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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. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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