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.

 


"Beware the Hidden Costs of Bad Formatting"

Pretty poor reaction to need for increased training given that documents produced by law firms are so important!

"When talking to law firms about training, I often hear the following statements: 'It's so easy, you don't need training'; 'If you can't learn it in an hour, it's not worth knowing'; and my favorite, 'We're getting documents out the door.'

"Law firms often use arguments like those mentioned above to skimp on training. However, there can be real bottom-line consequences to this kind of thinking. Training your users on proper document formatting can mean the difference between a document that will cost your firm unnecessary time, money and productivity and one that won't. For example, you can compare two visually identical 30-page Word documents side by side. They may look exactly the same, but one could require 2 1/2 minutes to make three basic changes while the other takes more than 60 minutes. What makes the difference? Formatting!

"Document formatting is not a sexy topic, but if you run the dollars on how much money it saves, you quickly realize how important a consideration it really is. A document that is poorly formatted [PDF] behind the scenes is full of tabs, hard returns and manual numbering. With these documents, every time text is added or deleted, someone must go into the text and remove tabs, adjust hard returns and page breaks and manually renumber the paragraphs. All formatting is direct formatting so that if the point size for 50 paragraphs needs to be changed, all 50 paragraphs must be formatted."

Good examples of formatting problems are included in the complete article.

Author Roberta Gelb, a member of the Law Technology News Editorial Advisory Board, is also president of Chelsea Office Systems Inc., based in New York.


Paralegal's Commentary on Court's Patent Ruling

Yeah, this news is about an important ruling by the Supremes, but it's also very nice to see an experienced paralegal being quoted:

"When the Supreme Court of the United States ruled for KSR in the case of KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc. [link added], it also served notice to the software industry that major changes may be afoot in both the granting and protecting of existing software patents.

"For several years now, software patents have frequently been seen by many as stifling innovation, granting intellectual property claims for ideas that had been around for decades and awarding the companies that hold them hundreds of millions of dollars—such as in RIM vs. NTP—even when the patents themselves have been rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"Now, as Pamela Jones, editor of the intellectual property law news site Groklaw, noted, 'The standout paragraph' in the decision written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy read:

    'We build and create by bringing to the tangible and palpable reality around us new works based on instinct, simple logic, ordinary inferences, extraordinary ideas, and sometimes even genius. These advances, once part of our shared knowledge, define a new threshold from which innovation starts once more. And as progress beginning from higher levels of achievement is expected in the normal course, the results of ordinary innovation are not the subject of exclusive rights under the patent laws. Were it otherwise patents might stifle, rather than promote, the progress of useful arts.'

"Jones, a paralegal, observed, 'The court has raised the obviousness bar, or as they probably view it put it back where the founding fathers meant it to be.'"


"A case of semantics"

I've got two complaints about this news article. One, the problem is with spelling, not semantics. Two, the reporter automatically assigned blame to a legal assistant for the typos:

"Court documents can say the most amusing things. What's wrong with this sentence?

"'We can only view AT&T's and Cingular's continued attempt to jeopardize NASCAR's relationship with NETEL as tortuous interference with this agreement."

[snip]

"Enough of being torturous of the poor legal assistant who probably made the typos. In his or her defense, 'Nextel' won't pass word-processor spellcheck in any form. And 'tortious' is such a fine legal term that it isn't in standard spellcheck memory. But 'tortuous' is.

"The point is that in this, of all cases, you'd think NASCAR's general counsel's office would be more meticulous in its proofreading."

Yes, you would.....


"Why Do Lawyers Need Editors?"

Gosh, there are so many reasons. You can find editing help & more from a new blog (written by an experienced 'wordsmith for law firms'); this post, for example:

"The firm of Vinson & Elkins has a scholarship program for high school students who are interested in 'pursuing a career in law.'

"Great! But take a look at these excerpts from the firm’s overview of the program.

The funds for each student are submitted directly to their school . . . .

In addition to the financial support, V&E provides each scholarship recipient mentors and a summer job opportunities.

Each recipient achieved a score of at least 1100 on the SAT, had a financial need, and provided the Foundation with their application . . . and two letters of recommendation from their high school teachers and/or counselors . . . .

"While the students’ English teachers are teaching them to avoid singular/plural disagreements, the firm is suggesting that those disagreements are OK."


Paralegal Article on Wikipedia...

...definitely needs improvement!

Of all the smart & experienced paralegals who read this blog, surely someone (or several someones), has the skills & knowledge to improve this article, right?

Find the current article here, history of additions & changes here, editing how-to here, editable page here, editing guidelines here, & info about all this Wikipedia stuff here.

Be sure to create a Wikipedia account & please let me know who decides to jump in!


"Better Legal Writing Is Plain and Simple"

Find several resources for writing better legal documents on this much-linked blog:

"Legal language is used to record and explain the most important events in people's lives -- should it not be comprehensible?

"Modernizing the archaic style you learned by rote is easy and with a little practice becomes habit.

"Legal writing should be well organized (simple) and use everyday words (plain). This is easy to learn if you have the desire. So go for it."

BTW, blogger Cheryl Stephens "[I]s interested in how people communicate and relate to one another. I am a mentor, a muse, a friend, a teacher, and a retired consultant and lawyer."