Posts Tagged ‘public perception’

A Spat in Britain.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

The Lawyer reports that in Britain, “A spat has broken out between the Institute of Paralegals (IoP) and the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (Nalp) over who has launched the country’s first national training framework.” This is of interest to me on at least two accounts.

First, one of my areas of research is comparative study of paralegalism in the U.S., Great Britain, France and Canada. In the course of that research I had the opportunity to meet with the staff of NALP in London last summer and watch Amanda Hamiliton, General Secretary of NALP teach a class. IoP did not respond to my inquiries, so I was unable to meet with anyone from that organization. 

I am working on a post regarding some of the comparisons of the British and French systems to ours that I started after reading a post by Lynne DeVenney on her Practical Paralegalism blog entitled UK Paralegals Struggle to Overcome Perception as “Failed Lawyers”. I was also able to meet with paralegal educators in Paris. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the time to finish that post which focuses on similarlities and differences in the three systems. Suprisingly, in many respects the French system is closer to ours in the role, education and utilization of paralegals.

The second reason the story in The Lawyer interests me is the perception of paralegals in England as reflected in some of the comments. One area of similarity between the U.S. and England is the continued struggle of the paralegal professional to gain an indentity as a profession separate from that of attorneys. Note these comments, which seem quite similar to the discussions occuring here:

Anonymous | 2-Nov-2009 1:21 pm

WHY ARE PEOPLE DOING ANY SORT OF COURSE TO BECOME A CRAPPY PARALEGAL?!! Both organisations are clearly trying to make money out of the poor little glorified filing clerks…….

Anonymous | 3-Nov-2009 11:35 am

I’ve been a paralegal and the last thing any firm wants is someone with more qualifications. They’re completely unnecessary as the job is very procedural and can be picked up in no time.

Anonymous | 3-Nov-2009 12:05 pm

I attended the National Association of Licensed Paralegals and have now secured a job as a paralegal with the Local government. They were very impressed with my qualification and thought it showed initiative to go above and beyond just obtaining a degree. The post graduate diploma is a fantastic route to take when you need to learn about the procedural side of the job so you can start working. In conclusion it is beneficial in the long run, despite anyone’s opinion that qualifications are not respected, furthermore this route is more practical for those who cannot afford to pay the extreme fees for the LPC!
And finally, those who think that a paralegal’s role is nothing more than a glorified filing clerk, clearly have no idea and present themselves as bitter and cynical wannabes!

Anonymous | 3-Nov-2009 12:23 pm

I have to agree with the above comment, as an employer I believe your staff can never be over “qualified”. NALP do a sterling job and I would alway look favourably on someone with a qaulification from them.

Susan Steman F.PLL | 3-Nov-2009 12:36 pm

I love my job as a Licensed Paralegal. I am no filing clerk. I have my own clients, I go to court , I produce my own procedural papers and am well thought of in my place of work. The NALP helped me qualify 10 years ago and then I earned my Licence. I feel I am a valuable asset to my firm and the NALP gave me the confidence to achieve this. What came first the chicken or the egg? Does it matter if the training suits your requirements!

Unfortunately work continues to interfer with blogging so I can not say all I would like to say at this time, so I will reserve most of it for a later post. However, based on my experience with NALP last summer, I can say that the organization and the training it provides are not “jokes.” It is also clear from my meetings with practicing paralegals that paralegals in England are not “mere” clerks, filing or otherwise. 

Given the similarities in issues facing the paralegal profession in other countries, members of the profession should work together and learn from each other to address those issues, regardless of national borders, especially given the globalization of the economy. So, I am pleased that NALP is a member of NFPA. Indeed, NFPA initially acted as intermediary between NALP and me thus facilitating my summer trip.

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.

The Most They Can Possibly Get for the Least They Can Possibly Do

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Paralegal Gateway’s post, Paralegals Beware: Storefront Legal Organizations
speaks to a real problem for the paralegal profession,

These are basically businesses disguised as a non-profit. Why would someone go to the trouble you ask? Money!!! Paralegals and other legal professionals are big business and all you have to do is look at the many legal service providers that exist to realize just how big of a business our profession is. Paralegals specifically are either picking up the phone to call these providers or they are the gatekeepers to those who hold the purse strings. The people who run these storefront associations usually have experience within the legal industry and also realize how much money can be made from the same.

Additionally, in these economic times, these predators recognize that Paralegals and legal professionals are doing all that we can to stand out above the crowd and what better way to do that than with a long list of legal organizations padding our resume? I call them “predators” because that is exactly what they are and we need to attempt to think like they do to expose that they are.

I can’t claim much expertise with regard to store front legal organizations and cannot verify the accuracy of Paralegal Gateway’s statements, but I do see the potential as the profession grows of the profession being judged by the least professional of its members or even “pretenders” to the title of paralegal professional such as the predators described in that post.

Recently I did a post indicating that professional paralegals can help raise the low perception of the legal profession held by the public. In order to do so each paralegal must maintain the highest standards. In the end, professionalism is all about standards.

This reminded me of a comment made in a thread on South Carolina Trial Law Blog. I previously posted another comment from the thread under the heading “Paralegal-Attorney Communication” because the thread was about things paralegals would like their attorneys to know. However, this particular comment is more appropriately included here:

Someone also needs to address the need for quality paralegals and to stop the “get rich quick by becoming a paralegal in 3 days” mentality or the “get your paralegal certificate by taking our courses” when those courses do not establish the need for quality education to begin with.

Paralegals need to be able to spell correctly (or at least know how to use spell check) and have proper grammer. You will not get that with a “weekend paralegal course” and do not expect to make $40k starting the following Monday!

I had to laugh when I read the comment that stated “Trust me were good!” Um, no, you are not good if you cannot write correct sentences. That sentence should say, “Trust me, we’re good!”

I have hired and worked with numerous paralegals and I have generally found that the statement “they don’t know what they don’t know” sums up the lack of quality out there. There needs to be testing and licensing of paralegals just like attorneys and then maybe the attorneys could trust that “you’re good” and not feel the need to micromanage.

From a disgusted paralegal taking the attorney’s side on this subject!

Again, professionalism is all about standards. The profession cannot complain about the public’s perception of the profession if its members do not maintain the standard. The question is, though, how does the profession handle those “members” who do not or will not maintain those standards. Is regulation and licensing the answer as this comment suggests?

This is not, of course, a problem limited to the paralegal profession. As Todd Snyder has been telling us, it seems everyone wants the most they can possibly get for the least they can possibly do. (Sorry about the quality of the video. Todd’s a lot better than this suggests):

Chorus:
he wants that easy money
it’s sad but it’s true
everybody wants the most they can possibly get
for the least they could possibly do
they want that easy money
i don’t understand
if you sceem and you plan you can’t get your hands
on no easy money