If You License, Will They Come? Licensing issue debuts in New York

Dreamstimecomp_19500966The other day, a paralegal sent me a panic email.  OMG!  Licensing of paralegals had been introduced as a bill in the state of New York.  Her reaction about the bill was pretty standard.  In a nutshell, she was saying, "What?????"

In short the bill:

    a) Requires mandatory licensing
    b) States that paralegals "practiced" (an ethical question, to be sure)
    c)  States that mandatory minimum standards for qualification into the field are required (but does not state what standards)
    d)  Establishes licensing fees not to exceed $100.00
    e)  Creates an independent board to adopt rules and regulations 
    f)  Is an amendment to the education law
    g)  Offers this justification:  "Every year more and more attorneys are allowing their paralegals to work extensively on important and complex cases: Cases that impact the life of their clients and other people involved. Some of these paralegals tend to commit errors that could lead to nightmares for the clients. This legislation would require paralegal[s] to have the qualification[s] necessary in order to provide improved and more professional services to clients of attorneys."

Taking a look at the bill, my response was:

If this particular document represents the ability of those who would a) pass such a bill and b) draft such a bill, we're all in trouble. It appears to have little thought, research or understanding of the paralegal profession. Further, it is drafted as a punitive action (or reactions) rather than progression of a 40 year old field. 

Generally, certification, licensing or mandatory education of paralegals comes about because too many misinformed and under-educated paralegals deliver markedly poor services directly to the public and consequently, steps are taken for protection. 

This document in particular references those paralegals who work under the supervision of attorneys. It sidesteps the consumer issue completely.

Licensing is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it is putting the cart before the horse. Before licensing any profession, educational standards must first be created. Not establishing mandatory education is the same as handing the keys to a brand new car to a 16 year old and saying, "Here are the keys to the car.  Please, don't take driving lessons, don't wear a seat belt, don't study the drivers rulebook and handbook and laws, don't get tested on your skills and bonus!  No one is looking as to whether you drink while you're driving." What happens? Hate to imagine.

The paralegal profession is one of the few professions where, in most states, anyone who wants to, can become a paralegal. It is to the credit of 13 states that so far, have created mandatory education, that the paralegal "job" has any chance whatsoever of rightfully being called a profession.  But mind you, that means 37 or 74% of all states say that anyone who wants to can become a professional (i.e., paralegal) without any training or educational standards whatsoever including the necessity of having a high school diploma.

In 1986 (yes - before some of you were born), I was asked to address CAPA (California Association of Paralegal Associations) on the issue of licensing paralegals. I took the same position then as I do now: There's nothing wrong with licensing as long as there is a solid foundation leading up to a sound, sensible and well-thought out program. Licensing cannot be accomplished successfully as a punitive reaction to a few complaints.

Regulation for mandatory continuing legal education originally came about in California as a result of continuous mishandling of services directly to the public by what was then called a paralegal. The resulting legislation, AB 1760 that became Business and Professions Code section 6450, took 10 years to pass. That bill sets forth regulation of education for paralegals and is not licensing. (Originally, when licensing was first proposed in California, the Consumer Board of Affairs was set to govern. That agency also governed dog grooming licenses, manicurists, even morticians. It didn't exactly appeal to too many people.)

Licensing or any other type of regulation such as certification starts with first setting down mandatory legal education. There are no other "helping occupation" professions I am aware of handling important criteria affecting the client's life that do not require mandatory education such as nursing, accounting, financial, even dental assisting.

I hope that New York paralegals step in and rally for a better situation than what appears to be careless and random actions by their state government.  Come New York!!!  Let's step up to the issue!


The Case of the Pink Poodle

The Chicago Tribune reported today that there is an unprecedented rise in attorneys practicing animal law.

Once an area thought to be only for attorneys with either a heart or frankly, nothing else to do, The Tribune notes that "92 of the 196 ABA approved law schools in the country now offer courses on animal law, up from the nine that offered classes in 2000." Moreover, some top law schools, like Duke, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and Northwestern, found that the price is right for building up their animal law program after each received $1 million from a foundation set up by Bob Barker.

Today's Law.com blog, Legal Blog Watch Alert, says that unfortunately, sometimes the appeal of an animal law case can bring out the beast in lawyers. Susan Cartier Liebel writes here about a case involving a Denver salon owner who was fined $1,000 by an animal control officer because she dyed her poodle pink, the official color to promote awareness of breast cancer.

Though the owner used organic beet juice which did not harm the poodle, she apparently violated a statute that prohibits owners from dying their pets.  Recognizing the public appeal of the case, two young lawyers agreed to represent the owner pro bono and asked another law firm to come on board to help with the PR aspects of the case. The firm declined -- and the young lawyers soon discovered why: the firm had poached the case of the pink pooch, arranging to represent the salon owner themselves!

I am frequently asked by paralegals what the newest areas of law are; where can you go to find jobs that appeal more to your personal interests and passions.  Use your imagination here, folks! Anytime you find a practice specialty heating up, you're bound to find lawyers who need paralegals in that specialty.  So, for those of you looking to get out of a job that's routine and repetitious, consider following this yellow brick road.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

"Five Things You Should Know About Fighting Spam"

Sadly, this scenario sounds all too familiar! But there's a good reason:

"When you started your e-mail client this morning, you were prepared for the usual set of correspondence: your daily dose of corporate politics, a dollop of technical emergencies and the background hum of projects under way. Annoyingly, your inbox also contained a few messages advertising products you would never buy, and perhaps a phishing notice warning that your account was frozen at a financial institution where you don't have an account. Your company has antispam measures in place; surely, the IT staff should be able to keep this junk out of your inbox?

"Perhaps they can, but the task of doing so has become much more difficult in recent years, partly because 85 percent or more of all e-mail traffic today is spam.


"The primary directive, for e-mail admins, is 'lose no mail.' If that means that an occasional spam message wends its merry way into users' mailboxes, so be it. E-mail administrators would prefer that users encounter a few annoyances than miss an important business message."

Also, remember that "People are Making Money on Spam," so there may always be strong incentives for spam senders to fight against spam blockers. Who knows, you might want some of that uninvited email....

Paralegal quoted on identity theft

Excellent news -- paralegal advice now being quoted by the press!

"A 90-year-old Manchester woman is out $10,000 cash after falling victim to a Canadian lottery scam.

"Another area woman selling a motorcycle on eBay was lured into wiring $2,000 to British Columbia as part of a phony transaction.

"New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Richard Head recently got a fraudulent e-mail claiming to be from Paypal, but was really sent from an identity thief.

“'It’s a crime that’s affecting everybody,' said Michael Blanchard, a U.S. postal inspector who investigates identity theft crimes in New Hampshire. 'If you’re on the Internet, you’re affected by this.'

"Blanchard joined representatives from the New Hampshire office of the Attorney General and the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of New Hampshire & Vermont on Tuesday to talk to a dozen small business owners about how to protect their business and customers from scams mail.


"But foreign lotteries are illegal in the United States, so there is no such thing as winning an Internet lottery, said Denise Costello, a paralegal with the attorney general’s office.

"So if you’ve won something, you shouldn’t have to pay anything, she added."