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News Briefs: November/December 2007

Below are some of the latest happenings in the paralegal community. These short snippets represent excerpts of stories that can be found in the November/December '07 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.

 


A Hero Remembered

California paralegal will continue to inspire students and others in the legal field.

By Melody Ip

 

Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century British prime minister and literary figure, said, “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.” Paralegal Jean M. Cushman of Los Gatos, Calif., indeed left behind a hero’s legacy when she lost her battle with cancer on July 27, at the age of 67.

Cushman’s accomplishments as a paralegal span more than 27 years of dedication to the profession. She held a paralegal certificate from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., and was an Advanced Certified Legal Assistant in business organizations and a California Advanced Specialist in business law. Cushman began working as a paralegal at Hopkins & Carley in San Jose, Calif., in 1985, and at the time of her death was working part time in the firm’s corporate, tax and business transactions department.

In 1978, Cushman helped establish the Paralegal Association of Santa Clara County in California, a professional and educational organization for legal assistants and an affiliated association of the National Association of Legal Assistants and the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations. In addition to being a founding member, Cushman served as PASCCO president for two years, as well as liaison to CAPA and NALA. She received PASCCO’s Mary Ann Pickrell award in 1995, which recently was renamed the Jean M. Cushman award. Pickrell was a founding member of PASCCO who passed away more than 10 years ago. “[The PASCCO board members] felt that since Jean was such a driving force behind PASCCO ... and she was also a charter member of PASCCO, it would be appropriate to change the name of the award,” said Tita Brewster, ACP, a senior paralegal at Lewis and Roca in Phoenix, current NALA president and long-time friend of Cushman. “Jean was informed of the change shortly before her death and was quite touched.”

Brewster said Cushman “felt that it was her responsibility to give back to the profession, which she did by being a mentor, instructor and a role model for many.”

Although Cushman will be missed by everyone whose lives she touched, her legacy continues through the Jean M. Cushman Scholarship Fund, created in August 2007. According to Lange and Brewster, administrators of the scholarship fund, Cushman’s family wanted to do something for the profession and students Cushman loved, and felt the fund was a natural way to honor her. Donations can be sent to: The Jean M. Cushman Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1089, San Leandro, CA 94571-0126.

 


Thurston County Task Force Takes Off

Washington state paralegal and other key figures mobilize against identity theft.

By Heidi Lowry

 

When law enforcement officials and prosecutors in Thurston County, Wash., began to notice the increasing problem of identity theft in their community, they took action and on Sept. 4, the Thurston County Identity Theft Task Force became a reality.

The task force is composed of Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Wheeler, paralegal Carol Jones, detectives Jim Dunn and Roland Weiss from the Thurston County sheriff’s office, and a postal inspector from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. It was created in order to have the key people involved in these complex fraud cases in a common setting where sharing information can be more fluid. In September, the final step in a process that began in March was made when Jones and Wheeler moved into the sheriff’s office, making the task force a streamlined unit with centralized communication and more efficient case management. 

Jones, who has been a paralegal since 1991 and originally hails from London, is the sole paralegal on the task force. She has served as Wheeler’s paralegal for approximately three years, and has been one of the advocates for the task force, providing outreach to the community to get the task force up and running.

“She was a co-participant in this whole process. She has been a cheerleader; she has encouraged it,” Wheeler said. Wheeler has become a specialist in identity theft due to the alarming number of cases that he prosecutes. According to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, Washington has the 10th highest rate in the United States for identity theft.

At times, Jones transforms herself into an investigator, conducting witness interviews, following up on leads that develop during trial preparation and tracking down phone numbers to keep witnesses flowing smoothly through Wheeler’s office. “You see a great deal of life here. It’s very challenging to see each case and watch it grow,” Jones said. “You can help justice work.”

Jones said paralegals who see the need for a similar task force in their community can start drawing attention to that need by reaching out to citizens, business owners and the local police department through flyers and educational seminars focused on the risks of identity theft. Funding is the greatest challenge and increased awareness makes task forces, such as the one in Thurston County, a more attractive investment to potential donors. “[Identity theft] is a problem in every major city. I think we’re a society of very trusting people,” Jones said.

 


Association Commendation

AAJ honors Natalie Andrus with its 2007 Paralegal of the Year award.

By Melody Ip

 

For the past five years, the American Association for Justice has honored a paralegal affiliate member who demonstrates a commitment to the legal profession and dedication to the association’s mission. On July 16, AAJ and the award’s sponsor, Thomson West, announced Natalie Andrus, a litigation paralegal with Grysen and Associates in Spring Lake, Mich., as the recipient of its 2007 Paralegal of the Year award. “[This award] has made me stop to think what positive things I can do with this,” Andrus said. “This award has given me the strength to fight the fight and do what I can to make a difference.”

When Elliot Grysen, a medical malpractice attorney who founded Grysen and Associates in 1987, nominated Andrus, he knew his application had to be stellar. The winner not only would have to meet AAJ’s qualifications but also surpass the accomplishments of all other nominees. “I had seen the candidate notice for several years and often thought Natalie was the ideal person,” Grysen said. He spent an entire Saturday filling out the nomination application. “This year I thought about her contributions to our firm over the past year, the trials that she attended, her many nights getting me ready for the next day, and decided Natalie is what a paralegal should be.”

Nominees are required to be a paralegal affiliate of AAJ for at least one year, and must be nominated by an AAJ attorney member or fellow paralegal affiliate. Among the submitted nominations, the judges looked for contributions such as tutoring and mentoring paralegal students, speaking engagements, teaching commitments and upholding AAJ’s mission.

While going through Andrus’ nomination, the judges — two AAJ para­legal affiliate members, one attorney member and the AAJ paralegal affiliate chair — were most impressed that she had all the criteria for which they were looking. “She not only taught and mentored legal students but also had gone back to school to earn her degree in paralegal studies,” said Nathalie Etori, AAJ’s membership coordinator. “She has a lot of contacts with other schools that have paralegal programs, and promotes getting involved in AAJ. Now she is helping AAJ find places to publicize AAJ membership. It also impressed the judges how much her [nominating] attorney was indebted to her.”

As AAJ’s Paralegal of the Year, Andrus was awarded free airfare, accommodations and registration to the AAJ 2007 Annual Convention in Chicago in July where she was presented with the award, with her husband, Robert, two sons, Forrest and Spencer, and Grysen all in attendance. “Many people do not understand what a paralegal does and what a huge honor this was for me to have a lawyer take the time to even nominate me,” Andrus said. “Many paralegals have said that lawyers do not realize what they do every day. My response is ‘yes, they do!’ We are their right hand. We are a team. Together we seek out a goal. That goal is justice for our clients.”

 


Fighting for Farmworker Justice

Paralegal helps migrant population understand their legal rights.

By Janet Roberts

 

His wife says he is a dinosaur. His boss says he is a legend. No e-mail, no Blackberry, no laptop. The only evidence of the trappings of technology on 71-year-old paralegal Raul Barrera is a cell phone, which he carries with him in his mobile office — a Ford pickup — as he drives from Central Florida to Texas to Mexico working on behalf of thousands of migrant farmworkers in the United States.

Barrera has spent a total of 40 years working for legal assistance projects that provide free legal aid to migrant farmworkers. The past 11 years have been spent working for the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project in Tallahassee, Fla., which offers free legal assistance on employment matters to migrant farmworkers throughout Florida. The organization helps approximately 4,000 farmworkers a year, according to its managing attorney, Greg Schell, and a lot of its services are in the form of educational outreach visits, which educate the workers on their legal rights. Schell, who is Barrera’s boss, said much of this educational work is done by Barrera. Much of the actual litigation work involves class action cases in which literally thousands of workers each season are represented. MFJP employs three para­legals in addition to Barrera.

Although Schell has encouraged him to train other paralegals, Barrera is adamant that this is not just a para­legal job — it’s a job that a person has to want to do, heart and soul. He encounters young people who want the job as a stepping stone to something bigger, perhaps immigration law, and he can understand because the pay for his line of work is not great. He said it is not an 8 to 5 job either. He must be available and accessible to workers at odd hours of the day and night, and said he still gets calls from workers he helped in the 1980s asking for his assistance, despite the fact that the workers are not living and working in Florida.

“There are a lot of outreach paralegals like me all over the country,” Barrera said. “But you have to really want to do it to stick with it and not move on to something else. Me, I don’t want an upgrade. I like what I do. I’m involved in a lot of good work that helps a lot of people.” 

 


Paralegal Outreach Program Going Strong

NFPA member associations send hundreds of care packages annually to military paralegals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Melody Ip and Rebecca Garcia

 

To show support and gratification for paralegals serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, 25 paralegal member associations of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and three individual or sustaining members of NFPA now support the Navy Legalman and Military Paralegal Outreach Program, which sends care packages to adopted paralegals from the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines.

The outreach program was started in 2005 by Lori Thompson, the NFPA pro bono coordinator at the time, with help from Stephen Distefano, who was then president of the Navy Legalman Association (see “NFPA Adopts Navy Legalmen,” March/April 2006, LAT). Thompson’s goal in starting the program was to “activate [affiliated associations that had] more inactive pro bono programs with a nationally supported community service project.” Using her own money, she filled and shipped the first nine packages to Camp Victory in Baghdad in December 2005. Two years later, participants now send as many as 45 care packages every other month. The packages include snacks and nonperishable food, toiletries and news about the civilian paralegal profession.

When a paralegal is first deployed, his or her first contact with the Navy Legalman and Military Paralegal Outreach Program is through Thompson. She sends a package to the new arrival that includes articles about the program, several copies of NFPA’s National Paralegal Reporter, copies of other association newsletters and a copy of LAT.

The outreach program is open to NFPA’s member associations, sustaining members and individual members. If you are interested in sending care packages, contact your local paralegal association to see if it’s involved in the Navy Legalman and Military Paralegal Outreach Program. If your local paralegal association is not involved, write to lthompson@fdic.gov and ask for guidelines on how to get started. For paralegal associations not affiliated with NFPA, Thompson suggests calling the local military base to find out how to support deployed paralegals.

“To let someone know you are thinking of them makes all the difference in the world,” Williams said.

 

 


LexisNexis Expansion Continues

Company acquires two more software vendors.

By Randi Meyer

 

LexisNexis is on the expansion path again, acquiring two more software vendors in the last six months. On July 9, LexisNexis announced its acquisition of Juris, Inc., a software company based in Nashville, Tenn., specializing in time, billing and accounting software for law firms. On June 6, LexisNexis announced its acquisition of Image Capture Engineering, Inc., a software company based in Omaha, Neb., that pioneered discovery document processing software, including Law 5.0 PreDiscovery and Storm Viewer.

Juris president and CEO Stephen Collins said he is incredibly excited by the acquisition because LexisNexis offers the capabilities and resources to meet all Juris clients’ needs. “First and foremost, as CEO of the company, we care about our clients’ success and ultimately, as a closely held business, it’s really difficult to do all the things we would love to do for our clients,” Collins said. “Becoming part of Lexis’ organization gives us the depth of resources that will allow us to deliver exceptional solutions to our client base of approximately 2,000 law firms.” 

For the future, LexisNexis plans to continue Juris’ mission to provide financial tools for attorneys to better manage the business of law by offering products that are faster and better integrated so attorneys can be more efficient.

LexisNexis’ acquisition of Image Capture Engineering in June sets in motion its goal to offer clients a total practice solution. “I believe this acquisition is an excellent strategic move for both companies,” said Mark J. Roberts, former president of ICE. “It allows LexisNexis to round out its Litigator’s Suite of offerings and, at the same time, assures that ICE products and the company we built will continue to grow.”

Law 5.0 PreDiscovery will continue to be offered as a stand-alone product and will still work with other non-LexisNexis discovery software. The price of Law 5.0 will remain the same for now, but Bennett says “in the coming months, LexisNexis will roll out special bundled pricing for the combination of Law 5.0 and Concordance.” Looking to the future, LexisNexis will continue to develop and improve Law 5.0 and enhance the linkages between it, Concordance, and other existing LexisNexis discovery services.

 


IPMA’s Latest Survey Shows Salary Increases

Paralegals in intellectual property, patent and trademark fields are at the top.

By Ashley Johnson

 

Compensation surveys help professionals in all fields measure their level of worth by providing information about salary, benefits and raises; legal professionals are no different. With its release of the 2007 Annual Compensation Survey for Paralegals/Legal Assistants and Managers, the International Paralegal Management Association produced a tool for legal professionals in 11 different positions to help guide them in their careers.

The survey, conducted by IPMA in partnership with Altman Weil Publications, was released in May after responses were received from 274 law firms and 78 law departments. “The survey shows solid increases in median total cash compensation for most paralegal positions,” said Jim Wilber, principal of Altman Weil. “The numbers not only reflect solid economic growth in the legal industry, especially among law firms, but also the growth and increasing sophistication of the paralegal profession. Legal organizations that want to attract and retain talented paralegals must compensate them competitively.”

The survey can be purchased either in PDF format, available on a CD-ROM, or as a hard copy, bound version online at www.paralegalmanagement.org, or from Altman Weil Publications online at www.altmanweilpubs.com.

 


AAPI Holds National Paralegal Summit

Exemption, regulation and education are key topics.

By Ashley Johnson

 

The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc.’s Annual Meeting and second National Paralegal Summit, held Sept. 14, in Wilmington, Del., brought together paralegals from 10 different states to discuss the importance of education and other issues affecting the profession.

Instead of holding educational seminars as in years past, the annual meeting format concentrated on a keynote speaker and the National Paralegal Summit. “The presenters and attendees were from diverse backgrounds and offered new insight to the profession for practicing paralegals,” said Laura Ahtes, AACP, RP, DCP, a paralegal with Potter Anderson & Corroon in Wilmington, Del., and recently elected vice president of AAPI.

Based on the success of this year’s summit, members already are planning on another summit next year, although a location has yet to be determined.

 


Legal Resources

 

Paralegal Space

Paralegal Gateway is now offering a new way for paralegals to network online: MyParalegalSpace. The Web site presents a professional forum for paralegals and other legal professionals to post messages, write blogs, share pictures, video, forms and more. Similar to other networking sites, members can create profiles and unleash their inner creative selves. The Web site also features polls, events, a calendar, forums and a para­legal career center, all geared toward networking in a professional atmosphere. Groups such as The Self Employed Paralegal, Corporate Governance, and Personal Injury Insurance Defense offer members an opportunity to share interests, experience and skills with similar paralegals. For more information, visit www.myparalegalspace.me.com.

Blawg Heaven

Blogs are rapidly permeating all aspects of the legal world, and now Technolawyer has jumped on the blogging trend, releasing “BlawgWorld 07,” an electronic book featuring a comprehensive list of 77 essays from 77 blogs. Also released concurrently is the “2007 Technolawyer Problem/Solution Guide: The Product Guide Reinvented,” which presents answers to common problems and dilemmas such as choosing software, reviewing e-mail obtained in discovery, and scanning documents in PDF format. The guide also features three color-coded tabs labeled “Blawgs,” “Problems” and “Products” on each page for easy navigation. The Master List buttons on each tab lead back to the beginning of each section so getting lost is virtually impossible. Both electronic books are available free at www.blawgworld.com.

 

Corporate Space

Legal OnRamp is a corporate forum for in-house and law firm legal professionals, created by Paul Lippe, Quality Automated Legal Systems CEO, and Mark Chandler, GC of Cisco. The discussion forum lets users discuss hot topics pertaining to everything from in-house, corporate issues to best practices for law firms. Each day, new contributions with advice and input are posted to the discussion forums from experts, attorneys, in-house counsel and other legal professionals with expertise in relevant specialties. Legal OnRamp also features news, articles, podcasts, law firm updates and Web sites, legal blogs, legal resources and more. Ask an Expert has frequently asked questions from specialties on everything from intellectual property to energy and natural resources, government and government contracting, securities and financing, tax, insurance and more. Each response is authored by an expert in that field. For more information and to start connecting, chatting and collaborating with other professionals, visit www.legalonramp.com.

 

Career Tips

NJ Paralegal.com, a Web site for para­legals in New Jersey, has released the “Paralegal Professionals’ Guide,” by Cindy Lopez. While NJ Paralegal.com is state-specific, the guidebook is not, and offers tips for paralegals at any stage in their careers. The book is divided into three sections: Section one, “The Future of the Paralegal Profession,” talks about the paralegal profession in general, offers ideas on how to get started and more. Section two, “The Paralegal Résumé & Job Search Guide,” provides tips on how to get a paralegal job and as a bonus, this section offers sample résumés and cover letters. The third section, “Working as a Paralegal — The Paralegal’s Guide to Survival,” lists ways to refresh skills, outlook and salary. As a bonus, this section provides a salary guide and resources. The book can be purchased for $24.99 at www.njparalegal.com/series.htm.

 

Pro Bono Paralegals

For paralegals interested in knowing more about pro bono work and resources, the American Bar Association has a free guide, “How to Utilize Legal Assistants in Pro Bono Programs.” The guide provides information on training, malpractice and ethics, recruitment of volunteer legal assistants, getting started as a pro bono legal assistant, the role of pro bono legal assistants, public relations, program evaluation, examples of programs that utilize legal assistants in pro bono work and more. It also lists Web links that serve as resources, such as the National Association of Legal Assistants, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the American Bar Association Center for Pro Bono. The guide can be found online at www.abanet.org/legalservices/paralegals/probonobrochure.html, and can be downloaded as a PDF.

The ABA also has a pro bono resource guide with opportunities all across the United States. The Volunteer Attorney Support in Alaska, Alliance for Children’s Rights in California, Friends of the Family in Texas and Community Tax Law Project in Virginia are just a few pro bono programs that utilize paralegals. To find a program in your state, visit www.probono.net/aba_oppsguide.cfm. 

 

 

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