Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Beating an Incarcerated Horse

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Regular readers will have noticed, I hope, that I have not been posting at my regular rate over the last couple of weeks. The reduced postings relate to publishing deadlines and preparations for travel. As I note in The Empowered Paralegalthere are times when we simply need to establish priorities.

In this brief break from attempting to meet other deadlines I came across the reports on Bonnie Sweeten. She was previously sentenced to prison for identity theft and filing a false police report and is just one of several who are part of a trend the paralegal profession does not need. It is no secret that she now faces 23 new charges in alleged $700K law firm thefts. This is not a simple case of a paralegal’s attorney failing to properly supervise the paralegal, as it appears the attorney may have been involved in the illicit activities.

What really caught my attention and brought me back to the blog was an indication that this may be another case of just anyone calling themselves a paralegal. PhillyBurb.com is carrying a report entitled, “A closer look at Bonnie Sweeten’s life” which begins, “1993: Bonnie Anne Rakoczy takes a job as paralegal and office manager with Feasterville law firm of attorney Debbie Carlitz.”

Regular readers will also be mindful that this is the type of report that drives me crazy. While Bonnie is constantly characterized as a “paralegal” in news reports, this story, apparently accurately, simply states that she took a job as a paralegal. As I have noted frequently here these two are not the same. Apparently just about anyone can call themselves a paralegal and become a paralegal“take a job as a paralegal. That does not make them a paralegal despite John Stossel.

I realize the profession continues to be hampered in establishing an identity by the lack of uniform certification, registration, or licensing requirements, an obstacle that could (and I hope will be) removed through cooperative efforts by all interested groups. In the meantime, it continues to be aggravating that anyone-regardless of training, education, or experience can taint the profession simply by “taking” a job as a paralegal.

Another “paralegal”

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Recently ran across an op-ed in a Philadelphia paper talking about government power. Looks like great fun for those who like to do analytical and critical thinking exercises as several of the contentions were clearly contenders for more analysis than the author had given them. However, my primary concern is that the author is described as “a retired International Business manager, and a Villanova Engineering graduate. Mr. ____ currently provides paralegal help to political candidates.”

Those of you who read my posts regularly have probably already figured out where I am going with this: What about being a manager and engineer qualifies someone to provide “paralegal” services? What are those services? If they are legitimate paralegal services, are they done under the supervision of an attorney or is this a risk for UPL? If they are not legitimate paralegal services, then why are they described as such?

It is difficult, if not impossible, for the paralegal profession to establish an identity for itself as a profession if that identity is being hijacked by persons with no appropriate education, experience, or training. Perhaps, this gentleman has one or more of these, but there is no indication he has and it is, as discussed in previous posts, not at all unusual for just anyone to call themselves a paralegal.

The Chicken or the Egg

Friday, September 25th, 2009

In The Empowered Paralegal I make a case for the proposition that one way for the paralegal profession to advance as a profession in light of the confusion within the bar is for paralegals to be more professional. Admittedly there is a “chicken or egg – which came first” problem here. More than one paralegal has written making statements to the effect of one received yesterday, “I am degreed, but it’s difficult for me to push for education when any attorney can simply walk in and call his secretary a paralegal one day.”

There is no simple answer to this question. The professionalization of paralegals (or legal assistants in some of the earlier literature) has been the subject of discussion among paralegal scholars for decades. In 1990, Green, Snell, Corgiat and Paramanith wrote in the Journal of Paralegal Education and Practice of the three stages of professionalization: Identity, Maturation States and Goal Attainment, and a year later Jolee Farinacci addressed the problem that, while the paralegal profession is “truly as ancient as the legal profession itself,” paralegalism had just recently been recognized as a profession in its own right and did not have an identity. Still it is understandably frustrating for practitioners that the profession still appears to be struggling with the Identity stage at the same time it is attempting to work through Maturation States.

Viewing the profession from a position in academia and on the lawyer side of the bar, I tend to take heart in the tremendous progress that has been made since I started practice in 1976. The fact is that professional associations are not only celebrating 25th anniversaries, but growing and serving the profession. The profession has several wonderful voices on the internet such as Lynne DeVenney at Practical Paralegalism, Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, and Melissa H. at Paralegalese, and in publications such as Know: The Magazine for Paralegals. The profession is being recognized more often by state bars and state governments. I’ll leave aside the controversy over efforts to establish regulatory and certification programs in the various states and point out that the fact such efforts recognize the separate role of the paralegal alone is progress for the profession.

In the end though, I take heart from the professional attitude of many of those now entering the field. Consider this from one of my students who as worked in a law office for a couple of years now:

It is time for more people to be educated on what a paralegal really is.  We need to set higher standards for ourselves and not tolerate being labeled as a glorified assistant.  We’re so much more than that!  …  Some like to say that paralegals are people who couldn’t or wouldn’t go to become an attorney so they settled for working for one.  Once again this is false.  Both are necessary part in a working team in the office and neither can truly be productive without the other.

I get so angry when I hear fellow students or paralegals bad mouth our profession.   The most common thing when they are asked what a paralegal does, or is, I hear “we are the attorneys slave”, “we do all the work and attorneys get the credit”, or “we do the same job and get paid a fraction of what attorneys make”.  For the ones who think this, please change your profession and/or get a new job.  We as paralegals need to do what ever we can to educate ourselves as much as we can, be professional and love what we do.

I continue to believe that if paralegals take charge of their own profession and their own professionalism, the bar and the public will follow where the profession leads.