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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. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith .. http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com/2013/09/prof-alan-dershowitz-on-indiana.html

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

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