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Paralegals take another stab at proposed rule on voluntary certification

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Marion Superior Judge David Shaheed paid tribute to the professionals of the Indiana Paralegal Association at the group’s annual meeting July 17.

“You are the unsung heroes of the legal profession in my opinion,” Shaheed told the Indianapolis gathering. “You’re the voice of reason in the chaos.”

But within the profession there’s a recurring debate – the question of how a paralegal’s professionalism should be measured.

“That, of course, is open to discussion,” said Edna Wallace, IPA treasurer and a registered paralegal at Whitham Hebenstreit & Zubek LLP in Indianapolis. What’s proposed is a voluntary regulation system with some level of minimum standards.

A similar proposal was put forth back in 2006 and won the support of the Indiana State Bar Association and several local bar groups, Wallace said. But after a comment period and some consideration, the Indiana Supreme Court in 2008 said it was disinclined to promulgate such rules.

“We feel like some time has passed, and we just want to explore and see if it’s worth bringing up again,” Wallace said. To that end, Wallace sent surveys to paralegals around the state to get a feel for their interest. Survey responses were still coming in toward the end of July, but she said early results looked encouraging.

“We would like to see either the state bar or the Supreme Court regulate the paralegal practice,” she said. “We don’t want it to be mandatory. The problem is finding just the right size program for Indiana.”

Wallace is a registered paralegal by virtue of having passed the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam administered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Another test given by NFPA -- the Paralegal CORE Competency Exam -- permits those who pass to carry the title of core registered paralegal.

Registered paralegals are expected to meet minimum continuing legal education requirements – 18 hours over three years, half the requirement for attorneys.

Indiana currently has no minimum standards for paralegals, and Wallace is hopeful the state will move toward a model of voluntary regulation as have states such as Florida, Kentucky and North Carolina.

IPA President Monica Dabio, a Benesch paralegal, is beginning her second term leading the group. Dabio was president when the last proposal was being considered.

“I think maybe we do have a better chance, particularly with what’s going on in other states,” Dabio said. Those models from other states and their experience, data and information might help convince the court this time to approve a voluntary registration system.

“The majority of our members have been very supportive of those endeavors,” she said.

But Wallace stressed any program the group endorses will be voluntary.

“We are aware there are those who don’t want anything to do with it, who say, ‘I’ve been a paralegal for 30 years and my reputation and the job I do speaks for itself,’” Wallace said. “And that’s OK. Many of us came up through the ranks as legal secretaries, and there are paralegals who are just as knowledgeable with on-the-job training as those who have the education behind them. We don’t want to put anyone out of a job.”

What a voluntary system likely would do is institute some form of professional registration, set minimum standards and track those who’ve passed a competency exam.

Debi Binkley, a registered paralegal at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, said although Indiana lacks a regulatory framework for paralegals, the state leads the nation in those with PACE certification who can thereby identify themselves as registered paralegals.

Board_members-2col.jpg Marion Superior Judge David Shaheed, front row, fourth from left, swore in directors for the Indiana Paralegal Association July 17. They are, front row from left: Raven Earley, treasurer; Edna Wallace, secretary; Arlene Morris, president; Monica Dabio, vice president; Lauren Jones, Marnie Hamlet and Angela Hopson. Back row from left: Wendy Stokes, Julie Johnson, Joanne Alexovich, Lottie Wathen, Linda Howard, Nancy Noble, Everlla Savage, Tracey Woolsey, Cathy Canny. (Submitted photo/Linda Howard)

Binkley hopes that any regulation that might be considered would recognize those who’ve gained such a certification on their own. She said paralegals who’ve independently gotten some level of certification show how they view their work.

“You’re making a statement to yourself, your employer and potential employers that you take your profession seriously and you’re willing to validate your credentials,” she said. “It goes to the credibility of the profession. We welcome the idea of being registered and having to take exams to boost credibility.”

The IPA counts 362 active members. Next year will mark the association’s 35th anniversary, Dabio said. The group traditionally has marked every five-year milestone with a celebration event, and 2014 will be no different.

Dabio said in the coming year she wants to reach out to areas outside downtown Indianapolis, where the majority of paralegals practice, and slate events in suburban counties and perhaps beyond.

Job outlook

Bose paralegal Julie Johnson oversees the job bank for the IPA and said instability in the legal market is having an impact on the career prospects for paralegals.

Johnson said the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 18 percent growth in paralegal jobs between 2010 and 2020, a much lower rate than in prior decades. Generally, about 70 percent of paralegals work for law firms, with others working for banks or in other in-house capacities outside law firms.

When law firms cut back, “in some ways, it can actually be a benefit for paralegals,” Johnson said. Firms reducing associate positions, for instance, may choose instead to staff more paralegals.

The IPA’s job bank typically carries about eight to 10 postings at any given time, Johnson said.

“If you know someone at a firm or have contacts with attorneys or other people at the firm, sometimes that is the best way to get a foot in the door,” Johnson said.

According to the BLS, 3,910 Hoosiers were employed as paralegals or legal assistants in 2012, earning a mean salary of $39,620.•

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  • VOLUNTEER CERTIFICATE...WHAT ????
    IT'S ANOTHER SCAM....VOLUNTEER CERTIFICATE???? SO SOMEONE WANTS TO BE IN CHARGE OF SOMETHING IS THAT IT. TRYING TO CREATE SOMETHING THAT MAKES NO SENSE. THIS IS ANOTHER WAY OF GETTING MONEY FOR NOTHING. WHAT DOES IT MEAN....VOLUNTEER CERTIFICATE??????? IM SURE I DIDNT MISS ANYTHING. PLEASE JUST DO YOUR JOB...AND STOP THIS NONSENSE. EVERYTHING YOU DO I DO....I JUST DONT PAY FEES OR DUES. I AM AGAINST THIS.
  • Paralegal CORE Competency Exam
    The PCCE is also administered by NFPA, not NALA.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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