Posts Tagged ‘licensing’

State of Washington Now Accepting Applications for LLLT Education Waivers

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Via the AAfPE listserv Michael Fitch, a former AAfPE president, forwards an email from the Washington State Bar Association regarding the new Limited License Legal Technician program previously discussed here in January. The program is getting underway and, as the title of this post states, applications are now being accepted for LLLT education waivers. Here’s the email:

WSBA is leading the nation with the implementation of a new program that will educate and license a new classification of legal practitioners called Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT). LLLTs will possess the knowledge and skills to help the public with specific legal assistance, like selecting and filling out legal forms and guiding them through the legal system.
Experienced and certified paralegals are now eligible to take advantage of a waiver period that allows them to register for courses needed to obtain an LLLT license, while waiving some core education prerequisites.
To qualify for the education waiver, experienced paralegals must have:
  • Passed the Certified Paralegal Exam conducted by NALA OR the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam conducted by NFPA;
  • Active certification as a Certified Paralegal with NALA OR as a PACE Registered Paralegal with NFPA;
  • Completed 10 years of substantive law-related experience supervised by a licensed lawyer.
Classes are planned with professors from all three Washington law schools and will begin at the U of W Law School in September, both live and via webcast.
Waiver applications will be accepted by the WSBA until Sept. 18, 2013 for the fall courses. Family law will be the first practice area licensed, with others to follow in the future. The fee to apply for the waiver is $150.
The goal of the WSBA LLLT program is to provide much-needed access to justice by helping the public access affordable legal and law related services. For more information about the WSBA Limited License Legal Technician program including instructions on applying for the education waiver, please visit www.wsba.org/LLLT or contact Thea Jennings at theaj@wsba.org.

 

California State Bar’s LLLT Proposal

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Through the AAfPE (and likely several others) LinkedIn discussion board Barbara Liss passes this on:

Here it is! California State Bar’s Limited License Legal Technician Proposal:
http://board.calbar.ca.gov/docs/agendaItem/Public/agendaitem1000010722.pdf

The proposal’s Executive Summary says:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

In March 2013, the Board Committee on Regulation, Admissions & Discipline Oversight created the Limited License Working Group  (“Working Group”)  to explore the issue of licensing legal technicians and whether to create a limited license to practice law program in California. Legal Technicians are not fully licensed attorneys. They would be licensed to provide limited, discrete legal services to consumers in defined legal subject matter areas only.

The bottom line:

ISSUE – Should the State Bar of California propose a further study, development, and implementation of  a limited license to practice law program in California?

CONCLUSION -Yes.

So some progress is being made, but I am always leery of the study groups conclusion that an issue should be further studied. Sometimes that’s just a way to bottle up a proposal. (See, e.g., Congress.)

Thanks to Barbara there’s been a lot of discussion of this issue on various LinkedIn discussion boards. Some of that discussion is excerpted on this blog here.

Ontario Law Society Quandry: Does Disbarred or Suspended Attorney Have the “Good Character” to be a Paralegal?

Monday, November 28th, 2011

One aspect of the Ontario experiement in licensing paralegals that I posted about favorably here is the “good character assessment.” Commenting on an unusual case before a Law Society Appeal Panel, I noted,

The scary part is that there is nothing to prevent our own Nics from calling themselves paralegals here in the United States. We are hopeful that UPL laws will prevent them from operating independently, but depend on law firms to do the character assessment and background checks to keep Nic and his ilk out of the legal system. Unfortunately, this procedure all too often fails. Indeed, some paralegals are so un-reviewed and unsupervised that they are able to embezzle huge sums from the law firms themselves. One managed to grab $1.7 million before being caught!

Indeed, there is a concern that persons found unfit to be an attorney could become paralegals under our system, a concern I addressed in “If he smells bad there, he’ll smell bad here.” As noted in that post, it seemed that a paralegal licensing program that included a good character assessment would prevent corrupt attorneys from becoming paralegals after disbarment.

A recent article in the Law Times though makes it clear that not just any licensing regulations will do:

The Paralegal Society of Ontario says it’s “seriously concerned” about Law Society of Upper Canada regulations allowing disbarred and suspended lawyers to apply for paralegal licences, an issue that culminated in Mississauga, Ont., lawyer David Robert Conway’s successful appeal of his disbarment this month.

“As an organization, we’ve made it perfectly clear to the law society that we highly object to a lawyer applying to serve as a paralegal when they’ve been suspended or disbarred,” says Janet Wigle-Vence, treasurer of the paralegal society.

According to Wigle-Vence, while paralegals serve clients in a limited scope compared to lawyers, the regulator should hold both types of practitioners to a similar standard of character.

“If they can’t pass the test to serve as a lawyer, it doesn’t make sense that they would be allowed to serve as a paralegal,” she adds.

The problem lies in the particular way the regulations are written. They include “grandfather” and hearing provisions that do allow disbarred attorneys to have a hearing on a paralegal license application which could, in theory, find that they do not have the “good character” to be an attorney, but do have the “good character” necessary to be a paralegal!

The article implies, however, that this is more of a theorectical problem than a practical problem, noting through a statement by Harry Kopyto, himself a disbarred attorney, a subject of posts on this blog, and occasional communicator with this blog, few attorneys have been successful in taking this route back into legal practice precisely because of the good character requirement. Nonetheless, it seems odd that this would even be an option. The regulations should make it clear that disbarment or suspension as an attorney is itself sufficient indication that the applicant lacks the good character required to be a licensed paralegal.

ABA President Stuck in 20th Century

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Paralegal Licensure Bill Proposed

Monday, July 25th, 2011

A bill directing the NY Board of Regents to develop a paralegal licensure program has been sent to the New York legislature’s Committee of Higher Education. I’ve included the bill’s summary below. The full bill is available here.

BILL NUMBER:A8532

TITLE OF BILL:
An act
to amend the education law, in relation to requiring licensure for
the paralegal profession

PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF THE BILL:
Requiring licensure for the paralegal profession.

SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS:
Section 1: The education law is amended by adding a new article 167 to
read as follows; the board of regents upon the recommendation of the
commissioner shall establish a program to require the licensure of
paralegals practicing in this state. The program shall define the
scope of paralegal practice, establish license application fees and
license renewal fees and create an independent board to adopt rules
and regulations.

JUSTIFICATION:
Every year more and more attorneys are allowing their paralegals to
work extensively on important and complex cases: Cases that impact
the life of their clients and other people involved. Some of these
paralegals tend to commit errors that could lead to nightmares for
the clients. This legislation would require paralegal to have the
qualification necessary in order to provide improved and more
professional services to clients of attorneys.

H/T to Dr. Robert N. Diotalevi, Esq.,LL.M., Associate Professor, Florida Gulf Coast University on the AAfPE listserv

Florida Paralegal Legislation Nixed

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Just about every paralegal blog and listserv has written about the proposed legislation to license paralegals in Florida except this one. (I know, I know, this one hasn’t had a post about anything in quite awhile.) If you don’t know about it, check out this account in the Estrin Report or this one at Practical Paralegalism or this one from the Paralegal Mentor. I’ve temporarily emerged from the pile of papers and exams I’ve still to grade before commencement exercises on Saturday long enough to chime in with this from Elona Jouben on the Paralegal Todaylistserv:

This was just delivered to my in-box:

As of 05/07/2011, the House Bill 1149 regarding the Regulation of the Paralegal Profession has been “Indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration” and subsequently “Died in Civil Justice Subcommittee”.

http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2011/1149

I checked the Senate Bill and it has met the same fate.

Elona, by the way, wrote her thesis for her Masters at George Washington University arguing that compulsory regulation of paralegals in Florida is unnecessary. An slightly edited version of that thesis appears as an article in The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology, soon to be available in college bookstores and at online vendors. (As soon as I finish the editing of the galley proofs and complete an index, that is.)

Man paid paralegal $5,500

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The scam artists who take advantage of people losing their homes through foreclosure during the recession are scoundrols at best. Unfortunately there are some members of the legal profession that walk on the wrong side of the line that separates those who use their legal knowledge to help the disadvantaged and those who use it to take advantage. Then there are those who take advantage of the vagracies in the term “paralegal” to include themselves in the lagal profession while scamming.

What brings this on? A story in the Scaromento Bee that begins bad and end up worse:

Sacramentans struggling to keep their homes increasingly are suing their lenders for fraud, even though judges rarely rule in their favor.

Desperation has led some of these homeowners to pay thousands of dollars to people who are not lawyers to help prepare their cases. Others hire attorneys in lawsuit mills that aggressively solicit for clients.

“It’s the new scam,” said Tom Layton, an investigator for the State Bar of California.

Of most concern for purposes of this blog is the example given to as an instance of a homeowner paying thousands of dollars to people who are not lawyers:

Sacramento resident Charles Ratliff is among those going it alone. He paid a Southern California paralegal $5,500 to prepare a complaint against IndyMac and others.

He filed his complaint in January. A judge denied his request for an order to stop the foreclosure, saying he was unlikely to win his case. The bank repossessed his house in March. …

He said he was introduced to the paralegal, Camilla Williams, by Sacramento real estate agent Kathleen Petroff, who was working with him on a short sale.

Petroff said she also introduced another one of her clients, Bay Area resident Clifton Constantine, to Williams, but never vouched for the paralegal’s services. She said she took a one-time payment of $200 from Williams but turned down an offer from Williams to pay her $500 per referral. …

Even with an initial discount, Constantine said he wound up paying Williams more than $20,000 for his case in San Francisco Superior Court. The judge issued a preliminary ruling for Constantine’s lenders, but has given him a chance to amend his complaint.

Jim Towery, the State Bar’s chief trial counsel, said people without a law license should not be preparing lawsuits. “It is illegal,” he said. “It falls under the category of the unlicensed practice of law.”

In a brief phone interview, Williams declined to answer questions about her business, including how many clients she has or where she received paralegal training.

“I haven’t done anything illegal,” she said.

When informed of Towery’s comments, Williams said, “I’m not even aware of any law like that.”

OK, there seems to be no end to what is wrong with this scenario and I do not want to minimize any of it, but I do want to focus on the fact that the paper, apparently being subject to the same confusion as many in the general public, refers to this Williams as a “paralegal.” There appears to be no justification for this other than the fact that Williams calls herself a paralegal. While doing what she did appears to be UPL in any state, in most states there is nothing preventing her from calling herself a paralegal. Would the paper have referred to Williams as a lawyer if she claimed to be one but never attended law school, passed the bar, or was licensed?

There has been much discussion on listservs and blogs regarding recent proposed legislation in Florida that would restrict who could be called a paralegal with some people arguing that there is no reason for paralegals to support the legislation because it does not allow paralegals to do anything they are not already doing. This appears to be both short-sighted and to smack of way too much self-interested analysis. One purpose of such legislation is to protect the public. Another is to protect the profession from being tainted by bad apples who are not really even member of the profession’s barrell. The paralegal profession needs to act agressively to educate the public and especially the media regarding the profession to minimize the extent to which people doing bad things are grouped together with true paralegal professionals. This will be difficult to accomplish as long as just anyone can call themselves paralegals.

Two caveats:
1. I have not yet had time to read and analyze either of the proposals being consider in Florida so this post should not be taken as an endorsement of those particular proposals.
2. I realize that this happened in Califoria where there is already someregulation in place. While it has not fully accomplished its purposes, as stated here, it has helped.

To Regulate or Not to Regulate – a Wisconsin Question

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Back in April I used the state of affairs regarding UPL in Wisconsin to launch a discussion of the possibility of licensing and regulating paralegals as a means of addressing the access to justice problem in the United States. 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 the public from snake-oil salesmen posing as legal professionals. I noted that what I read on the bar website does not deal at all with the access to justice issue.  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.

Today a paralegal from Wisconsin posted on the Paralegal Today Forum stating,

I’m in Wisconsin, a state which doesn’t license (or register, or certify) its paralegals.  Anyone can call themselves a paralegal here, regardless of whether they’ve worked as one, or studied to be one (I’m getting a post-college certificate).  In recent years, paralegals here have asked the state for permission to be licensed.  The state courts declined the request.  I’ve noticed lots of UPL articles and legislative proposals on our state bar website.  I agree that UPL needs to be prevented, of course, but anyone who attends paralegal school knows how to avoid UPL.  My questions to the list-serv are these:
1) Do you live in a state that doesn’t regulate paralegals?
2) How do you deal with this in your work as a paralegal?

This led to several interesting responses including these:

Ditto for Louisiana. We do have a state certifying exam administered by NALA, but a lot of paralegals do not avail themselves of this certification, because (1) it doesn’t automatically increase their salary, (2) you have to study to take the exam and pass, and then have to pass the CLA exam within 2 years to get the certification, (3) why bother when you can call yourself a paralegal even if you mostly do secretarial work.

Until paralegals across the nation realize that education and continuing education is what puts them above the run of the mill employee, anyone and everyone is going to apply for a paralegal job and give the rest of us a lot of disrespect when they can’t do the job.

AND before we get into that age-old debate about education vs. experience, ALL JOBS, including paralegal jobs include OTJ training and always will. Education only enhances skills.

and

I often see a lot of misunderstanding, misperception, and misinformation about ‘regulation’ of paralegals.  There is only one state that has any sort of mandatory regulation of paralegals and that is California.  Interestingly enough, the California regulatory scheme doesn’t have any kind of agency, board, or other such entity to administer or oversee the regulatory scheme.    There is not one single state that requires paralegals to be licensed, certified, or ‘registered’ in order to function as a paralegal.

NFPA has a section of their website devoted to the regulation issue: http://www.paralegals.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=795 Scroll down the page and check out their comprehensive chart that details the efforts towards regulation for each state.  Some states offer a voluntary certification program through the state Bar, e.g. TX, OH, and NC.  Florida offers a voluntary registration program.  The WI Supreme Court recently rejected a proposal for mandatory regulation and suggested the proponents look at the Florida FRP scheme as a possible alternative.

Personally, I believe that the UPL issue and regulation of paralegals are two separate and distinct issues.  Most every state has UPL laws, statutes or Bar rules prohibiting UPL by anyone.  Florida has an aggressive Bar and UPL Committee that investigates and prosecutes UPL claims.  The Florida Bar Rules specifically state that non-lawyers offering services directly to the public cannot use the title of ‘paralegal’.  Mandatory regulation of paralegals (who by definition work under the supervision of a licensed attorney) will not prevent ‘John Doe’ from setting up his own shop and offering his services directly to the public.

Whether one agrees with mandatory regulation or not, it would be helpful if we all spoke knowledgeably on this issue.  I think the dissemination of inaccurate information clouds the issue and distorts the message.

Elona M. Jouben, FRP
NWFPA Parliamentarian/Membership-Student Liaison Chair
Litigation Paralegal
Wilson, Harrell, Farrington, Ford
Pensacola, FL 32502

Several months ago I posted a Call for Papers for an anthology on paralegal professionalism. One article submitted is a very good statement of the current status of regulation in the United States and two articles argue in favor of regulation. No one submitted an article opposing regulation – which means I’ll probably have to do that one myself!

I do agree with the last paragraph of Elona’s response above: Whether one agrees with mandatory regulation or not, it would be helpful if we all spoke knowledgeably on this issue.  I think the dissemination of inaccurate information clouds the issue and distorts the message.

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?

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.