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ABA, AAFPE Aim to Improve Instruction

First Arizona Paralegal Conference Attracts a Crowd

Video Targets Law School Students

Texas Association Grows from Humble Beginnings


Theresa A. Prater, RP, is a litigation paralegal at the Phoenix firm of Treon, Strick, Lucia & Aguirre. She’s been in the field for 19 years.

John Caldwell is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, Calif.

D.L. Hawley is a freelance legal and business writer based in Bellingham, Wash.

Web Exclusive – September/October 2000


ABA, AAFPE Aim to Improve Instruction

Associations join to produce a video providing teaching tips for paralegal faculty.

By John Caldwell


A how-to video program may help provide credibility to paralegal educators who lack teaching backgrounds.

"Polishing the Apple! Teaching Techniques for Paralegal Faculty," summarizes educational theory for the instructors of paralegal programs, who are commonly lawyers or paralegals with no traditional teacher training. In this first-ever joint venture between the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Assistants (SCOLA) and the American Association for Paralegal Educators (AAfPE), two one-hour videos were produced to help bring some uniformity to paralegal programs across the United States.

Paralegal educators Bob LeClair and Teri Cannon, an educational consultant to the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Assistants, created the videos. LeClair, who also hosts a TV talk show on the law, moderated the videos and noted that most paralegal programs misguidedly try to mimic law school.

"They’re two different professions," LeClair said. "The natural tendency is to recreate the law school experience [in paralegal programs], and we don’t want them to do that."

Law schools use the Socratic method in teaching, LeClair said, and that doesn’t always work with paralegal students. He claims his video presentations show what does work and why.

"This is a general problem," said Kathleen Leroy, a litigation paralegal who developed a class in paralegal skills for Cal State Los Angeles. Leroy agrees with LeClair in that it doesn’t benefit paralegals to teach them as if they were in law school. Some teachers of paralegal programs not only lack sufficient teacher training, she said, they don’t always distinguish between the practical skills needed by paralegals and the maneuvering skills used by lawyers.

The videos are presented in a panel discussion format overdubbed with individual student commentary on teaching practices. They feature six panelists, including SCOLA chairwoman Sue Richards, who also narrated the "Paralegals: Enhancing Practice Professionalism and Profitability" video. Richards praised the videos’ ability to provide adjuncts with a way to improve, and the videos’ short formats, which can be viewed during a lunch hour.

Topics covered in the presentations include explaining how students learn, delivering effective lectures, encouraging participation and using visual aids. At the end of Part I, a clever segment on the 10 biggest mistakes paralegal teachers make includes: teaching paralegals like law school students; and saying negative things about paralegals or their profession, like, "you are just a paralegal," or "you’re too smart to be a paralegal, you should go to law school."

Part II ends with a segment on the 10 most important things a paralegal teacher should do including: respecting differences in learning styles, planning out-of-class activities to develop students’ paralegal skills, and the importance of enthusiasm, sensitivity and caring when dealing with students.

A 26-page paper written by Cannon with detailed information and a bibliography is included with the videotape.

The two-part videotape will cost $50 and will be available at the September 2000, AAfPE conference in Chicago.


First Arizona Paralegal Conference Attracts a Crowd

Speakers address career, technology and job expansion issues.

By Theresa A. Prater


More than 120 paralegals, together with paralegal students and educators from across Arizona, gathered at the Steele Auditorium of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, on April 14, for a daylong conference.

The first of its type in the state, the 2000 Arizona Paralegal Conference attracted paralegals and legal assistants from a wide range of practice areas, including a product integrity specialist from Honeywell; paralegals from the Arizona Corporation Commission and the attorney general’s office; employees from the town of Chino Valley; together with paralegals from a variety of Arizona firms.

The Maricopa County Bar Association (MCBA) Paralegal Committee presented the conference. Only 18 months old, the committee is one of the largest standing committees at MCBA.

Attendees were introduced to Chere Estrin, the founder and principal of Estrin & Associates, a Los Angeles-based legal placement company. Estrin started the educational program with an interactive presentation on marketing oneself as a paralegal. She asked the audience to think of what they do in their jobs and what they would like to do to further enhance their working life. Estrin then gave pointers on how to present one’s best side to supervising attorneys. At the same time, she reminded her audience that many attorneys are still learning what paralegals are capable of doing and there was a learning curve involved for all parties.

Arizona attorney Larry Cohen followed Estrin giving an ethics presentation. After a discussion of the ethical guidelines of the two national paralegal associations and their implications, five members of the committee, dubbing themselves "The Paralegal Players" joined. The group presented several short skits of possible ethical problems that paralegals face in their day-to-day existence.

Cohen asked the audience to identify and provide feedback on potential or existing ethical problems after each skit. In at least two instances, attendees learned about one or two potential ethical issues that weren’t recognized initially when the segment was set up. Several paralegals at the conference said they realized that some of things they have seen done might have been questionable in the eyes of others.

Michele Boerder, a paralegal with more than 20 years experience, presented a session on how paralegals can work more effectively with bar associations. As a founding member of the Legal Assistant’s Specialization section of the Texas Bar, Boerder presented information on the intricacies of working with a large and diverse group of lawyers. Her advice to the audience was to find attorneys who can be allies and use them to lead you to other potential allies and then build a network from there. Although the State Bar of Arizona doesn’t currently allow paralegal members, state bar associations across the country and Canada do allow paralegals as full voting members, while others allow them as associate members, and in several states, paralegals have their own division or section.

Michael Manning, a nationally known Arizona attorney, offered a presentation on the "Uses of Technology in the Courtroom," which brought to life some of the people he has gone up against, including Charles Keating Jr. and J. Fife Symington, former governor of Arizona.

Manning advised the audience that in order to have a successful 21st century trial, the use of technology must begin when the case is opened. He further advised the litigation paralegals present to be aware that the adversary’s credenza often hides very useful information — one has to be aware of how to obtain the information and use it properly.

Carolyn Marshall, CLA and chair of the paralegal committee, said she was pleased with this first time outing for her committee. She stated they would soon begin making plans for a second conference.


Video Targets Law School Students

Sponsors want to raise the awareness about the benefits of employing paralegals.

By John Caldwell


Law school students may learn why paralegals are a valuable resource from a new video produced by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). "Paralegals: Enhancing Practice, Professionalism and Profitability," is aimed at raising awareness about what paralegals can do, and how they benefit the legal profession.

NFPA’s members spurred the idea for the video with their responses to the association’s 1999 Strategic Long Range Plan survey, which asked members what they wanted for the profession. Implicitly, they said, to educate law school students and attorneys about utilizing paralegals’ services.

"We’re still a new profession," explained Sally Andress, RP, president of NFPA, indicating one possible reason why so many in the legal profession do not recognize the purpose and usefulness of paralegals. "We’ve still only been around for 30 years."

The video is aimed primarily at law schools where students get very little practical knowledge, "very little nuts and bolts," Andress said. By showing the practical nature of the paralegal profession at work, NFPA and its members want to say to these students and their professional counterparts, "this is who we are and this is what we can do."

Supplied to law schools free of charge, the video outlines what paralegals are allowed to do by law and how law firms can profit by utilizing them.

Instead of following a traditional discussion format to do this, the producers of the video decided to show paralegals at work. They portray situations at law firms and courthouses where paralegals play important roles in the legal machine. They show footage of a paralegal program at El Centro, a community college in Dallas. Testimonials at the end of the video include those given by Assistant U.S. District Attorney Paul Coggins and Federal District Court Judge Jerry Buckmeyer.

"We wanted to give it the law feel," said Terry Howard-Hughes, owner of 12 Promises Productions, the company that produced the video. "We tried to tie everything in."

Laid out in five "modules" to allow for later expansion, the presentation includes graphics displaying the names of selected written works at key points. Interviews with professionals, public and private, are done in their work environment.

The video not only addresses a common problem, a lack of knowledge about what paralegals can do, it acts as an informative resource for those individuals who are undecided about becoming a paralegal. With realistic footage, it could help the soon-to-be paralegal student decide if this is the career for him or her.

Sue Richards, chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Assistants, narrated the video. She said the video’s producers wanted to educate several audiences: lawyers in and out of law school, students in paralegal programs and people thinking about becoming paralegals.

"Some of its strength is that it has diversity," Richards said. "You’re getting perspectives from the private as well as the public sector."

Richards also sees usefulness in its portrayal of a wide range of opportunities for paralegals and those who use their services. She pointed out NFPA’s highly informational treatment of the production, and hailed that as yet another strength.

The first of its kind, the video’s main sponsor was NFPA. West Group, a leading publisher in the legal world, signed on as an outside sponsor.

The video was first shown at NFPA’s 2000 spring convention in May. Each NFPA member has received a complimentary copy, and the video is now available to anyone for $35. For information call (816) 941-NFPA.


Texas Association Grows from Humble Beginnings

From seven to 125 members, MACP provides a network for corporate paralegals.

By D.L. Hawley


When seven corporate law department paralegals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area met to form a networking group in July 1996, they didn’t envision the growth of a formal association that hosts quarterly CLE meetings.

The group, now known as the Metroplex Association of Corporate Paralegals (MACP), has expanded to about 125 members. The association consists of paralegals that work for corporate legal departments and it provides members opportunities to network with their peers, explained Ann Rea, a member of MACP and a paralegal with J.C. Penney Company Inc., in Plano, Texas.

"MACP is an extremely professional organization and the members have a very positive approach to their jobs," Rea said. "The organization wants to enhance the educational opportunities for corporate paralegals and hosts quarterly CLE luncheons."

Working in a corporate legal department is different from working as a paralegal in a law firm on both a professional and personal level, said Kim Cantu, CLA and a paralegal with the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas. Cantu said the pace was the biggest difference between moving from a firm to the hospital legal department.

"The meetings are a time for us to exchange ideas and get to know each other so we have people to call if we are asked to do something for the first time or in an area where we don’t have experience," Cantu confided. "Belonging to MACP helps paralegals develop professional status in corporate settings."

Each quarterly meeting of MACP is held at a different member’s corporate office and the host legal department talks about what his or her department does and what types of matters he or she handles.

Cantu said she finds it interesting and beneficial to learn about corporations such as J.C. Penney Company Inc., who handles trademark, litigation and other types of legal matters.

At the meetings, there’s an opportunity for members to ask for help or suggestions on how to handle a case they’re working on. Other members can make suggestions at the meeting or give the person a call later to offer suggestions. For more information about MCAP, contact Michelle Harlan, membership committee chair at (817) 467-4343 or e-mail her at [email protected].



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