Posts Tagged ‘ABA’

ABA Accreditation?

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Even on summer break there does not seem to be time to do all I’d like to do. I have begun again to scroll through LinkedIn discussion boards and find many articles or posts on which I hope to comment. Here’s the first.

The Paralegal Place has an article entitled, “The Importance of an ABA Accredited Paralegal School” that suggests that it is only worthwhile getting an degree or certificate from an ABA Accredited program. This is simply not the case. While I do not have the time for a full statement of why this is so, I did make this comment:

It is important that students investigate the quality of the program they are considering before enrolling and committing to the expenditure of thousands of dollars on a degree or certificate. However, there are many fine programs that are not ABA Accredited. ABA Accreditation itself costs schools thousands of dollars and hours of time that could be expended on student services if not devoted to the ABA. Some programs, while meeting most or even all of the ABA requirements, chose to put those funds into the program rather than into the ABA coffers. Note that there is no documented evidence for the often made claim that “most” law offices and legal departments only hire graduates of accredited programs. While this may true in some areas, it is far from true in many others.

Note also that the ABA Guidelines for Approval are designed by attorneys, not paralegals or paralegal educators. While I’ve been proud to be an attorney for over 35 years, it was not until I became a paralegal educator that I really understood the paralegal education process. The American Association for Paralegal Education’s mission statement is “Recognizing the need to increase and improve access to the legal system, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) promotes quality paralegal education, develops educational standards and encourages professional growth, in order to prepare graduates to perform a significant role in the delivery of legal services.” Rather than run automatically to the ABA, prospective students should check the AAfPE website for assistance in Finding a Quality Program.

Our program at Ole Miss is not ABA Accredited as a result of a decision on how best to expend resources in an age when legislatures are cutting budgets, but an even better example is the George Washington University master’s degree program.

It should also be noted that the ABA does not accredit paralegal programs. This is done by regional accreditation boards. The ABA just “approves” paralegal programs. For more on this click here.

New Year, Old Issues

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

It’s always nice to start out the new year with new stuff, but, alas ( a very old word but it works here  – besides I also am old), the first item that has caught my attention this year is (1) left-over from a Paralegal Jobs & Continuing Education group LinkedIn Discussion Board, and (2) about an issue that seems to re-occur on a regular basis despite efforts from Marianna Fradman of the NYCPA, myself, and many others at clarification.

The discussion starts when a prospective paralegal student asks, “I am looking to go back to school to be a paralegal. Can anyone give me some inexpensive school names? … Also interested in schools that do payment plans. Thank you in advance.” The first response states, “Depending on where you live, it is best to check the American Bar Association, and the section that shows ABA Accredited, meaning that they approved that school and you will be hired once out of school. These days that’s important…” and another adds, “Accrediatation is everything. if if isn’t approved by the ABA its NOT worth the money.” These comments are incorrect on several levels.

First, the ABA does not provide accreditation of paralegal schools. Accreditation is provided by regional accreditation organizations. For example, the University of Mississippi and other SEC schools are accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The ABA approval is obtained by some paralegals on a voluntary basis. If a school claims to by accredited by ABA or that graduates are ABA certified, the school is, at best, misleading its students.

The ABA does not even provide certification. Here’s Marianna Fradman on that topic:

I’m on my soapbox today with a pet peeve. I noticed that some paralegals are putting “ABA Certified Paralegal” on their resumes, social media or announcing it to friends and employers. Here’s a suggestion: Stop now while you still can! Save yourself some embarrassment or even keep yourself from getting rejected from a job!

The ABA does not offer certification. Certification is a process of taking a very rigorous exam that is based upon work experience and knowledge. It is not your final exam in paralegal school. Generally, you need to meet certain educational and work experience requirements, submit an application for approval, pay a fee and take the exam in a secured environment.

For example, The Organization of Legal Professionals, OLP, offers a certification exam in eDiscovery.

Second, as I’ve stated here before, many ardent discussions occur on the internet as to whether ABA approval is beneficial to programs as a marketing device or to graduates as a tool for gaining employment. I suspect that the answer depends on more on geography than anything else.  This is not to say that there should not be some firm criteria for assessing a good paralegal program. Indeed, I argue in many posts here for the need for uniform educational standards.  However, it is not at all clear that the ABA should be the organization making these determinations, at least not in isolation. AAfPE does have representatives on ABA committees and does provide members for site review committees, but has little to no control over final decisions by ABA regarding its conception of the proper way to educate paralegals. Within AAfPE (American Association for Paralegal Education) there is some ongoing discussion about whether the ABA is the correct institution to be “approving” paralegal programs: does it make sense to have lawyers rather than educators determining what makes a good educational program, even if the topic being taught it law? (AAfPE has some good information on choosing a paralegal education program and a list of its members here.)

Third, the fact of the matter is that ABA can often be out of step with advances in education. For example, the Masters Degree program at George Washington University – one of our country’s most prestigious institutions (and I think at last count the most expensive to attend) cannot obtain ABA approval because it relies on online education. Yet, it would seem that if online education was in itself bad, GWU would know about it. Many other institutions meet all of the ABA requirements for approval but do not seek it because it is a tremendous drain on resources, both in terms of money and personnel. The costs of obtaining ABA approval are substantial and must be either passed on to students or deducted from other parts of the budget.

This is confusion is just one of the many problems arise from the current state of the paralegal profession’s development. As I previously noted here, and more extensively in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, even attorneys can be confused leading to must frustration for both paralegals and attorneys on the legal team.

Those interested in paralegal professional identity, regulation, certification, and education should check out the fine articles included in The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.

Paralegal Certification and the ABA

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

As usual I am behind in my reading. I am just now noticing that 29 days ago Marianna Fradman of the NYCPA posted a link on the NYCPA LinkedIn discussion board entitled, “A Warning to All of the ‘ABA Certified Paralegals” on Law.com Legal Blog Watch, which itself was a synopsis of Chere Estrin’s article entitled, “Are you a “Certified Paralegal”? Maybe not.” The gist of the article is this:

I’m on my soapbox today with a pet peeve. I noticed that some paralegals are putting “ABA Certified Paralegal” on their resumes, social media or announcing it to friends and employers. Here’s a suggestion: Stop now while you still can! Save yourself some embarrassment or even keep yourself from getting rejected from a job!

The ABA does not offer certification. Certification is a process of taking a very rigorous exam that is based upon work experience and knowledge. It is not your final exam in paralegal school. Generally, you need to meet certain educational and work experience requirements, submit an application for approval, pay a fee and take the exam in a secured environment.

For example, The Organization of Legal Professionals, OLP, offers a certification exam in eDiscovery.

The full article is worth the read, especially since it includes the correct way to reference graduating from an ABA approved program.

This is just one of the many problems arise from the current state of the paralegal profession. As I previously noted here, and more extensively in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, even attorneys can be confused leading to must frustration for both paralegals and attorneys on the legal team.

Those interested in paralegal regulation and certification should check out the fine articles included in The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.

Alternative Law Practice Structures

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Whenever the ABA gets involved in anything involving “nonlawyers” (a term that, when used by the ABA using is going to encompass persons with some connection to law not just members of the public, i.e., inter alia paralegals), paralegals ought to perk up and make sure their voice is heard. According to the a post by Robert Hrouda, RP, Vice President and Director of Positions and Issues at National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc., on the NFPA LinkedIn Discussion Board:

NFPA Comments on ABA Discussion Draft Regarding Alternative Law Practice Structures

Good morning everyone. In early December, 2011, the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 published for comment a Discussion Draft with cover memo relating to Alternative Law Practice Structures. In sum, they are discussing changes to ABA Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 in order to allow nonlawyer ownership in law firms. The ABA Discussion Draft can be found at:

http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/ethics_2020/20111202-ethics2020-discussion_draft-alps.authcheckdam.pdf

On January 27, 2012, NFPA responded to the ABA in support of this proposed rule change. NFPA’s response is available on the NFPA website, front page banner, and also on the website under the VPPI tab, Regulation (See National section of Regulation tab).

This is one of the many advantages of professional organizations such as NFPA. However, it is only an advantage if the association does indeed speak for you on an issue. Take some time and read the proposed rule change and decide whether NFPA was correct in supporting it. If you are a member of NFPA, let the leaders know whether or not you support its support of the proposed change. NFPA is a good organization in part because of its leadership, but any organization is only as good as its membership in the long run.

The Paralegal Contract

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

My last post was a set of 10 New Year Resolutions for Paralegals. Number two on the list is “Join a professional association.” I am, in general, a big fan of professional associations as anyone who checks out the “Professional Associations” category can attest. When run effectively they provide benefits to the individual members, to the public, and to the profession itself. In this “guest post” Clifford Smith argues that the ABA and most paralegal professional associations have made the profession into one that is subservient rather than independent, thus curtailing rather than enhancing its historical roll. [Clifford also contributed an article on Independent Paralegals to The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology.] When I contacted Clifford for permission to re-publish his “The Paralegal Contract” article, he informed me that there is now a Part II to “The Paralegal Contract.” Only Part I is reprinted here, but Part II can be read by clicking this link.

Here is Part I:

The Paralegal Contract
By Clifford C. Smith*

If the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau were alive today, what would he have to say about paralegals? 1 Would he say paralegals are born free and everywhere they are in chains? Perhaps not such a dramatic statement, yet at the heart of his central work, Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique, there is an underlying premise of freedom.2
Here, The Paralegal Contract briefly describes the evolution of the independent paralegal movement and the organizations that have emerged around paralegals, vying for control of the paralegal profession through certifications, regulations and educational guidelines. Ultimately, The Paralegal Contract encourages all paralegals to act from a deeper center of awareness, as opposed to the subservient support role that has been endorsed by paralegal organizations and advanced by the ABA’s Standing Committee of Paralegals. In many ways, law and its application has become separated from the higher principles of equality and social justice, resulting in unhappiness among many members of the legal profession, from paralegals to lawyers.

Much of the legal work being performed today is extrinsically motivated and revolves around personal financial outcomes, rather than on the intrinsic motivation to deliver legal services to those who need it the most – poor people with no access to justice.3 With the present global economic crisis, the way law will be delivered and practiced is being transformed, as consumers look for affordable solutions to legal problems that don’t involve traditional aspects of law delivery. In effect, corporations and small business will continue to slash their budgets and look for legal solutions through self-help resources, interactive legal software, internet-based law solutions, alternative dispute resolution, and online mediation. Paralegals have an opportunity to be at the forefront of this major transformation and shift, while also challenging and expanding their present roles in the legal workplace.

Paralegals – A Brief History
There are two distinct paralegal groups that emerged around the same time – one was the legal assistant who worked for a lawyer or law firm – and the other was the independent paralegal, which evolved out of the self-help law movement driven by the countercultural movement of the 1960s. Both took rather different paths. For the most part, the legal assistant was not a mainstream concept in the 1960s or 1970s, since most legal assistants worked behind the scenes and little was known about their actual function in the law office. On the other hand, the self-help legal movement was driven by a California based publisher known as Nolo Press, and by non-lawyers who provided self-help legal services directly to consumers.4 Gradually, these self-help providers became known as “independent paralegals,” and many of them operating self-help law clinics were unjustly targeted and shut down, because they were competing with lawyers.

Thus, it was through controversy that independent paralegals gained media recognition and the term “paralegal” stuck in the minds of consumers looking for affordable solutions to their legal problems. It was also through consumer trust and an affinity towards paralegals that propelled the name into mainstream consciousness. It was much later that the term paralegal was incorporated into what was generally referred to as the legal assistant working for a lawyer or law firm. Even magazines like the Legal Assistant Today, years later changed its name to Paralegal Today.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) is the only national organization that incorporated the word paralegal in its name from its inception in 1974.5 It was founded by eight local associations, some of which later changed their names to incorporate the term paralegal:

Atlanta Association of Legal Assistants (Georgia Association of Paralegals); Minnesota Association of Legal Assistants (Minnesota Paralegal Association); Rocky Mountain Legal Assistants Association (Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association); and San Francisco Association of Legal Assistants (San Francisco Paralegal Association).

One of the first proprietary schools for paralegals was the Paralegal Institute, Inc., which was formed in 1972, in New York. The founder, Carl E. Person, is a Harvard Law School graduate and attorney, who brought an antitrust action against the ABA in connection with its Guidelines and Procedures for Approval of Legal Assistant Education Programs. 6 Person’s contention was that the ABA’s paralegal school accreditation program violated antitrust laws and that it was designed to eliminate competition and restrict entry into the market for the recruitment, training and placement of paralegals. That it was unreasonable when applied to proprietary schools such as the Paralegal Institute. Little did Carl Person know that years later the Department of Justice would bring an antitrust lawsuit against the ABA for numerous violations and anticompetitive practices. 7

The 1980s and 1990s saw the widespread expansion of paralegal educational programs and paralegal organizations marketing memberships and certifications, while enacting a variety of guidelines to oversee the paralegal field. In 2000, Governor Gray Davis signed AB 1761, a bill that defined and regulated paralegals under California law. It is important to note, however, that prior to the adoption of the bill, that it was paralegals who were providing self-help law services directly to consumers and with the passage of AB 1761, they were forced to trade in the designation “paralegal” or “independent paralegal” for Legal Document Assistant (LDA). Yet, it was those pioneers who popularized the term paralegal and put it on the map, along with the many independent paralegals working in other states, such as New York, Florida and elsewhere.8
This important point often gets blurred following the consolidation of the title paralegal by national and local paralegal organizations. Even the ABA itself changed from “The Standing Committee of Legal Assistants” to “The Standing Committee of Paralegals.” Younger paralegals entering into the field, today, may be unaware of this blurring of the term paralegal.

What we now have is control over the title so that paralegals are placed into a one size fits all definition of the profession, when historically it was not.

The Pioneers
The pioneers who propelled the paralegal self-help movement to the forefront were notably different from the legal assistants who worked for lawyers and law firms. It was the latter group that converged around NALA and the NFPA, where both organizations played a
part in shaping much of what we have in the way of restrictive ideology and of paralegals working under the supervision of lawyers. 9
Yet both organizations have failed to advance independence on the part of paralegals and in many respects, have become miniature extensions of the American Bar Association and its relegation of paralegals to working under the supervision of lawyers, which is at the heart of the ABA’s definition of a legal assistant or paralegal.
A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
Despite those qualifications of education, training or work experience, paralegals now find themselves micromanaged by a variety of organizations and inescapably locked into support roles, while being controlled along each step of the way.

Epilogue
The Paralegal Contract is about remaining true to the higher principles of equality and social justice, rather than being defined by any one professional organization or regulatory body desiring control over a group through use of its collective power.
The consolidation of the paralegal profession by paralegal organizations and the American Bar Association has created a tragic situation where paralegals are prevented from realizing their full potential and growth, as independent professionals. Thus, figuratively, they have traded their freedom for a form of paralegal servitude.
That even though paralegals must enter into social contracts with lawyers and the organizations overseeing them, in doing so, they should not lose sight of their fundamental vision of freedom and inner recognition of independence.
For a true association of paralegals to exist, there must be the unanimous consent of all its members.

* Cliff is a writer and holds an advanced paralegal credential. He is also a graduate of Duke Continuing Studies.
1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on June 28, 1712 in Geneva, Switzerland. Rousseau’s philosophical writings have greatly influenced modern philosophy.
2 Rousseau’s work, The Social Contact, describes the relationship of man with society. Rousseau argued that no social contract can exist without the unanimous consent of all its members, resulting in a true association, instead of an aggregation, which has no validity. The framers drew from Rousseau when drafting the U.S. Constitution.
3 “Intrinsic motivation” refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself; and “Extrinsic motivation” refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, which then contradicts intrinsic motivation. See Ryan, M. R., & Deci, L. E. “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being,” American Psychologist, 2000
4 Nolo Press was formed by two lawyers, Charles (Ed) Sherman and Ralph (Jake) Warner, both of which had worked for legal aid in the late 1960s. Seeing a need for affordable legal services, they began publishing self-help law books and training non-lawyers to assist consumers with uncontested divorces through the Wave Project. More and more independent paralegals began using Nolo resources to assist consumers in self-help law. See “Nolo History” at .
5 See THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF PARALEGAL ASSOCIATIONS at
6 Paralegal Institute, Inc. v. American Bar Association, 475 F. Supp. 1123 (1979).
7 In 1995, the Department of Justice brought an antitrust action against the American Bar Association. The lawsuit alleged numerous violations under the ABA’s law school accreditation process, along with other anticompetitive practices. See
8 See Ralph Warner, et al., Independent Paralegal’s Handbook, 6th Ed., California: Nolo (2004) (Provides a historical background on the self-help law movement and independent paralegals working throughout the United States).

9.The ABA’s Standing Committee sets out a variety of guidelines on how paralegal services can be utilized to the benefit of lawyers. See the “ABA Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services,” and “Economic Benefits of Paralegal Utilization” available at <http://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals.html>

AAfPE and ABA

Monday, November 14th, 2011

One task assigned to me in my new position of Secretary of AAfPE is updating the list of our member institutions – over 330 of them-in terms of which have and which do not have ABA approved programs. Since there are only 260 ABA approved programs, it is clear that many AAfPE members are not ABA approved. Yet, my experience has been that AAfPE programs are programs every bit as good as the ABA programs. Certainly it is impossible to distinguish the many Program Directors and faculty members attending and presenting at AAfPE conferences as being from either an ABA approved or a non-ABA approved program.

Many ardent discussions occur on the internet as to whether ABA approval is beneficial to programs as a marketing device or to graduates as a tool for gaining employment. I suspect that the answer depends on more on geography than anything else.  This is not to say that there should not be some firm criteria for assessing a good paralegal program. Indeed, I argue in many posts here for the need for uniform educational standards.  However, it is not at all clear that the ABA should be the organization making these determinations, at least not in isolation. AAfPE does have representatives on ABA committees and does provide members for site review committees, but has little to no control over final decisions by ABA regarding its conception of the proper way to educate paralegals. Within AAfPE (American Association for Paralegal Education) there is some ongoing discussion about whether the ABA is the correct institution to be “approving” paralegal programs: does it make sense to have lawyers rather than educators determining what makes a good educational program, even if the topic being taught it law?

The fact of the matter is that ABA can often be out of step with advances in education. For example, the Masters Degree program at George Washington University – one of our countries most prestigious institutions (and I think at last count the most expensive to attend) cannot obtain ABA approval because it relies on online education. Yet, it would seem that if online education was in itself bad, GWU would know about it. Many other institutions meet all of the ABA requirements for approval but do not seek it because it is a tremendous drain on resources, both in terms of money and personnel. The costs of obtaining ABA approval are substantial and must be either passed on to students or deducted from other parts of the budget.

I’ve suggested in past posts that perhaps we need for all interested groups to chose a representative to a committee to establish a model act regarding paralegal regulation – ABA, NFPA, NALA, NALS, AAfPE.  It may be there should even be a seat at the table for a group representing “independent” paralegals. It seems that the same may be true for paralegal education.

In any case for those persons seeking a paralegal program, I continue to suggest that they start with AAfPE and see if the program they are interested in is in its membership directory.

ABA President Stuck in 20th Century

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

I was quite disappointed in the comments of the current ABA president as reported in this from ABAJournal.com:
 
ABA President: Allowing Nonlawyers to Practice Law Isn’t Solution to Justice Gap
Posted Aug 31, 2011 7:44 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss 

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III agrees the poor need more legal help, but says deregulating law practice is not the answer.

Robinson outlines the ABA’s views on legal aid for the poor in a letter to the editor of the New York Times. His letter responds to a Times op-ed last week that suggests the “justice gap” could be addressed by allowing nonlawyers “into the mix” who could handle easier matters such as uncontested divorces. A Wall Street Journal op-ed by two Brookings Institution fellows, also published last week, made a similar point.

Robinson disagrees. “A rush to open the practice of law to unschooled, unregulated nonlawyers is not the solution,” he writes. “This would cause grave harm to clients. Even matters that appear simple, such as uncontested divorces, involve myriad legal rights and responsibilities. If the case is not handled by a professional with appropriate legal training, a person can suffer serious long-term consequences affecting loved ones or financial security.”

Robinson offers another solution: more funding for the Legal Services Corp. He also points out that the ABA supports lawyer pro bono and legal aid funding provided by Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts.

Of course I agree that we should not “rush to open the practice of law to unschooled, unregulated nonlawyers.” But it appears that Mr. Robinson is unaware that many paralegals are very well schooled, many in programs that have been approved by the ABA itself! In addition, many have received advanced certificatification from associations such as NFPA, NALA, NALS, OLP, and other organizations every bit as professional as the ABA. 

And the regulation comment is a definite red-herring. If the problem is a lack of regulation, then propose some regulations – the ABA is no stranger to that process, having adopted Model Rules for just about everything to which model rules would apply and is well-versed in lobbying legislatures to get legislation adopted. Worse comes to worse, the ABA might be able to crib some of the basic from Canada.  (See the “Canada” category for posts on the system of licensing paralegals to work independently for attorney in limited areas in one Canadian province.) If the ABA cannot handle this on its own, there are hundreds of members of paralegals associations that can help them get the job done – just as they help attorneys get the job done in offices across the country.

Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson’s comments have an air of simply “protecting the turf.” However, as discussed in several posts here (see “Access to Justice” category), this is not turf that needs protecting. The problem is that many people simply cannot afford an attorney and attorneys will not provide the services these people need. Licensing and regulating trained paralegals will fill a gap in the turf that lawyers simple do not cover, not take the turf away from lawyers.  To suggest that this problem can be handled by more funding for Legal Aid when Congress is focused only on cutting, not adding (the Republican leader is presently insisting that a dollar be cut from programs like and likely including Legal Aid for every additional dollar need to aid victims of Hurricane Irene and otherwise fund FEMA), indicates that Mr. RObinson is simply detached from the many of the realities of access to justice and funding in the 21 Century!

International Understanding

Monday, August 8th, 2011

You may have heard that the ABA is holding its annual convention in Canada this year. ABAJournal.com announced today that “The ABA and Canadian Bar Put Their Special Relationship into Writing:”

The U.S. and Canada share perhaps the longest unguarded border of any two countries in the world, running from the Atlantic Ocean across the North American continent. There is an arch spanning one of the many border crossings in sight of the Pacific Ocean south of Vancouver. A message is printed on that arch: “Children of a common mother.”

If that message characterizes the relationship between the U.S. and Canada, it also describes the relationship between the legal communities of the two countries, said leaders of the ABA and the Canadian Bar Association at a special ceremony held today to commemorate that bond.

The ABA is also, according to the story, finalizing a cooperation agreement with the Korean Bar Association.

One thing the two legal systems does not have entirely in common is the utilization of paralegal as in many areas of Canada the term “independent paralegal” has real meaning whereas the ABA recognizes only paralegals working under the supervision of any attorney. Indeed, as many of the posts in the “Canada” category discuss, one Canadian province has started licensing paralegals for some services. Most United States bar associations treat any paralegal activity other than that supervised by an attorney as UPL.

The ABAJournal.com article reminded me that I also wanted to post about international cooperation among paralegals and paralegal associations. I’ve mentioned before the relationship between the New York City Paralegal Association and the Institute of Paralegal in England.  A recent (although not the current) issues of NYCPA’s Paralegal Buzz includes this news:

New York City Paralegal Association Board Members met with representatives from Japan Federation of Bar Association

WHAT’S NEW?
On June 28, 2011, a group of NYCPA Board Members met with the Japanese visiting scholar and representatives from Japan Federation of Bar Association (“JFBA”) on their study mission to the United States. In November 2011, JFBA will hold the 17th Symposium on Legal Practice Reform. At the Symposium, one of the topics of discussion will be “The Cultivation of Administrative Staff and Revitalization of Attorneys’ Services: Perspectives on How to Utilize the JFBA’s Training and Competence Accreditation System” on the reform of legal practice.

The mission of the visiting group is to gain a better understanding of the role of paralegals in the United States. During the two-hours meeting, we discussed the role of NYCPA in the community; why and how NYCPA was created; educational, networking and pro bono opportunities provided by NYCPA to its members and community; educational background and training opportunities for paralegals in NYC; accreditation system, work environment and job-based relationships between broad categories of administrative staff and paralegals and attorneys.

The efforts made by NYCPA to connect with their counterparts internationally is quite impressive. I suppose I should be more thrilled than I am with the ABA’s recent efforts. What would thrill me more though is a regular ABA Symposium on Reform of Legal Practice that focused on the utilization of paralegals to revitalize attorney services and help alleviate the access to justice problem.

 

ABA, meet Efrem Martin.

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Efrem Martin is an “independent” paralegal whose emails have engendered some discussion here (with a very good side dialogue through Melissa H. at Paralegalese of the role of “independent” paralegals in the U.S. Legal System. I use the “” marks on independent because the ABA/NALA definition of paralegal states that a paralegal must be supervised by an attorney. By that definition, there can be no “independent paralegals.” In the last installment Mr. Martin informed us of recent action taken by the Colorado Bar Association to charge him with UPL. As indicated in this morning’s email Mr. Martin has met fire with fire and filed a lawsuit against the ABA and CBA in Federal Court. I’m posting the email without further comment this morning because I have a class to teach shortly, but I hope to say more on this soon. In the meantime, here’s the email:

Hello Professor Mongue, this is the last email I will be sending you, just wanted to give you an update. I filed a Federal Lawsuit yesterday in Federal Court to challenge the Constitutionality of the UPL investigation of me and also to challenge the UPL Rules and Statutes here in Colorado as Unconstitutional, as they are applied to everyone. Now once again I do not care who you choose to share this email with. As I stated in my last email this is not about my business as a Independent Paralegal Services Provider, this is about my constitutional rights as a Pro Se Litigant. I am going to represent myself in court, I believe that this is in my best interest and the only way to expose the ABA and the Colorado Bar Association and the Office of Attorney Regulation who oversees attorneys in Colorado. I have received so much support from around the country from other paralegals and Pro Se Litigants that it really makes me proud to be in this profession.

I am not going to allow the Office of Attorney Regulation here in Colorado intimidate me or punk me and I am sure as hell am not going to allow them to coerce me into admitting that I have practiced law. 100% of the emails that I have received from paralegals around the country state that they truly hope that I am able to get the Federal Court to find UPL unconstitutional, because they fill the same way that I do and fill that it is time that someone challenge the ABA and all State Bar Association, because it is paralegals who do the work and attorneys get paid for the work. I am so humbled, I am blessed on so many levels and I continue to become more encouraged with the support that I am getting throughout the United States. Pro Se Litigants are saying that I am their voice for doing the right thing and that we Pro Se Litigants have constitutional rights to represent ourselves in court. If I were the ABA I would take notice of what is happening, because sooner or later they are going to have to be in court at the Federal Level to address UPL, they have gotten away with hiding and using their association to continue to take advantage of paralegals and their services for too long. I want to share an email with you that I received today verbatim.

“Hello Mr. Martin, I pray that all is well. I am a certified paralegal in Vermont and support you 150%, I am a white female in my 30’s and like you have had enough of the ABA, Vermont Bar Association and all paralegal associations that continue to pimp out paralegals like we are their property. The reason why paralegals are not regulated in the United States or in some states and not other states is simple, attorneys have a monopoly and will fight like hell to keep their monopoly, I see it everyday in my law firm. There is not another industry where a person has to be under the direction of anyone, only in the legal profession and since no one challenges this none sense the ABA and all the State Bar Associations continue to abuse and use it to their advantage. Paralegals don’t practice law, please we are trained to understand the difference between giving legal advice and answering questions. Just the other day I was put in the position to give legal advice because one of our partners was not able to make the meeting with our client so here I am again as usual telling our client what they have to do. I wonder if I am ever going to be charged with UPL, oh that can’t happen to me because I work under an attorney.

… [Edited for length by R. E. Mongue] I work for a law firm that would not even look your way, because you are a threat to their pockets and I can tell you that attorneys take care of their own, there are no ethical or moral boundaries when it comes to greed. It is a good thing that you filed a Federal Lawsuit because that is the only place where you can get justice. Mr. Martin never feel like you are alone, paralegals like myself are out there just like you are and trust me we are so grateful that you are going to take this for the team. I support you and pray that we get justice, all UPL Statutes need to be found unconstitutional and struck down in every state, you have been in this field far to long to be challenged and treated the way that you are being treated. Mr. Martin knowledge is power and they know that you have the knowledge and power to help people. Mrs. C

Professor these are the emails that I continue to receive daily so I know that I am doing what is right for all Pro Se Litigants. I have been asked over and over again do I worry about the ABA, Colorado State Bar Association and the Office Of Attorney Regulation in Colorado and what they can do to me. My answer is always the same, “FEAR CREATES PARANOIA” they pick the wrong Marine to mess with and they are about to see be very careful what you ask for, I fear God not men or women. So with that being said it has been a pleasure corresponding with you, I am sure that you will read about my case sometime in the future. I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity on your forum it has been a good thing for me. Thank you Professor Mongue. Efrem B. Martin

Efrem B. Martin BA, Certified Paralegal & Owner
Martin Paralegal Services LLC
www.martinparalegalservices.com

I have notified Mr. Martin that future emails updating on the status of this lawsuit would be welcome.

This is not a job for Warren G or Nate Dogg

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Among the reactions to my recent participation in the Paralegal Mentor Mastermind call is this email from Barbara Parkes, which I am sharing with permission:

Hello, Mr. Mongue. I was a participant on the Paralegal Mentor Mastermind call with Vicki Voisin on Tuesday evening. I very much appreciate what you are doing for the paralegal profession, and I agree with you that it should be more regulated. I wish there was more of a clear cut educational path for a paralegal that the ABA would approve and require on a national level. As you mentioned, just as attorneys are required to go through a three year law school program, paralegals should have to complete a program with the same curriculum at every school where it is offered, and paralegals should receive a designation at the completion of this program (whether it’s an associates degree, bachelor’s degree, certificate or certification — whichever the ABA decides upon) without which they should not be permitted to be hired by any lawyer and be titled a paralegal.

However, I think we have a long way to go to get to this point. I recall reading that, a few years ago, this very issue was brought up in New Jersey and it was decided that paralegals did not have to have specific educational requirements to be titled as a paralegal or legal assistant. I’m guessing this was decided primarily because attorneys assume that paralegals’ salaries may be raised as a result of the educational requirements and did not want this extra financial burden. How do we get past this obstacle? I think, as you do, that the paralegal profession would be more respected as a result of this requirement, and attorneys would have a clearer vision of how the paralegals were trained and what they are capable of doing. I would be interested in your thoughts.

This email addresses several substantial issues and I cannot say that I have fully formed opinions on them as they are all subject of my ongoing research.

I do believe that the paralegal profession needs a better established identity if it is to gain the recognition and respect of the bar and the public as a profession. Establishing that identity will require more than the current ABA/NALA definition of “paralegal” which describes the paralegal as “qualified by education, training or work experience” without any content to what education, training or work experience makes one qualified. There does, it seems to me, to be more content and standardization in that regard. However, it is not clear whether that content and standardization should be through licensing, regulation, certification or another means.

Nor is it clear whether whatever form is adopted for this purpose whether it should be imposed through government. If the government is involved, this does not seem to be a federal issue, but I am concerned that each state devising its own definition and requirements will lead to a patchwork that is more confusing than it is helpful. Thus, it would seem to make sense to have some national organization or consortium of organizations develop a model or uniform act for consideration by the states.

It is not at all clear that the ABA should be the organization making these determination, at least not in isolation. Within AAfPE (American Association for Paralegal Education) there is some ongoing discussion about whether the ABA is the correct institution to be “approving” paralegal programs: does it make sense to have lawyers rather than educators determining what makes a good educational program, even if the topic being taught it law?

The same may be true on the issue of standardization of criteria for paralegals. A topic that frequently comes up on this blog and others is that attorneys frequently on an individual basis do not understand the role and abilities of paralegals. Are we to assume, then that as a group attorneys are able to best decide the criteria for those persons who fill the role of paralegal?

Perhaps we need for all interested groups to chose a representative to a committee to establish a model act – ABA, NFPA, NALA, NALS, AAfPE. It may be there should even be a seat at the table for a group representing “independent” paralegals.

I am working on an anthology on paralegal professionalism that will, in part, provide a forum for peer-reviewed articles addressing these topics from educators and professionals. Like Barbara, I would interested in your thoughts.