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Does the paralegal profession really need government oversight? For years, there has been an ongoing debate about the real and perceived benefits of introducing statutory licensing to the profession. Some paralegals are strong supporters of licensing, while others see no need for it. But what are the real issues and benefits? This article via Merrill Lad Magazine poses a Q&A session to Bob Davidson, a veteran paralegal who has watched this debate play out in numerous discussions, articles and blogs, to share his insights. An excerpt of the top questions are listed below.
Q: Why are some paralegals proponents of statutory licensing or certification?
Some paralegals support statutory licensing because they believe it will help to ensure minimum qualification standards for our profession, result in paralegals gaining greater personal respect from attorneys and maybe even result in higher pay. With regard to qualifications, it may establish minimum qualifications, but that won’t necessarily help you land the job. Attorneys will still rely on your resume to identify specific skills and work experience when they’re considering you for a position.
Greater personal respect, in my opinion, is a human relations issue incurable by licensure. As to increasing paralegal pay? I don’t think we can count on that because pay is market driven. Moreover, in my opinion, the licensure process could result in new costs – to the paralegal, perhaps for law firms, and, quite possibly, the government or designated paralegal licensing authority in terms of added bureaucracy. Who is going to pay for certification, continuing education, re-licensing – all the things that make up a licensure program? The paralegal, the law firm, the state?
Also, licensing of any kind connotes a need for insurance. To protect themselves paralegals may need malpractice and/or professional liability insurance – when they did not need it prior to licensure because their work feel under attorney malpractice insurance.
I want to be absolutely clear that all these things are speculative, but, I feel, they are reasonably speculative.
Q: Do you believe statutory licensure or certification is necessary?
No, I don’t believe it is necessary at all for the paralegal profession. I see it as a non-issue. As the NALA website so eloquently states, “the driving force behind a legislature to take action to license a profession is the health, welfare and safety of the public.” I don’t believe paralegal work falls into this category.
Also, I don’t see the need for the paralegal profession to be monitored by anyone but employers who use paralegals. In that regard, I think the legal profession as a whole monitors their work very effectively, because paralegals work under the direct supervision of attorneys. The long and short of it is attorneys are ultimately accountable for their paralegals’ actions. If attorneys are not properly supervising their paralegals, they are not doing their jobs, and, in my opinion, are letting their paralegals down.
Q: What advice do you have for paralegals regarding this issue?
The question of statutory licensing has been going on for many years, and I don’t see it coming to an end in the near future. The best advice I would have for aspiring paralegals is to carefully consider their education options and choose a school that is ABA approved.
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