Posts Tagged ‘competition’

The Value in Critical and Analytical Thinking

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

It’s been a while since I posted. I appreciate the emails asking whether I still exist! I do, but I’ve been quite busy. I’m teaching extra courses this semester, weekends have been taken up with projects such as teaching Constitutional Law to reserve and part-time police officers. In addition, I’m attempting to complete my Masters in Philosophy and had the opportunity to present a paper at a recent annual conference of the Mississippi Philisophical Association.

Normally when I find myself in such a situation, I fill in gaps by relying on posts that incorporate ideas or actual posts from other blogs or emails that I’ve received, but I even seriously behind in reading the many items backlogged in those two categories. However, I have spent some time reading over the last couple of days and will be working off these materials for posts until I can find time for truly original work.

I’m starting with a post from Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog on “THE VALUE OF THINKING LIKE A LAWYER.” That post itself features an article by Professor Harner of Univsersity of Maryland School of Law, which “begins by accepting some of the premises offered by Ribstein and Susskind: that forces are at work changing the legal profession; that the legal profession is becoming commoditized and generic; and that survival as a lawyer, and indeed, survival of the legal profession, will demand evolution in the way lawyers offer and market services.”  But I focused more on Judge Primeaux’s opening words,

In law school we were taught not so much the law as how to think like lawyers.  That is, we were taught to think analytically, to break complex issues into comprehensible components, and to bring creative solutions to bear using the framework of the law.

The judge’s comments and the post in general are, of course, directed to attorneys, but I belive the judge’s comments (at least) are applicable to paralegals, especially in the context of an ongoing discussion on the Paralegal Today listserv. One comment there states,

I agree finding a job as a paralegal is extremely competitive and the employers want to pay $10.00 an hour even with a bachelor. Its like they no longer value the cost and effort that you put into getting an education. When I graduated from undergrad four years ago I was told from my professor that becoming certified was not necessary, however, I noticed that more jobs are asking for five to ten years experience and requiring certification for anyone with less experience. I think that the schools should be honest and inform the students about how hard it is to get a job as a paralegal making a decent income with no experience.

To this another responded,

I agree with you that the schools and colleges should be notified of what is really going on out here after we spent all this money and time and can’t find a job because attorneys are taking them, and they only want to pay us $10.00.  The should be telling students that the demand for paralegals is diminishing because there are so many unemployed attorneys.

I agree that paralegals schools should be forthright with students regarding the prospects for obtaining employment (to the extent any of us can predict the prospects of obtaining employment in two or four years based on the market at the time of enrollment), but my thoughts today are on the comment that law firm employers do not value the education paralegals get (through formal education or experience) and that the devaluation is at least in part unemployed lawyers. While there are many indications that this is happening, I am writing once again to propose to those attorneys who read this blog that the use of unemployed attorneys as substitutes for paralegals is a mistake.

This issue has been addressed here before, but I’ll take another shot at it today using the concept of “thinking like a lawyer” as an example. Well educated paralegals are trained to do a number of things like an attorney (not identical to an attorney.) If we things of the capacities of paralegals and the capacities of attorneys based on education and experience as Venn diagrams we see that there are capacities (usually varying in degree), but there are many tasks for which paralegals are trained that attorneys are not. For example:

•PARALEGALS
•Client Communications, Docket Management, Calendar Management, File Management, Legal Research, Legal Reasoning, Critical and Analytical Thinking
•ATTORNEYS
•Client Representation in Court, Legal Tactics and Strategy, Legal Advice, Legal Research, Legal Reasoning, Critical and Analytical Thinking
Quarterbacks and guards are both atheletes and they are both football players. Many of their capacities overlap. It’s a mistake to hire a guard to play the position of  quarterback. It is a mistake to hire quarterback to play the position of guard. Likewise, it is a mistake to hire an unemployed attorney as a paralegal. In practical terms they cannot and will not “block” clients or provide the same protection from a malpractice blitz as paralegals.

As stated previously,

In general, lawyers are either over-qualified or under-qualified for many of the available non-lawyer positions. For example, one firm that advertised for an administrative assistant was inundated with lawyer résumés. But the firm declined to hire a lawyer because it felt the candidate would simply leave once a better job came along.

The point is not, however, that the lawyer is over-qualified. The lawyer is simply not qualified by training or experience to do what paralegals do. For example, the paralegals role in client management is quite different from that of an attorney.

Lynne Devenny of Practical Paralegalism  summed the training aspect up well :

While lawyers’ training is usually a three-year immersion in case study and analysis, many paralegals have undergone two to four years of specific paralegal training which is much more practice-oriented and very different from most law schools’ current curriculum.

Chere Estrin, Editor-in-Chief of Know: The Magazine for Paralegals handles the experience issue this way,

Besides differences in training – lawyers are trained in the practice of law while paralegals are trained in procedures and processing – few lawyers have the on-the-job experience to be a paralegal. In fact, while lawyers can delegate a paralegal assignment, very few can execute it. The awarding of a law degree does not guarantee knowledge of the finite and detailed responsibilities of paralegals.

And Melssa H. from Paralegalese, who I have previously quoted in an encouraging sequel on the topic “Does Your Attorney Understand What You Do?” makes an point that may be even more important:

Also, we need to stop tiering in the legal world. When we say that paralegals and attorneys are trained differently for different jobs, we are not saying that the attorney’s job requires a smarter or more capable person. We are saying the attorney’s job requires a person with a law degree and license to practice, while the paralegal’s job has other requirements (which I personally feel need to be more uniform as we move forward). If I were a lawyer, I would want the most capable, intelligent person I could find to assist me in my practice. After all, if the paralegal is doing work that, absent the paralegal, would be done by the attorney, I would hope the paralegal is at least as competent as the person who chose to go to law school would be. …  Rather than a viewing this as a problem, I like to compare it to the different jobs nurses and doctors do. The doctor may be fully capable of performing the duties of a nurse in a technical sense, but the nurse’s experience and training probably make him better at the job.

The attorney and paralegal are parts of the legal team. The attorney, like a quarterback, directs that team. Except in exceptional circumstances, the quarterback is not expected to play the role of the other team members – primarily because he is not trained or experienced enough to perform those roles. No one want the quarterback responsible for protecting against a 300 lb defensive lineman. The same applies to the protection a paralegal gives from many clients through skillful and professional client management.

UPDATE: After writing the above post I check through the “backstage” data for the blog over for yesterday and found a link for Superlegal Fun, a paralegal blog that contains a post from last Thursday that asks an newly minted attorney who could not find a job as an attorney, “Dear JD: What exactly did you learn in law school?:”
JD is an attorney (hence the nickname JD), but couldn’t find a lawyer job, so he took a job with our firm as a Paralegal.

Today, he asked what ABN and LR meant.

For those who don’t live in a law office, you may not know that those acronyms stand for “associated business name” and “local rule.”

That’s right. He didn’t know LR meant local rule. Oh the humanity, bring me some sticks to draw that man a picture on the wall of his cave!!

No one is expected to know everything about law or law offices freshly out of law school or paralegal school. However, if a law firm is going to spend money giving on-the-job training to someone for a paralegal position, it seems to make sense to start with someone who has the appropriate basic training and will not be constantly looking to move on to another role in the firm leaving the firm to spend the money giving a real paralegal the same on-the-job training!

When Lawyers and Paralegals Compete

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

I continue to watch the Ontario experiment in licensing paralegals with great interest.  It can put paralegals and lawyers as competitors rather than the legal team we have here in the U.S.  My hope is that we may yet find a middle ground where paralegals gain the maximum ability to aleviate the access to justice problem in the United States.

I previously posted on efforts of paralegals there to expand their role in family law. According to the Law Times that fight continues:

The fight between paralegals and family lawyers over the scope of paralegal practice looks set to go to another round at next year’s Law Society of Upper Canada annual general meeting.

In an open letter to paralegals, Marshall Yarmus, who tabled and later withdrew a motion to expand paralegal practice into family law at the law society’s annual meeting in May, said he’s not satisfied with the LSUC’s promise to study the issue and will therefore reintroduce his proposal next year…

He went on to suggest that paralegals have no power in the law society with only three benchers out of a total of 40 at Convocation. Even on the LSUC’s paralegal standing committee, he noted his colleagues are in a minority.

“What is the purpose of having a paralegal chair of the committee if she cannot even set the agenda for the meetings?” Yarmus asked.

For more on this issue, see “Paralegals call truce over law society motion.

But there is a brand of competition here in the United States also. Take, for example, this exerpt from a post on the Paralegal Today listserv:

[T]he problem for our profession NOT addressed here is the fact that there are TOO MANY law schools, churning out TOO MANY new lawyers who can’t get jobs and who are looking for paralegal positions as the alternative – just to be able to pay their bills.  This, I believe, is the future problem for our profession and one we need to address so that new law school students don’t dilute our profession over the next few years.

This echoes a post by Lynne DeVenney at  Practical Paralegalism entitled, “Paralegals, Watch Your Backs! Out-of-Work Lawyers Want Your Jobs ” that was the subject of posts here some months ago. While some responses to the Paralegal Today listserv post took the position that this was simply a matter of competition, e.g.,

Everyone needs to work. If I couldn’t find a job as a paralegal, you can bet I’d be taking away a secretary’s job. If I was a secretary, and couldn’t get a job as a secretary, I’d be hopping on receptionist jobs. I just can’t take the position that the paralegal profession is some kind of specialized, elite group whose duties should only be performed by someone who has a specific degree from a specifically approved school with specific accreditation and with a specific type and amount of specific experience. From my own perspective, if you can do the job and someone will hire you… hey… have at it.

The point of my previous posts, however, is that for the most part lawyers cannot do a paralegal’s job. 

It is not just a matter of protecting paralegal turf. The fact is that lawyers and paralegals are trained differently for different roles.

However, that territory was covered quite well by Lynne in a comment she posted on a blog post on law.com – Should You Work as a Paralegal if You Can’t Find a Job as a Lawyer?.  Carolyn Elefan, who did the post answered in the negative stating,

In general, lawyers are either over-qualified or under-qualified for many of the available non-lawyer positions. For example, one firm that advertised for an administrative assistant was inundated with lawyer résumés. But the firm declined to hire a lawyer because it felt the candidate would simply leave once a better job came along. In general, lawyers are either over-qualified or under-qualified for many of the available non-lawyer positions. For example, one firm that advertised for an administrative assistant was inundated with lawyer résumés. But the firm declined to hire a lawyer because it felt the candidate would simply leave once a better job came along.

The point is not, however, that the lawyer is over-qualified. The lawyer is simply not qualified by training or experience to do what paralegals do. For example, the paralegals role in client management is quite different from that of an attorney.

Lynne summed the training aspect up well in her comment to Elefan’s post:

While lawyers’ training is usually a three-year immersion in case study and analysis, many paralegals have undergone two to four years of specific paralegal training which is much more practice-oriented and very different from most law schools’ current curriculum.

Chere Estrin, Editor-in-Chief of Know: The Magazine for Paralegals handles the experience issue in another comment,

Besides differences in training – lawyers are trained in the practice of law while paralegals are trained in procedures and processing – few lawyers have the on-the-job experience to be a paralegal. In fact, while lawyers can delegate a paralegal assignment, very few can execute it. The awarding of a law degree does not guarantee knowledge of the finite and detailed responsibilities of paralegals.

And Melssa H. from Paralegalese, who I have previously quoted in an encouraging sequel on the topic “Does Your Attorney Understand What You Do?” makes an point that may be even more important:

Also, we need to stop tiering in the legal world. When we say that paralegals and attorneys are trained differently for different jobs, we are not saying that the attorney’s job requires a smarter or more capable person. We are saying the attorney’s job requires a person with a law degree and license to practice, while the paralegal’s job has other requirements (which I personally feel need to be more uniform as we move forward). If I were a lawyer, I would want the most capable, intelligent person I could find to assist me in my practice. After all, if the paralegal is doing work that, absent the paralegal, would be done by the attorney, I would hope the paralegal is at least as competent as the person who chose to go to law school would be.

I am so thankful I have an attorney supervisor who views me and my education as valuable resources to his firm. While technically, he is the boss and controller of the work product, he places a ton of faith in my abilities. At some point, when I have a few more years under my belt, I expect he may even trust me more than he will trust himself in some areas. This says nothing negative about his own abilities and intellect. It just means that our daily jobs are slightly different, and I come into contact with some situations more often than he does. Over time I will develop a more detailed knowledge of some parts of the legal field that do not require a licensed attorney. Rather than a viewing this as a problem, I like to compare it to the different jobs nurses and doctors do. The doctor may be fully capable of performing the duties of a nurse in a technical sense, but the nurse’s experience and training probably make him better at the job.

The attorney and paralegal are parts of the legal team. The attorney, like a quarterback, directs that team.  Except in exceptional circumstances, the quarterback is not expected to play the role of the other team members – primarily because he is not trained or experienced enough to perform those roles. No one want the quarterback responsible for protecting against a 300 lb defensive lineman. The same applies to the protection a paralegal gives from many clients through skillful and professional client management.

ABAJournal.com on Middle-Class Dilemna

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

ABAJournal.com today has a post entitled, “Middle-Class Dilemma: Can’t Afford Lawyers, Can’t Qualify for Legal Aid.” There’s not much new in the article itself for regular readers here where access to justice has a category of its own. It says, in part,

Lawyers are just too expensive for many people needing legal help, a law professor says.

“You can hardly find a lawyer who charges less than $150 per hour, which is out of reach for most people,” University of Southern California law professor Gillian Hadfield tells the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, people who can’t afford lawyers make too much money to qualify for legal aid. Most aid groups serve those at or below the poverty line, and budget cuts are forcing the organizations to turn away more people, the story says.

Comments to the post, not surprisingly, focus on “unbundling of services” as a possible solution. It is a possible partial solution. However, I continue to suggest that solving the access to justice problem will take more than attorneys. A real solution will find a way to maximize the  utilization of the talent, skill, and experience of professional paralegals.

 It might even include re-visiting UPL and allowing paralegals (suitable licensed) to provide limited legal services at an affordable cost without the supervision of attorneys. This approach is used in other jurisdictions. (Check the “Canada” category.) While many lawyers fear this options as opening the door to competition from paralegals, that approach does not make a lot of sense to me. After all we are talking about middle class people who are not able to afford attorneys. Even now with no competition, the lawyers are not getting that business. As the story notes:

The newspaper cites a survey of nearly 1,200 state trial judges by the ABA Coalition for Justice. Sixty percent of the judges reported that fewer people are represented by counsel in civil cases, according to results announced in a press conference earlier this month.

Kopyto Communication

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

I’ve been traveling and have had little internet access so posting has been, and will be, sparse for awhile. Among the many emails accumulated in my Inbox is on from Harry Kopyto. You may recall from previous posts, Mr. Kopyto is challenging the regulation of paralegals in Ontario, primarily because the regulation is by the Law Society, which is comprised primarily of lawyers and also regulates attorneys (although several paralegals were recently elected to the Law Society’s governing board.) Mr. Kopyto does not view the licensing and regulation of paralegals in Ontario as a step forward for the paralegal profession, but an attempt by attorneys to squelch competition. This effort, he contends, has the effect of diminishing access to justice for those without significant financial resources.

The article Mr. Kopyto sent me is too long to post here, but some excerpts follow. Please keep in mind that I have not vetted the statements for accuracy, Mr. Kopyto’s statements are likely to favor a particular position, and I am not endorsing that position by printing the excerpts.

The main rationale that the LSUC has given for its takeover of paralegals is the fact that “the public interest” requires it to ensure that incompetent paralegals are not foisted on the public market.  What the LSUC has done (and what is not apparent to the public) is that, as a result of bylaws passed by it immediately after the takeover ― the Law Society has basically eliminated paralegals as a profession able to provide a wide variety of services in competition with lawyers.

Prior to the enactment of the Access to Justice Act and the amendments to the Law Society Act, paralegals provided a wide range of services to the public.  They did so effectively and, according to former High Court Judge Peter Cory, at “significantly lower fees” then charged by lawyers.  In fact, within about 30 years, the number of paralegals working in Ontario flourished from a few hundred to an estimated 4,000. Many paralegals prepared wills, prepared incorporations, prepared leases, acted in undefended divorces, did simple real estate transactions and engaged in Family Court representation — subject to prior approval.   Some of their work was in “gray” areas, but unauthorized practice prosecutions were few and successful ones were even fewer.

What do the bylaws say?  Specifically, they restrict paralegals to provide legal advice only with respect to Small Claims Court, provincial offences, 6 months maximum criminal court matters and federal and provincial tribunals.  That’s it.  No more.  Everything else is verboten.  The bylaws thus further entrench lawyers’ fixed–price justice monopoly. An example?  While permitting paralegals to negotiate motor vehicle accident claims, the bylaws ban them from cases involving “catastrophic injuries” where large fees are to be earned.

No rationale is given for preserving this lucrative turf for lawyers alone.

Lawyers’ greed trumps affordable justice when lawyers control the game and hold all the aces.   The LSUC has tried to masquerade its dictatorial control over their twenty-first century serfs. In reality, paralegals have been disenfranchised inasmuch as they are  “members” of the LSUC who can’t vote for benchers.    The much-touted elections of paralegals to their LSUC Paralegal Standing Committee is a joke: the Committee is only administrative.  Similarly, the LSUC’s appointment of two paralegals to Convocation where they are outnumbered by 83 to 2 is a coup d’oeil, an illusion of democracy.

The issue is not yes or no to regulation.  Of course, regulation is in the public interest.  But regulation by whom?  Regulation for what purpose?  Regulation in whose interest?  And why regulation by a competing profession?

Who do UPL laws benefit?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

As discussed in previous posts UPL laws and regulations of legal professionals exist amid tension between the need to provide  the public with access to justice and the need to protect to protect the public from snake-oil salesmen posing as legal professionals. One of my students pointed out today that the State of Wisconsin is currently attempting to define UPL for the first time.  A series of posts on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s website discuss the bar’s attempt to get the Supreme Court to adopt a set of rules in this regard:

A 2005 memorandum of law prepared for the UPL Policy Committee noted that past decisions of the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirm that it has the exclusive jurisdiction to define and regulate the practice of law in Wisconsin, including the power to prevent the unauthorized practice of law by both lawyers and laypersons:

“ . . . the regulation of the practice of law is a judicial power and is vested exclusively in the Supreme Court . . . the practitioner in or out of court, licensed lawyer or layman, is subject to such regulation . . . the court has the power to make appropriate regulations concerning the practice of law in the interest of the administration of justice . . . “ State ex rel. Reynolds v. Dinger, 14 Wis.2d 193 (1961).

According to the memorandum, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has never exercised its power to establish a definition of the practice of law that would be the vehicle with which consumers could be protected. The State Bar’s petitions asked the court to establish such a definition.

The Bar casts this as totally a matter of consumer protection:

The State Bar’s initiative, called the Legal Services Consumer Protection Act, responds to a directive issued by the court in 2004 asking the State Bar to document the consumer impact of unqualified individuals practicing law and to recommend changes. Wisconsin residents seeking legal services will gain additional consumer safeguards against individuals and businesses engaging in UPL if the court approves the petition.

The original State Bar petition offered dozens of examples where Wisconsin consumers have been hurt when people without proper training or oversight attempt to practice law. In February 2009, based on feedback from other interested parties, the State Bar filed an amended version of the rule and supporting comments.

Others would argue that this is really an attempt to maintain the monopoly the bar has on providing legal service, i.e., it is a move to eliminate all competition so they can maintain high prices.

I have not yet read everything posted in the weekly series on the Bar association’s website, but what I have read does not deal at all with the access to justice issue. Apparently there is some demand in Wisconsin for such access, which demand is not being met my the present legal system – else there would not be so many examples of consumers seeking the help of “independent” paralegals. 

While the set of rules proposed by the Wisconsin State Bar would indeed add safeguards for the consumer, those rules do not seem to address the access to justice issue at all. I am sure that the Winconsin Bar supports a pro bono program and ethical obligation for attorneys, but such programs simply cannot address the issue. The result appears to be that consumers are left either with legal services provided by attorneys or no legal services at all. There is no middle ground for those who need legal services, but cannot afford an attorney. One question is whether the answer to this problem is a regulatory system such as that adopted by Ontario, Canada. Perhaps the Wisconsin State Bar has another answer. If anyone reading this is aware of that answer, please let me know.

It would seem that there would be support for a regulated paralegal profession among both the political left and the political right. For the left it is a social issue – a matter of equity in that only those with significant financial resources can afford legal access. For the right it is a free-market issue – assuming proper disclosure ought not consumers be able to decide from whom they wish to obtain services, as the do in England.  (Many of the attorneys with whom I have discussed these issues are in favor of protecting consumers of legal services while at the same time arguing in favor of unregulated free markets for businesses, for financial services, and the like.)

As noted in previous posts, I do not favor unregulated snake-oils salesman practicing law – as attorneys or as paralegals. However, it does seem clear we must do more to allow if not provide access to legal services than we do now. A well educated, well trained, well regulated paralegal profession may just be the answer.

“Ask and you shall receive”

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Paralegal Pie posts some advice on “Raises in an Economic Downturn.” It concludes:

If you expect to share in the rewards when the firm is having a good year, its only fair that the firm expect you to share in the leaner years too.  

If you feel your firm is taking advantage of you, which wouldn’t be the first time in history a law firm pulled that trick – think about what other “compensation” may be available. Sometimes extra vacation, parking or leaving early on Friday is an option in lieu of money.  Maybe just keeping your mouth shut is the only option.  Be patient, do a good job…it will get better!

Raises are just one of the many areas where the paralegal and attorney members of the legal team may be in conflict with one another.  Conflict is inevitable and must be resolved. Simply letting it simmer benefits no one. It helps to be aware of approaches to conflict. Such awareness will be beneficial not only in terms of your relationship with your attorney, but in all relationships.

Conflict arises between attorneys and their paralegals when they have wants, needs, desires or interests that not only are different, but it appears that only one set of those wants can be achieved in any given situation. For these purposes, I assume that both the attorney and paralegal are acting professionally, for example, that you are doing your best to earn your salary as opposed to doing the least you can possibly do to earn your salary, and the attorney is doing his best to utilize your professional skills even if he lacks an understanding of what those skills truly are. Even when that assumption is made, conflicts can arise between your desire for the independence and responsibility of your profession and the attorney’s desire for control; between your desire for supervision, guidance and clear instructions, and his desire that you just get the work done without bothering him.

In some situations one party may be, at least initially, unaware that the conflict exists. It is important that there be open communication between the attorney and paralegal not only in order to resolve conflict but to create awareness that the conflict exist. With a demanding, authoritative, perhaps bullying attorney, you will be well aware of his side. A way must be found to inform him that you are not happy without triggering a crisis. On the flip side, you must make it clear to the more reticent attorney that you are open to, even anxious to, be made aware of potential conflicts between his expectations and your performance.

This awareness can sometimes be difficult to achieve because of the approach used to conflict by either the attorney, the paralegal or both. Generally, people will favor one of five approaches to conflict: avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise or collaboration. Of course, no one is so fully committed to one approach that they can be strictly compartmentalized. Often people will use a blend of approaches, or they may use one approach at home and another at work, and so on. Paralegal Pie‘s suggestion of seeking alternative forms of compensation when money is tight could result in a collaborative resolution to this conflict.