Florida Makes a Move to License Paralegals: Coming to your state soon?

 IStock_000007967580Small[1] FLORIDA BILLS PUSH FOR LICENSING, DEFINITION OF PARALEGALS

 

Companion bills in the Florida Legislature are currently under consideration to make Florida the first state in the country to require licenses for paralegals. The bills require the Florida Supreme Court to develop a licensing and continuing education scheme and make it a felony for unlicensed people to identify themselves as paralegals.

 The bills, sponsored by state Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and state Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, were filed March 9 and have been assigned to the judiciary committees. They were written by the Florida Alliance of Paralegal Associations, a consortium of paralegal organizations that first started talking to The Florida Bar about enacting some kind of mandatory licensing in 1996. The group wants to prevent legal secretaries and others from using the title of paralegal to market themselves and to for-mally define what a paralegal is.

"We're a group of professionals that want to protect the integrity of the profession and feel legislation is the way to do that," said Mark Workman, a Miami-based Gunster paralegal who is past president of the Florida Alliance of Paralegal Associations and the South Florida Paralegal Association. "There are people out there that say to the public that they have those professional designations they don't have, and they dupe the public. We feel if we have the legislation in place, we'll have a means to avoid that and assist in defining who can and can't be a paralegal."

The group has hired a lobbyist, David Ramba of the Ramba Group in Tallahassee, who presented the bills to Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady and the Office of the State Courts Administrator for comment. He has not received any response.

But not everyone is a fan of the idea, including Florida Bar president Mayanne Downs. Some lawyers question why paralegal regulation is necessary. Currently, lawyers regulate the paralegals who work for them. If paralegals are licensed, it might be possible for them to work directly with clients and bypass the necessity for the public to hire lawyers.

Some lawyers say paralegals are motivated to pursue licensing for financial reasons, while some paralegals say lawyers are motivated to oppose it by the same thing.

'GOOD AND BAD'

"They are trying to raise the bar for paralegals," said David Rothman, a Miami lawyer and member of the Bar's board of governors. "Their intentions are noble. What has happened up till now is paralegals have operated under the auspices of lawyers. If they become independently regulated, they can act as paralegals with clients. There are lawyers that are concerned that some work that needs to be done by a lawyer will be done by a paralegal, and there may be gray areas, and that may work to the disadvantage of a client.

"We're watching this closely," he added, noting he is undecided on the law. "It has good and bad points."

Others say this is not the time to be adding new regulations in Tallahassee. Gov. Rick Scott, for one, has said he wants to deregulate more than 30 industries and professionals including yacht brokers, geologists and manicurists. "To put this extra layer of bureaucracy, I don't see where that is coming from," Miami solo attorney Lisa Lehner said. "In this day and age, we're trying to cut down on bureaucracy. Lawyers should be supervising their own staff and not put on an extra layer of red tape. What's next, are we going to be regulating our secretaries? Where does it end?"

The Bar board of governors has not taken a position on the legislation, which will be discussed at its Friday meeting.  Workman previously accused The Florida Bar of trying to protect its own voluntary paralegal certification program. State certification, which requires certification through one of the national paralegal associations and work experience or a bachelor's degree, costs $150 to renew annually. Nearly 5,500 paralegals have been certified since the program began in 2008.

"It's a cash cow for them," Workman said. "None of the money is going to programs that assist paralegals or paralegal education. It's going back to the general fund of The Florida Bar."

ENABLING LEGISLATION

But the paralegal associations don't feel voluntary certification is enough, Workman said, and want to be regulated through the Florida Supreme Court.

"We have a very successful paralegal registration program within The Florida Bar and have had a high number of participants," Downs said. "We don't believe that this is the climate for additional regulation, nor do we feel this is a necessary regulation. We understand legislation is often the starting place for talking points, and we welcome an opportunity to be a part of that discussion."

What do you think?  Would you want to be licensed?
Reprinted with permission from Law in Motion, Santa Barbara Paralegal Association.

 


Paralegal Student Article about 1st Amendment

Impressed with this letter to the editor by a paralegal student about a new Indiana license plate (published in The Journal Gazette):

"The pending lawsuit regarding the 'In God We Trust' license plates has a few attention-catching flaws. As a paralegal student with a special interest in constitutional law, I found the suit to be a serious mistake.

"The first reason comes from the popular misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Instead of reading, 'there shall be a wall of separation between church and state,' or 'no law that even so much as allows religious liberties can be made,' the amendment reads: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.'

"The claim brought to court is based on the assumption that the state of Indiana (or any other government agency) cannot be religion-friendly in any way. This, however, is false. If you were to go back to the discussion surrounding the formation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, you would find that many of the Founding Fathers were Christians and that all of them, Christian or not, were not concerned with the state or federal governments being religion-friendly, but rather that the governments would enforce a specific denomination (i.e. Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, etc.)."

Read the complete letter & tell me if you're also impressed with Abigail Snyder's reasoning.


"D.C. Law Firm Suspends Woman Who Worked as Escort"

ABC News finds another person involved in the growing D.C. Madam scandal:

"A legal secretary at one of Washington's most prominent and well-connected law firms, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, has been suspended after telling her bosses she secretly worked at night for the escort service run by the so-called D.C. Madam, Jeane Palfrey.

"The woman both serviced clients and, at times, helped to run the business, Palfrey told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on '20/20' Friday.

"The firm said it would not make her name public.

"According to e-mails the woman sent to Palfrey on her Akin Gump account, she 'enjoyed and even missed' the work she did at night for Palfrey, who has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a large scale prostitution ring.

[snip]

"According to the e-mails provided to ABC News by Palfrey, the Akin Gump woman was interested in helping to restart the escort service after Palfrey had closed it, suggesting it could be done from the Akin Gump offices.

[snip]

"'I think that handling the phones 4 to 5 nights a week is a very fair offer and would be something that I could easily do, even with my paralegal duties as they could pretty much be done simultaneously in front of a computer,' she wrote."

This is just sad, very sad.


Paralegal's "Obama" MySpace Page

Only in the brand-new world of user-managed online politics could news like this be reported:

"The manager of an unofficial Barack Obama MySpace page tells MTV News how the campaign took his URL.

"'They took it ... they just took it from me.'

"That was how Joe Anthony described what happened this week when the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama took control of the unofficial MySpace page Anthony set up in Obama's name in November of 2004.

"Granted, though clearly labeled as unofficial, the site has the valuable URL www.MySpace.com/barackobama and when the Obama camp approached Anthony in March to discuss working with them, the conversations were initially cordial.

"But in an interview with MTV News — one of only two he's given this week — Anthony described how things quickly fell apart and he was left on the sidelines as the Obama campaign took over the site he estimates he spent 5 to 10 hours a day building up.

[snip]

"Anthony, who works as a paralegal in Los Angeles, said he had been maintaining the site on his own since 2004, building it up to the point where it had 100,000 friends and incubating a lively debate about all things Obama. He began working with the campaign in March, but the relationship grew rocky and when, according to him, MySpace began having Obama's profile randomly pop up as a 'Cool New Person' last month, the number of friends jumped to 160,000 within a matter of weeks, drastically increasing Anthony's workload."

Looks like Anthony has been able to keep some of the fruits of his labors...


"New York's Most Obnoxious Lawyer"

Hmmm, I'm sure someone could nominate lawyers "worthy" of this "honor" in other states. But check out the "competition" in this Village Voice article:

"'With so many jerks working as attorneys in New York City, you'd think there would be no way to determine who's the single biggest pain in the ass. You could be wrong. The winner (or loser) is arguably Kenneth Heller.

"You can't count the number of crooks, shysters, or idiots among the city's 74,000 lawyers. But Kenny Heller was disbarred for simply being obnoxious. After 50 years of heaping abuse on everyone within earshot and hurling accusations of conspiracies, 'favoritism,'and 'cronyism' at countless judges and lawyers, the 77-year-old Heller has earned this distinction: No other lawyer in the city but Heller, according to records of his disciplinary hearing, has been ousted for "obstructive and offensive behavior which did not involve fraud or deception.'"


"Virginia Tech Tragedy and the Law"

A compilation of legal & factual issues surrounding this tragic event has been posted on Legal Blog Watch by lawyer & blogger Carolyn Elefant:

"As our nation continues to mourn the victims of the senseless Virginia Tech massacre, many bloggers' thoughts turn to the question of whether this tragedy could have prevented or whether others like it can be prevented in the future.  While now's not the time to assign blame (and indeed, without additional information, we really can't make any definitive judgments), here's a list of some of the issues that will be generating additional discussion in the weeks to come..."

Three such issues include Restrictions on universities, Gun Control Laws, & The Limits of Technology.


Editorial: "Gonzales v. Gonzales"

All politics aside, this is not the kind of testimony you want to hear from a witness on your side! Here's the opinion of the New York Times:

"If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday [4-19-2007] to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it’s hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge.

"Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch."


"Deleting embarrassing e-mails isn't easy, experts say"

So, you think those embarrassing emails sent to the computer's trash can are truly deleted, right? Uh, no:

"If Karl Rove or other White House staffers tried to delete sensitive e-mails from their computers, experts said, investigators usually could recover all or most of them.

"The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating whether the White House or the Republican National Committee erased 'a large volume of e-mails' that may be related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

[snip]

"Deleting a document or e-mail doesn't remove the file from a computer's hard drive or a backup server. The only thing that's erased is the address - known as a 'pointer' - indicating where the file is stored.

"It's like 'removing an index card in a library,' said Robert Guinaugh, a senior partner at CyberControls LLC, a data forensic-support company in Barrington, Ill. 'You take the card out, but the book is still on the shelf.'"


"Still Guilty After All These Years"

Very interesting op-ed in the NY Times from author & lawyer Scott Turow, all about how advances in forensic technology may also impact statutes of limitations. He raises some intriguing questions about changes in law & the passage of time:

"THIS Friday a 33-year-old man named Juan Luna will go on trial here for the murder of seven people in a Brown’s Chicken restaurant in Palatine, Ill., on Jan. 8, 1993. The investigation of the murders, in which the victims’ bloody corpses were discovered in the restaurant freezer, languished for more than a decade until Mr. Luna’s DNA was identified in the saliva found on a chicken bone at the crime scene.

[snip]

"Greater accuracy in the truth-finding process is a laudable development. But I worry that the growing capacity of today’s forensics to reach farther and farther into the past seems likely to undermine the law’s time-ingrained notions, embodied in statutes of limitations, about how long people should be liable to criminal prosecution. As the Brown’s Chicken case illustrates, DNA analysts [PDF] can now examine scant decades-old specimens and produce results of near-certainty in identifying suspects. Nor are the innovations in forensic science limited to the testing of human DNA. Forensic botany can often establish whether plant fragments found on a victim or defendant have a unique origin. Fire-scene investigation has advanced because of new extraction techniques and instrumentation. Fingerprint identification has been revolutionized both by cryogenic processes for lifting latent prints and computer imaging that allows faster and more reliable identification of partial prints. Forensic pathology, ballistics and forensic anthropology have also moved ahead rapidly.

[snip]

"The law is a fluid thing, and there is an inherent unfairness in initiating a prosecution decades later when legal rules and community expectations have changed. If a jury — or the police and prosecutors — now strongly disapprove of conduct to which they would have once turned a blind eye, it’s natural to wonder whether the defendant would have acted the same way in today’s ethical climate.

"Statutes of limitations have also traditionally embodied a moral judgment that if a person has lived blamelessly for a significant time, he should not have the anxiety of potential prosecution hanging over him forever. Violent crimes are usually the province of young men, and it is often the case that one of the principal purposes of the criminal justice system — keeping the criminally inclined off the streets — vanishes with time."


"Paralegal pleads not guilty in fraud, theft"

I hate news like this about paralegals. Innocent until proven guilty, of course....:

"A Ware County paralegal was released on $20,000 bail Tuesday after pleading not guilty to federal charges of bank fraud and theft of government funds.

"Gina A. Wooten, 50, of Waycross, is accused of stealing more than $110,000 in a bank fraud scheme that an FBI investigation revealed involved forged signatures on federal bankruptcy checks.

"Wooten also is accused of stealing more than $1,000 from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The money was in the form of official checks from the bankruptcy trustee, a March 8 federal indictment showed.

"In an initial appearance, U.S. Magistrate James Graham arraigned Wooten and set the conditions of her bail, which include restricting her travel to southeast Georgia except for medical appointments in Jacksonville, Fla."