Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2006

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MSBA Creates Paralegal Committee

Catering to the special needs of its paralegal members, MSBA has created a new Paralegal Committee to examine the key issues impacting today's paralegal. In 2000, paralegals, legal administrators and law students were invited to join MSBA as Associate members. This relatively new membership category already boasts 280 members. Now, paralegals have a new MSBA Committee to address their specific issues and promote the valuable role they play in Maryland's legal community.

On January 24, 2006, MSBA's Board of Governors approved the creation of the Paralegal Committee, which will consist of both paralegals and attorneys. MSBA's Paralegal Committee, chaired by attorney Alan F. M. Garten, plans to enhance the visibility of paralegals and promote their value in today's legal profession. On February 21, the Committee held its first meeting and set its priorities, which include educating attorneys on the utilization of paralegals and educating the public on the role of paralegals.

Licensing and certification of paralegals are also high on the Committee's list, as are communication vehicles for paralegals, including a paralegal link on MSBA's website and a paralegal MSBA Email List. It hopes to post a job bank, too. The Committee will also work closely with MICPEL to develop educational programs addressing key paralegal issues and offer networking opportunities for paralegals.

"We will promote paralegals as an integral part of the delivery of legal services," asserts Garten. "The Committee consists of key people in the paralegal and attorney professions who offer different vantage points and represent a broad section of the legal community. Together, we hope to bring higher recognition for paralegals, emphasizing their importance in the legal system."

According to the American Bar Association, the term "paralegal" is defined as a person who is "qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work."

Another priority of the Committee is fine-tuning the definition of paralegals so the public, and attorneys, better understand the paralegal's role in the legal profession. "The public just doesn't understand what we do," laments Traci Michelle Radice, a paralegal member of the Committee. "First and foremost, we need to educate the public about our role and educate lawyers about ways paralegals can assist them in the delivery of legal services."

"Many attorneys in Maryland do not understand what paralegals can do and what we cannot do," Radice continues. She hopes the Committee will accentuate the numerous functions paralegals fulfill in law firms. "We need to show attorneys how law firms can profit from using paralegals."

In addition to tackling the definition, the Committee will also delve into certification, accreditation and regulation for paralegals. Garten believes "certification and proper accreditation will bring more credence to the paralegal profession." Regulation may also undergo scrutiny. "Right now," Radice stresses, "we are self-regulated in Maryland."

The Paralegal Committee offers a number of advantages to MSBA members. "One of the most important roles it will play is addressing the lack of recognition that paralegals receive," declares attorney Karen Cook, professor of legal studies and coordinator of Anne Arundel Community College's Paralegal Internship Program. "Often, attorneys are not aware of the breadth and depth of a paralegal's legal research skills. When law firms discover the true value of paralegals and their range of skills, they are amazed."

The Committee will also provide CLE opportunities for paralegals. "Paralegals need to stay up-to-date on changes in the law and other cutting-edge issues, just like attorneys," explains Dorothy Howell, a paralegal member of the Committee. "Paralegals must walk the ethical line, know their particular areas of the law and support their attorneys."

Howell sees great value in the Committee "because it offers paralegals everything from networking and education to mentoring." Cook adds "the Committee offers paralegals a networking vehicle so they may interact with each other and with attorneys." She hopes the Committee will "raise awareness of the high level of legal expertise in the paralegal profession, bringing the extensive training, education and advanced skills of paralegals to the forefront."

Howell believes the Committee "will encourage more paralegals to join MSBA so, like the attorneys, they too may take advantage of the many services MSBA offers to its members." This Committee will actively recruit additional paralegals as Associate members of MSBA. Paralegals interested in becoming Associate members of MSBA should contact MSBA's Membership Department at membership@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: March 2006

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