Posts Tagged ‘experience’

A Professional Reality Check

Monday, October 24th, 2011

It is no surprise I am sure that the New York City Paralegal Association has a LinkedIn group, nor that Mariana Fradman, President of that wonderful group, continues to post links to great materials and sites there. And certainly it is no surprise that Karen George, FRP, would produce a well-written article. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprise at Mariana’s link to Karen George’s article at The Paralegal Society entitled, “WANTED: Paralegal, No Experience Necessary. A Professional Reality Check.”

This is a very good article that is well worth a full reading. I particularly liked her emphasis on the paralegal as a professional:

A paralegal is a professional position. By becoming a paralegal, you have stepped away from the subordinate positions in the work world and stepped into a new realm on the employment list. You are a professional and that means there’s a new and harder set of rules in the “game of employment” for both sides: the employee and the employer.

…Whatever your expectations, you have them because you are A PARALEGAL. You now hold a certificate or a degree, you have studied long and hard, and incurred loans to become and be able to call yourself A PARALEGAL.

The employer seeking a paralegal has certain expectations as well: that the paralegal dress in a professional manner, conduct himself professionally, not have to be micromanaged, and to not be directed in an assignment the same way his legal assistant or receptionist or file clerk is directed. The attorney expects the paralegal to come to have those abilities and knowledge that are instantaneously helpful to the attorney. In sum, he is seeking a partner, not exactly an equal partner, but a partner in the representation of the client.

…The bottom line is this: by becoming a paralegal you have stepped out of the regular job market. You are no longer looking for the “regular job” you may have previously held. You are now a professional and the playing field is different. You bring not only your education to the application table, but you must also bring proof that you can fill a very important role in the firm from the moment you enter it – and for the most important person in the office — the attorney. A paralegal is not hired to be “taught” how to be a paralegal. A paralegal is hired to fill a position that is intricate to the process. The position requires critical thinking based on experience, which is knowledge.

Of course, Karen does not stop there. She goes on to explore the implications of seeking employment and experience as a professional and adds some sound advice.

As a side note, this is my first trip to The Paralegal Society and I have added it to my Paralegal Blogs list. While you are there reading Karen’ article, look around at the rest of what it has to offer.  Mariana’s LinkedIn profile states she is a “Mentor at The Paralegal Society.” Perhaps one day soon I can get her to do a guest post discussing The Paralegal Society mentors.

Paralegal-Experienced

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

A small law firm in Manhattan has posted an add for a “Paralegal-Experienced.” It states:

 Seeking experienced paralegal for full-time position with potential for growth.

Unlike at some larger firms, our paralegals are involved in every step of the legal process, including fielding intake inquiries from potential clients, drafting demand letters and court complaints, and reviewing settlement agreements – all while working with the attorneys and clients. Paralegals help guide clients from the beginning of the case through resolution.

The disappointing part of the add is that it is all too accurate in stating that the way paralegals work in this firm is “unlike” many other firms. Frequently, as I’ve discussed here previously, this is the result of misunderstanding on the part of the firm as to what paralegals can and ought to do for a firm and the firm’s clients. It is also partially due to the fact that so many people involved in providing legal services are classified as “paralegals” because there is no real standard for determining which ought to be so classified and which ought not to be.

The profession continues to mature and, I believe, will soon be at the point where professional paralegals are fully integrated into the legal team for the entire legal process whether that process is litigation, probate, business formation and operating, or any of the other areas in which paralegals provide essentail services.

The prospects for this firm finding the paralegal they seek are quite good if my experience with the NYC Paralegal Association is any indication! I suggest the firm contact the NYCPA in this regard.

Meanwhile in Australia…

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

The use of the term “paralegal” has been discussed many times on this blog both in the context of the legal assistant/paralegal designation debate, in the context of asking whether just anyone can call themselves a paralegal, and even discussing Australian for “paralegal.” Despite the rather clear depiction of a in the last referenced post, the lack of a clear statement of qualifications for using the terms “paralegal” in Australia appears to have lead to so much abuse of the term by lawyers that the Chief Justice of Queensland, “has called for a national ban on the term “paralegals” to prevent clients being deceived into paying $300 an hour for work done by unqualified clerks and secretaries.”

According to The Australian

The term “paralegal” is interpreted by clients as meaning someone with a legal qualification but in reality it can be the firm’s most junior clerk performing mundane tasks including booking medical appointments and picking up reports.

Chief Justice de Jersey told The Australian that it was “plainly unacceptable” for a law firm to be charging a client $300 an hour for work done by someone not legally qualified.

“We need to eradicate this kind of grasping rapacity,” he said. “It would be a good start to stop the use of the term ‘paralegals’. It is unacceptable and deceptive and it should not be occurring. The term paralegals appears to be designed to suggest these people have a qualification and experience that particularly suits them for legal work.

“It implies that there is a qualification or expertise justifying their involvement in legal work, as opposed to someone who does administrative or clerical work. It is deceptive to present them under that guise and then charge as if they are somehow qualified.

One recent thread on the Paralegal Today listserv has lead to a similar discussion based on a question regarding whether work experience or education is more valuable to a new paralegal.  During that discussion, Michelle Boerder of Dallas, Texas, noted:

 I worked as a legal secretary while going through a paralegal program 30 years ago.   While I had learned a great deal “on-the-job,”  like you said,  I later understood the big picture, when combining what I learned in my paralegal education and work experience.    Just as lawyers have legal education to become lawyers, so should paralegals have paralegal education.  (and even lawyers in small towns/small firms go to law school;  today, there are many paralegal education opportunities so there is a diminishing excuse that education is not available)

 Your comments are exactly why I cannot understand some firms who hire college graduates but with NO paralegal education and call them a paralegal.     It seems (to me) such a disservice to both the employee and the firm.
 
Since our  profession has matured and grown, I hope to see more and more bachelor degree paralegal education  (or matriculation programs from associate degrees, which is what I did). [Emphasis added]
 
As I noted there in response, it is also a disservice to the public, the paralegal profession and, by extension, to the legal profession. The question becomes, I suppose, when it goes beyond being a mere disservice to pure abuse and perhaps even fraud, as described by the Queensland Chief Justice.

Volunteering Opportunities and Stories

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Today’s post returns to a frequent topic here – volunteering as an essential part of being professional. (See the “Volunteering” category.) But today instead of the sermon coming from me, I’m relying heavily on two posts from other blogs. First, Lynne DeVenny at Practical Paralegalism has a post entitled “Be the ONE – Message to Paralegals,” that reports, ” Kathy Para, an attorney for Jackonsville Area Legal Aid in Jacksonville, Florida and the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee Chair, is looking for legal professionals to be “The One” to help make a difference, even if it’s in a single pro bono case.”

This post is excellent not only for the report, but for the additional information Lynne provides including these links:

The National Pro Bono Volunteer Opportunities Guide
Directory of Pro Bono Children’s Law Programs
The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory
CASA State and Local GAL programs

Finally, Lynne provides her own story as encouragement:

It is an incredible feeling to make a difference in the life of a person who could not otherwise afford representation in the legal system. Volunteering your time will make a difference in your life, too. The years I spent as a Guardian ad Litem changed the way I see the world forever, and may have contributed to a decision I made years after I submitted the report in my last case: to adopt a child from the foster care system.
 
Which brings me to the second post. Apparently coincidentally Melissa at Paralegalese also tells of her recent experience in a post entitled, “Giving Back, Paying Forward.”  I’ll not repeat the entire post here, but here are the first and last paragraphs, which echo Lynne’s feelings about volunteering:
 
 
I’m ashamed to say that it has been years since I sought out volunteer work of any kind. But I broke that streak recently when I volunteered at the monthly Saturday legal clinic sponsored by the Memphis Association of Legal Services (MALS). Thank goodness that I did.
 
….

I’ve decided to make the MALS Saturday clinics a monthly habit. It feels good to be donating time toward the field I love. If you are a legal secretary, paralegal, law student, or attorney in the Memphis area, and you are interesting in volunteering, visit the MALS website.

 

Many of my posts here have pointed out that volunteering is an opportunity to network, gain experience, and satisfy ethical obligations. The bottomline though is that it is an opportunity to do good. Networking, experience, satisfying ethical obligations and feeling better about oneself are just terrific side-benefits that contribute to professionalism.

What is suitable qualification for a paralegal? -Louisiana Edition

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Yesterday’s post concerned a non-paralegal accepting a position as a paralegal while not having the qualifications required for the job and then quitting because she was not given any meaningful work. This story seems somehow related, but I can’t quite put that relationship together. Anyway, a candidate for Kenner (Louisiana) mayor, is having trouble justifying his claim that he worked as a paralegal in the Jefferson Parish Attorney’s Office. He has

produced a copy of a Nov. 9, 1998, letter on Jefferson Parish letterhead from Tom Wilkinson, the parish attorney at the time, to then-Finance Director Penny Anderson, transferring Yenni from Citizens’ Affairs to the attorney’s office as a full-time paralegal making $11.75 per hour effective two days earlier. He also provided a parish personnel form noting his Jan. 15, 1999, resignation as a paralegal.

But in response to a request for public records of Yenni’s work as a paralegal, the parish on Wednesday released only a form indicating he started working as a temporary “typist clerk” making $5.23 per hour on Aug. 31, 1998. Handwritten on that form is “Resigned 1/15/99.

I let the Louisianan politicians and voters sort out whether Yenni actually worked for the parish attorney or was just paid from his budget for working as a typist clerk in another department, something which appeared to have happened with some regularity in Jefferson Parish. My question is by what standard did Yenni qualify to work as a paralegal anywhere at anytime? According to the report at Nola.com,

Two weeks ago, The Times-Picayune reported that the biography page at www.electmikeyenni.com said Yenni at one point in his career was “Director of Communications with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.” The page also said that when he became director of the Citizens Affairs Department, he oversaw an operating budget of $116 million.

In reality, while working in Citizens Affairs, Yenni said he “directed communications” with the Sheriff’s Office during Carnival parades. And his budget was closer to $1 million.

Be that as it may, there is no indication under either description of his experience that he has any experience, education, or certification that qualifies him as a paralegal. I don’t know about the courts in Louisiana, but I am sure the Minnesota Court of Appeals would agree. Unfortunately it continues to appear that just about anyone can call themselves a paralegal.

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

Friday, March 19th, 2010

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

Paralegal Students Man Guardianship Help Desk

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

The Lake County News-Sun reports on a “Guardianship Help Desk” set up by the Lake County Bar Association:

“It’s to help assist these people going through the process and making the court process more efficient,” Rochford said.

Staffed by volunteer bar association attorneys and paralegal student volunteers from the College of Lake County, assistance is provided for people petitioning the court for guardianship of a minor child. The free service is for people establishing a legal relationship with a child not their own to make decisions about the child’s education, health and welfare, Rochford said.

Many people were involved in making the project work.

Circuit Judge Diane Winter, who presides over Probate Court, said many people coming into her courtroom often had incomplete or incorrectly completed paperwork, forcing the judge to assist with the paperwork.

“This was all very time-consuming for me to get these cases into court. I was only able to hear a few cases in a few hours. Now we can serve more litigates,” Winter said.

She said the help desk makes the system more efficient. Rochford said many people were frustrated with the system and previously had to come to court multiple times due to paperwork issues.

The help desk was in planning for about a year and involved cooperation by many, including county clerks and administrators, the bar association, the sheriff’s office and College of Lake County students, Winter and Rochford said.

But, of course, I am focusing on the paralegal students. I generally promote and encourage this kind of volunteering anyway, but this one is of particular interest because it demonstrates how access to justice can be improved through wise utilization of paralegals. Since each attorney can supervise several well-trained paralegal, more people gain access.

Paralegal assistants from the college received special training last fall so they work on the help desk, said Gayle Miller, CLC’s department chair of paralegal studies.

Nearly 30 students signed up, and about 20 attorneys have registered to supervise, Miller said. Because paralegals are not qualified to offer legal advice, Miller said there is always a supervising attorney at the help desk.

This project also provides a networking opportunity and experience for the students, as well as good exposure to the public. Those helped by the project, at least, will have a better understanding of the role of a paralegal as part of the legal profession.

Free one-on-one counseling with trained paralegal students

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The Hartford Courant reports on foreclosure prevention forums presented by the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors. They are “aimed at borrowers who have questions about the foreclosure process, avoidance programs and legal services.”  According to the report:
The forums will include a panel of experts that include: an attorney from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center; an official with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority; and a real estate agent.

Free one-on-one counseling with trained paralegal students from the University of Hartford and the University of Connecticut. Real estate agents also will field questions.

Aside from the fact that “Free one-on-one counseling with trained paralegal students from the University of Hartford and the University of Connecticut” is not a sentence (I often threaten to have a “Not a sentence” stamp made for correcting papers), it is an interesting concept. I assume the students are somehow working under the supervision of the attorney. In any case, it is an excellent opportunity for the students to gain experience, begin what I hope will be a lasting practice of providing pro bono service, and for the borrowers to gain useful information – not only about foreclosure but about the role paralegals can play in providing access to justice.

I’d like to hear from anyone who knows more about this project.

An Illinois Volunteering Opportunity

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Several threads on discussion boards I’ve been reading laterly concern the difficulty of getting hired with no experience and the difficulty of getting experience if you can’t get hired. As mentioned in a previous post, one way to get that experience and network at the same time is through volunteering. Here’s an opportunity from the LinkedIn Paralegal Network:

From the Chicago Paralegal Network:
Volunteer with Illinois Legal Aid Online

http://www.illinoislegalaidonline.org/index.php?volunteer

Volunteer Opportunity Description: In an effort to make the legal information on http://www.illinoislegalaid.org , http://www.illinoislegaladvocate.org , and http://www.illinoisprobono.org available to a wider range of Illinois residents, we are looking for paralegals and other professionals to transcribe video webcasts that appear on these websites. The websites have over 400 webcasts that need to be transcribed for the deaf and hearing impaired. Webcast trainings are sponsored by a variety of organizations and present material in a variety of legal practice areas. The legal information presented in these webcasts is intended for low income Illinois residents, pro bono attorneys and legal aid advocates.

Volunteers with paralegal or transcription experience are preferred, but is not required for this work. Volunteers must be proficient typists. Legal expertise in a specific area is not necessary, as all transcribed material will be reviewed by an attorney prior to being posted on the website. Volunteers can be located anywhere, as all work can be conducted over the internet.

Interested volunteers should contact Multimedia Coordinator Susan Muirhead at 312.977.9047 ext. 17 or smuirhead@illinoislegalaid.org.

To paraphrase a previous post, doing good for others makes you feel better about yourself. The decision to do something beneficial to others with your time puts you in charge of that time rather than letting your circumstances be in charge of you. These two “attitude adjustments” will go a long way towards helping you find employment. After all, other factors being equal the candidate with the professional attitude is more likely to be hired than the one with out. These attitude adjustments will also take some of the sting out of the waiting-to-be-hired period.

A question of identity

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

The paralegal profession continues to deal with questions of identity and definition as can be seen by responses to this post on the Legal Assistant Today listserv:

I am new to this blog, new to this profession-I’m actually finishing my certificate in the spring.Although I hope to get into mediation practice, I want to spread my skills out as far as I can over the legal spectrum. So in order for me to get started as an independent paralegal, I’m trying to design a business card. Does anyone have any ideas about what I can put on my business card other than just “Independent Paralegal”?

Aside from the question of whether there is a role for truly “independent” paralegals within the current American legal system and, if so, what that role should be, there is some confusion in this instance as whether the person making the post means “independent” or “freelance.”  The post also raises questions about education, certification, and experience. All of these questions are raised by Rachel in her response:

The paralegals I know who are freelancers all have years–as in 20, 30 years–experience in this profession and did not jump from a certificate to a full blown, attorneys knocking down their doors, career.

 
You might want to maybe get your feet wet a bit before you do this. From what I understand, the laws vary from state to state but even a freelance paralegal has to be beholden to an attorney in order to do any real substantial legal work independently. Check your states statutes concerning this.
 
Also, is this certificate you spoke of just that–a certificate, like a program you took that lasted a year or less? If so, you might also want to do some research into the area where you live as far as the minimum educational requirements for this type of work. The only way around not having at least an associates if not a bachelors degree where I live is to either 1.) start out in a different capacity, say, as a legal secretary or something along those lines, or 2.) to already have been in the field for many years and have the actual experience under your belt.
There does appear to me to be a distinction between indepenent paralegal providing services directly to clients such as Martin Legal Services, who wrote regarding his practice as discussed in this post, and freelance paralegals who work for attorneys as independent contractors rather than employees such a Outsourced Paralegal Services, who I discussed in a previous post.
There is a real question of whether there would be adequate protection to the public in a case where someone with minimum education and experiences attempting to establish a practice as a truly independent paralegal. It is far too likely that serious mistakes will be made when an undereducated, inexpereinced practitioner in any field attempts to practice without superision. One problem with which the paralegal legal professions still must deal is the fact that there  is, in most jurisdictions, no clear statement of what is “adequate” education and experiences to hold oneself out as a paralegal.
There are also dangers to the profession should the public not be well served in such circumstances. First, the perception of the paralegal profession as a whole is affected when members of the public suffer from such mistakes. Ultimately enough incidences will lead to a demand for regulation. Regulations as a reaction to an accumlation of such incidences rather than as a well-thought out effort to establish paralegals as a profession, it seems to me, is not likely to serve the best interest of the profession or the public.