Posts Tagged ‘regulation’

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.

Paralegal Voice: NFPA on Regulation

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Lynne DeVenny of Practical Paralegalism and Vicky Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, have announced the of
“Regulation of the Paralegal Profession – NFPA Says “Yes,” is now available at Legal Talk Network. While The Paralegal Voice episodes are always interesting and informative this one is especially so since it deals with regulation, an issue frequently discussed on this blog. I previously mentioned that NFPA was holding a “Regulation / National Leadership / PACE® Ambassadors Joint Conference” on June 4-6 in Washington, D.C., that would tackle the important issues of certification, registration, and licensing. This episode of The Paralegal Voice includes some discussion of that conference. I would like to hear reports from any of you who attended that conference.

Regardless of your views on this topic, I recommend that you tune in and hear NFPA explanation of its position in favor of regulation.

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?

Kopyto Canadian Challenge Continues to Churn

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

My post regarding a legal challenge to paralegal regulation by the Law Society in Ontario received a pingback from none other than harrykopyto.ca. Harry is challenging the legality of that regulation in the context of the regulators denial of his request to be licensed based on his “lack of good character.”

In my previous post I saw the issue in terms of the choices that have to be made in balancing the increased access to justice that can be provided by paralegals and the need to provide protection to the same public that needs that access to justice. The challenge itself posits the thought that lawyers and paralegals in Ontario are competitors and this attempt to regulate paralegals is an attempt by the Law Society to prevent that compeition. Unfortunately, it does not seem that this challenge will lead to any real discussion of those issues in the near future, if at all.

Here’s on harrykopyto.ca describes the issues involved in this proceeding:

You know the background. Toronto paralegal Harry Kopyto is on trial facing professional capital punishment. The charge? Lacking “good character” to work as a paralegal. The real reason for the charge? Speaking truth to power for 35 years in Ontario courtrooms.

The proceeding is presently mired in what might be characterized as a discovery dispute. The hearing on that issue was scheduled for April 6 and 7, but has been postponed.

I will continue to follow this proceeding for whatever insight it can give to the regulation/licensing issue, but it does look as though real insight will most likely come from another source.

Can anyone call themselves a “paralegal?”

Friday, March 12th, 2010

John Stossel of Fox News says his show tonight will include “interview David Price, a Kansas City paralegal who went to jail for half a year because he helped 86- year old Eldon Ray write a letter defending himself against the charge of “unlicensed practice of architecture.”  I’ve never seen John’s show and, if the contect of the show is as misleading as the announcement, I suspect it is just as well. I’ve reviewed a number of news reports on Mr. Price’s situation. Perhaps the most comprehensive and clearest is here.

There are a lot of problems with John’s characterization of David Price, what Price did, and why his was in jail, but my chief concern here is that Price is characterized as a paralegal. It does not appear that Price has any education or training that would justify that designation.  He also has little experience other than having “challenged dozens of judges, attorneys and court officials in the Kansas justice system with a variety of lawsuits found to be frivolous by the state and federal courts.”

The story linked above states, ”

However, it becomes clear through his own admission that his personal battle with the legal system is deeply rooted in a domestic relations case that went awry. Court files indicate Price filed legal motions for four years to stop the adoption of his biological child after the court severed his parental rights in 2001 and allowed the mother of the child and her husband to voluntarily put the child up for adoption.

Price said the experience spurred his interest in the law, his distrust for the system and the desire to advise others.”

If the news reports are correct, while the experience spurred his interest in the law, it apparently did not spur any interest in obtaining education or training in the law before starting to give advice. Stossel appears to argue that there should be no government licensing of anyone. In essence any one should be able to say they are a paralegal, a lawyer, a doctor, or a pilot, regardless of their knowledge, training, education, or experience. Apparently he’d just let the free market decide whether they survive competing against those that have actual knowledge of the topic.

In my last post I suggested that UPL laws that restrict legal services solely to attorneys were not the best way to deal with the difficulties that arise when people go to non-lawyers for assistance because they cannot afford an attorney. Kansas acknowledges this problem. The story linked above includes this:

While nonlawyers aren’t permitted to advise pro se litigants, a committee established by the Kansas Supreme Court found a growing number of people need help in the court system.

Valdez, who serves as a member of the Kansas Supreme Court’s Pro Se Committee, said public education through town meetings and allowing limited scope assistance from attorneys may help.

“The pro se litigant issue isn’t going to go away,” Valdez said. “You’ll always have people who can’t afford lawyers. Going into it, you want to make sure they have enough knowledge.”

However, the way advocated by Stossell and Price is also not a viable solution. At the very least the government ought to require disclosure of creditials to consumers in a clear, prominent way. However, the public would be best served if there were standards in place that has to be met before someone is allowed to call themselves a paralegal. Mr. Stossel, David Price is not a paralegal.

 All that being said, the legal community must give much more thought to utilization of people who meet that standard to solve access to justice problems, including the possibility of allowing well qualified and regulated professionals to perform some basic legal services without the supervision of an attorney.  It should be noted here that our conception of paralegal varies significantly from the conception of paralegals in many, many other countries. Vivek Mairu, in a well crafted essay appearing in THE YALE JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW [Vol. 31: 427] proposes a full definition, but starts with a statement that does appear to catch that conception, “In bare terms, paralegals who provide justice services are laypeople with basic training in law and formal government who assist poor and otherwise disempowered communities to remedy breaches of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

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.

Competition in Canada

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

While others are focused on Vancouver, I continue to follow events in Ontario. There Harry Kopyto is challenging the system that regulates paralegals. I’ve mentioned Harry before and the regulatory system has been the subject of several posts here.

I’m not really very interested in Harry himself. Rather it is the way this story highlights the various factors that must be considered in paralegal regulation. On the one hand we have this:

The provincial government vested the law society with the responsibility to govern paralegals over concerns that the public was exposed to the risk of harm at the hands of unscrupulous or incompetent practitioners.

“We heard lots of different horror stories,” says Steven Rosenhek, chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s paralegal task force, adding that complaints against paralegals “came up fairly frequently and sometimes with disastrous results.”

The prevailing lack of any regulatory structure meant paralegals were free to operate without any disciplinary mechanism or minimum standards of education.

On the other, this:

In barring paralegals from family law, the current rules have made a dysfunctional system even worse, Kopyto charges.

Particularly vulnerable, he says, are women in divorce and custody litigation who don’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford a lawyer.
“Now, these women are streaming into court without any representation and they’re being eaten alive by the [high-priced lawyers] of the world,” Kopyto says.

“It’s a zoo down there. People who have clearly meritorious cases are losing them.”

Ontario decided in favor of public protection over access to justice:

“There’s always tension between access to justice and public protection,” he [the chairman of the Ontario Bar Association’s paralegal task force] says. “We said and we will continue to say the paramount concern is public protection.”

These two factors are also at work in the debate over paralegal regulation in the United States. There is also concern here, as in Ontario, over disbarred attorneys practicing as paralegals.

 However, we must also keep in mind that Ontario’s program was developed in different context for the role of the paralegal, many of whom had practices independent of attorneys unlike here where paralegals are required to have attorney supervision. In fact, paralegals were (and are) often viewed as competitors to attorneys.  And therein may lie the virtue of Harry’s challenge. He states he is not opposed to paralegal regulation, but objects to the paralegal profession being regulated by the Law Society, i.e., by the lawyer profession with which it competes.

This is a very different perspective than that considered in a previous post here, which celebrated the paralegal profession being brought into the Law Society as a recognition of paralegals as  legal professionals. There is, apparently some merit to that perspective.  Judi Simms, president of the Paralegal Society of Canada, states on the one hand, “The only thing it’s accomplished so far is it’s restricted our capability to practise,” but also says “For many paralegals, particularly those who had established practices in small claims, landlord and tenant law, and traffic matters, regulation has legitimized their functions and advanced them professionally.” According to the most recent report in the Law Times News, “Simms, in fact, praises the LSUC for its “spectacular job” in bringing paralegals into the fold.”

I suspect that even in the context of competition, there are more similarities between the paralegal/lawyer professions in Ottawa and the United States that might immediately meet the eye. See for example the discussion here and on the Paralegal Today discussion forum, on Combating the “Hire an Out-of-work Lawyer as a Paralegal” Trend. “Independent” paralegals also claim that fear of competition and a desire for a monopoly is behind the efforts of bar associations to shut down businessess such as Efrem Martin’s.

So this competition in Canada should remain of interest to United States paralegals as more than just a spectator sport. I hope in the next few weeks to take a closer look at California’s regulatory system both in terms of its mechanisms and its implementations. Anyone who has a fact based opinion on either is invited to contact me at theempoweredparalegal@live.com.

Paralegal Good Character in Canada

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The Law Society of Upper Canada regulates the lawyers and paralegals of Ontario and is charge with ensuring that all licensed paralegals in Ontario meet standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct that are appropriate for the legal services provided. One recent case that I may discuss more fully in another post discusses the character of an applicant for a paralegal license because of “the good character requirements set out in s. 27(2) of the Law Society Act and By-Law 4, s. 8(1) 3.”

In The Empowered Paralegal I discuss character traits such as trustworthiness, reliability, work ethic, and honesty as they relate to professionalism. The decision of the Law Society panel in the matter of Nicolino Alessandro provides a formal definition of “good character” and the role it plays in the decision on whether to grant a license which I reprint here for your consideration as professionals:

Good character has been defined as follows.

[33] In Re Spicer, supra, at p.5-6, para. 15 (Tab 2, Book of Authorities):

Convocation accepts that character is that combination of qualities or features distinguishing one person from another. Good character connotes moral or ethical strength, distinguishable as an amalgam of virtuous attributes or traits which undoubtedly include, among others, integrity, candour, empathy, and honesty.

[34] In the article by Mary F. Southin, Q.C., What is “Good Character”, (1987) 35 The Advocate 129 (Tab 3, Book of Authorities) she states at p. 129:

Character within the Act comprises in my opinion at least these qualities:

1. An appreciation of the difference between right and wrong;

2. The moral fibre to do that which is right, no matter how uncomfortable the doing may be and not to do that which is wrong no matter what the consequences may be to oneself;

3. A belief that the law at least so far as it forbids things which are malum in se must be upheld and the courage to see that it is upheld.

[35] In Re Preya, supra, at p. 6:

The definition of good character is set out in previous decisions of Law Society admissions panels, and is an evolving definition. The definition is not exhaustive, and refers to a bundle of attributes which, when taken together, amount to good character:

Character is that combination of qualities or features distinguishing one person from another. Good character connotes moral or ethical strength, distinguishable as an amalgam of virtuous attributes or traits which would include, among others, integrity, candour, empathy and honesty.

[36] The purpose of the good character requirement is enunciated in Gavin McKenzie’s text, Lawyers and Ethics: Professional Responsibility and Discipline, Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 1993, at para. 23.2 (Tab 4, Book of Authorities):

The purposes of the good character requirement are the same as the purposes of professional discipline: to protect the public, to maintain high ethical standards, to maintain public confidence in the legal profession and its ability to regulate itself, and to deal fairly with persons whose livelihood and reputation are affected.

This, of course, does not definitively answer the question of how the purposes of a good character requirement are best met, i.e., by separate licensing requirements for paralegals or continuation of the present system of requiring attorney supervision. However, it does clarify what the issues are. It is one of the many ways in which it is helpful for those of us in the United States to watch and learn from the Ontario experiment.

Public Interest and Professional Interest – More on the Canadian Example

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

I continue to watch developments in Ontario with great interest. There paralegals are licensed and thus subject to regulation by the “Law Society.” There have been two developments recently with regard to the Law Society. One, the upcoming election by paralegals members of the five of their colleagues to join the Paralegal Standing Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada was the subject of a very good post on Paralegal Gateway in November.  This is part of an overall effort to reform and modernize the Law Society as described in this article from marketwire.com.

The second relates to the appointment of a new Complaints Resolution Commissioner by the Law Society.  While this relates to my recent post on a disclipinary proceeding in Ontario, I am more interested in it as a follow-up to the discussion in my post and the comments to that post, “Help and Hurting Each Other,” in terms of the purpose of regulating the legal profession. The article on the appointment of the new Commissioner, also from marketwire.com, speaks entirely in terms of “public interest:”

The Complaints Resolution Commissioner plays a vital role in the Law Society’s complaints resolution process. In cases where a complaint against a lawyer or paralegal has been closed and the complainant is unsatisfied with this result, he or she can apply to the Commissioner to review the case. The Commissioner will review the file to ensure that the complaint was handled appropriately and the results were reasonable. This will often involve a face-to-face meeting with complainants, and the Commissioner also has the authority to provide alternative dispute resolution between lawyers or paralegals and their clients for issues that do not require a regulatory response.

The Law Society of Upper Canada regulates the lawyers and paralegals of Ontario in the public interest. The Law Society ensures that every individual who practises law or provides legal services in Ontario meets standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct that are appropriate for the legal services provided.

The Law Society has a duty to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario, and to act in a timely, open and efficient manner.

That being said, as noted by William P. Statsky in his book Essentials of Paralegalism,  there are two main reasons an ocupation may want to be licensed by the government: to protect the public and to enhance the occupation’s own image.  He notes that this applies to all occupations that require knowledge and skills that most citizens do not have including electricians, brokers and nurse. He goes on to say:

A license serves as a measure of assurance (altough not a guarantee) that license holders are competent to perform their speicalized and often tenchincal servies. In addition to a desire to protect the public, an occupation may want licensing as a way enhance its self-image, credibility, a nd professionalism. The occupation often views licensing as a way to prevent less-educated and less-skilled individuals from working in the field.

As previously noted it may also help prevent the less-scrupulous individuals from working in the field.

This remains a difficult topic and many questions remain. While licensing may be the answer, might the same be accomplished through self-reguation by the profession itself? Who is in the best position to determine the criteria for regulation? And many more.

The point is that the basis for a profession to seek and/or engage in some sort of regulation of its members may be found not only in the public interest, but in the interest of the profession and each professional individual member of that profession. This is especially true if, as in Ontario, it results in a greater role for paralegals within the legal system and greater access to justice by the public.

Helping and Hurting Each Other

Monday, December 7th, 2009

On the Legal Assistant Forum there is a current discussion regarding an particular educational institution that offers degrees primarily online. One person stated that two graduates of that institution had been fired from that person’s firm because they could not even draft a basic pleading. Other graduates of that insitution protest that you cannot judge the entire institution by two graduates.

The problem is that we are judged by the conduct and abilities of others in our groups. There is both guilt and glory by association in this regard. Those of us in education are keenly aware that both our schools and other graduates from our schools are judged by our graduates. So, we cannot let our students pass without doing the work and understanding (as opposed to memorizing) the materials, despite their pleas and no matter how nice they are! By letting them slide we would likely be hurting others. In this instance it is quite likely that the firm that found it necessary to fire two employees from one institution will no longer hire candidates with degrees from that instituion.

This guilt and glory by association has always been particularly applicable to the legal profession and accounts for the profession’s low rating in public opinion polls. This raises several points for the paralegal profession such as:

 Each individual in the profession is judged to a degree by the behaviour of others in the profession. Does this give the individuals in the profession, organized into professional asssociations, the right to regulate the conduct of others in the profession as a matter of self protection?

More important, in my opinion, is the opportunity this presents for each member of the profession to help themselves and each other by being professional and projecting professionalism at all times. A recent speaker in my Professionalism class is an excellent example of this. I hope to post separately about her soon.

Does this mean each member of the profession has an ethical obligation to themselves and to others to improve that profession?

Feel free to let me know what you think – in a professional manner, of course.