from The Florida Bar News
As part of the required three-year review of the Bar’s voluntary Florida Registered Paralegal program, the Bar is looking into the request by some paralegals that they be licensed and regulated by the Bar or the Supreme Court.
In July, the Bar Board of Governors, approved a recommendation from the Program Evaluation Committee to set up a nine-member committee to examine regulating paralegals.
“That program is up for review right now. But the registered paralegals have requested that we look into requiring that they be regulated in some form or fashion, and their request specifically is that they be regulated by The Florida Bar or the Florida Supreme Court,” said board member Greg Coleman, chair of the Program Evaluation Committee, which will review the registered paralegal program.
He noted that several years ago, paralegals went to the Legislature to request mandatory regulation. That measure died when the Bar agreed to study the issue, which led to the registered paralegal program.
“This time they came to us first. We had quite a long discussion,” Coleman said. “We think ... it’s something that should be discussed and vetted.”
The new committee will include three members from the Program Evaluation Committee subcommittee, three paralegals and three others chosen by Bar President Mayanne Downs.
“The motion was to have this committee appointed to explore this issue of paralegal regulation and anything else the president wants to throw into the mix,” Coleman said. “There’s a real threshold question on whether the Supreme Court can regulate paralegals, and that will be looked at.”
The board approved the recommendation by a voice vote.
Mark Workman, president of the Florida Alliance of Paralegal Associations, said regulation would protect the public by helping to crack down on unsupervised paralegals who do unauthorized legal work and also help in “setting educational standards, ethical guidelines and to enhance the public’s perception of who we are and what we can and cannot do.”
He also said, “We want to have a valid say in our direction ... in the direction the paralegal profession goes.”
Workman said his organization performed a survey of paralegals and the preliminary results showed 95 percent thought the $150, which is paid annually to the Bar by those participating in the Florida Registered Paralegal program, should be spent exclusively on matters to help and advance paralegals.
Ninety percent said paralegal representatives on the Bar’s Florida Registered Paralegal Committee should be elected by paralegals rather than appointed by the Bar; 87 percent said paralegals should have a voice in their profession, he said.
Another 79 percent favor mandatory regulation of paralegals, but only 50 percent thought the Bar’s existing Florida Registered Paralegal program should be mandatory.
“We do want more control over our profession,” said Workman. “We believe that it is through the Supreme Court that we should be regulated; it needs to stem from the Supreme Court and not directly from The Florida Bar.”
Johnna Phillips, a former president of the Paralegal Association of Florida and a member of the Bar committee that came up with the current Florida Registered Paralegal program, said mandatory regulation is a logical step and not necessarily a major change from the current program.
It could be as simple as requiring that anyone using or given the title paralegal meet the education and testing requirements of the program. That includes passing one of two nationally recognized paralegal certification exams.
It would also abolish the current grandfather clause, due to expire in another year, of the program, she said.
“We would want something that is very similar to the provisions of the FRP program without the grandfathering,” Phillips said.
“Candidates would have to meet the credentials of the FRP program at the time the sunset goes away. There would be a mandatory education requirement for those who call themselves paralegals.”
Paralegals wanted a mandatory scheme when the program was set up, and accepted that as a first step, she said.
“I think mandatory would be the next reasonable step in the process,” said Phillips. She said there is “a whole host of other categories inside the legal team; legal secretaries and legal assistants are certainly part of the legal team. Our time is being billed out and clients should have some sense of assurance when they’re seeing time billed for a paralegal, it is truly someone who is a paralegal.”