Posts Tagged ‘independent paralegal’

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>

The “Independent Paralegal Movement”

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Those who frequent this blog know I use quotation marks around “independent” in the phrase “independent paralegals,” because of the seeming incompatibility of the concept of true independent paralegals when the only accepted definition of paralegals in the United States defines paralegals as working under the supervision of an attorney.  (Even freelance and virtual paralegals work under contract with and the supervision of attorneys rather than under contracts directly with clients.) I receive emails fairly frequently from “independent” paralegals and, from time to time, have given them a forum in which to express their positions. (See the category “‘Independent’ Paralegals.”) Recently, during a particularly busy time, I received an entire article from Clifford C. Smith. Without taking a position on his position, I helped him edit it a bit. While it is far too long to reprint here in its entirety, I’m posting the beginning and end for your consideration. If you’d like to comment on it feel free to do so, but first read the entire article which is available at http://napa.club.officelive.com/Documents/ArtCSmithEdited2.pdf:

The independent paralegal movement gave birth to non-lawyers that provided self-help legal services to people who simply could not afford the high cost of legal services. Because paralegal educational programs were scarce in the late 1960s and ‘70s, most of these non-lawyer practitioners had no formal legal training. Much of what they learned was based on hands-on experience and applying that knowledge towards the legal self-help movement.

For the most part, the independent paralegal movement emerged in California around lawyers that had worked in legal aid, only to realize that many of the people they saw were the working poor, who simply didn’t meet the requirements of legal aid. Among other factors, it culminated in the formation of Nolo Press, a legal self-help publication based in Northern California in the 1970s.[1] Nolo’s self-help books became the main resource for independent paralegals – not only in California – but in many other states too, along with resources like, The Independent Paralegal’s Handbook, which provided legal guidelines for them to set up businesses as independent paralegals. The handbook was written by Ralph Warner, a lawyer and one of the founders of Nolo Press.

Through the visionary efforts of Nolo, coupled with the courage and commitment of  independent paralegals, those paralegals earned the trust and admiration of many working people. Eventually, this self-help movement spread throughout the United States. It also made its way into Canada, where paralegals also played a role in assisting consumers with self-help law. It even spawned a Nolo counterpart, entitled “Self Counsel Press.”[2]

Paralegals Today

While many paralegals continue to strive for independence in order to provide access to justice for working class people, the paralegal profession is constrained from fulfilling its full potential in this regard by the restraints imposed by the American Bar Association in its efforts to prevent competition and by paralegal associations that accept the subservient role of paralegals.

Paralegals today have very little in common with the independent paralegal movement that earned the trust and admiration of consumers. In many ways, this new paralegalism has appropriated the term “Paralegal,” which has now come to signify subservience to and working under the supervision of lawyers. In effect, paralegal associations in both United States and Canada have advanced a doctrine of “non-competition” of the paralegal profession, wherein every paralegal must work under the control and supervision of a lawyer. The only exception is the province of Ontario, where paralegals are licensed to practice law, in limited areas.

….

Conclusion

Paralegals should not adopt regulations and licensing absent conditions of professional autonomy and independent decision making. This is not to propose that paralegals should be given a blanket license to practice law. Rather, they should be permitted to provide basic legal advice and to practice law in specialized areas. Paralegals should:

  • Be permitted to exercise independent discretion and decision making.
  • Be permitted to practice before all small claims courts, traffic courts and government agencies.
  • Be permitted to work independently or in cooperation with lawyers.
  • Not be under the control of state bar associations or provincial law societies, but should form their own independent bodies comprising paralegals and members of the public to oversee the paralegal profession in a way that will balance the interests of both groups.

All of the forgoing will ensure deregulation of the legal profession by the ABA and inject some much needed competition in the legal market place. It is important that all paralegals understand the history of the independent paralegal movement and its goal of gaining  people  access to affordable legal services. Only with this understanding can the paralegal profession gain an identity as a truly independent profession dedicated to providing access to justice to working class people.

Clifford C. Smith

napalliance@gmail.com

North American Paralegal Alliance


[1] http://www.nolo.com/about.html

[2] http://www. Self-counsel.com

Paralegal “Fighting for Access to Justice” Wins a Battle in Montana

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

I do not yet have enough information to pick sides in this controversy, but it is one of interest to the paralegal profession. Jerry O’Neil is an “independent” paralegal in Montana. Unfortunately none of the stories I’ve read so far state what his credentials are for claiming to be a paralegal, much less an “independent” one. As previously discussed in this blog, there technically can be no such thing as an independent paralegal since every generally accepted definition of paralegal in the United States requires that the paralegal be supervised by an attorney. That technicality aside, it would be good to know O’Neil’s qualification to call himself a paralegal, supervised or not supervised.

That is not, however, what brings Mr. O’Neil’s story to this blog today. Rather it is the fact that the Montana Attorney General’s Office has withdrawn a complaint against O’Neil that argued phone book advertising by paralegal Jerry O’Neil of Columbia Falls deceived people about his practice. The ad was in the lawyers section of the Yellow Pages identify him as an independent paralegal providing low cost divorce services. He was charged with deceiving people under the state’s Unfair Trade and Consumer Protection Act. The problem is that the state could not identify anyone who had been deceived. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena denied a state request for summary judgment in April. The judge gave the state until May 24 to respond to O’Neil’s request to identify someone who claimed to have been deceived by his advertising. The state did not respond and instead an assistant attorney general signed an agreement dismissing the case.

This, it appears, is not O’Neil’s first confrontation with the Montana legal system over his independent paralegal practice. The Billings Gazetteadds this information:

O’Neil has tangled with the state and the commission over his status as an “independent paralegal” for years.

In 2006, the commission pursued litigation that resulted in District Judge Kim Christopher of Polson affirming an injunction that prohibited O’Neil from practicing law or advertising that he is capable of doing so.

O’Neil said that injunction said he can act as a lay representative if authorized by administrative agencies or tribunals, can serve as an arbitrator or mediator, can act as a lobbyist or legislator and can fill in preprinted documents, such as wills. An attorney has to review some documents he prepares.

O’Neil said most of his business involves offering mediation for divorcing parties to help them divide their property and share custody of their children.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled last month that neither the court nor the commission it created had the authority to regulate the unauthorized practice of law, but that the Legislature has charged the executive branch with investigating and prosecuting such cases. That ruling came after the commission filed a petition seeking more than the $1,000 annual budget it had. The commission said the sparse funding meant only one case had been prosecuted since the commission started in 1976 — O’Neil’s.

The state attorney general’s Office for Consumer Protection agreed to take on the duties of the commission.

O’Neil’s spin on all this is not as a matter of protecting the right to practice as an independent paralegal, UPL, or the like. Rather, in his own press release he says it is an access to justice issue:

O’Neil is also asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to increase the allowable scope of para-professionals’ abilities to help the public access their judicial system. Defendants in that case are the Montana State Bar Association and the Montana Supreme Court Commission on Unauthorized Practice, which the Montana Supreme Court recently found to be operating outside of their Constitutional jurisdiction.
O’Neil says, “This win, along with the Montana Supreme Court disbanding their Commission on Unauthorized Practice of Law, will make it easier for people of modest means to receive legal services. I am proud and grateful to have made a contribution to the public’s access to their judicial system.”

The issues of UPL, independent paralegals, access to justice, and licensing/registration are intertwined. It is clear that paralegals (supervised or independent) can do much to solve access to justice issues. The downside is that absent licensing mandates, anyone can call themselves a paralegal. The deception, if there is any, may be in implying that one has skills, experience, or education that one does not have.

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.

Efrem Martin – Independent Still, But Paralegal No More

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

One of the coincidences abounding in the blogosphere is that just as first Melissa H. at Paralegalese and Lynne DeVenny at Pratical Paralegalism posted regarding the case of “independent” paralegal Jerry O’Neil in Montana who successfully defended a Montana AG’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the issues of violating that state’s Unfair Trade and Consumer Protection Act, Efrem Martin, about whom we have posted before, was informing me that he has informed the Colorado the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel he was no longer a practicing paralegal.

Melissa and Lynne did fine jobs of covering the Montana matter, so I won’t be going into it. (Not everything on the internet about that story has been well done. Some commentators have, it seems to me, clearly misinterpreted both the meaning and the import of the case.)

I am a bit surprised at Efrem’s move. I have not yet had the time to read all of the documents he sent me regarding his case, so I am reserving comment and posting of excepts of his email for a few more days.  However, some of the communication he received from the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel is interesting at least to the extent that it informs those considering or implementing “independent” paralegal practices. In the initial letter is here: EFREM MARTIN INITIAL REQUEST FOR UPL INVESTIGATION[1]
Efrem challenged the Colorado proceeding in Federal Court. The Federal Court remanded it back to Colorado. I’ll have more on the basis for the challenge and the court’s ruling later. A quick read does no seem to indicate the Federal Court’s decision was a ruling on the merits, but rather on the ability to challenge in Federal Court, at least at this stage. Regardless, Mr. Martin is now teaching high school and writing a book.

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.

Pro se Perspective on “Independent” Paralegals and UPL

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

I have received some responses to my post of Efrem Martin’s email on the Colorado State Bar Association’s charge that he is engaged in UPL. Here is on from the perspective of pro se litigants.

Dear Professor Monge,
I am responding to your request for comments on your post regarding Mr. Martin and UPL.  I am a pro se litigant and founder of the National Association of Pro Se Litigants, Inc. (NAPSL)   I fully support Mr. Martin because I could have used a paralegal’s support services while I was engaged as a pro se plaintiff in complex litigation in Prince George’s County Maryland.  I believe UPL is just one of the numerous measures that the ABA and the legal community at large has used to oppress average citizens and prevent them from exercising their rights.

I believe that the legal landscape nationwide will change overnight if Efrem Martin, challenges the State of Colorado and the Colorado State Bar Association in Federal Court over the constitutionality of Unauthorized Practice of Law Statutes in that State … and HE WINS!  I am praying to God that he does.
I believe that the State Bar’s claim that prohibiting paralegals from providing services directly to the public as a means to protect the public is a ruse. I think UPL statutes are in place solely to stamp out competition and to force the public to pay UNREGULATED attorney fees upwards of $400 per hour.  This is evidenced by the fact that the UPL investigation against Mr. Martin was not initiated by a member of the public who allegedly needed to be protected, but by Colorado Attorney, Byron Large, an attorney that Mr. Martin believes felt threatened that Mr. Martin was encroaching upon his [Large’s] business.  I support Mr. Martin and have distributed his story in NAPSL’s newsletter.  Nothing but support from the Pro Se Community is pouring in.
Denying paralegals the right to assist pro se litigants directly should be illegal in every state.  Pro se litigants have a right to paralegal and legal secretarial support services just like attorneys.  I find the UPL to be strikingly like slavery laws which prohibited slaves from learning to read and write, both have the effect of keeping a group within the public ignorant, and when people are ignorant, they are oppressed!
Thats just my little humble opinion.
Deirdre Glascoe
Executive Director
National Association of Pro Se Litigants, Inc.

There is some support for the position that paralegals ought to be able to assist the public without the supervision of attorneys in Canada and Great Britain. In Great Britain, for example, it appears paralegals have much greater leeway based on a common law right of British citizens to select there representatives. I have met with a paralegal who runs an independent office where he supervises other, less experienced and educated, paralegals.

Some Canadian provinces allow paralegal representation by licensed paralegals. It is on this point, perhaps, that the discussion should focus. Under our present system, attorneys are licensed and regulated to protect the public, but paralegals are not. The protection to the public comes from attorney supervision. If paralegals are allowed to operate without the supervision of attorneys for the benefit of the public, then must they be licensed and regulated for the protection of the public?

“Independent” Paralegals and UPL

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I am still making my way through email that arrived while I was at the AAfPE Conference last week, but here is one that just recently arrived, perhaps in response to my referring to Martin Legal Services in this morning’s post. I am posting it in full to avoid the risk that I might alter its author’s meaning through misunderstanding or just editing. I have some thoughts on the topics raised in the email, but cannot take the time at the moment to make them all, so I will look for an opportunity to make them in one or more subsequent posts. I would like to hear what you have to say!

Hello Professor Mongue, this is Efrem B. Martin of www.martinparalegalserices.com I am writing you to give you an update as to what has transpired since I last spoke with you.  I am currently being investigated for Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) here in the State of Colorado.  After 25yrs of being a certified paralegal and having the educational and professional background experience, an Immigration Attorney by the name of Bryon Large attorney registration number #38574 here in Colorado feels threatened by me and sent an email to the Office Of Attorney Regulation in Colorado stating that I am in violation of UPL, I am now their target.  Now before I start this email remember that it was an attorney who reported me not a formal complaint filed by a citizen in Colorado that I have worked with in the past I want to make that perfectly clear.  Professor I really don’t care who you share this email with because I am going to fight this to the very end, even if I have to take it to the United States Supreme Court.  I am a former United States Marine (USMC) I took an oath to defend and protect my country against all “Foreign and Domestic Enemies”  and the American Bar Association is a domestic enemy. 
 
I received my Paralegal Training from the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in 1984 and I helped defend the legal rights of every Marine not some and if the United States Marine Corps (USMC) had full confidence in me to handle the day to day legal affairs off all Marines from Officers, Generals to Enlisted Marines, I am sure that I am capable and qualified to work with Pro Se Litigants.  Let me give you further understanding about me, I have worked professionally in the Criminal Justice System my entire career over 20yrs not just as a Paralegal.  I have never been arrested or incarcerated in my 44yrs of living.  I have a BA in Criminal Justice & Economics, I obtained my Paralegal Certification from the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in 1984, I have a very diversified background, I am more than just a paralegal.  I am a former State of Colorado Juvenile Probation Officer, former Paralegal Supervisor, former Investigative Assistant working with White Collar Crime, former High School Teacher, former Restorative Justice Coordinator with Middle School Children, I worked for a Law Firm as a Document Clerk & Paralegal, I also worked for a Private Solo Bankruptcy Attorney, I am not a rookie or a first round draft choice out of paralegal school, I am a seasoned veteran but that does not mean anything to the American Bar Association.  I have several problems with the American Bar Association and their continued unwillingness to address the real issues of Pro Se Litigants and the continued denial of fair and equal access to the Legal Services Industry.  Professor Mongue you know as well as I do that the American Bar Association is not interested in providing access to justice for all people, I have worked in the Criminal Justice System far to long and have witnessed the atrocities not heard stories from other people but have witness through my own personal and professional experience in how to gain access to the Legal Services Industry is impossible for those people who are poor and have no economy of scale in their favor.  I am not going to stand by and allow the American Bar Association or any other State Bar Association continue to support the hypocrisy that they say they are against for all people. 
 
The American Bar Association controls all the Paralegal Organizations in this country and that is for one reason only to have full control and continue to monopolize their very existence and keep them fearful.  As a Marine I learned that “FEAR” is the number one way to control people, if people are fearful of you then they won’t challenge you.  The American Bar Association has that fear in citizens and non-citizens in the United States of America, I see it and deal with it everyday.  I will never join any of the Paralegal Organizations in America because they are not about the Freedom of Choice or the Freedom of Pro Se Litigants rights in this country.  Paralegal organizations are a front and support all the decisions the Bar Associations give them and that is for one reason only.  Paralegal organizations are “Fearful” of the repercussions that the Bar Associations will hand down to them.  If I were a member of any Paralegal Organization right now they would abandon me and turn their backs on me, they would not support me in any manner and they would hand me directly over to the enemy The American Bar Association.  The American Bar Association does not want to talk about Race, Class, Economics and Social Status regarding people of color and poor people who are severely underrepresented in the court systems in this country this is a dead silence issue for The American Bar Association.  The American Bar Association does not support fair and equal access to justice for all people because this would mean that they would have to accept the reality of Race, Class, Economics and Social Status of all the citizens and non-citizens in this country.  I am tired of having the American Bar and all the State Bar Associations tell me what I can and cannot do, it is interesting to me that when I took my oath of becoming a Marine to defend this country I don’t remember it being that I would defend this county and the Constitution of the United States sometimes and for some of the citizens and non-citizens in this country, I put my life on the line so the American Bar and all State Bar Associations would preserve and support the choices, rights and freedoms of every citizen and non-citizen not some. 
 
The hypocrisy lays within all the Bar Associations and it offends me as a human being first, Marine second that I must now after 25yrs of loyalty to this legal profession go to court and defend myself and my actions of helping all people who do not have access to the courts in this country because the American Bar and State Bar Associations are accusing me of “Betrayal” to every citizen in this country that has a Constitutional Right in which I helped defend them to have.  I am offended on so many levels I don’t even know where to began, this is not about me in anyway, shape or form this is about the Constitution of the United States and is about the Freedom of Choice that all people who live in the United States of America have the Constitution guarantees this.  The Constitution is not a document that should ever be used against the American People it is what we live by and die by.  I will fight the American Bar and any other Bar Association for the Freedom of Choice that Pro Se Litigants have, I will never be dictated to by any Bar Association who I can and cannot help. I became a Paralegal in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in 1984, I received my Good Conduct Medal in 1987, I received my Honorable Discharge in 1988, I do not have to explain myself to any civilian who is a hypocrite and refuses to help all people access the court system in this country and who believes that I am beneath them.  I became a Paralegal to help all people, regardless of race, class, economic status, religion, beliefs, sexual orientation but most of all, all human beings period! 
 
The American people must abide by the laws of the land, the American Bar Association is not the Title Holder of the laws in this country, but for whatever reason they lost track of who they are, and have forgot that you work for the people in this country, the people don’t work for you and ultimately you will be held accountable to the American people.  The American Bar Association has a lock and monopoly on the Legal Services Industry, this is foul, unethical, immoral and shows their hypocrisy but more than anything else it goes against the Constitution that I put my life on the line for every citizen and non-citizen in this country.  I don’t need the validation of the American Bar Association or any other State Bar Association to tell me that Paralegals can only work for them and only work for Law Firms, or only work under the direction of an attorney that is a monopoly and hypocrisy.  The American Bar Association cannot justify to me or the American people that have been priced out of the Legal Services Industry that they care about all people.  In 25yrs of helping everyone who needed help in the Legal Services Industry I have never had a formal complaint filed on me or against me and the reason is because I am a human being first and treat and respect the freedom of choice that all citizens and non-citizens have.  So to come after me and try and coerce me into saying that I have practiced law and have put myself out there as an attorney practicing law is a direct attack on my integrity and self worth.  I will not allow the American Bar Association, The Office of Attorney Regulation in Colorado intimidate me and force me to give up my rights as the Constitution of the United States says that I have. 
 
People are tired of the nonsense, unethical, immorality and non-empathy of attorneys.  People are tired of being told that they must be represented by an attorney because Pro Se Litigants don’t know what they are doing.  Not everyone needs an attorney, not everyone is ignorant of the law, like the Bar Associations leads the American public to believe and think people are, not everyone wants to be in the presents of attorneys and this is called “Choice” the Freedom of Choice.  The American Bar Association and all State Bar Associations cannot continue to hide behind State Statutes and then use those State Statutes to justify their monopoly and reluctance to help all people gain access to the court system and then turn against the American people.  Attorneys can challenge me if they want, but they know that I am telling the truth because if I were not telling the truth, I would not be the subject of a UPL investigation.  I am done with this email. You can do whatever you like with this email. I will not run and hide and put my tail between my legs and roll over for anyone when it comes to standing up and protecting the Freedom of Choice for all people in this country.  I have children and if I am going to have them become decent human beings I must defend their Freedom of Choice or else they don’t stand a chance.  Thank you Professor Mongue
Efrem B. Martin BA, Certified Paralegal & Owner
Martin Paralegal Services LLC
www.martinparalegalservices.com

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.

Paralegals Contributing In Another Way

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Through a press release on www.pr.com, Outsourced Paralegal Services has asserted a “Link Between Chapter 7 & 13 Bankruptcy Filings and Medical Bills:”

Outsourced Paralegal Services, LLC a company specializing in providing Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 consumer bankruptcy petition preparation and other relevant support services to attorneys has identified a direct correlation between chronic illness and medical bills, and filings for Chapter 7 & 13 bankruptcies throughout the Unites States.

According to Outsourced Paralegal Services President and Bankruptcy Paralegal, Patrick Campbell, “Our firm has prepared several hundred bankruptcy petitions for attorneys in the past year. I can corroborate the unsettling fact that approximately 65% of the consumer bankruptcy petitions that have come across my desk this year are for people who have, or who are still dealing with a chronic illness with medical bills in the thousands, and in some cases the tens of thousands of dollars. This is no longer simply something I read in the newspaper or watch on CNN. I have seen it in black and white first hand.”

This is interesting for several reasons. One is that it provides a starting point for a type of paralegal that has not previously been discussed on this blog – the paralegal who works as an independent contractor for a variety of attorneys. These paralegals are neither employees of special law offices in the traditional sense and the sense most discussed here. Nor are they “independent”paralegals in the sense of working directly with the public without attorney supervision as discussion several posts in the category “‘Independent’ Paralegals.”

 It is possible outsourced paralegals may provide a way balancing the competing interest of increasing access to the legal system by the public and providing protection for the public against the harms that arise from UPL. According to the press release, “Outsourced Paralegal Services provides law firms with the opportunity to outsource their workload to a senior level bankruptcy paralegal at half the cost of hiring a full time paralegal on staff.” The question, of course, in terms of providing greater public access to the legal system is whether the sole benefit of this is “conserving resources within a law firm” without that consevation of resources being passed on to the public thus making access more affordable.

Another interesting aspect is the way, not totally altruistic to be sure, that these particular paralegals used their expertise to contribute some hard data and some research to a public debate. There is a tremendous amount of talent and expertise with the paralegal profession. Bringing that talent and expertise to bear on matters of public interest, if done properly, can help improve the public’s perception of paralegals as professionals.