Posts Tagged ‘paralegal’

Drug Lords’ Paralegals: Not So Professional

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

In October of 2009 I did a post entitled, “Drug Lord’s Paralegal: “I have to be professional” about a paralegal’s effort remain professional while offering “company and conversation to convicted drug lords serving time:

Lulu makes a point of visiting on holidays. She’s careful never to be late. And she abides by ADX’s rules prohibiting her from showing cleavage or wearing skirts that fall above the knee. After all, she says, “I have to be professional.”

“These aren’t my boyfriends. I can’t be flirting or anything like that. They videotape our visits. There are a lot of eyes on me when I’m at my job,” she says.

Now the Miami New Times reports: “Miami’s Federal Jail Overrun With Strippers Posing As Paralegals, Lawyers Say.” Apparently these “paralegals” are not making many efforts to even pretend they are professional – or at least not professional paralegals:”

Multiple attorneys interviewed by Riptide say the FDC visitor rooms have been taken over by South American pole dancers posing as paralegals for wealthy drug lords inside. Lawyers hired by the accused narco dons allegedly list the scantily clad women as “legal assistants,” and the FDC lets them in. Meanwhile, attorneys who refuse to go along risk losing their clients to lawyers with busty beauties on staff.

“They take off their tops and let the guys touch them,” veteran defense attorney Hugo Rodriguez says. “The majority of these young, very attractive women are noncitizens brought in exclusively for the purposes of visiting the FDC. Any lawyer can sign a form and designate a legal assistant. There is no way of verifying it. The process is being abused.”…

Among the offenses allegedly committed by so-called paralegals: smuggling in a Playboy, feeding alcohol to an inmate by slipping a straw through a grate, and sneaking in $3,000 inside a purse.

In a scene straight out of a porno, one woman was caught on video stripping for an inmate in the jail’s Special Housing Unit, attorneys say.

As noted in the original posts, these people are not actually the drug lords’ paralegals, but the attorneys’ paralegals, if they are paralegals at all. The problem is that there are no regulations establishing who qualifies as a paralegal or what qualifies as a paralegal function. The ABA definition of paralegal does refer to “substative legal work” but leaves the final designation of titles to “supervising” attorneys. If this story is true, it is an indication that more is needed, as some attorneys cannot handle that responsibility.

The Paralegal: “This profession did not choose me, I chose it.”

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Recent posts here have focused on the inappropriateness of expecting an  unemployed attorney to perform paralegal functions. As similar problem is that of people viewing paralegals as people who couldn’t or didn’t make it in law school or who are simply in a holding pattern while waiting to get into law school. This is a common misconception. It is disappointing how many people still hold it – people who ought to know better. The quote in the title of this post is from a post on “The Paralegal” brought to my attention by Lynne Devenny at Practical Paralegalism, as part of her weekly list of recommended reading. (It may take me awhile, but if Lynne says to read it I eventually do.)

I can’t do justice to “The Paralegal’s” post by using an excerpt here, so in case you missed the link above, here it is again. Take a moment or two and read the whole post, “Why Am I a Paralegal?”

A Supersized Story?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

A number of blogs have noted the claim of Amazon Eve to be the largest model. The claim is of particular interest to paralegal bloggers because Amazon Eve claims to be a paralegal. Guiness Book of Records is investigating the model claim. My concern is the paralegal claim. I have no way to verify or disaffirm either claim and would normally take her at her word but for the large number of persons who seem to co-opt the title without justification andthis curious statement in the AOL report:

“I studied theater as an undergrad before going to law school to become a paralegal,” she told AOL News.

Further investigation reveals that Amazon Eve grew up in central California, thus all but eliminating the possibility she is talking about an educational system in another country. So if AOL News got it right, it is likely the claim is wrong – in the U.S. one does not go to law school to become a paralegal (although some people who go to law school end up as paralegals through fortune or choice.) Admittedly there could be several explanation for this curious statement, but it remains curious and does make one wonder about the claim.

Meanwhile in Australia…

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

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

According to The Australian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

“Trust, but verify” – The attorney/paralegal relationship

Friday, March 26th, 2010

My old stomping grounds provides another story of a paralegal embezzling from the law office in which she worked. This time it’s only $80,000 – small change compared to some. These stories are always disheartening, even outside of the legal profession, but are especially so when they involve the attorney/paralegal relationship. On the one hand it is good that attorneys are recognizing the abilities and independence of the paralegal professionals who work with them. (In this post I won’t go off on a tangent about whether or not this individual paralegal was actually qualified to bear the “paralegal” title.)  However, the attorney/client relationship ought not to be one of two individuals working separately for a common purpose.

Attorneys and paralegal, at least under our system, are a legal team, each with their own role. The role of the attorney continues to be that of supervisor. That role requires that the attorney verify the work done by the attorney, including the work they do with client and office accounts. Thus, it is always a mystery to me how paralegals can embezzle so much without getting caught. (This is in no way a criticism of this particular attorney. I do not know him or any of the circumstances other than what is in the story.)

I attribute much of this to the continued confusion on the part of the bar regarding the proper role for paralegals as part of the legal team and the attorney’s responsibility to supervise the paralegal. I’ve previously posted that I view the duty to supervise as one that is owed to the paralegal as well as the public. It would be helpful for both the paralegal and the attorney professions for the attorneys to have an increased understanding. Thus, I encourage both bar and paralegal associations to include these topics in CLE presentations designed for attorneys. There is, after all, no rule saying that paralegal associations cannot educate attorneys. Paralegals do it in law offices hundreds of times every day. I am quite sure that I and many of may colleagues at AAfPE would be willing to assist in this effort.

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

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that an unemployment law judge used the wrong standard in determining what was suitable work for a position advertised as a paralegal position. The unemployed person had had ten years experience as a contract manager drafting, analyzing, and negotiating contracts. She then accepted a position paralegal position with  an annual salary of $60,000:

The description provided by UCare summarized the position’s major responsibilities as: “Provide the General Counsel with legal support, particularly in contract drafting, review and management. Serve as a key legal resource for the Government Programs Department, providing assistance in regulatory research, review of RFP or application documents, and legal support in conjunction with regulatory audits.” Relator remained at UCare for 23 days. She attended some training sessions and meetings, but was given little work to do. Relator requested additional work from her supervisor and was given a couple of projects, including looking in the file cabinets where contracts were kept, but not the type of extensive contract work that she had been accustomed to working on in her previous positions. Relator later asked her supervisor if she could look into getting some contract database-management software for UCare, but “was basically making work for [herself].” Relator was also asked to look up agency addresses for the Government Programs Department.

There was a lot going on in this case, much of it confusing. The part that caught my interest was this:

In addressing suitability, we begin by reviewing relator’s challenge to one of the ULJ’s findings. The ULJ found that relator “has more than ten years experience as a paralegal and has extensive experience in contract management.” While it is undisputed that relator has extensive experience in contract management, there is nothing in the record to support the ULJ’s finding that relator has more than ten years of experience as a paralegal. As relator points out, she has over ten years of experience as a contract manager, but has never asserted that she has any experience as a paralegal. We agree that there is not substantial evidence in the record to support the ULJ’s finding that relator had more than ten years of experience as a paralegal. …. The paralegal position advertised by UCare required a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or a similar legal-assistant program. UCare also required “[a]t least three years experience as a paralegal or legal assistant, including experience in contract review and drafting as well as legal and regulatory research.” The ULJ concluded the paralegal position with UCare was suitable for relator because “[t]here is no evidence in the record showing that the employer breached any promise to [relator] or made any misrepresentation as to the nature and type of work assigned to a paralegal in this organization.”

A lot of questions arise, including why UCare offered and the employee accepted a position requiring a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, when she did not have the required degree and experience she did not have for work the employer did not need to be performed. But most interesting is the fact that the Court of Appeal recognizes that being a paralegal requires more than just being able to “drafting, analyzing, and negotiating contracts.” It would have been dicta, but it still would have been especially interesting for the court to state exactly what more was required to convert experience drafting, analyzing, and negotiating contracts into experience as a paralegal. (The degree is education rather than experience.)  Inquiring minds want to know!

The court’s opinion is unpublished but posted at Leagle: Popularizing the Law

Combating the “Hire an Out-of-work Lawyer as a Paralegal” Trend

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Grades are finally posted! I hope to catch up on some reading and make more regular posts over the next few weeks in between working on the new book.

There have been a number of posts here on lawyers taking jobs as paralegals, and how lawyers are ill suited for paralegal positions. Today I noticed a post on the Legal Assistant Today listserv discussion forum on this topic that states the case for “combating” this trend. It’s from Linda Whipple. Linda was recently awarded the American Association for Justice Paralegal of the Year Award according to Paralegal Today magazine. Congratulations, Linda!

I am hoping Linda will not mind me including her post here in toto:

Someone wrote that attorneys are signing up for paralegal jobs so that they can work since many attorneys aren’t being hired during the current recession. The way to “combat” this intrusion into our profession is to let the legal administrators and senior hiring partners know that attorneys know the law very well – that is what they are trained to do, but in order for a case to be MANAGED WELL and docketed thoroughly and discovery answered promptly – attorneys are NOT trained to do that – believe it or not they aren’t!! Let an attorney do case management and see what shape the entire case will be in very quickly. Those “attorney” paralegals also have to have an assistant – I finally have an assistant but only after decades of doing most of my work myself – I’m not training new paralegals who come into our firm and they learn by working side-by-side with me. Also, one GREAT argument to make is that if an Attorney can do paralegal work, then paralegals can do attorney work – hmmmmmm – that should make some legal administrators sit up and take notice. I guarantee you that I’ve seen 2 year associates come to me and ask me a question, “Linda, what do you think needs to be done next on this case?” I’m dumbfounded but never surprised because my cases are managed BY ME and I’m more than aware of what needs to be done every week. My tickler system in Outlook and my Tasks lists are extensive. I also work 30 days out from a deadline – got a pre-trial conference coming up? I’ve already set up the attorneys’ meeting, exhibit exchange (meaning I have my exhibits already prepared and ready for trial), and provided a draft of a pre-trial statement to my boss – this is a signal to Bob that we are now moving from “pre-trial” mode to “trial” mode. I also have his initial Trial Notebook set up with his witnesses, depo summaries, list of exhibits to be introduced by a particular witness. All this goes on Bob’s desk 30 days before the pre-trial and he can’t scream and shout he doesn’t have time to prepare. We just avoid all those kinds of problems from the get go. He likes how I work and he knows I ALWAYS have his back.

Paralegal Whistleblower

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

By now most of you likely know the story of Tamarah Grimes, a Justice Department paralegal, who according to Andrew Kreig, 

has repeatedly stepped forward to allege misconduct by her colleagues on the Siegelman prosecution team. Grimes, a Republican paralegal with a quarter century experience in legal support, began alleging years ago that the Republican U.S. Attorney Leura Canary remained active in overseeing Siegelman’s prosecution despite Canary’s public claims that she was recused from the case since 2002 because of her husband’s longtime opposition to Siegelman, Alabama’s top Democrat.

The paralegal was fired in June and cut off from health benefits a week after writing a 10-page letter to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder documenting the problems, as I reported for Huffington Post July and at greater length this month for the national paralegal magazine Know.

This is a remarkable story on several levels and, if the facts are as stated, Tamarah is a remarkable person and paralegal. This blog has discussed the difficulties of working for a dishonest attorney in several posts. Tamarah and her story should be read and seriously considered by every paralegal. So, if you have not already read the article in Know, please click the link above and do so now.