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News Briefs: September/October 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 September/October ’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 Network of Hope

Paralegals With Sudan’s Legal Aid Network provide pro bono help in time of war.

By John J. McGurk


Every society has a need for pro bono legal aid. But in the African nation of Sudan, where civil war has been raging for more than 4 1/2 years, that need is especially pressing. That is why four organizations in Sudan have joined together to create the country’s first Legal Aid Network, which heavily utilizes community paralegals.

Established in March 2007, the network is a partnership of the Legal Aid Department of the Sudanese Ministry of Justice, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Rescue Committee and the People’s Legal Aid Center. According to a UNDP press release, the creation of the network “marks the adoption of a common platform for the Sudanese paralegals and lawyers who provide legal assistance to the communities across the country.”

A main component of the network is the country’s 14 Justice and Confidence Centers, or JCCs, where para­legals (also known as legal mediators) offer pro bono aid and mediation services, legal materials and awareness training on issues such as the rule of law and human rights.

One of those paralegals working for the greater good is “Sora” (whose name has been changed to protect Sora’s identity), a former volunteer schoolteacher who lives in an IDP camp and started working at the local JCC after extensive training.

Sora said one integral part of the paralegals’ work is organizing and delivering training and awareness-raising workshops for IDPs.

“The awareness-raising sessions I do for the IDP community are very well received and highly attended,” Sora said. “[They] enhance the capacity of all the community to better understand the laws and international standards.”

Leanne McKay, UNDP rule of law officer in North Darfur, said educating community members is important for both the present and future. “The paralegals carry out a large number of trainings on basic rights awareness raising for their community,” she said. “In doing so, [they] are laying a foundation of knowledge upon which community development can effectively take place when there is finally peace in Darfur.”


Missing Link Honored With Award

Florida program recognized for work with domestic abuse victims.

By Ashley Johnson


On April 26 in Jacksonville, Fla., the founders of the Missing Link program were awarded the Victims’ Rights Week Outstanding Judicial Victim Advocate Award for their work helping victims of domestic abuse through the divorce process. Missing Link was created in July 2005 by Carol Ann Benjamin, a retired para­legal; Kathy Pannell, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Victim Services Counselor; and Marla Buchanan, Esq., a family law attorney and a partner with Rogers Towers in Jacksonville, Fla., (see “Missing Link Program Opens,”  September/October 2005 LAT). Since it began, more than 250 victims of domestic violence have sought a divorce through Missing Link as a way to end an abusive marriage.

For the past 21 years, the Outstanding Judicial Victim Advocate Award has recognized the contributions and sacrifices of a Jacksonville, Fla., prosecutor, judge or other judicial professional who has upheld the rights of crime victims.

The recipient of the award is chosen by a selection committee for the Jacksonville Mayor’s Victim Assistance Advisory Council, and determined by the uniqueness of the nominees’ contribution, the impact of service on or in the community and the amount of time spent on the achievement for which they are being nominated.

"I was very proud to receive the award on behalf of all the volunteers for Missing Link,” Benjamin said. “At the same time, it was very emotional for me. It was through the death of my sister, as a result of domestic violence, that Kathy Pannell and I met and subsequently launched the program. [The award] says ‘a job well done’ and these kinds of recognitions seem to give volunteers that extra steam they need to continue to persevere.”


Paralegals Answer Call of Duty

Soldiers’ legal work in Iraq leads to recognition and the ultimate sacrifice.

By Melody Ip


The war in Iraq has affected millions of lives since March 2003, including about 100 military paralegals who are either currently stationed in Iraq or have returned home. As each day passes, the demand for these paralegals continues to grow. “The reason for the increased demand [is the] expanding legal roles in the country, and massive amounts of detainees require additional support,” said Stephen S. DiStefano, command master chief legalman and senior enlisted adviser to the Navy’s Judge Advocate General. “In 2004, I had approximately five [Navy] paralegals in [Iraq]. Today, we have as many as 30. Additionally, there are new support commands popping up in the country that require legal support. The role of the paralegal has become critical to mission success.”

Each military paralegal has a family, a story and a dedication to the paralegal profession. Often they are seen as yet another unknown soldier in Iraq, another statistic or casualty of war. To better understand, appreciate, and support these military counterparts, two vastly different paralegal stories of service and recognition are compiled below.


A Soldier’s Sacrifice

Phelps, a 21-year-old soldier from Kingman, Ariz., joined the Army in September 2005, and was deployed in April, along with Rykowski, from Fort Richardson in Alaska. Phelps had been Rykowski’s claims paralegal for only 35 days when he died. He was responsible for military justice in his unit, including processing legal requests and coordinating with the chain of command. “He took my praise and my guidance to heart, and I never saw him make the same mistake twice,” Rykowski said. “In the end, he also gave his life for me.”

Each day, Phelps’ colleagues face the reality that he will not be back at his desk. He is described as a goofball, and someone you could not stay mad at for long. With the help of the Army’s mental health services and chaplain, along with coworkers, family and friends, Phelps’ team is learning to cope. “We have a job to do here, and we have to do it,” Rykowski said. “Although my personal injuries are healed, I will always have a hole in my heart that he created in those 35 days, and in that last final day when he kept me safe.”


Outstanding Service Recognized

In spring 2007, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Velarde returned from Iraq with the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his work as an administrative para­legal to the legal adviser of Task Force 134 of the Multi-National Force — Iraq, a coalition of nations with military personnel in Iraq. The medal, bestowed by the Department of Defense, is the third highest award that military members can receive for outstanding noncombat achievements or services, and Velarde is only the second mid-level Air Force noncommissioned officer in Task Force 134 to receive the award.

Velarde moved on from the Green Zone to serve as the administrative paralegal to Multi-National Force — Iraq’s legal adviser at Camp Victory in Baghdad, where he received the medal for his diligence in arranging last-minute travel, deliveries of multiple shipping containers, planning for expected operations surges and managing short-notice critical tasks.

For Velarde, being an outstanding paralegal simply transpires from his interest in law and his desire to be challenged. “I have really enjoyed my life and experiences that the Air Force has given me,” Velarde said. “It has been an amazing ride. That is why I serve.”


NALA Conference a Success in New Orleans

Awards reception, elections and first meeting of LEAP take place.

By Ashley Johnson


New Orleans is known for great food, great music and, of course, Mardi Gras. It’s no wonder that the National Association of Legal Assistants chose the Big Easy as the location for its 32nd annual conference from July 11 to July 14. Drawing 300 attendees, the conference was an event that let the good times roll.

In years past, speakers at the Membership Forum have varied in their professional backgrounds, and this year NALA invited professional speaker Mark Levin, CAE, CPS, who discussed association management and leadership issues for NALA members who are involved with state and local associations. Some of Levin’s clients include the American Bar Association, Rotary International, the State Bar of Michigan and the National Education Association. More than 180 people attended the presentation, sponsored by Thomson/Delmar Learning, which culminated in a standing ovation. “As a professional speaker, Mark Levin’s reputation is well respected among many associations,” said Tita Brewster, ACP, president of NALA. “Many have expressed their ability to take what they learned from Mr. Levin’s presentation right back to their associations for immediate implementation.”

NALA contracted with the convention hotel prior to Hurricane Katrina, and it was assured by the hotel management that the hotel would be up to par by the time of its meeting “We had terrific attendance and, judging from the energy and positive attitude of the meeting, members were happy to be in New Orleans and a part of the recovery process for this historic city,” Brewster said.


Breakfast is Served

Legal Assets dishes up morning training sessions for Washington, D.C., legal professionals.

By Janet Roberts


A healthy breakfast is the best way to start the morning, and for paralegals in our nation’s capitol, there is nothing more satisfying than Legal Assets’ offering of morning training sessions aptly titled the “Breakfast Club.” Legal Assets, a legal career placement agency in Washington, D.C., developed the Breakfast Club to provide its law firm clients and their paralegals with a lecture and seminar series focusing on practical legal issues and set outside the traditional law firm setting.

“We have had 15 Breakfast Club training sessions so far,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a founder and partner at Legal Assets. “It’s a way for us to interact in a non-law firm setting with some of our clients and gives them a chance to be out of the office in a training seminar format where we discuss notions that are relevant to the legal community, such as e-discovery.” All sessions focus on one lecture or subject and are held at the George Washington University Conference Center between 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., breakfast included.

The Breakfast Club training sessions have covered everything from litigation 101 to cite checking rules, corporate training, ethics, document management and production, trial preparation and how to supervise paralegals. Many seminars are designed from requests by Legal Assets’ clients and those who attend the sessions. According to Rosenfeld, each Breakfast Club event has from 40 to 90 people, depending on the topic, with attendees from small, mid-size and large firms all over the Washington, D.C., area The seminars are highly interactive, with open gatherings and idea sharing mixed in with the lectures.

“The Breakfast Club training is above par and specifically targeted to paralegals, not to a mix of attorneys, paralegals and office staff,” said Edward Eads, litigation and adversarial paralegal manager at O’Melveny & Myers’ Washington, D.C., office. “I have gotten nothing but positive feedback from staff members who have attended the training sessions.”


New Associations Form

Two local groups emerge to give paralegals a voice.

By Ashley Johnson


Local associations offer paralegals a network from which they can gain education, support and leadership opportunities. While there are many established associations across the nation, new associations also are emerging to better serve the needs of local legal assistants. Two such associations, the Central Arkansas Paralegal Association and the New York City Paralegal Association, formed this year and although the ways they came about differ, both were started for the same reason: to give paralegals in their local area their own voice.

Central Arkansas Paralegal Association

Until January 2007, only one paralegal association served all paralegals in Arkansas — the Arkansas Paralegal Association. However, former ArPA members Paula McGraw, Kim Robertson, Cabrini Haynes and Suzann Peters changed that when they founded the Central Arkansas Paralegal Association to have an association closer to where they live and work. While ArPA technically serves all of Arkansas, most of its events are held in the northern part of the state. “We saw a need for a more centralized location to reach people in south and central Arkansas,” said Paula McGraw, president of CAPA and a paralegal with the David Hodges Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark.


The New York City Paralegal Association

About 1,200 miles away, another paralegal association has emerged. Formed on May 25, the New York City Paralegal Association has grown from the remnants of the Manhattan Paralegal Association, which shut down 10 years ago. “We have created a powerful medium through which new and experienced paralegals, as well as paralegal students, can connect and network with fellow colleagues in the profession,” said Letitia Smith, president of NYCPA and a litigation paralegal at Aaronson Rappaport Feinstein & Deutsch in New York.


NFPA Holds First Tech Institute

Increasing law firm technology budgets reflected in sessions, exhibits.

By Ashley Johnson


As law firm budgets increase for legal technology, paralegals will more often be asked for their input on purchasing decisions. To provide them with the latest information, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations held its first Tech Institute July 19 and July 20 in Pittsburgh. “Our goals for the Tech Institute were to offer paralegals and others in the legal field seminars and information specifically related to the changing legal technology arena, to have exhibitors that provide and utilize cutting-edge technology, and to put on an excellent event that would benefit paralegals and others in the legal field,” said Anita Haworth, president of NFPA.

Close to 100 attorneys, educators, paralegals and legal assistants attended the institute, which featured keynote speaker Monica Bay, editor-in-chief of Law Technology News. Bay talked about the impact legal technology will have on the delivery of cost-effective legal services. “Ms. Bay’s speech was dynamic and inspiring. She is a cheerleader of the paralegal profession and is very motivational about the paralegal’s role on the legal team,” Haworth said.

Based on its success, NFPA will offer another tech institute next year, which will likely repeat some of the more popular seminars. “Overall, we feel that the tech institute was a huge success,” Haworth said. “We look forward to the opportunity to provide this great event again next year.”


New Charges for Brian Valery

Paralegal who impersonated an attorney is arrested in New York.

By Ashley Johnson


Brian Valery, a paralegal who is currently awaiting a trial date for impersonating an attorney in Connecticut in 2005, has been arrested again, this time in New York. Valery was arrested on June 5 and charged with second degree grand larceny and practicing and appearing as an attorney without being admitted and registered with the New York State Bar. He pled not guilty to both charges at his arraignment in the Supreme Court of New York on the same day, and his bail was set at $25,000, which he posted June 13.

The grand larceny charge stems from his obtaining a salary ($284,350.50) while employed at the New York law firm of Anderson Kill & Olick that was not correspondent to his qualifications, which he stated to the firm were that of a registered attorney, said Edison Alban, spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Valery started as a paralegal at Anderson Kill & Olick in 1996, but in 2002 he claimed to have completed law school at Fordham University School of Law, and in 2004 he told his employer that he had passed the bar exam. From that point, Valery began practicing as an attorney with the firm until his arrest in Connecticut on Jan. 10, 2007 (see “Attorney Act Comes to an End,” May/June 2007 LAT).

If Valery is found guilty of grand larceny, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in state prison, while if found guilty of practicing and appearing as an attorney at law, a misdemeanor in New York, he could face one year in state prison. These sentences are considerably more stringent than the charges he faces in Connecticut, the maximum of which could be five years in state prison for perjury.

Valery’s next scheduled court appearance for the New York charges is Sept. 10, where a trial date will be set. In Connecticut, Valery’s application to the accelerated rehabilitation program is still pending, and his next court date is Sept. 14.


A Beautiful Life

Paralegal Andrea Lupanze leaves behind legacy of professionalism and honor.

By Ashley Johnson


The life of Andrea Lupanze, RP, was too short but she left behind a legacy. On June 25, Andrea passed away suddenly from a preexisting heart condition, and her death came as a shock to everyone who knew and loved her. She was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a colleague. As a professional, Andrea was a para­legal at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in San Francisco, a past president of the National Capital Area Paralegal Association in Washington, D.C., and a 2004 Paralegal of the Year Runner-Up for Legal Assistant Today (see “Paralegal of the Year,” September/October 2004 LAT).

Those who remember Andrea remember her smile, her laugh and her energy. “She was the most dynamic, energetic, enthusiastic person I have ever met,” said Ann Price, RP, vice president and director of the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam for the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, and the individual who nominated Andrea for the Paralegal of the Year award in 2004. “She had an absolute passion for the paralegal profession. Andrea embodied it right up to the end.” Although over the course of her life she had two open heart surgeries, that didn’t keep her from doing what she loved. “She was something else and she lived her life full,” said Judy Luppens, Andrea’s mother. “She loved life, she loved the arts, ballet, travel, good food and good wine.”

Andrea started working as a paralegal at Beveridge & Diamond in Washington, D.C., in 1999. In August 2004, she began working at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C., but relocated to its San Francisco office in May 2006.

On June 22, a little more than a year after Andrea relocated to her native Bay Area and three days before her death, she was a guest speaker for Paralegal Day in San Francisco where she spoke on legal writing and effective ways to avoid litigation. When Newman asked her to be a guest speaker, Andrea didn’t ask what the topic was because she was so honored to be asked to speak.

In a letter to Andrea’s mother following her death, her supervising attorney, Gary Spratling, expressed his sorrow at the loss of such a dedicated individual. “I have been a lawyer for 35 years, including 28 years at the U.S. Department of Justice where I supervised the Honors Paralegal Program. In all those years, I never saw a better para­legal than Andrea.” 


Legal Resources


Legal Reader

The business of developing a law firm, sustaining it and making it successful is an endeavor in which all law office personnel can get involved. A new Web site, Legal Marketing Reader (www.legalmarketingreader.com), features industry news, advice and tips from online resources and bloggers in the legal field. With Legal Marketing Reader, users can access feature articles on topics such as law firm Web site enhancements, best practices in marketing and practical advice for law firm marketing professionals. The Web site also features Legal Marketing 101, a collection of recommended articles from other Web sites that offer tips on successful marketing; a list of upcoming conferences and events; and a “legal marketing only” meta search tool. For more information, visit www.legalmarketingreader.com.


Service Net

Many paralegals answer the call of service by giving back to their communities through pro bono, using their unique skills and experience with the law. Now, finding an opportunity to get involved has never been easier. With probono.net, paralegals can look for opportunities in their state or by practice area. Currently, 17 states are listed that offer updates, news and opportunities, with 10 more states being added over the next year. The site also lists practice areas such as asylum law, death penalty case work, human rights and prisoners’ rights. Paralegals can find information, event calendars, news, updates and ways to get involved in these unique areas of pro bono. There is also an online newsletter, probono.net/News, available. For more information, visit www.probono.net.


Patent Search

The need to generate information on patents quickly and efficiently can involve sometimes lengthy and futile searches. However, with www.freepatentsonline.com, searching is free and offers word stemming, proximity search relevancy ranking and search terms. Latent semantic searching also is offered with the ability to organize, annotate and share documents. FreePatentsOnline also features backward and forward citation counts, median reference age claims counting, and one-click searching by popular patenting companies or popular patent topics. Documents are delivered in PDF format with or without searchable text. To learn more, visit www.freepatentsonline.com.


Cool Careers

The opportunities for paralegals to expand and add variety to their careers extends far beyond the law firm and corporate environments. “Hot Jobs & Amazing Careers: Smart Moves for Paralegals” by Chere B. Estrin offers information on sample jobs, references and resources. The book also looks at unusual and different paralegal jobs, government jobs and careers in teaching, and offers profiles of paralegals working in a variety of specialties, including those living and working abroad and paralegals who write for a living. The book is available for $39.95 by calling (888) 803-8807.


Stay Focused

Advice from professional paralegals, experienced in their specialties and cognizant of obstacles that already have been conquered, allows other paralegals to grow and learn. Paralegal Focus (www.paralegalfocus.com) is a new Web site by Carole Bruno that features advice from successful paralegals working in litigation, intellectual property, commercial and residential real estate, family law, bankruptcy law, criminal law and immigration law. Also on the Web site is a forms bank, a monthly newsletter, a discussion forum and updates on national paralegal association events. The site also features articles on hot topics such as “Thinking About Going to Law School?” by Lynn Roberts, JD, MBA, “The Paralegal Profession: How Far We Have Come?” by Gary Melhuish, and “Large or Small Firm: What is Right for You?” by Cecily A. Samplak. For more information, visit www.paralegalfocus.com.



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