One of the many keyword searches that brought a searcher to this blog was “what are the benefits of membership in NALA and NFPA?” Part of the answer can be found by clicking on the significant number of posts in the “Professional Associations” category link. But this search was of particular interest to me because I am in the middle of doing a final edit on the galley proofs of the chapter on paralegal associations in The Empowered Paralegal Professionalism Anthology. So this provides me with an opportunity outside of the acknowledgments pages of that book to thank NFPA, NALA, and NALS for their permission to reprint materials from their websites that assist in illustrating the many benefits of belonging to the respective associations.
Posts Tagged ‘paralegal associations’
Legal.com brings us another case in which the court has ruled on the reasonableness of paralegal fees as part of an award of attorney’s fees: MARTINEZ v. JOHARY Case No. 5:08-cv-148-Oc-10GRJ. This case is a bit more straight-forward than the last in which the court had to distinguish between paralegal and non-paralegal (clerical) services. In this case, brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the employees attorney had submitted an affidavit pegging her rates at $300 an hour and the paralegal’s at $105 an hour.
The court did not have a problem with either rate per se, but was concerned that the rates were not those “prevailing” in the local market, which the court determined to be the U.S. Middle District of Florida (as the case was pending in that court). The problem was
The Plaintiff has not submitted any “specific and detailed evidence” concerning prevailing market rates in Ocala, Florida. Instead, the Plaintiff has merely attached the affidavit of her own attorney, which lists fee awards obtained in FLSA cases litigated in Orlando, Jacksonville, and Ft. Meyers, Florida (Doc. 24-1, ¶¶ 6-7). However, evidence establishing that a rate is in line with prevailing market rates must be “at a minimum more than the affidavit of the attorney performing the work.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299. In fact, “[t]he parties ought to provide the court with a range of market rates for lawyers of different skill levels . . . involved in similar cases with similar clients, so that the court may interpolate the prevailing market rate based on an assessment of the skill demonstrated in the case at bar.” Id. at 1300.
The Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the requirements of Norman. While the Plaintiff is correct that Judges of this District have previously awarded Ms. Amritt fees based on a $300 hourly rate, all of those cases were litigated in much larger urban areas with higher costs of living than Ocala, Florida. Moreover, this was a very straightforward case, with no novel or complex issues and minimal discovery. In the absence of any competent evidence concerning the prevailing market rate in Ocala, the Court will rely on its own competence and experience and concludes that an hourly rate of $250.00 is reasonable. SeeMoon, 2009 WL 111678 at *6. The Court further concludes that the hourly rate for the Plaintiff’s paralegal will be reduced to $100.00.
This poses an interesting problem for attorneys seeking recovery of paralegal fees on behalf of a client. What evidence might they provide, other than their own affidavits, of the prevailing rates for paralegals of varying degrees of experience and skill leval in the local market.
It seems to me that local paralegal associations may have a significant role to play in tracking such data and providing the necessary affidavits for inclusion with motions for fees. This ought to be better data than the court’s own “competence and experience,” which is likely to be limited to attorney affidavits filed in other cases unless the judge is fairly new to the bench and has had recent experience paying paralegals.
Another question is how one would determine the skill level of the paralegal. Here it would seem that one or more of the certification programs provided by organizations like NFPA, NALA, OLP, etc., might come into play.
On both issues, this appears to be an opportunity for paralegal associations to gain a greater presence as professional organizations.
On accepting his appointment as Senior Counselor for Access to Justice in the Department of Justice where he will lead a newly launched initiative aimed at improving access to civil and criminal legal services, Laurence Tribe stated, “Access to justice for all is at the core of our nation’s values.” The DOJ initiative recognizes a need to “enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor and middle class, and identify and promote alternatives to court-intensive and lawyer-intensive solutions.”
One alternative to lawyer-intensive solutions is the effective utilization of paralegals. The attractiveness and efficacy of this alternative is evidenced by the recent proliferation of paralegal-intensive access-to-justice programs by bar associations, legal clinics, and educational institutions. These programs exist throughout the country. Examples include:
• In South Florida, Catholic Charities Legal Services enlists pro bono paralegals to hold free Friday walk-in clinics to help Haitians apply for temporary protected status after the recent hurricane.
• Lake County, Illinois, where the local bar association uses specially-trained paralegal studies students to assist in providing free legal services for people petitioning the court for guardianship of a minor child.
• The New York City Paralegal Association provides pro bono services for the Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project.
Each of these programs demonstrates how access to justice can be improved through wise utilization of paralegals. Since one attorney can supervise several well-trained paralegals, more people gain access to legal services and justice.
If you have participated in a program like the ones mentioned above or just know of such a program, I would like to hear from you either by way of comment or email.
Pennsylvania paralegals recently celebrated “Paralegal Week” by virtue of a proclamation by Pennsylvania Governor Rendell, apparently at the urging of the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations. The proclamation states,
WHEREAS, The practice of law is a demanding, challenging, and complex endeavor – one in which the rights, liberties, and safety of our citizens have been protected and preserved for centuries; and
WHEREAS, member of the bar require knowledgeable and reliable assistance to fulfill the duties of their profession. Paralegals have become an invaluable source of support in law offices, providing lawyers with a variety of skilled professional services throughout their practice; and
WHERES, paralegals are highly educated, trained, and experienced professionals with expertise in legal and case research, interviewing clients and witnesses, legal and correspondence writing, and other critical areas of successful and efficient law practices; and
WHEREAS, the value of talented paralegals is often overlooked by the general public, but their worth is never underestimated by the lawyers and firms for which they work; and
WHEREAS, the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations, along with other associations, is dedicated to the advancement of the paralegal profession through education, a network of support, and raising public awareness and appreciation.
THEREFORE, I, Edward G. Rendell, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, do hereby profclaim July 20-24, 2009, PARALEGAL WEEK, and July 24, 2009, PARALEGAL DAY throughout our Commonwealth.
This sort of recognition is good for the profession and well deserved. I wonder, though, how many paralegals agree with the statement,
WHEREAS, the value of talented paralegals is often overlooked by the general public, but their worth is never underestimated by the lawyers and firms for which they work. (Emphasis added)
Certainly, my email suggests that lawyers and firms do at time, perhaps with some frequency underestimate the value of talented paralegals. As discussed in a previous post, this is due in part to a lack of understanding as to exactly what that value is.