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This long-running column examines ethics in the paralegal profession. Do you have an ethical dilemma or question? E-mail us today.
Reacting to Regulation
Majority of survey respondents feel some type of
paralegal regulation is
On Oct. 19, 2006, the Access to Justice Act was
enacted in the
According to the latest My Opinion survey, 67.7
percent of respondents feel that paralegals working under the direct
supervision of an attorney should be regulated, while only 32.3
percent feel they should not. “The only way we will be recognized as
a true profession is if we are regulated in some form,” said Theresa
A. Prater, a 26-year paralegal from
The top reason given by respondents for establishing mandatory regulation was to set a standard (33.8 percent). In addition, survey respondents felt that mandatory regulation will distinguish the profession from other legal professionals (24.1 percent), and it will garner more respect and recognition from lawyers, courts and others in the legal profession (23.6 percent).
Billie Bacle, a 30-year paralegal from
When asked what form of regulation is
appropriate, 43.9 percent of respondents who supported regulation
said certification, 28.8 percent said licensure, 18.2 percent said
registration and 7.6 percent said limited licensure. A four-year
However, not all respondents agreed that mandatory regulation is a good thing. “What would be the purpose of regulating paralegals?” asked KayLani Peters, a three-year paralegal from Colorado Springs, Colo. “Every paralegal has had it drilled into them that they cannot do work independent of, or without the supervision of, the attorney. Most paralegals know the Latin phrase respondeat superior, which means let the master answer. The liability lies with the supervising attorney, not with the paralegal alone.”
According to the survey, 34.9 percent of
respondents who didn’t support mandatory regulation agreed with
Peters that attorneys already are responsible for the paralegals
with whom they work. Additionally, 24.1 percent felt achieving and
maintaining regulation requirements might be too costly, 20.5
percent felt there already are voluntary exams for those who want
certification, and 16.9 percent felt regulation would put too many
restrictions on the field. Lisa Hoag, a legal assistant from
Whether respondents agreed or disagreed on mandatory paralegal regulation, 52.5 percent of all survey respondents felt that if regulation were established, a mixed panel of legal professionals should administer the regulatory program. Only 14.1 percent felt practicing paralegals should administer a regulatory program, and another 14.1 percent chose a court system. The two lowest results for who should administer a regulatory program were paralegal educators and a consumer agency, both with 3 percent of responses.
Despite the split on whether paralegals who work under the direct supervision of an attorney should be regulated, 87.8 percent of all respondents felt that paralegals who deliver services directly to the public, such as document preparers, should be regulated in some form. While licensure was the top choice at 58.6 percent, other options included certification (13.8 percent) and registration (12.6 percent).
Whether mandatory regulation should be established, and what type of regulation is needed, will continue to be topics of debate, but some paralegals feel that the time for a decision might be drawing near. “As the paralegal profession grows, it has become even more crucial that a system exists setting standards for paralegals,” said Isabel A. Quintana, a 10-year administrative analyst/paralegal from Glendale, Calif. “It devalues the profession to have anyone be able to call themselves a paralegal,” she added.
Should paralegals working under the direct supervision of an attorney be regulated?
What form of regulation is appropriate?
Limited Licensure: 7.6%
Why should paralegals be regulated?
Sets a standard: 33.8%
Distinguishes the profession: 24.1%
More respect and recognition: 23.6%
Will lead to expanded duties and responsibilities: 15.9%
If regulation were established, who should administer the program?
Mixed panel: 52.5%
Court system: 14.1%
Practicing paralegals: 14.1%
Consumer agency: 3.0%
Paralegal educators: 3.0%
Total survey responses: 99
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