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News Briefs: January/February 2007

Below are some of the latest happenings in the paralegal community. These short snippets also represent excerpts of stories that can be found in the January/February 2007 issue of Legal Assistant Today.

 

Got News? - Do you know of a significant new law under consideration or recently passed in your area? Are you aware of changes to rules or codes that significantly impact the work done in your specialty area?

If so, we want to hear from you. If you submit an original news lead that turns into a news story that we print in Legal Assistant Today, we will pay you $25. If you have a original news lead that you think we would like to hear about, e-mail us.
 


Regulation a Reality

Ontario paralegals grapple with controversial legislation.

By Janet Roberts

 

Several years of paralegals battling with the government of the Province of Ontario in Canada ended on Oct. 19 when the Access to Justice Act was passed by the Ontario legislature. Among its many reforms, it will provide for paralegal regulation by the Law Society of Upper Canada, the self-governing body for lawyers in Ontario — a mandate that many Canadian paralegals vehemently oppose.

“The Law Society shows antipathy toward paralegals,” said Susan Koprich, president of the more than 250-member Paralegal Society of Ontario, adding that she thinks it’s a conflict of interest to have lawyers, who can be in competition with paralegals in Canada, handle the regulation of them. Koprich also questioned the need for a law to protect a public that has not complained about paralegal service and representation in Ontario.

According to Brendan Crawley of the Communications Branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, the law will help open up the legal profession to paralegals. “The Access to Justice Act will give consumers a choice in qualified legal services while protecting people who get legal advice from nonlawyers,” Crawley said. “For the first time in Canada’s history, paralegals will be required to receive training, carry liability insurance and report to a public body that can investigate complaints.”

However, many paralegals don’t think the act will be helpful. Canadian paralegals, up to this point, have been permitted to represent clients in uncontested divorces, family law matters and real estate closings, as well as appear in criminal court on smaller matters on behalf of defendants, such as Protection of Abuse matters. They also draft simple wills and handle some estate law matters. Their rates are lower than, and therefore are competitive with, lawyers’ rates.

Koprich said women and children will be hurt by this law because she thinks paralegals will no longer be able to handle family law matters at affordable prices because of the new regulation requirements. For example, Koprich said she is concerned that paralegals will be required to pay dues at a lawyer’s rate to join the Law Society of Ontario, forcing them to pass those increased costs on to the public.

For more information about Ontario's impending paralegal regulation, click here.

 


AAfPE Celebrates 25 Years at Conference

Teaching technology is hot topic at event.

By Rachel Ng

 

Technology was the topic du jour at the 2006 American Association for Paralegal Education’s national conference, held at the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans in October. The annual event drew more than 300 attendees from around the country, including representatives from schools and major legal assistant organizations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and Nals … the association for legal professionals.

The theme of the 25th anniversary conference was “The Future is Now,” and with technology as the major discussion topic, sessions such as “The Electronic Paralegal” and “Intellectual Property Issues & Online Courses in the Internet Age” attracted many attendees. 

“Without a doubt, keeping up with the use of technology and teaching it in the classroom are very important,” said new AAfPE president Hedi Nasheri, professor and director of the department of para­legal studies at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. “AAfPE members will be able to remain on the cutting edge with software used in law offices, provided free of charge to our members and their students, thanks to the Technology Task Force.”

The task force was created two years ago when then president-elect William J. Mulkeen, program director at Thomas Edison State Col­lege in Trenton, N.J., realized the technology infusion into the daily practice of law was occurring at a fast pace.

“Electronic discovery issues, federal rule changes and requirements, new litigation management techniques and software were rapidly becoming important issues for all paralegals,” Mulkeen said. “It was obvious that paralegals were looking for training, and it was equally obvious that we had to be sure the educators — our AAfPE members — had the knowledge and tools to teach today’s paralegals.”

 


Law Firms Recognized for Diversity

Twelve firms receive perfect score on equality index for GLBT issues.

By Lyndsey Schaefer

 

A recent report by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation showed a dozen law firms spanning the Unites States were among the companies to score 100 percent on the 5th annual Corporate Equality Index. These dozen firms met the HRC’s 11 criteria for a workplace that offers domestic/spousal partner benefits; diversity training; and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) philanthropic events; and advertises to the GLBT community.

The dozen law firms that met the 11 criteria for a perfect score are: Alston & Bird; Arnold & Porter; Dorsey & Whitney; Faegre & Benson; Heller Ehrman; Jenner & Block; McDermott Will & Emery; Morrison & Foerster; Nixon Peabody; Orrick Her­rington & Sutcliffe; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; and Powell Goldstein.

Companies are surveyed annually nationwide, according to Eric Bloem, associate director of the workplace survey for the HRC Foundation. The companies surveyed include the Fortune 1,000, the Forbes Top 200 Private Employers and, for the first year, the American Lawyer Top 100. Bloem noted that, in general, companies  improve their scores from year to year, which showed in 2006, given that the number of companies scoring 100 percent jumped from 13 in the 2002 inaugural survey to 138 in 2006. Any company with more than 500 employees is eligible to participate.

 


Army Paralegal Wins Military Accolades

Tasha Carnahan is Installation Soldier of the Quarter at Fort Leonard Wood.

By Melody Ip

 

How many paralegals can boast of their sharp-shooting skills, their rigorous physical training and their expertise at military drills? Tasha Carnahan is one of the few. As a paralegal for the U.S. Army’s Military Justice Office, Carnahan knows all things Army, from history to weapons, in addition to excelling at her duties in the legal office. Now she is being recognized for her skills.

Carnahan, stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, recently received the Installation Soldier of the Quarter for Second Quarter award after passing three levels of competition — first the Soldier of the Month, then the Battalion Soldier of the Quarter, then finally the Installation Soldier of the Quarter. At each level, Carnahan and her fellow competitors faced a panel of sergeants who drilled them on topics such as Army uniform protocols, current events and land navigation. Each time, Carnahan surpassed the other competitors.

In January, Carnahan will appear again before a panel to display her army knowledge and compete against other company, battalion, brigade and post winners for the Soldier of the Year award.

 


You’ve Got IMs

Law office instant messaging creates security issues.

By Kenya McCullum

 

Just as e-mail now is a staple of communication in the business world, instant messaging increasingly is used by all types of companies — and law firms are no exception. For paralegals, instant messaging can streamline communication with attorneys while allowing them to continue performing other duties throughout the day.

“We use IMs for everything: phone messages, communication when someone is on the phone, sending and receiving tasks from the attorney and other paralegals, and communicating with other offices,” said Amelia Lukow, paralegal at Hoggatt Law Office in Colorado, where the firm uses Yahoo Messenger.

“It really has made communication easier. I don’t have to be on the phone with other offices and can take other calls or do other tasks. It keeps you more available at your desk. It really helps when someone is on the phone and the caller needs that person. Either I can handle the call by communicating with the requested recipient or simply let the recipient know who is holding and on what line.”

However, while instant messaging is a convenient form of communication in a law firm, the sensitive information being communicated makes it imperative to be vigilant about security. Like e-mail, instant messages are vulnerable to viruses that easily can be transmitted in a message as an attachment or a link to a virus-ridden Web site.

 


Paralegal Recognized for Work With Native American Community

Raylene Frazier honored with the Pierce-Hickerson award.

By Kenya McCullum

 

Native American paralegal Raylene Frazier, who is a registered member of the Lakota band, recently was honored by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association for her advocacy work with the community. The NLADA’s Pierce-Hickerson Award — named after Julian Pierce and Robert K. Hickerson, both legal champions for the Native American community — is presented each year to someone whose work helps preserve and advance the legal rights of Native Americans.

“The greatest honor one can receive is the recognition from one’s own people,” Frazier said. “Certainly any time one of our people is honored, it brings a sense of pride to us as a tribe. This is a great honor for me.” Since 1980, Frazier has embodied the spirit of Pierce and Hickerson through her tireless representation of Native Americans at Dakota Plains Legal Services. DPLS, which has six offices located on reservations in North and South Dakota, is an organization that specializes in protecting the rights of Native Americans.

Frazier is not a paralegal in the traditional sense. Whereas paralegals usually can’t represent clients and give legal advice, tribal courts allow her to argue cases. Before joining DPLS, Frazier worked as a court clerk for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, which exposed her to the tribal system. She later worked as a tribal prosecutor, where she learned to interview witnesses, gather evidence and prepare cases.

In addition, she has studied with the American Indian Lawyers Training Program and the National Indian Justice Center. As a paralegal for the DPLS, Frazier advocates for clients in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court on a wide range of areas including paternity, custody and probate cases — often arguing against lawyers representing her opposition.

 


Terrorist’s Paralegal Sentenced

Ahmed Abdel Sattar to serve 24 years in prison.

By Jamie Ann Tyo

 

More than a year after his conviction, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, the court-appointed paralegal convicted of plotting to “kill and kidnap in a foreign country,” was sentenced to 24 years in prison. While the sentence fell short of what prosecutors asked for, it was far longer than the sentence meted out in the highly publicized trial of his co-defendant, attorney Lynn Stewart, who received only 28 months in prison.

Sattar, Stewart and Mohammed Yousry, the translator they worked with, were convicted in February 2005 after being indicted in 2002 for smuggling messages between Stewart’s client, Sheik Omar-Abdel Rahman, and his followers in the Middle East (see “Link to Terrorism,” March/April 2005 LAT). Prosecutors asked that Stewart be sentenced to 30 years, but U.S. District Judge John Koeltl said in his sentencing that Stewart’s years as a legal advocate for the needy were mitigating factors in the sentence.

Prior to her sentencing, Stewart acknowledged in a letter to Koeltl that she “inadvertently allowed those with other agendas to corrupt the most precious and inviolate basis of our profession — the attorney-client relationship.”

The judge also showed leniency to Yousry, who was sentenced to 20 months in prison for helping pass Rahman’s messages on, under Stewart’s direction. Sattar, who had spoken by phone to known terrorists and worked as the sheik’s paralegal since they became friends in the 1990s, was the only one of the trio to be jailed immediately. The other two remain free while they appeal their convictions.

 


Legal Resources

 

Career Guide

Joining the cadre of For Dummies guides, Paralegal Career for Dummies is available at major booksellers such as Amazon.com. The authors, Scott Hatch and Lisa Zimmer Hatch, are the founders and administrators of The Center for Legal Studies in Colorado, which offers paralegal training and certificate courses. “Paralegal Careers for Dummies” is designed to help para­legals new to the field get started. It provides basic information such as how to get certified and land your first job, as well as more in-depth information such as how to pick a specialty area, prepare documents for litigation, conduct legal research and manage a typical law office. The book includes a CD-ROM with tools such as sample memos, forms, letters and more. The list price is $24.99.

 

Deposition Preparation

Be prepared for any type of deposition with James Publishing Inc.’s Deposition Checklist and Strategies by Evan Schaeffer. The book, which covers issues such as product liability, premise liability, medical malpractice and more, includes detailed pattern deposition outlines with questions and selected answers for the issues most likely to arise. It also includes commentary and follow-up questions for troublesome answers. Every chapter begins with a summary of the substantive law at issue and includes an analysis of common defenses. To round them out, the chapters end with related discovery forms such as complaints, interrogatories, requests for admission, etc. Practice tips and tactics are included throughout. The book is $99 and includes a CD-ROM. Visit www.jamespublishing.com for more information.

 


Justice Served

Paralegal prevails in prison HMO lawsuit.

By Jamie Ann Tyo

 

After three long years, paralegal Rosanne Scarola-Bilello finally can say justice has been served. Since her husband’s death while he was in the custody of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2003, Scarola-Bilello fought to hold responsible those she said caused the death (see “Paralegal’s Case Moves Forward,” January/February 2006 LAT).

In 2004, Scarola-Bilello and her attorney employer, Gary Susser, sued Prison Health Services, the treating physician and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for failing to treat Scarola-Bilello’s husband, Patrick Bilello, for HIV and Hepatitis C. Bilello was incarcerated on theft charges for 53 days before he saw a doctor. The treating physician, Edgar N. Escobar, said he didn’t read a lab report that showed Bilello’s organs were failing, so he ordered Bilello to take Tums and gave him an extra blanket. Four days later, Bilello died when his heart failed.

In addition to suing PHS, Scarola-Bilello fought to have Escobar held personally responsible. By October 2006, she was successful on both accounts. Earlier in 2006, Escobar and PHS settled the malpractice suit Scarola-Bilello and Susser filed. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. In October, Escobar appeared at a disciplinary hearing before the Florida state medical board to hear his punishment for the Bilello case.

At Scarola-Bilello’s pleading, the board suspended Escobar’s license and fined him $10,000. Escobar’s license could be reinstated if he passes a competency exam, but his lawyer said Escobar plans to retire soon. The state Department of Health had recommended only the fine and continuing medical education for Escobar, but board members approved the harsher penalty after hearing Scarola-Bilello’s plea. According to The Palm Beach Post, Scarola-Bilello told the board that they did the right thing. “I can go home with a sense of victory,” she said.

 

 

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