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News 

March/April 2006

 

Below are some of the latest happenings in the paralegal community. These news stories can be found in the March/April 2006 issue of Legal Assistant Today.

 

Got News? - Do you know of a significant new law under consideration or recently passed in your area? Are you aware of changes to rules or codes that significantly impact the work done in your specialty area?

If so, we want to hear from you. If you submit an original news lead that turns into a news story that we print in Legal Assistant Today, we will pay you $25. If you have a original news lead that you think we would like to hear about, e-mail us.

 


BlackBerry Users Worried

Supreme Court rejects RIM’s petition for review.

By Melody Ip

 

Almost 3.7 million BlackBerry users in the United States have held their collective breath through the first months of the new year as patent firm NTP and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion continued their courtroom battle.

The fight to keep the BlackBerry handheld device in service intensified in late January when the Supreme Court rejected a petition by RIM to review the 2003 federal court decision that could lead to a shutdown of most U.S. BlackBerry services. This comes after a federal judge last fall rejected a signed agreement that would have settled the more than 4-year-old lawsuit over RIM’s alleged infringement on NTP’s patents covering wireless e-mail systems. The agreement would have awarded NTP $450 million and given RIM rights to continue selling the BlackBerry in the United States.

Without the term sheet settlement BlackBerry users were hoping for, BlackBerry sales and services still could be halted by the injunction awarded to NTP by the federal court. The injunction was stayed pending RIM’s appeal, but in October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit refused to rehear the 2003 ruling. And with the Supreme Court refusing to review the decision as well, the district court is being asked to reconfirm the injunction. In late January, RIM filed a motion stating there is “exceptional public interest” in keeping BlackBerrys in service. However, NTP countered that statement with its own motion asserting that BlackBerry users have plenty of alter­natives and suggested allowing a 30-day grace period after the injunction to set up new systems.

Several million BlackBerry customers — including legal professionals who rely on mobile access to e-mails and files — remain troubled by the prospect of permanently turning off their devices. “If the court grants the injunction, I can envision the helpless look on [legal professionals’] faces when they can no longer get messages from their BlackBerrys while sitting in court,” said Los Angeles-based attorney Jeff Yong with the law firm Alexander & Yong.

Law firm Information Technology departments also could find themselves scrambling if BlackBerrys are shut down. A recent analysis by J. Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass., estimated that replacing BlackBerry services for 1,000 workers could cost companies more than $845,000 or $850 per worker. This estimate includes the cost of replacing equipment as well as loss of productivity during a transition. This is worrisome for large firms such as international Kirkland & Ellis, which provides more than 1,000 Black­Berrys to attorneys and approximately 100 of the devices to paralegals.

Because of the possible injunction, the IT department at Morgan Miller Blair, a law firm based in Walnut Creek, Calif., looked into alternatives for its company. Firm personnel use BlackBerrys for document management and client billing, among other things. “We have installed Microsoft Active Sync, a late entry to e-mail ‘push’ technology,” said Jerry Stucki, IT director at Morgan Miller. “We have put money in our budget to replace the BlackBerry, but we are still upgrading them. We are planning for the worst since we do depend on them.”

Law firms are not the only ones concerned about an injunction. In November, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a “statement of interest” in defense of government employees. It pointed out that up to 200,000 federal workers who use BlackBerry devices would be affected by an injunction. “The government has a legitimate interest in not having its BlackBerry devices turned off,” said Dennis Crouch, patent attorney at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff in Chicago. “However, I am skeptical of [the government’s] request for more time. An injunction was originally issued more than two years ago. There has already been sufficient time to gather evidence.”

The statement suggested a 90-day delay to take inventory of government users and also proposed that federal workers continue using the BlackBerry, despite the lawsuit’s outcome. NTP also proposed that federal, state and local government workers be exempt from the injunction, as well as emergency first responders, but RIM stated it would be difficult to cut off services for some users while allowing it for others. RIM announced it created a software work­around to continue operation of the devices should the injunction be put in effect, but said implementing it would cause significant disruption. Final briefs were filed on Feb. 1, and at press time, an injunction hearing was scheduled for Feb. 24.

 


Paralegal Utilization Grows

IPMA’s 2005 survey reveals increased responsibilities for legal assistants.

By Lynn Penkingcarn

 

Increased paralegal utilization in specific practice areas, a decline in para­legal time spent on administrative work and a shift in paralegal training responsibility are some findings from the International Paralegal Management Association’s 2005 Utilization Survey.

Distributed to IPMA’s 474 members, the survey covered professional development, technology use, training, attorney utilization and practice area responsibilities, according to Jennifer Allen and Carol Van Buren, co-chairwomen of IPMA’s Utilization Committee. Seventy-two paralegal managers responded to the survey.

In comparing this survey’s results with a previous survey conducted in 2002, Allen and Van Buren observed some significant changes in the field. “Paralegal utilization rose in the practice areas of intellectual property, real estate, blue sky securities and immigration law,” they said, adding that, “Paralegal time spent on nonbillable administrative work has declined over time.”

A new question added to the 2005 survey asked why attorneys might not properly utilize paralegals. Fifty-three percent of respondents noted that attorneys hesitate to dele­gate work to paralegals to make sure they meet their own billable goals.

The survey also showed a decrease of 14 percent from 2002 to 2005 of firms reimbursing paralegals for obtaining advanced degrees or certificates. “This might be due to firms hiring those paralegals who already possess the advanced degrees or certificates,” Allen and Van Buren said. “In support of this theory, the 2005 survey also found that organizations still generally recruit paralegals who hold four-year degrees.”

In addition to an increase in technology use, the survey revealed shifts in training responsibility. “The responsibility for training in practice areas and for general topics such as ethics and billing has shifted slightly over time from attorneys to senior paralegals and paralegal managers,” Allen and Van Buren said. “Also, more paralegal managers are currently reporting to the managing partner as opposed to attorneys in practice areas. It’s unclear, with so little trending data, whether this represents a shift in organizational structure, but it’s a change we will watch closely.”

Finally, Allen and Van Buren said organizations that conduct orientation seminars for new attorneys on the effective use of paralegals rose by 20 percent in 2005, while those that provide only written materials on the subject declined by 11 percent.

IPMA plans to conduct the utilization survey every two years, according to Allen and Van Buren, who emphasized the significance of the survey. “Our membership has a unique perspective on the subject of paralegal utilization, so we believe it’s important to track the trends as a way to empower our membership to increase paralegal utilization.” For complete survey results, go to www.paralegalmanagement.org.

 


Texas Division: 25 Years and Counting

 

The first paralegal division of a state bar association in the United States is celebrating its 25th year in existence. The Paralegal Division, State Bar of Texas (formerly known as the Legal Assistants Division) was formed Oct. 23, 1981, by the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors.

The goal of the division is to enhance paralegal participation in the administration of justice, professional responsibility and public service in cooperation with the State Bar of Texas, according to Ellen Lockwood, president of the division and paralegal with Clear Channel Communications. “Those who founded the Paralegal Division envisioned the organization would serve as a vehicle for effective communication and resolution of matters of mutual concern to Texas legal assistants,” Lockwood said. “As Wayne Fisher, the 1981 to 1982 president of the state bar, stated in his address to the new division, ‘... the time has come for the legal profession to recognize the paralegal profession and for us to move forward in cooperation and mutual support to provide better services to the public we serve.’”

Among the many accomplishments in pursuit of that goal is the division’s legal assistant specialty exam, which currently is offered in six areas of law; the creation of a new defi­nition of “paralegal;” and the division’s continuing legal education program. The division was the first paralegal organization in the nation to offer online CLE courses that can be taken 24-hours a day. According to Lockwood, the division plans to continue developing its CLE program in the coming years, as well as to work with the Texas Young Lawyers Association to develop an online mentoring program regarding guidelines for working with paralegals.

To recognize its 25th anniversary, the division had a kick-off celebration during its Annual Meeting in June 2005, and will close out the year with various events at the Annual Meeting in Austin on June 16 and during the Texas Advanced Seminar in Dallas from Sept. 20 to Sept. 22.

 


Getting Through a Divorce

Paralegal helps couples mediate differences before seeking legal counsel.

By Lynn Penkingcarn

 

Contract paralegal Tracey Sheets founded the Divorce Management Group (www.divorcemanagementgroup.com) in August, after years of witnessing painful and time-consuming divorce proceedings.

The goal of the Divorce Management Group, based in Springfield, Mo., is to assist families in handling the emotional and financial hardships of divorce while emphasizing the importance of effective co-parenting, Sheets said. “We accomplish this goal through individual family support, educa­tional classes, mediation services and capitalizing on area professionals and community resources that meet the specific needs of families going through divorce,” she said.

When a couple comes to her seeking a divorce, Sheets explains how the legal process works; mediates a temporary arrangement regarding custody, visitation, child support and financial support; conducts several mediation sessions to discuss long-term arrangements; and drafts a proposed parenting plan and marital separation agreement for an attorney’s review.

Sheets, who works alone and pays therapists on a contract basis, obtained bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from Drury University in Springfield five years ago. She has been a court-appointed special advocate in juvenile courts for Greene County, Mo., since 2003, and earned a mediation certificate from Missouri State University in 2005. She also has associate’s degrees in accounting and paralegal studies, along with more than 10 years of paralegal experience in domestic law, bank­ruptcy, civil litigation, personal injury and insurance defense.

Sheets said she would not have been able to start the Divorce Management Group without her background as a paralegal. “Working as a paralegal provided me with the experience and knowledge of the procedural aspects of litigation and the reality of how the system affects its litigants,” she said. “I have worked with wonderful attorneys over the years who have always taken the time to explain to me what they are doing and why. I have had the opportunity to work one-on-one with clients from the initial consultation up through trial and post-trial matters. I have attended several trials over the years and have witnessed how the information we gathered through discovery was utilized during trial.”

Sheets said she doesn’t provide legal advice to her clients, but refers them to attorneys such as Stephen Seigel, also based in Springfield. Seigel said the Divorce Management Group gives clients control of their futures. “If successful, the Divorce Management Group will help divorcing spouses reach an agreement as to division of their assets and debts, and an agreement as to the nature and extent of their contact with their child or children after the dissolution of their marriage,” Seigel said. “All too often, when a judge has to decide these issues, neither party is pleased with the decision and often the decision doesn’t fit the needs of the parties.”

To help clients cope with the emotional aspects of a divorce, Sheets turns to licensed professional counselors such as Jane A. Dosch. “The Divorce Man­agement Group offers a better, healthier way to deal with divorce by giving guidance throughout the process, helping people cope with and better understand how to adjust, redefine their lives and how to help their children suffer as little as possible,” Dosch said. “The Divorce Management Group, by its existence, says there is more to divorce than legal issues.”

Couples pay $6,000 for six educational classes, up to 10 hours of mediation services, initial drafts of legal documents, family support during the process and three months after, and referrals to community resources, Sheets said. Turning to the Divorce Management Group before seeking legal counsel can save couples money, Seigel said.

“A dissolution of marriage case involving contested issues as to child custody and division of property and debts easily can cost each party $10,000 to $15,000 in attorneys fees and costs and expenses related to his or her case,” Seigel said. “There­fore, there is a tremen­dous savings of money to a couple who is able to successfully settle their case.”

Seigel has worked with Sheets for several years in her role as a paralegal, and said he is impressed with her knowledge and abilities. “She has those qualities that enable her to be a skilled negotiator and mediator along with a tremendous amount of common sense,” he said.

In the future, Sheets said she hopes to hire paralegals with experience in domestic law and with mediation certificates to work for the Divorce Management Group.

 


NFPA Adopts Navy Legalmen

Deployed paralegals receive gift packages in Iraq.

By Lyndsey Shinoda

 

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations is helping to fill the mailboxes of its compatriots in Iraq by adopting members of the Navy Legalmen Association, an organization formed in 2004 for all Navy paralegals, thanks to a grassroots community service program dreamed up by Lori Thompson, pro bono coordinator for NFPA.

While talking to Steve Distefano, president of the Navy Legalmen Association, during NFPA’s 2005 Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., Thompson found out that approximately 23 members of the association — which became a NFPA affiliate in 2005 — were deployed in Iraq. She and Distefano gathered contact information for all legalmen deployed at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq. Thompson wrote to the group and asked them for wish-list items to make their lives easier while being so far from home.

To get the program started, on Dec. 12, Thompson sent nine boxes of supplies she purchased with her own funds, including snacks, books, games, toys and toiletries, to the Navy legalmen at Camp Victory, as well as to several Air Force legalmen who also were stationed there. On Dec. 21, Thompson’s labors were recognized with an e-mail from one of the legalmen:

Lori –

I just wanted to let you know that some of us received the package you sent and we absolutely LOVE everything! Even the attorneys were a little jealous! Thank you so much for thinking of us! It means more to us than you could ever imagine. Mail here is one of the biggest morale boosters. Please give our sincere appreciation to everyone involved. Thank you again and we all hope you have a very safe and wonderful holiday season!

 

“Our legalmen were blown away by the care packages,” Distefano said. “The Navy Legalmen Association and NFPA developed quite a partnership, and Lori Thompson is instrumental in organizing this thoughtful and heartfelt program.”

Thompson said her goal now is to get other NFPA members involved. She hopes to see member associations adopt at least one legalman to send wish-list items to on a regular basis. She said associations from Kansas and Maryland have shown interest. She is encouraging the associations to create personalized boxes containing the associations’ news­letters, local news, and cards and letters from members to send to the legalmen.

“I see this as an ideal project for the local paralegal associations,” Thompson said. “I want this to be a truly grassroots project. I am hoping to activate the [affil­iated associations that have] more inactive pro bono programs with a nationally supported community service project. I also would like the deployed legalmen to know that their fellow para­legals support them ... by sending them care packages, and getting the membership involved in writing letters on a regular basis.”

For more information about the legalmen program, contact Thompson at probono[at]paralegals.org.

 


Indiana Regulation a Reality?

 

The long process of creating paralegal regulation might be closer to fruition in Indiana, with the Indiana Supreme Court publishing proposed Rule 2.2 for public comment in late December. The proposal comes after more than two years of discussion between the Indiana Supreme Court Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and Indiana paralegal associations. Public comments on the proposal can be submitted through April 3, and then will be given to the Supreme Court, which will consider the rule.

The Alliance of Indiana Paralegal Associations, which is made up of the Indiana Paralegal Association, the Michiana Paralegal Association and the Northeast Indiana Paralegal Association, crafted a proposal for voluntary regulation in November 2003 to submit to the rules committee. The rules committee then formed a subcommittee, which included paralegals Cathy Canny, president of IPA; Janet Logan, regulation committee chairwoman of IPA; and Edna Wallace, IPA primary representative to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, to fine-tune the proposal.

The current proposal states the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction over the voluntary registration of paralegals. According to the proposal, “paralegal” means a person who is qualified through education, training or work experience and is employed under the direction of an attorney in a capacity that involves the performance of work that requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts.

To qualify for registration and to be allowed to use the title “Indiana Registered Paralegal,” paralegals must have good moral character, fulfill specific education and work experience requirements, and participate in continuing legal education. Disbarred attorneys, felons and those convicted of the unauthorized practice of law will not be allowed to register under the proposed rules.

According to Canny, the alliance supports the proposal in its current form and will hold informational meetings around the state asking for support. A complete copy of the proposal is available at http://www.state.in.us/judiciary/rules/proposed/2005/december.html.

Public comments can be submitted to localrulescomments[at]courts.state.in.us.

 


Starting Salaries Looking Up

Guide predicts compensation increases and niche-area demand.

By Janet Roberts

 

Paralegal salaries are on the rise in 2006, and employment opportunities are increasing in many law firms and corporate legal departments, according to the Robert Half Legal 2006 Salary Guide. Average starting salaries for the legal profession are expected to rise 6.1 percent this year, with salaries for paralegals expected to increase 5.6 percent.

Senior paralegals with more than seven years experience at large law firms (more than 75 attorneys, according to the guide) can expect to see a 6.9 percent increase in salary, while their counterparts in small law firms (up to 10 attorneys) can expect a 4.4 percent increase. Junior paralegals (four to six years of experience) at small/mid-sized law firms (10 to 35 attorneys) can expect to see salaries rise 7.1 percent, according to the guide.

Robert Half Legal, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing service that specializes in job placement for attorneys, paralegals and other skilled legal professionals, compiled the guide. Information is based on job orders and placements handled by Robert Half Legal, as well as local and national employment data gathered by Robert Half Legal offices throughout the United States and Canada.

The guide shows the legal profession’s highest growth is in practice areas such as real estate, intellectual property, litigation, ethics and corporate governance. According to Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal, because of growth in real estate, there now is a high demand everywhere for real estate paralegals, not only in law firms, but also with homebuilders and real estate companies.

The guide also shows compliance law as a hot new career trend. Law firms and in-house legal departments seek paralegals adept at U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. They also need paralegals who know how to use software and hardware designed for e-filing, according to the guide.

Volkert said he sees law firms staffing junior paralegals who have two to three years of experience and a good background in technology and e-filing. Mid-level paralegals with good technology skills and experience in anti-trust or product liability litigation also are in demand.

“Anytime a paralegal with two to three years of experience can increase his or her skill level on CT Sum­mation, [Dataflight Software Inc.’s] Concor­dance or even Microsoft Excel, he or she becomes more marketable,” Volkert said.

Sadie M. Bispham, PP, PLS, president of NALS of Atlanta…the association for legal professionals, said she also sees an increased demand by larger firms for litigation and real estate paralegals, but in contrast to the guide, she said the demand still is for more experience with junior paralegals struggling to get their foot in the door at many firms. Bispham, who is a legal assistant with sole practitioner William G. Quinn III in Georgia, said she keeps abreast of paralegal trends through her work with NALS, as well as through networking with members of the Georgia Assoc­iation of Paralegals. She said she currently sees the highest litigation needs in the areas of product liability and medical malpractice, while corporate legal departments want paralegals to be familiar with Sarbanes-Oxley, but it’s not a rigid requirement.

With the niche areas for paralegals to work in constantly evolving, Bis­pham said she encourages paralegals not to concentrate only on one type of law. “Firms are diversifying,” she said. “I always suggest paralegals stay current on their skill sets and continue to educate themselves in new areas.”

To order a free copy of the 2006 salary guide, visit www.roberthalflegal.com.

 


Balancing Work and Life

Paralegal Joanne Ollman creates winning firm environment.

By Elizabeth Callaghan

 

Deposition at 9, filing deadline at noon, soccer practice at 3 and pretrial powwow with a sensitive associate and an explosive partner at 6. Balancing work and family, and fostering a harmonious law firm environment never has been easy. Looking at sliding retention rates among attorneys and staff, large law firms quickly are learning they need to do something about it. When Joanne Ollman graduated from Ithaca College in New York with a degree in political science in 1973, she had no idea she would become part of the solution.

Ollman, a 30-year paralegal veteran, considered going to law school, but uncertain of a lawyer’s life, she pursued paralegal training instead. The skills she acquired in various paralegal positions throughout the next 30 years led her to her position now — counseling 1,200 attorneys on how to balance their work and personal lives.

Ollman landed her first paralegal position with Milbank Tweed’s New York office in 1973 after graduating from the Philadelphia Paralegal Insti­tute. She quickly moved up in the firm, hiring paralegals and gaining considerable management experience, which she applied to future positions in firms throughout New York.

By 2000, Ollman was recruiting legal staff, managing new associates and planning retreats at Carvath, Swaine and Moore in New York as the director of recruitment and personnel. There, she met Rob Singer, the firm’s director of finance, who recognized her ability to connect with the staff members while simultaneously managing them. When he accepted the position of executive director of New York’s Weil, Gotshal and Manges in 2004, he remembered her. Singer created the position of director of strategic associate programs with the goal of enhancing the firm’s recruiting efforts and developing programs focused on improving the quality of life at the firm. The person to lead this effort had to be someone who understood the needs of the firm and the lawyers, and he convinced Ollman she was just that person. “I knew she would fit into the culture,” Singer said. “She is outgoing, team-oriented, very driven.”

While Ollman said she was happy at her current job, she was intrigued by the idea of moving to Weil, Gotshal. “Weil is a global firm with twice the number of attorneys, so it offered new challenges,” Ollman said. “It also was an opportunity to build a staff at a firm where the partners were committed and enthusiastic about enhancing their professional home.”

Ollman’s job as director of strategic associate programs includes professional development, retaining employees and building morale. She designs activities to improve relations between partners and associates, and works on initiatives to attract and retain women. While Oll­man said she doesn’t do any traditional paralegal work in her current position, she uses her paralegal experience every day. “Being a paralegal trains you to be organized, to juggle many different tasks at once and most importantly, understand the law firm culture,” she said.

During a typical day, Ollman checks in with her staff to find out what they are working on and what, if any, problems they are having with reaching their goals. She attends meetings and gives seminars on recruitment, diversity and professional development. She regularly meets with partners and associates to resolve issues and acts as a sounding board for a wide range of concerns.

According to her assistant, Claire Higgins, Ollman is just the right person for those tasks. “If there are problems in the firm, she is very approachable,” Higgins said. “No matter how busy she is, she will always make time for people.”

Ollman primarily works with attorneys, and meets with associates to talk about issues they have with senior associates or partners; often they want information on flex-time or part-time work.

According to partner Mindy Spector, the fact that Ollman isn’t an attorney helps. “Associates go to Joanne because they are getting advice from someone they don’t have to work with, and that means there is a certain level of comfort,” Spector said. “Joanne has the ability to help a person see where another one is coming from.”

Lavell Malloy, an associate with the firm for three years, said Ollman creates a dynamic of inclusion by bringing firm members together through various activities. “You have associates talking to partners, partners talking to associates; Joanne creates this atmosphere where everyone talks to each other. That isn’t typical in large law firms,” he said.

Ollman also was key in developing flexible working schedules because, like her colleagues, her challenge is having a family and career. Ollman said she counsels many lawyers about balancing their lives. “People want time with their families,” she said. “The challenge is to make sure you spend time with people you care about. I am glad I have that kind of challenge.”

 


Top 200 Firms Stay Connected

Survey shows increased use of PDAs and extranets.

By Patrick Vuong

 

The world’s largest law firms are recognizing and meeting their staffs’ needs to stay mobile and connected to their clients, according to the 10th Annual American Lawyer Technology Survey.

The survey was sent to Am Law 200 firms, and 134 firms responded. Highlighting the mobility trend, survey results, released Oct. 31, showed a 13 percent increase — from 74 percent in 2004 to 87 percent in 2005 — in the number of firms supplying attorneys and staff with wireless e-mail units or personal digital assistants.

Claudia J. Taller, a senior para­legal at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey’s Cleve­land office, said her firm provides PDAs at discounted rates, but attorneys and staff must pay for the service. “[PDAs are] important in that they allow us to respond quickly to any problems that crop up — even when we are at lunch, walking the dog [or] putting the baby to bed,” Taller added.

Ken Heaps, chief information officer at Latham & Watkins, said mobile devices are important because clients demand nearly instant access to their attorneys. “Clients expect lawyers to be available 24 hours a day,” Heaps said. “PDAs liberate [lawyers] from having to be in the office.” Heaps said Latham & Watkins’ attorneys and staff have used PDAs for e-mail for six years, and the firm currently supplies and pays for service for more than 1,800 devices, 88 of which are given to paralegals.

According to Steve Novak, chief information officer at Kirkland & Ellis, an international firm that supplies 1,100 lawyers and about 100 legal assistants with mobile devices, the legal professional of the future will have to be a road warrior, and will need to be more productive wherever he or she is. During a typical month, Kirkland & Ellis supports tens of thousands of hours of remote connectivity for all staff members.

Eighty-six percent of responding firms paid for PDAs in 2005, a 3 percent increase from the previous year, according to the survey. Research In Motion’s BlackBerry ranked as the most popular PDA, with 89 percent of responding firms using them, while Palm Treo and Good Technology came in at a distant second and third, respectively.

The survey results also showed increased attorney-client connectivity via the Internet. Seventy-three percent of respondents provided some of their working document collections to clients through secure Web sites — an 8 percent jump from 2004, according to the AmLaw report. “Each extranet site is dedicated to our client’s specific matters, and is updated to include the latest information on new project data, documents and budget information,” said Sue Hall, Information Technology director at the 3,300-attorney international firm Baker & McKenzie. “When utilized effectively, extranets provide an ideal way for us to ensure that our clients have easy, transparent access to all parts of our work for them.”

However, the study showed some firms shy away from one emerging tool: instant messaging. Last year, 52 percent of responding firms banned IMing, a 4 percent increase from 2004. Baker & McKenzie is among the firms to forbid IMing. “This policy is in place to protect client confidentiality, and to protect the firm against virus infection,” Hall said.

Heaps said Latham & Watkins uses an internal IM system rather than a commercial one. However, it allows external IM systems for legitimate reasons, such as when attorneys deal with clients who require it, he added.

Meanwhile, Kirkland & Ellis set up added security measures to allow its staff to use public IM systems to meet client needs, Novak said. The firm advises its staff to follow safe IMing habits, such as not sending files or links, and using IM only for real-time, online chatting as a quick means of communication.

“Legal technology will benefit with the transition of many more applications over the Internet — albeit, you need to be very [cautious] with security,” Novak said. “With the evolution of the online world, the attorney will have to evolve into a highly mobile professional.”

 


CLA Search Page

NALA offers simple searching for CLAs nationwide.

By Tina Dhamija

 

Have you ever been asked to find out if a co-worker’s Certified Legal Assistant certification is up for renewal or whether a prospective employee’s current certification is valid? Instead of performing tedious background checks to verify this information, there is a new Web page devoted to fast and easy searching of certified CLAs. Located on the National Association of Legal Assistants’ Web site, NALA CLA Certification Search allows users to look for CLAs by name and city or state.

“NALA is always looking for ways to enhance the services and information available on the Web site on a 24-hour basis,” said Debra J. Monke, CLAS, president of NALA. “Having the [CLA] information immediately accessible on the Web provides a great convenience for employers and encourages more checking of credentials.”

Monke said NALA headquarters receives frequent calls to verify certified status of paralegals, and the organization created the Web page in September so those verifications can take place regardless of the day or time. The search page doesn’t list personal addresses and contact information, but it does provide business-related postal addresses and the status and expiration date of someone’s CLA certification, as well as whether advanced certification was achieved and when.

For more information on the CLA search feature, visit the Paralegal Certification page of the NALA Web site at www.nala.org/cert.htm and click on the “Employers” link.

 


Federal Communications Act Overhaul Proposed

Senator calls for market-oriented and competition-based regulations.

By Jamie Ann Tyo

 

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., introduced a bill in December that he said will create a communications regulation system that is market-oriented and competition-based. If approved, the Digital Age Communications Act of 2005 would completely overhaul the Federal Communications Act of 1934 and 1996, which some analysts say doesn’t go far enough to regulate new and emerging technologies.

“Let’s take the shackles off of America’s most exciting industry,” DeMint said in a press statement. “This bill will create an environment that encourages innovation and competition. Americans understand that when businesses are allowed to compete, they win. Competition lowers prices, expands choices and gives us our most exciting new technology.”

The bill was drafted to help regulate the communications industry in the same manner that other businesses are regulated, with the goal of protecting consumers from unfair competition, according to the press statement. If enacted, all telecommunication services would have to comply with the same regulations no matter how the provider classifies the service. For example, if a phone service is offered by a wireless company, it would be treated the same as if it were offered by a land-line company.

All telecommunication service providers also would have to contribute equally to the Universal Service Program, which provides discounts on telephone installation and telephone services to low-income consumers. The new act calls for the distribution of those funds to be more efficient, transparent and technology neutral. The act also would phase out cable franchises throughout the course of four years.

BellSouth Corp. quickly announced its support of the bill, as did the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a think tank that supports deregulation. The Progress and Freedom Foundation released a recommendation for the bill in June 2005. Full text of that recommendation can be found at www.pff.org/issues-pubs/other/ 050617regframework.pdf. The bill has been read twice and currently is with the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

 


News Updates

 

Iowa Fee Cap Reversed

An Iowa district court reversed an earlier decision capping the amount that can be awarded for paralegal fees in civil cases. In January 2005, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the Linn County district court abused its discretion in GreatAmerica Leasing Corp. v. Cool Com­fort Air Conditioning Inc., et al., when, after finding Cool Comfort in breach of contract and ordering it to pay GreatAmerica’s legal fees, the court reduced the hourly rate charged by GreatAmerica’s attorneys for paralegal services from $80 to $50 (see “Cap on Paralegal Services Overturned,” May/ June 2005 Legal Assistant Today). The Iowa Supreme Court remanded the case back to the district court.

The district court originally cap­ped the fees because public defenders earn an hourly rate of $50. The court stated it was troubled that in some cases paralegals were earning more than licensed attorneys. The Iowa Associ­ation of Legal Assistants filed an amicus brief on behalf of GreatAmerica. It told LAT that capping fees could cause a ripple effect in the field, leading to lower wages.

In April 2005, after the plaintiff’s counsel filed a Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Support of Fee Award for Paralegal Work, the district court ruled in favor of GreatAmerica and ordered Cool Com­fort to pay the $30 per hour difference.

Florida Regulation

The Florida Bar Special Committee to Study Paralegal Regulation met Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 to continue discussing possibilities for regulating paralegals. The committee, headed by attorney Ross Goodman, voted in November to recommend to the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar to create a volunteer para­legal section of the bar. Rep. Juan Zapata, R-Miami, said the recommendation didn’t go far enough, and re-introduced legislation from last May to create mandatory regulation (see “Regulation Debate Continues in Florida,” January/ February 2006 LAT).

At the January meeting, Goodman said the committee discussed different ways to define paralegals. “We had a very fruitful two days,” Goodman said. No recommendations were decided regarding regulation at the meeting, but the committee did come up with the idea of a two-tiered system for defining paralegals. Tier one would be “paralegals” as defined currently in the Rules Regu­lating the Florida Bar, and tier two would be “registered para­legals” who have specialized education and training.

Goodman said a subcommittee will draft rules regarding the two tiers, and the committee will consider those proposals at the March 2 meeting. “I anticipate we will also tackle the more difficult issues then, such as whether paralegals should be regulated,” Goodman said.

The legislative session is set to begin in March, when lawmakers will debate the bill introduced by Zapata, along with a companion bill in the senate. The Florida Bar Association said in Decem­ber that it opposes the bills and wants to see more study on the issue.

 

 

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