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Why Would the S.C. Bar Stifle Competency Improvement?

Man and woman with book According to the Carolina Paralegal News, South Carolina paralegals won't be seeing voluntary certification and registration any time soon.

The South Carolina House of Delegates has tabled a proposal for paralegals to start a voluntary certification program for paralegals.  The delegates referred a proposed Certified Paralegal Program back to the Paralegal Task Force which had billed it as an effort to improve the competencies of Palmetto State paralegals.

A five-month study by a 12-member task force explored the possibility of setting up the state's first paralegal registration system.

Michael J. Howell, a delegate, said he supported the concept but said the proposal needed to include a code of ethics and a method for enforcing it.

".....in order to provide high-quality legal services, you need professionals," Howell said.  "You've got to have some sort of code of ethics in this thing, like Florida does."  The proposal would require certified paralegals to take seven hours of Bar-approved continuing legal education each year, far more than California paralegals who are required to take 4 units of substantive CLE and 4 units of ethics every two years.

The proposal called for eligibility standards based on work experience and education accomplishments.  Violation of the program's rules would mean loss of certification.

The fees would include a $50 application fee and a $20 annual renewal fee from each certified paralegal, issue certificates and maintain a paralegal registry on its website.

It was interesting to read the reaction to the rejection in this article.  One person claimed that next "we're going to have certified secretaries and then certified runners and then certified mail people".  Another feared the program would "burden" Palmetto State practitioners as those firms might not find it economically feasible to shell out "big" bucks.  (Good lord, $50.00 per person per year? Cut down on the Starbucks and give us education.) Another attorney felt that with with 5 - 7 paralegals the fees were too high for the worst economic conditions.

Four paralegal organizations had said in position papers that paralegals expected to pay their fees themselves.  Apparently, the delegates didn't read that part.

Seven states, including North Carolina have voluntary certification programs similar to So. Carolina. Two states have voluntary registration.

To have certification in the legal field without requiring ethics would not have constituted a certification exam that ensured the paralegal was aware of one of the most important components of required learning.  I'll give the delegates that.  Too many mistakes are made through assumptions of what's right and ignorance of what's wrong. If the paralegals in South Carolina try again - and I hope they do - I encourage them to include the ethics portion of the exam.  That said, rather than rejecting the proposal, the delegates could have requested a rewrite and resubmission.

Voluntary certification ensures law firms and clients of delivery of higher quality legal services.  Since many paralegals can call themselves a paralegal without any training whatsoever, an employer takes a huge malpractice risk hiring paralegals who are not well trained or trained at all.  A test is no guarantee the paralegal is an excellent employee but it does set a baseline of core competencies the paralegal is expected to know, something this field needs desperately.  

The majority of paralegals are not legal secretaries who are moved into a paralegal position as was the case 30-40 years ago. It's not your mother's paralegal field.  Things have moved so quickly in a short  span of this profession that to encourage no barriers to entry to field no longer makes sense.


The Organization of Legal Professionals - An association worth joining

OLSPlogosfinal The Organization of Legal Professionals, a non-profit organization has launched its membership drive.  Dedicated to certification of e-Discovery and other areas in the legal field, this association has attracted some of the top lawyers and legal professionals in the country and abroad.

Dedicated to certification through education and collaboration, The OLP's goals include e-discovery certification through five levels of exams.

"Certification in areas such as e-discovery is very important for legal professionals who want to establish and document that they have extraordinary skills in this arena," said Harriet Cohen, Executive Director. "Experience has shown us that certification ultimately gives professionals more credibility and subsequently higher salaries. Very importantly, clients are assured they are receiving quality legal services and at the same time, law firms are assured they are receiving high quality services from vendors."
 
Membership is open to all legal professionals interested in promoting higher standards in the industry.
 
The Board of Governors is comprised of icons in the legal field who are dedicated to developing and providing the certifications. They include:

Professor Jay Grenig, University of Marquette School of Law
Browning Marean, Partner, DLA Piper
Tom O'Connor, Legal Electronic Document Institute
Jeff Fowler, Partner, O'Melveny & Myers LLP
Peter Del Valle, Esq., Complex Case Manager, Seyfarth Shaw LLP 
Eddie Sheehy, CEO, Nuix, Sydney, Australia
Joe Thorpe, Managing Director, International Litigation Services 
Madison S. Spach, Jr., Spach, Capaldi & Waggaman LLP
Shannon Capone Kirk, E-Discovery Counsel, Ropes & Gray
Herb Roitblat, Ph.D., CEO, OrcaTec
D
ouglass Mitchell, Counsel, Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP
Patrick Oot, General Counsel, Verizon Communications,
Anne Kershaw, A.Kershaw P.C. Attorneys & Consultants
Kunoor Chopra, Esq.,
President & CEO, LawScribe
T
oni Marsh, Esq., Director of Paralegal Studies, George Washington University
Ron Friedmann, Sr. Vice President, Integreon
Nick Hariton, Esq., Managing Director & Counsel, Imaging Presentation Partners

The Advisory Council (partial listing)

Henry Alonso
, Complex Case Director, Dept. of the Treasury, Washington, DC
Donald Billings, West Coast Manager Litigation Support Practice, Sidley & Austin
Kevin Chern, Esq., CEO, Total Attorneys Practice Management Association
Mary Buker, Principal, Litigation Technology & Consulting, Inc.
Nancy Jensen, Sr. Litigation Analyst, Reed Smith LLP
Debra Hindin-King, Litigation Paralegal, Holland & Hart
Anne Kemp, Principal, Litigation Support Management,
Julie LaBoe, Editor-in-Chief, LegalTechbase.com
Janet Powell, Case Manager, Olgetree Deakins
Jason Primuth, Principal, Unfair Advantage

The development of the first certification exam is well underway. The organization has opened its doors for members including attorneys, attorneys, litigation support professionals, educators, case managers, project managers, vendors and other interested parties who stand behind delivering higher education and quality legal services and products.
 
To join, please go to: www.theolp.org.

PS:  Current subscribers of KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals and/or SUE, For Women Litigators may subscribe FREE for a limited time.


WSPA Hits One Out of the Park with Social Media Guide for Paralegals

J0408997 The Washington State Paralegal Association sent us their new "Unofficial LinkedIn User Guide" they developed for new paralegal LinkedIn users. This simple guide is fantastic.  I wish I had it when I started instead of making the bloopers I made!

While you may (or may not) be Linking, Tweating or Facing away, the guide is an indication as to just how far and wide social media has become. I was curious to know what importance social media had for the paralegal career so  I asked Brian Haberly, president of the association and one of the writers of the guide, to give me his take. He felt very strongly about the career advantages:

"For paralegals seeking jobs in today's economy," he said, "it is essential to have a strong and ever expanding network of personal contacts utilizing online social media. Certain "well seasoned" paralegals I've met still exhibit the ostrich "head in the sand" view that social networking is only for a younger generation than their own, and is something that they neither understand nor even want to learn more about.

Social networking is not a fad that is going to come and go like Beanie Babies and Pokemon card collecting. Rather, it is clear from the rise in popularity of Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter, that social networking is seen as an essential communication tool by a growing percentage of the world's population. In fact, the fastest growing age segment of Facebook users is the segment that is 35 years old and older.

Social networking done correctly gives you a chance to establish a strong personal brand. It used to be said that your reputation can take a lifetime to establish and only one indiscretion to ruin. In the new media, your reputation needs to be determined by you, and not by what others say about you!

Have you set up a LinkedIn page yet? The Washington State Paralegal Association actively uses the free "Groups" feature to reach both current and prospective members with news about association events and information of interest to paralegals both inside and outside of Washington. We recognized that many of our members are still new to social networking, so we recently published an "Unofficial LinkedIn Users Guide" to help overcome fears and to bring people up to speed mor quickly. We welcome new potential WSPA group members to join us!

Social media gives paralegals the chance to build credibility, establish new relationships, and demonstrate subject matter competency. Be quick to praise others you see doing a good job, and utilize the Recommendations feature of LinkedIn to help build the reputations of others.

Some social media "newbies" see the benefits of networking only from a self-centered view of manipulating others, as if they were trying to press business cards into the hands of people that neither asked for them nor wanted them. Properly done, use of social media (social networking sites and especially blogs) gives you the chance to be generous with your knowledge. I would challenge my fellow paralegals to freely give of their time, their talents, and their personal contacts, so that you can make others successful, without always trying to get something back in return.

Call it good karma, being professional, being a friend, or just plain being the best person you can be. When you freely give of yourself to help others, you will get back much more in rewards (emotional AND material) than what you have shared. I have met some of the best and brightest in the paralegal profession, and the most successful ones have freely shared some of their best ideas with me to help me be more successful in my own career and in running a statewide not-for profit professional association.

Think about your image from the view of someone you don't yet know. It will be extremely difficult to overcome the image of a drink holding, partying, swimsuit wearing or Halloween costume bedecked individual on a Facebook page and replace that message with a mental image of a top quality and serious job candidate that you would want working down the hall and potentially meeting with your clients.

Be tough in your self-appraisal. If you are already involved in social media, do you need to "spruce up" your online image to make it more professional and less folksy? Then do it! Get started today!"

Ah, those motivators.  Love 'em. I'd like to stay and chat about this now but I'm off to twit and link.


Tired of the Same Old Paralegal Job? Positions Exist Where You Least Expect

200309067-001 Have you ever found yourself performing an assignment that you know perfectly well, given a different name and a different case, would be the same assignment you have performed over and over ad nauseam?  For example, deposition summaries, indexing, boiler plate contracts, subpoenas, and the like.  Same assignment, different story.

This action, my friends, is a sure sign of the quickest path to burnout - doing the same assignment over and over with little or no growth, particularly those assignments that are more clerical in nature.  Perhaps it's time to consider a more challenging or stimulating environment.

Not in this economy, you say?  You're probably right.  However, this recession is not going to last forever (if you believe the pundits).  No recession does.  Eventually, things do get better.  And when they do, are you prepared to allow yourself the opportunity to grow, change and accept new challenges?

Maybe the key for you is not in the same-old same-old paralegal job.  I just read an excellent blawg by Lori Robinett called Mid-Missouri Paralegals.  In it, Lori discovered a job for a paralegal at the Arkansas Lottery.  The position pays around $55,000 per year - a hefty salary for Arkansas given that a position in the government in MIssouri is around $34,000.

Reading this unusual position brought to mind other positions that paralegals may not realize are out there.  Fun, stimulating, well-paid jobs that you go to willingly and happily without crying in the shower every morning.  Now, I realize that there is a tremendously high rate of job satisfaction with paralegals, however, for the more adventurous, something different is always attractive.  Here are a few positions I researched for my book, Hot Jobs & Amazing Careers:  Smart Moves for Paralegals.

  • Sr. Immigration Paralegal Supervisor:  A position in an in-house Fortune 1000 corporation bringing chefs, jewelers, star athletes and others to the U.S.
  • Paralegal at the Kentucky Derby
  • Paralegal at World Wide Wrestling
  • IP Paralegal for Victoria's Secret or other clothing manufacturer such as Guess or The Gap
  • Paralegal at the Archdiocese
  • Paralegal Specialist at NASA
  • Contracts Paralegal for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Paralegal at the U.N.
  • Contract, Entertainment or Litigation Paralegal at Movie Studios
  • Paralegal for the Judge Judy Show
  • Criminal Justice Paralegal for the Southern Center for Human Rights
  • Contracts Paralegal for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • American Paralegals working abroad in London, Dubai, Brussels, Hong Kong
  • Paralegal for the CIA or FBI
  • Paralegal on an Indian Reservation

and - my all time favorite - paralegal working for Weight Watchers.  Boy, oh boy, now that would fix me up!

Whatever your background, experience level or specialty, there is a paralegal job for you.  In my opinion, just to be a paralegal, you have to be above-average in intelligence.  Give an above-average paralegal a routine and repetitious job and what do you have?  Burnout.  Plain and simple.

So if you're working away on auto-pilot and can't figure out why you are somewhat unhappy even though the environment is nice, the pay is ok, the people around you terrific, you may be a victim of routine.  You may have to wait out this recession but in the meantime, investigate those paralegal jobs that can lead to contentment, happiness and financial security. You just never know what you will find.