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News Briefs: May/June 2007

Below are some of the latest happenings in the paralegal community. These short snippets represent excerpts of stories that can be found in the May/June '07 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.
 


Attorney Act Comes to an End

Former New York paralegal could serve five years for perjury.

By Ashley Johnson

 

For more than two years, paralegal Brian T. Valery had his employers at Anderson Kill & Olick in New York City convinced that he was an attorney admitted to the bar in New York State. During this time, according to an article in The New York Times dated Jan. 22, Valery represented a Stamford, Conn., drug company in product liability lawsuits, billing about $300 an hour, and participating in numerous depositions, two of which he handled entirely by himself. He was even featured in the attorney profile section of the firm’s Web site, which noted his areas of legal expertise and a list of more than 25 legal articles he co-authored on environmental law and property insurance.

“First and foremost, Brian struck me as eager, enthusiastic and ambitious,” said Jeannine Chanes, a former attorney of Anderson Kill & Olick who now works as a solo practitioner in New York City. “He was excellent at getting new business, and from all the new reports I received, [he] was on the fast track for partnership.” However, Valery’s legal career took a dramatic turn on Jan. 10, when he was arrested and later charged with impersonating an attorney and perjury.

Neither Valery nor his defense attorney, Robert Skovgaard, could be reached for comment. However, Valery’s alleged actions have created some concern and discussion within the paralegal profession. “To me, it only proves the need for some sort of regulation for paralegals, same as attorneys,” said Janet Jacobson, a corporate paralegal and president of the Central Connecticut Paralegal Association. “That said, the law firm didn’t do its job and wasn’t diligent in a thorough background search before they hired this man.”

At press time, Valery had a pretrial conference meeting scheduled with the presiding judge on April 27 to go over discovery issues and set a trial date.

 


Updated California Specialty Program Delayed

Voluntary exam expected to re-emerge online in fall 2007.

By Melody Ip

 

The Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization is experiencing delays in launching the new California Advanced Specialty assessment program, which would enable paralegals to earn the CAS designation online. CACPS, the certification board for the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations, and the National Association of Legal Assistants are working together to create an online curriculum-based course after discontinuing the paper and pencil version in July 2005. Originally scheduled to return in late 2006, the program now is expected to be ready in fall 2007. The setback is due to an abundance of work and shortage of manpower.

The original CAS program was created in 1994 through an agreement between NALA and CAPA. The same year, CACPS was created to oversee, develop and implement the CAS exam, a voluntary exam that certifies paralegals as having expertise in a specialty area of law based on California statutory and procedural requirements and case law. The CAS exam is open to any paralegal who already has earned the Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal credential through NALA.

Once all modules and assessments are successfully completed, the paralegal will receive the CAS designation. The new program will have no impact on paralegals currently holding the CAS designation. However, paralegals who complete the new program will need to certify with NALA 50 hours of continuing legal education for the CLA and CP designations and an additional 20 hours of CLE for the CAS over a period of five years.

NALA remains involved with the CAS program by providing administrative services to support the program, such as services related to the examination development and maintenance. “Many NALA members and expert consultants have worked with CACPS as requested and as needed,” said Marge Dover, NALA’s executive director. Dover said the CACPS has been working very hard to develop the Web-based certification program, and this has included consultation with others experienced in testing and technical writing, in addition to the NALA members and consultants.

 


Two Florida Paralegals Champion Law Day

Duo heads up award-winning community events.

By Melody Ip

 

While legal professionals nationwide make plans to celebrate Law Day on May 1, two paralegals in Orange County, Fla., are leading a 23-member committee to plan more than a month’s worth of activities. The Orange County Bar Association has been celebrating Law Day for more than 10 years, but about four years ago it expanded the program into a series of events, due largely to the efforts and enthusiasm of paralegals Lissa Bealke and Lori Spangler. As co-chairwomen for the OCBA’s Law Day committee, the duo strives to raise awareness among Orange County residents of all ages about the U.S. legal system and the freedoms it affords.

Bealke has been a member of the OCBA since 1998, and Spangler has been a member since 1995. The OCBA allows membership for non-attorneys only if they are paralegals, legal assistants or law students. Spangler and Bealke were responsible for the formation of a paralegal committee within the OCBA in September 2004, which stemmed from their desire to have the paralegal profession more broadly recognized. The OCBA is the first bar association in Florida to have a paralegal committee, Bealke said.

“I feel very honored to be part of such a great committee and to be able to work with such a vast array of talented legal professionals,” Bealke said.

Bealke and Spangler’s committee, as well as Law Day participants from all over the country, carry on the vision of former ABA President Charles Rhyne, a Washington, D.C., attorney who dreamt not only of designating a day to celebrate the law, but also to educate people about legal processes that contribute to the freedoms of America. Rhyne drafted a U.S. presidential proclamation, which was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the nation celebrated its first Law Day on May 1, 1958. Three years later, May 1 was recognized as the official Law Day. Last year, according to the ABA, 60 communities around the country planned events, and nearly 3,000 people signed up to receive weekly e-mail updates about organizing Law Day activities.

For more information on Orange County, Florida's Law Day, visit OCBA's website.

 


NFPA Publishes Report on Compensation

Salaries rise and minimum education hiring requirements stand out.

By Ashley Johnson

 

For paralegals, salaries are looking up and education is becoming more of a factor when it comes to entering the field. The National Federation of Paralegal Association’s 2006 Compensation and Benefits Report, published in December, found that nearly half of the 1,468 paralegals and legal professionals who responded indicated a bachelor’s degree as a minimum hiring requirement.

“Just like with any other profession, employers believe that someone with a bachelor’s degree will have a well-rounded education,” said Anita Haworth, RP, president of NFPA and a paralegal at Campbell Kyle Proffitt in Carmel, Ind.

Since 1993, NFPA has conducted a compensation and benefits report about every other year. The survey was publicized in NFPA’s National Paralegal Reporter, on listservs and via e-mail, and sent to 8,500 paralegals in a database maintained by Estrin LegalEd. The majority of respondents were NFPA members, but 21 percent indicated no affiliation to an association or didn’t respond to a question about affiliation.

Bonuses and raises also are an important part of compensation. Since NFPA’s 1993 report, bonuses have increased 85 percent, significantly more than salaries. As paralegals become more experienced, and considering the work they do and the hours they put in, they expect to be rewarded like any other professional, Haworth said. One third of the respondents said they received a bonus, with an average reported bonus of $2,994. The maximum bonus reported was $62,700. “For paralegals just starting out or [those] interested in becoming a paralegal, this information is good because they see that there is a future, and they can make a living doing this,” Haworth said. Of the respondents, 80 percent received raises; the average was $2,384, and the maximum was $18,000.

Any salary survey can help employers determine appropriate compensation for paralegals and NFPA’s report is no different. “No. 1, give [the survey results] to your supervisor, or if you are in-house, give it to general counsel,” Montgomery said. “They are always looking at how to pay people. You will likely not get paid appropriately if you don’t provide data to the right folks.”

Survey results were compiled and prepared by Whorton Marketing & Research, and the report was financed by Robert Half Legal. The report is available for $35 online at www.paralegals.org.

 


Ohio Supreme Court Addresses UPL

Ruling limits labor relations legal services by nonlawyers.

By Janet Roberts

 

When the Supreme Court of Ohio rendered its decision in Ohio State Bar Association v. Burdzinski, Brinkman, Czarzasty & Landwehr, Inc., on Dec. 27, 2006, it established guidelines for the types of labor relations legal services that can be provided by nonlawyers. The Court’s 7-0 opinion, authored by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, also affirmed the authority of the Supreme Court to define and regulate professional activities that involve the practice of law in the area of labor relations.

“It’s the unauthorized practice of law for a nonlawyer to draft or write a contract or other legal instrument on behalf of another that is intended to create a legally binding relationship between an employer and a union, even if the contract is copied from a form book or was previously prepared by a lawyer,” the court’s decision states.

“UPL is one of the most often talked about areas in this field, and it seems like this decision will influence employers to oversee their paralegals’ job focus a bit more than they may be doing now,” said Margaret Dennis, president of the Cleveland Association of Paralegals. “This decision could limit some paralegals’ job abilities, depending on what area of law they are currently employed in, particularly if a lot of their job function is to prepare certain types of forms.” The decision might not have immediate effects on the recent establishment of volunteer paralegal certification in Ohio; however, for labor and employment paralegals, employers and clients might favor someone who is certified over a paralegal who isn’t. “It could represent more experience and make an employer and client feel more comfortable in the paralegal’s tasks,” Dennis said.

The Supreme Court decision stems from a complaint filed by the OSBA with the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law of the Supreme Court of Ohio on July 6, 2004. The complaint alleged that Bernard Burdzinski II and Connie Brinkman-Burdzinski, husband and wife shareholders and directors for the management consulting firm, Burdzinski, Brinkman, Czarzasty & Landwehr, were engaging in UPL by providing advice or counsel in labor election campaigns to individuals regarding their legal rights. The complaint also alleged that Burdzinski and Brinkman-Burdzinski were drafting agreements “affecting the legal rights of others.”

The board recommended that the Supreme Court order the respondents to discontinue from the same or similar conduct and to reimburse the costs and expenses incurred by the board and OSBA, a total of $6,063.53. Currently, the Burdzinski’s have the option to appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court, but at press time, they had yet to file an appeal. 
 


Do You Take Visa?

The role of immigration paralegals in bringing foreign workers to the U.S.

By John J. McGurk

 

In the past decade, Americans have become familiar with the terms “outsourcing” and “offshoring” as more companies rely on these practices. Less known, however, is the practice of bringing foreign workers to the United States on nonimmigrant visas, a process that often relies on the knowledge and experience of immigration paralegals.

“Many U.S. companies, from major well-known corporations to small companies, hire foreign nationals as part of their workforce,” said 16-year paralegal Mary Wasserman, an immigration specialist with Perot Systems in Plano, Texas. “Foreign national workers are vital to industries where there is a shortage of workers in specialized areas.”

Formerly handled by the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, visa petitions are now processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Two commonly submitted nonimmigrant petitions are for the L-1 and H-1B visa categories.

L-1 petitions can be submitted any time of the year, and there is no limit to how many USCIS will accept. The number of H-1B petitions is capped at 65,000 per fiscal year (with 6,800 visas set aside for Chile and Singapore under free trade agreements), and they can’t be submitted prior to April 1, six months before the fiscal year begins.

Just like outsourcing and offshoring, the practice of bringing foreign workers to the United States seems here to stay, and Wasserman, Brady and Dietz all agreed that aside from filing petitions as soon as possible, thorough documentation is the key to approval. “There is never an easy case,” Dietz said. “The trick is to think ahead and structure your cases to take a conservative approach.”
 


Technology Budgets Increase

LegalTech survey shows more law firms spending money on legal technology.

By Ashley Johnson

 

As legal professionals become increasingly aware of how technology can save time and money, more funds will be allocated toward technology, a reality that many law firms might already be embracing. According to a recent online survey, 67 percent of the 409 respondents from the legal community saw their technology budgets increase in 2007, with 30 percent saying their budgets remained the same. Only 3 percent said their technology budgets shrank.

“All respondents have now realized they need to use technology in the law firm to remain a vital part of the community,” said Amy Juers, founder and CEO of Edge Legal Marketing, the company that conducted the survey in late January. The survey came directly on the heels of American Lawyer Media’s LegalTech New York 2007, one of the largest annual trade shows for the legal technology industry. It was e-mailed to 8,400 people who attended the show, including lawyers, paralegals, IT staff and litigation support staff.

Other popular types of software at LegalTech New York were litigation support, 45 percent; databases and database management, 34 percent; case management and budgeting, 34 percent; forms and generation processing software, 33 percent; and backup, disaster recovery and compliance applications, 25 percent.

“Technology is not a luxury in law practice anymore, it’s a necessity,” O’Donnell said. “And the 2007 budgets of smart firms reflect that reality.” The survey is available online at www.edgelegalmarketing.com.

 


Paralegals Celebrate Pro Bono and Support Regulation

NFPA educates and inspires paralegal community with back-to-back conferences.

By Ashley Johnson

 

Paralegals from across the nation came together in Dallas on March 17 and 18 to attend the National Federation of Paralegal Association’s Regulation Conference. The goal of the annual conference, which was free to NFPA members, was to educate members on where things stand with regulation in various states, and to discuss the roles state bar associations and the courts play in the process.

“There was a consensus from those present that regulation is here to stay and that more and more states are … moving forward with regulation efforts,” said Wayne Akin, vice president of NFPA and director of positions and issues.

NFPA endorses regulation to establish standards and expand the utilization of paralegals to deliver cost-efficient legal services, and first held the regulation conference in 1998 to encourage discussion among paralegals about the types of regulation they would like to see for the profession. Twenty-five paralegals attended this year’s conference, traveling from California, Illinois, Arkansas and various other states to network and discuss the regulation process.

Following the regulation conference by one week was NFPA’s 2007 Pro Bono Conference, held in Denver March 24 to March 25. The conference presented various ideas for getting involved with pro bono work and highlighted specific opportunities, such as Court Appointed Special Advocates and Project Homeless Connect. The objective was to encourage members to meet NFPA’s goal of 24 hours of pro bono or community service each year. By working with local bar associations and local pro bono providers, paralegals can assist in the delivery of pro bono legal services.

First held in 1999, the pro bono conference drew NFPA members from Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, Oregon and Washington who came together to discuss the four R’s of volunteerism: recruitment, retaining, recognizing and record keeping.

The opportunities and ideas shared at the conference were supported by the members and leaders of local associations who had their own personal experiences from which attendees could gain inspiration.

“I think there was a wonderful exchange of ideas,” said Susan Heisler, NFPA pro bono coordinator and liaison to the American Bar Association’s standing committee on pro bono public service. “People went away energized to take some ideas back to their associations and to expand their own pro bono programs.”
 


Paralegal Program Hosts Mock Trial at University of Arkansas

Paralegals work with high schools for competition.

By Ashley Johnson

 

High school students from all over Arkansas convened at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith on Feb. 25 for the chance to appear in court and argue a murder case to a group of paralegal student jurors. The case wasn’t real but the courtroom experience was, as more than 70 students participated in the 2007 regional mock trial competition sponsored by the Arkansas Bar Association and hosted, for the first time, by the paralegal program at UA Fort Smith and Amicus Curiae, a student paralegal club on campus.

Members of Amicus Curiae, which means “friend of the court,” participated in the competition by serving as mock jurors. Freshman paralegal student Jennifer Dunn served as a juror and had a say in what she thought the outcome of the trial would be. Her main role, however, was as the official time keeper, recording each student’s time as they cross-examined witnesses, and reminding them of their remaining time. Jurors for the mock trial were selected from volunteers on a first-come, first-serve basis. Dunn was one of the first paralegal students to volunteer. “It showed me what a real court room trial would be like compared to what you see in the movies and television shows,” Dunn said. “The excitement swept me away and has helped prove to me that I want to be involved in the law program.”

Every year the case for the mock trial changes, but this year the scenario involved two boys charged with murder when they spiked the victim’s drink with Ecstasy. The victim was a methamphetamine addict and the combination of the two drugs created a toxic overdose. In addition to the witnesses, played by high school students, all of the jurors were students from the paralegal department at UA Fort Smith. “We try to run these mock trials much as a real trial would be,” Lisk said.

The mock trials, which have been sponsored by the Arkansas Bar Association since 1983, have one presiding judge who makes rulings on objections and evidence that is submitted. Two scoring judges oversee the mock trials and score the teams on their performance in trial. Each part of the trial — opening arguments, examining witnesses and closing arguments — is timed.

The plan for the future is to make the mock trial competition an annual event for the paralegal program and the school so that each year a new group of paralegal students are exposed to the competition and can learn from it. “We would very much like to make this the premier regional competition in the state, the one the other regions strive to emulate and by doing so, attract students to the paralegal program from a larger area,” Lisk said.
 


Tailor-Made Paralegal Training

Online program offers firms and companies customized courses.

By Lyndsey Schaefer

 

The Washington Online Learning Institute, an online school with offices in New Hampshire and New York, provides a unique twist to its paralegal education program: customized paralegal training for law firms, businesses and government agencies. The training courses are customized according to client needs and give paralegals specific skills applicable to their jobs.

Founded by Kenneth Herndon and Michael Koplen in 1999, WOLI is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and is licensed by the New Hampshire Postsecondary Education Commission. Students not only include people in the United States, but also people from overseas, the military and U.S. companies in foreign countries.

WOLI began offering customized paralegal training in 2003 when its course catalog was expanded to include specialty courses, such as intellectual property law, immigration law, contracts, e-discovery and alternative dispute resolution. Herndon said that the idea for the customized training came from talking to law firms about their needs. He found that many people working as paralegals needed more education in certain areas of their job.

“They might be working in a different project area and need more training,” Herndon said. “Companies come to us to develop a customized training plan for an employee or a group of employees to achieve these goals. Our whole philosophy is to be accommodating in terms of scheduling, adjusting curriculum, providing performance reports to supervisors and so forth. It’s a natural fit for us to work with a company that wants to design a specific curriculum that meets their precise training needs.”

According to Herndon, some companies and firms desire training plans for valued employees who might not be fully trained as paralegals yet show promise. Companies and firms are interested in retaining these individuals and helping them advance in the company by providing training. WOLI also offers cross-training for underutilized paralegals. By training paralegals and legal assistants in other areas and specialties, they can be assigned to work with other attorneys as needed, providing more flexibility in a company or firm’s workforce, which translates into lower costs and higher profits.

For more information about WOLI’s customized paralegal training, go to www.woli.com.
 


Legal Resources

 

Doctoral Depositions

For personal injury paralegals, expertise with medical terminology during depositions often comes with experience, or it can come in the form of a book. “Deposing and Examining Doctors” by Kim Patrick Hart, published by James Publishing, examines eight different medical specialties in 25 chapters accompanied by 79 four-color, high-quality illustrations. Included are sample outlines to better prepare for a medical deposition, and key questions designed to elicit as much detailed information as possible. Key information on injuries, conditions and procedures such as soft tissue injuries, epidural and subdural hematomas, rhinoplasty, orbital rim fractures and skin grafts help paralegals to remain professional and prepared during a deposition. The book is available for purchase online at www.jamespublishing.com for $129 and includes a full-text CD that can be searched by keyword, case name, topic or form.

 

Another Discovery

With e-mail, the Internet and word processing programs, electronic discovery has become a way of law life. The quest to effectively and efficiently conduct e-discovery prompts writers, legal professionals and instructors to offer advice and training in any form from books to online classes. A new Web site recently launched by Fios, TechnologyCounsel (www.technologycounsel.org), delivers news, articles and industry research by combining law and technology with a focus on e-discovery. TechnologyCounsel also features “Enterprise Matters,” a blog offering observations and guidance on issues relating to technology that paralegals or firms can employ every day.

 

Optimal Visibility

Paralegals seeking to increase the visibility of their firms and enhance consumer awareness just got a boost. Lawyers.com (www.lawyers.com) by LexisNexis recently optimized its search capabilities and presented a new upgrade that allows firms to present their credentials to consumers through the use of keywords, rather than solely by area of practice. Built around the Martindale-Hubbell online database, Lawyers.com now allows users to enter text or keywords, narrow their searches by selecting specific criteria and minimize the risk of irrelevant searches by adding secondary searches. Firms also have the ability to add logos and photographs of lawyers to their background information in the Martindale-Hubbell database, which allows for a more personal delivery of their credentials.

 

Privacy Protection

Safeguarding private information, especially in a legal environment, can be crucial. Learning how to implement and maintain policies and practices that keep a firm within the confines of compliance can be difficult. “Privacy Law” by Charlene Brownlee and Blaze D. Waleski, published by Law Journal Press, is a new treatise explaining the necessary policies and practices a firm should take into account to achieve compliance with privacy guidelines. The constitutional foundation of privacy rights is examined first, followed by the explanation of how laws, industry standards and consumer expectations influence the handling of personal information and privacy in health care, financial institutions, the workplace, international business, e-commerce and corporate transactions. The book costs $189 and can be purchased at www.lawcatalog.com.

 

 

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