Posts Tagged ‘standards’

NYCPA’s Strategic Alliance with UK

Friday, February 18th, 2011

I’ve previously mentioned that one of the New York City Paralegal Association’s most interesting projects is an alliance with the United Kingdom’s Institute of Paralegals to create transatlantic paralegal competency standards. The February edition of KNOW Newshas a story with more details about this project. It notes, “The Standards will reflect the usual paralegal career structure, being set at introductory, intermediate and advanced levels. Modelled upon the IOP’s existing UK competency standards, the draft transatlantic paralegal competency standards will be circulated for comment to all UK and US transatlantic firms.” More important it provides the contact information for those organization that might wish to have input into the standards:

Contact Details

Any firm or other relevant organisation interested in either being on the Joint Standards Working Party or having a watching brief should contact either:

James O’Connell at james@theiop.org or Nikki Doughty at internationalliaison@nyc-pa.org

Read more here or check out the KNOW News for this and several other interesting articles.

Transatlantic Competency Standards for Paralegals

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Just yesterday I posted on my meeting with the NYCPA Executive Board at which I learned, inter alia of that organization’s joint project to develop internations competency standards for paralegals. The past couple of weeks have been quite hectic, so I have not had the time to check paralegal related press releases. It was only this morning that I found many of you may have already heard of the project through a 11/22 release on PR Newswire entitled “Project to Create Transatlantic Competency Standards for Paralegals.”

The story states:

LONDON, Nov. 22, 2010 /PRNewswire/ — Many UK law firms have an office in the United States of America, and vice-versa. A significant number of UK and US law firms have merged in a trend that shows no sign of abating.

Typically such transatlantic firms seek to apply uniform expectations and standards to all their fee-earners across the firm. To assist firms achieve this goal, the UK’s Institute of Paralegals (IOP) is proud to be partnering with the New York City Paralegal Association (NYCPA) to produce paralegal competency standards relevant to both UK and US paralegals.

The standards, which will be available at no charge, will assist firms to standardize paralegal recruitment, appraisal, development and competency benchmarks.

World’s First International Paralegal Standards Project

This project is the first by paralegal representative bodies to create international standards. It highlights the growing sophistication of the paralegal profession in both the UK and US.

About the Project

The IOP and NYCPA have formed a joint working party to create competency standards for paralegals working in transatlantic law firms. The Standards will reflect the usual paralegal career structure, being set at introductory, intermediate and advanced levels.

Check the story for more details and contact information.

What is suitable qualification for a paralegal? -Louisiana Edition

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Yesterday’s post concerned a non-paralegal accepting a position as a paralegal while not having the qualifications required for the job and then quitting because she was not given any meaningful work. This story seems somehow related, but I can’t quite put that relationship together. Anyway, a candidate for Kenner (Louisiana) mayor, is having trouble justifying his claim that he worked as a paralegal in the Jefferson Parish Attorney’s Office. He has

produced a copy of a Nov. 9, 1998, letter on Jefferson Parish letterhead from Tom Wilkinson, the parish attorney at the time, to then-Finance Director Penny Anderson, transferring Yenni from Citizens’ Affairs to the attorney’s office as a full-time paralegal making $11.75 per hour effective two days earlier. He also provided a parish personnel form noting his Jan. 15, 1999, resignation as a paralegal.

But in response to a request for public records of Yenni’s work as a paralegal, the parish on Wednesday released only a form indicating he started working as a temporary “typist clerk” making $5.23 per hour on Aug. 31, 1998. Handwritten on that form is “Resigned 1/15/99.

I let the Louisianan politicians and voters sort out whether Yenni actually worked for the parish attorney or was just paid from his budget for working as a typist clerk in another department, something which appeared to have happened with some regularity in Jefferson Parish. My question is by what standard did Yenni qualify to work as a paralegal anywhere at anytime? According to the report at Nola.com,

Two weeks ago, The Times-Picayune reported that the biography page at www.electmikeyenni.com said Yenni at one point in his career was “Director of Communications with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.” The page also said that when he became director of the Citizens Affairs Department, he oversaw an operating budget of $116 million.

In reality, while working in Citizens Affairs, Yenni said he “directed communications” with the Sheriff’s Office during Carnival parades. And his budget was closer to $1 million.

Be that as it may, there is no indication under either description of his experience that he has any experience, education, or certification that qualifies him as a paralegal. I don’t know about the courts in Louisiana, but I am sure the Minnesota Court of Appeals would agree. Unfortunately it continues to appear that just about anyone can call themselves a paralegal.

On “becoming” a paralegal

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Buried deep within a story on possible problems at a Vermont nuclear power plant is this:

Wife Maggie, a former journalist who met her future husband in 1977 when both worked for a proposed nuclear power plant that was never built on the shores of Lake Ontario, became a paralegal after they moved to Burlington. Together, they run a consulting company, Fairewinds Associates, that has come to specialize in doing legal work for those trying to intervene in nuclear issues across the country.

In their New North End home, the couple sit with laptops, sorting through an avalanche of information they have collected about Vermont Yankee. Between the two of them, they meticulously document everything. Within seconds they can retrieve information about who said what to whom, when. They helpfully finish each other’s sentences. He is the scientist with a steal-trap memory for dates and details. She is the paralegal who digs for documents, compiles reports and prepares testimony.

This blog is not about nuclear power, so I take no position on the work done by this couple or the power plant issues raised in the article. What draws my interest is the statement that Maggie “became a paralegal.” What exactly does that mean? Is there some educational criteria that she met? Did she work for a law firm and, if so, in what capacity? Is she certified and, if so, by whom.

I am not here critiquing Maggie as I have no knowledge of her other than what appears in the story. She may be highly qualified as a paralegal (although there are no uniformly accepted standards by which to make that judgment). My concern is with the nonchalent use of the term “paralegal” which almost necessarily flows from the lack of any uniform standards. In fact, the only generally accepted definition of “paralegal,” that endorsed by ABA, NFPA, NALA, AAfPE, NALS, etc., would indicate this sentence is not correct: “She is the paralegal who digs for documents, compiles reports and prepares testimony,” because that definition insists that a person is a paralegal only if he or she works supervised by an attorney and there is no indication that Maggie is supervised by anybody.

The fact of the matter is that, with very limited jurisdictional exceptions, one can simply become a paralegal. In fact, all that appears to be needed is the willingness to say you are a paralegal!

Paralegal Profession Recognized by Tulsa County Bar Association

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Lynne DeVenny at Practical Paralegalism notes that the Tulsa County Bar Association now allows paralegals who meet the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Minimum Qualification Standards for Legal Assistant/Paralegal to become associate members of the association. Lynne correctly notes, “This is a great opportunity for Tulsa paralegals and legal assistants to expand their professional network and educational opportunities.” More important, she states, this is an important recognition, “of the importance of its area paralegals and legal assistants.”

The latter is of the most significance to me, although I do not mean to minimize the networking and educational opportunities. The bar as all to often neglected to recognize not only the importance of paralegals, but the fact that paralegals are, like the lawyers themselves, part of the legal profession. Opening the bar association to paralegals allows the attorneys and paralegals who must work together as a legal team in the law office to associate together as the professionals they are.

One question that arises is whether this step would have been possible without the establishment in 2000 of the minimal qualification standards by the Oklahoma Bar Association. While such standards do not amount to licensing they do, at least, help establish the identity of paralegals as a profession.

OLP E-discovery Certification

Friday, August 28th, 2009

In a previous post discussing the value of advanced paralegal certifications I indicated I would have more to say about the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP). Here it is from OLP itself:

OLP’s PURPOSE: To promote the common business interest of the legal community, establish guidelines and standards for legal professionals on e-discovery and other topics, evaluate compliance with same, and serve as a resource on quality certification.

The OLP is a non-profit organization establishing guidelines and standards for legal field, with an emphasis on e-discovery. The organization:

Evaluates compliance with the standards;
Recognizes organizations and programs which demonstrate compliance
Serves as a resource on quality certification;
Certifies educational providers that meet OLP’s standards.

OLP’S VISION: OLP is an administratively independent resource recognized as an authority on standards for professional certification of individuals and organizations providing services and products to the legal industry.

It’s the end of the week and I’m slowing down a bit, so I’m also going to let Chere Estrin of The Estrin Report and Know: The Magazine for Paralegals, give a further explanation of the reasoning behind OLP. This is from one of her communications on the topic:

Today’s screaming for qualified e-discovery professionals has reached an unprecedented volume. Recently, Socha-Gelbman published an overview of the results of their annual survey on the Legal Technology News site. ( http://www.lawtechnews.com/r5/showkiosk.asp?listing_id=3296867 ).

One of the most important single observations from it is the shortage of expertise in the market-place with providers, law firms and corporations reported as “fighting each other for the few people who actually understand what is involved in handling electronic documents”. That is significant because the lack of qualified professionals can only grow as a problem. Predictions of 20% or 25% growth in the field does not guarantee that a generation of skilled and knowledgeable people are simply going to pop up. …

…As a result of this crying need from judges, law firms and vendors alike, a new non-profit organization, The Organization of Legal Professionals (www.theolp.org) has been formed for the purpose of providing an exacting and tough certification exam to establish core compentencies. This organization has assembled a stellar Board of Governors and Advisory Council to assist them. The names of these legal icons are the best in the nation and beyond.

The benefits to law firms, legal departments and vendors alike are tremendous. Just a few include the delivery of higher level quality services; better adherence to risk management; lower malpractice rates; and assured competencies in a new profession that at present, has no barriers to entrance.

In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I am a member of the OLP Advisory Council, so I am doing so.

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

Professionalism is all about standards

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

While I don’t agree with everything paralegal-paralegal.com says in the article “Paralegals And Standards,” there are some valid points. Here’s an except:

Although negativity and popular opinion may suggest otherwise, attorneys are expected to abide by some basic standards both in their professional and their personal lives. A paralegal is expected to adhere to the same standards as an attorney. The reason for this is based on general common sense: when a person in the legal field upholds high standards, both individuals and the public as a whole are much more able to place their trust in him. In the legal field, such trust is essential.

While professional competence is undeniably important, the standards which the legal professional adheres to is also a factor. In addition to upholding professional standards in the workplace and when doing field work, the person’s standards in his or her personal life are expected to be above reproach. The character points of integrity, ethics, and basic standards of morality, are not only required by the legal field but expected by the clients whom they serve.

As each and every client deserves not only competent representation but representation by those who take their role seriously, … and the highest standards of both professional and personal ethics and integrity, are prerequisites and ongoing requirements for those who wish to be accepted into the paralegal field and continue to do well in it.