Friday, March 21, 2008

Beware of Clown College

The moral of the story in Out & About - Opinion: Beware of Clown College is to choose your school wisely: "It took me six-months and over $10,000 but I finally realized that, at least for my purposes, Kaplan Career Institute was a complete rip-off. I imagine most other for-profit ‘career colleges’ are too. I know some people have graduated and done well for themselves but I can’t help but think most people never reach the land of milk-and-honey promised by the admissions reps."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Supreme Court to Hear Arguments Over Reimbursement of Paralegal Costs

Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments over reimbursement for paralegal costs in Richlin Security Service v. Chertoff, and I, for one, am holding my breath until July, when a decision will be made.

Surely other paralegals are anxious, too. In one fell swoop, the Supreme Court could validate the existence and use of paralegals -- or relegate them to unreimburseable and therefore unusuable status. If the Court decides in favor of Richlin, which is claiming $52,000 in paralegal fees, paralegal utilization will be seen as efficient and cost-effective. If the Court decides in favor of Chertoff, who will want to use paralegals in litigation against the Federal government?

Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), litigants against the Federal government, if they prevail, can be reimbursed for attorneys' fees and costs, but no provision is made for paralegal services. According to Brian Wolfman of Public Citizen Litigation Group, high court counsel to Richlin Security Service, paralegals are used heavily by smaller firms in the hundreds of Social Security, veterans and contract cases filed predominantly in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as well as other circuits. The Federal Circuit ruled that paralegal services should be reimbursed at the actual cost to the firm, not the prevailing market rate.

Wolfman relies on the Supreme Court's decision in Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 285 (1995), which interpreted another fee-shifting statute, 42 U.S.C. 1988. Jenkins, Wolfman argues, held that paralegal services are "attorney's fees" under Section 1988 because that term logically includes charges not only for the work of members of the bar, but also for other law firm personnel whose services contribute to the lawyer's work product. Jenkins also said, he argues, that paralegal services are compensable at market rates if they are billed separately in the relevant legal community, and that separate paralegal billing encourages efficient delivery of legal services.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

From Ashworth University: Paralegal in Guantamo Bay Video

Paralegals can be found in places other than the traditional law office, and in some cases, can be in the center of one of the most hotly-debated legal issues. Directly from Ashworth University's Criminal Justice Blog, Paralegal In Guantanamo Bay Video… highlights a paralegal in the center of the Guatanamo Bay controversy:

[W]hen it comes to dramatic appeal and TV-ready storylines, the paralegal profession may have found a star in the form of Susan Hu, a paralegal working for the Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit legal organization that has played a sometimes controversial role in the legal proceedings of detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Irrespective of your political views, the story that Susan Hu has to tell provides us with a rare glimpse into one of the most intensely debated legal issues this country has ever seen; the rights of prisoners (detainees) classified as enemy combatants. I hope all our paralegal students realize that this profession can take you anywhere in life, including environments you could never have imagined yourself working in, i.e. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Here is the video profile of Susan Hu.

Monday, March 10, 2008

ALM to Present Managing Today's Discovery Process: The Evolving Role of the Paralegal & Litigation Support Professional

ALM Events will present "Managing Today's Discovery Process: The Evolving Role of the Paralegal & Litigation Support Professional." On April 24th, discovery experts from the private sector and the Federal Trade Commission will convene at the Harvard Club, New York for this day long program. Led by Chair Sherry Harris from Hunton & Williams, the faculty will lead interactive discussions on the greatest challenges facing the paralegal and litigation support professional during the discovery phase of litigation.

The program includes discussions on:

* Effectively Managing the E-Discovery Process

* Facilitating Communication Among the Parties

* Engaging in Vendor Selection and Negotiation

* New Strategies to Contain Cost

* IT Dialogue Issues and Data Mapping

* Detecting E-Discovery Misconduct

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Paralegal Sued for UPL

LINDENHURST, N.Y. -- Arthur Chisholm, Jr. is being sued by the state attorney general's office for allegedlypracticing law without a license. The 61 year old paralegal prepared wills, divorce papers, and eviction papers and ran Landlord Help Center and NY Protective Services Inc.

An undercover investigation revealed that Chisholm would sometimes refer to himself as an "attorney-in-fact" and charged for services without the proper credentials. Chisholm maintains that he had been told by the attorney general's office that he could prepare legal documents and wills as long as he didn't list himself as the agent. He asserted that he prepared documents and did not represent himself as an attorney.

Here's the kicker, though:

But a spokesman for the attorney general's office said that Chisolm "exceeded the normal tasks that a paralegal would perform."

The paralegal profession is not regulated at all. There is no set of "normal tasks that a paralegal would perform." If Chisholm was giving legal advice, that is a different set of circumstances. But if the attorney general's office told him that he could prepare documents, he was doing nothing wrong.

There is a very fine line between working as a paralegal and engaging in UPL. Perhaps it's time to put regulations in place so that paralegals like Chisholm aren't pushed over that line. With those regulations in place, and with ethics CLEs attached to those regulations, it becomes less likely that paralegals like Chisholm and his clients would find themselves in this position.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

From Inter-Alia: Getting Text Out of PDFs the Easy Way

From Inter-Alia:

An easy way to get the text out of PDF documents

Cutting and pasting out of PDF documents can be a royal pain. If you're got a copy of Adobe Acrobat, you can export a PDF file to a Word document or even a plain text file, to make extraction of text less of a hassle. But if you don't have Acrobat, check out PDFTextOnline. This site will nearly instantly convert your PDF to plain text, which you can then copy and paste into other applications. A nifty, free way to work with the text in your PDF files.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Legal Assistant Today Announces 2007 Salary Survey Results

The results of Legal Assistant Today's annual salary survey are in, and the national average salary for paralegals in 2007 increased 3.7 percent to $52,979. Available in the March/April issue, the survey results include:

  • National and regional breakdowns for 2007 salaries, bonuses, and raises.
  • Comparisons of national and regional salary averages from 2002 to 2007.
  • Regional salary breakdowns by education, experience and job environment.
  • National statistics on billing requirements, benefits, job environment, certification and hiring requirements, exempt vs. nonexempt status, employment outlook and more.

LAT’s Salary Survey is mailed to a random sampling of paralegal subscribers across the nation every year, as well as e-mailed to paralegal subscribers who preregistered to take the survey electronically, asking more than 50 questions about their salaries, benefits and job environments.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Florida Unveils Registered Paralegal Program

As of today, the Florida Registered Paralegal Program goes into effect. About 300 people have already requested the application, and many more are expected to download it today from the Florida Bar's Web site.

Additionally, applicants need to pay a $150 application fee. Applicants who are approved will be notified by mail with certificates and welcome packets in approximately two weeks. The program sets up a two-tier system for paralegals and also creates a disciplinary system and a Code of Ethics and Responsibility.

The first tier encompasses paralegals with education, training or work experience and who, under the supervision of lawyers, perform delegated, substantive work for which the lawyers are responsible.

Tier two paralegals have to meet education and work experience requirements or be certified by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).

Additionally, for the first three years of the program, paralegals who are able to show substantial experience, but who don’t meet the education or certification requirements, will be able to become Florida Registered Paralegals under a grandfathering provision.

Those who receive the designation will be listed on The Florida Bar Web site.

To remain a Florida Registered Paralegal, 30 hours of continuing education courses will be required over a three-year period, with five of those hours having to be in professionalism or ethics courses.

The new Chapter 20 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar establishing the program does not set forth the duties paralegals may perform or deal with the fees that can be charged or awarded for the work they do. As is the case now, the primary responsibility for monitoring the work of paralegals — whether Florida Registered Paralegals or not — rests with the attorneys who employ or supervise them.