By Cathy D. Canny
We hear a great deal about attorneys attending continuing legal education courses and how important it is to their practices. In fact, attorneys are required to attend at least six hours of approved CLE per year and at least 36 hours of approved CLE per three-year cycle. When it comes to the paralegals they employ, why is it any less important for them to obtain continuing legal education, too?
The purpose of CLE is for attorneys to maintain or improve their skills. As important as that is for the attorneys, they benefit a great deal from having paralegals who continue to learn and grow their skills through CLE. The paralegal profession has seen significant and progressive growth through the last several years. Paralegals are an integral part of the legal services team, and under the supervision of an attorney, paralegals perform substantive legal work that would otherwise be done by attorneys. It is, therefore, extremely important that paralegals also maintain their knowledge of changes in the law and continue to maintain and grow their skills and expertise as professionals. Indeed, attorneys’ effective use of paralegals allows the attorneys to deliver faster and more efficient legal services to the client.
What are some of the reasons to attend CLE?
Paralegals who are affiliate members of the Indiana State Bar Association are required to maintain 18 hours of CLE, of which three hours are an ethics component over a three-year period. If paralegals maintain a national credential (such as a PACE Registered Paralegal or CORE Registered Paralegal through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, or the Certified Legal Assistant or Certified Paralegal certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants) they must complete a required number of CLE hours per year to maintain that certification. Regardless of whether it is a requirement to maintain a certification or for professional growth and education, paralegals and the attorneys who employ them benefit from CLE.
Why should attorneys encourage their paralegals to attend CLE?
First of all, Guideline 9.9 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct regarding the use of non-lawyer assistants states: “A lawyer who employs a non-lawyer assistant should facilitate the non-lawyer assistant’s participation in appropriate continuing education and pro bono activities.”
The Indiana Supreme Court supports paralegal CLE. In approving Guideline 9.9, the court saw value in CLE and directed lawyers to facilitate paralegals participating in continuing legal education. Many attorneys, law firms and associations also see the benefit of paralegal CLE. An example of this came at the Indiana State Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Conference. I had the pleasure of being a speaker at the first-ever “Staff Track” for the conference, which also was the first of its kind tied to a solo & small firm conference anywhere in the country. The seminars included paralegal skills, ethics for staff and the lawyers who employ them, professionalism and the ethics of cloud computing.
How do I find quality CLE?
There are a number of ways to find quality CLE in your area. The Indiana State Bar Association, as well as its Affiliate Membership Committee, provide CLE. Local bar associations, including the Indianapolis Bar Association, also provide numerous CLE programs. Professional associations, such as the Indiana Paralegal Association, provide CLE, and there are also for-profit CLE providers.
Do paralegals attend attorney CLE programs?
Absolutely. Attorney CLE programs on a substantive area of law or practice-related topics such as litigation skills or technology and e-discovery can be valuable. In fact, it is not uncommon for CLE programs to be designed for both attorneys and paralegals to attend, some of which present how paralegals and attorneys can work together as a team and how attorneys can best utilize their paralegals.
Whether it is for professional development or for a membership or credentialing requirement, paralegals need to attend continuing legal education. Attorneys should support paralegals seeking CLE. The law is ever-changing. As a paralegal, you want to be at the top of your game and continue to evolve and learn new skills in your area of practice, enhance technical proficiencies and develop as a professional. As an attorney, you want to employ paralegals who are at their highest level and support their efforts to continue to learn and grow. CLE provides an easy and effective means of achieving these mutual goals.•
Cathy D. Canny is a senior paralegal at Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff LLP in Indianapolis. The opinions expressed are those of the author.