prison.” The point here is none too subtle. I’d prefer that most paralegals become “former” only by retiring after a long career of being a fantastic paralegal. But, in the end, everyone – regardless of their chosen career – has to decide what kind of person they want to be. Fortunately, by far most of current paralegals are more like the first former paralegal than the second former paralegal. The best that can be said of the second is that she is a former paralegal. Perhaps a good way to decide on a day-to-day basis what we should do and how we should do it, is to ask ourselves whether we want to be remembered as the first former paralegal is remembered or the second.
I’m passing on a story from Law Week Colorado entitled “Colorado Considering Legal Technician Licensing.” Normally I try to summarize or excerpt but in this case it seems best to just print re-post the whole article and hope I don’t get a “take down” missive!
LAW WEEK COLORADO
Posted on June 8, 2015.
By Tony Flesor
Colorado is exploring the option of opening up the legal profession with a limited license legal technician program.
The license would create a nurse practitioner-type position for the legal field. With demand for full legal services in decline and do-it-yourself online options such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer providing basic services to those who can’t afford a lawyer becoming more common, the LLLT program, if adopted in Colorado, could connect more people with an actual human service provider and employ more people in the legal field with a lower investment than a law school legal license. Despite the positive expectations for the program, though, there are some concerns about the quality of service an LLLT could provide.
A subcommittee of the Colorado Supreme Court Advisory Committee led by Alec Rothrock, a shareholder at Burns Figa & Will whose practice is focused on the law of practicing law, is looking into the possibility of adopting the plan for the license from Washington, the only state that currently offers it.
In Washington, anyone with an associate’s degree can get an LLLT license, which allows them to offer legal services, such as helping family law clients file restraining orders or divorce documents, drafting parenting plans or custody documents and assisting clients with the court documents and procedures involved in the court system. Currently, Washington’s LLLTs may only practice in family law, a popular area for self-representation. License holders can open their own businesses as well, allowing them to work independently of law firms.
I’m not sure the characterization of Washington’s program is completely accurate. It is my understanding that the Washington program is open to people who have a paralegal undergraduate education, not just an associate’s degree in any subject.
According to Robert Abrogi’s website, “LawSites” fifteen candidates completed the paperwork to become LLLTs, nine took the exam, and seven passed. Here are the seven:
Leisa Bulick, White Salmon, WA.
Christine Carpenter, Auburn, WA.
Michelle Cummings, Auburn, WA.
Kimberly Lancaster, Shoreline, WA.
Melodie Nicholson, Auburn, WA.
Priscilla Selden, Entiat, WA.
Angela Wright, Granite Falls, WA.
Ambrogi notes the candidates must still complete additional steps, including providing proof that (1) they have the required 3,000 hours of supervised experience (2) they have insurance and (3) have set up trust account reporting. They also must pay a licensing fee and take an oath administered by the court.
I am hopeful that this is just the first step in the effort to bridge the access to justice gap. We won’t know if the program will actually accomplish that goal until we see it in operation for a while, but it is certainly worth the try!
By now most of you are familiar with Washington state’s new LLLT program, a topic covered here several times. (See the link in “Categories” for “LLLTS, etc.,” a sub-category of “Regulation, Certification and Licensing.” I’ve long argued for a variety of methods of utilizing paralegals as part of efforts to close the access to justice gap in the United States. Now California may join Washington in closing the gap through LLLTs. According to an article in the California Bar Journal, “A State Bar task force last month proposed the development of a pilot program for limited licensing of legal technicians as part of a series of recommendations aimed at closing the so-called “justice gap.” The article is short, but provides a concise telling of the task force’s work, reasoning, and recommendation. As one member of the bar trustees said, ““Our recommendations are a start rather than an end.” There is a long way to go before the recommendation is implemented and, if it is implemented, there’ll still be a lot to do to close the gap.