History of Paralegals & the Associations They Support
Professional Associations The first step in providing information to a reader is typically definition of terms used. Read any statute or regulation and "definitions" is one of the first few entries. It is organized in that manner to be sure that the writer and the reader have an understanding of exactly what is meant when certain terms are used. Unfortunately, in the history of Florida Paralegals, what defines a paralegal is currently at the center of the discussion and confusion. For the moment, the definition will be skipped and revisited below. In fact, there used to not be a "paralegal". Lawyers, attorneys, counselors at law, esquires, barristers have been with us since practically the beginning of time, but not so much for paralegals. Assistants have likely always been in the background but the term "paralegal" did not evolve until much, much later. From the 1920s and before, an assistant to an attorney was called a secretary. Because (s)he had knowledge of the courts and pleadings and the (Latin/legal) terminology, the term "legal secretary" was used to set the assistant apart from other administrative assistants who did not have those specialized skills a lawyer found particularly helpful. Established in 1929 and incorporated as the National Association of Legal Secretaries in 1949, and later renamed NALS, was possibly the earliest professional association for legal support staff. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT NALS.
Before long, legal assistants formed local professional associations for a variety of reasons that are still the basis for successful organizations today: networking, promoting continued legal education, establishing and promoting standards of professionalism. Most of them were associations of legal assistants. By the early 1970s, the question of certification was raised and NALS introduced a certification for legal assistants and secretaries. National Association of Legal Assistants, NALA, was formed in 1975 and it shared offices with NALS until the early 1980s. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT NALA. In 1974, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations was formed by eight founding associations from the east, south, midwest and west. Later, it also formed a certification examination for members. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT NFPA.
In Florida, the first association was founded in 1976 as the Florida Legal Assistants, Inc. and Central Florida Paralegal Association was formed in 1983 -- as Orlando Legal Assistants. In 1995-1996, OLA became Central Florida Paralegal Association and the first association in Florida to use the term "paralegal". Florida Legal Assistants, Inc. became Paralegal Association of Florida, PAF, in 2000. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT PAF.
Terminology: Legal Assistant vs Paralegal In 1984, NALA adopted the term "paralegal" within its definition of "Legal Assistant" by stating that: Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, are a distinguishable group of persons who assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training, and experience, legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney. Specifically, according to NALA's website, both definitions recognize the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" as identical terms.
In 1986, the American Bar Association adopted the following definition:
A legal assistant is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity, in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, of specifically-delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such assistant, the attorney would perform the task.
In 1997, the American Bar Association amended this definition. The 1997 version is:
A legal assistant or paralegal is a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.
Ultimately, in 2001, NALA adopted the most recent ABA version of the definition. In summary, NALA advises that all definitions describe a professional group working under the direct supervision of an attorney, and acknowledge that the terms "paralegal" and "legal assistant" are used synonymously. They intentionally exclude persons who do not work under attorney supervision even though they may perform law related work. This direct supervision is required whether the legal assistant is utilized in the course of full time employment or is being utilized on a contractual basis by an attorney or firm. In both instances, the work product of the legal assistant becomes merged into the final product of the supervising attorney.
In Florida, effective March 1, 2008, the Florida Bar Association defined a paralegal as "is a person with education, training, or work experience, who works under the direction of a member of the Florida Bar and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a member of the Florida Bar is responsible." Fla Bar Rule 20-2.1(a). Curiously, the Florida Bar Association and Rule 20 are silent on the term "legal assistant".
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUTHOW OTHER STATES DEFINE PARALEGAL Paralegal Regulation The subject of governmental regulation of the paralegal industry goes back in the State of Florida to the mid-1990s. There were some instances of individuals holding themselves out as paralegals and providing legal services directly to the public. It was a combination of $99 divorce, improper wills, and some who outright took money from the public without rendering any services whatsoever. As a result of their lack of legal knowledge and experience, their "representation" caused some significant harm and a need for some sort of more diligent oversight was recognized. The Florida Bar was approached at that time but they did not feel it was necessary to regulate the paralegal industry because the unlicensed practice of law (UPL) was already against the law, §454.23, Fla. Stat. However, paralegals within the State felt that those individuals who were causing harm to the public by holding themselves out as having legal expertise -- and calling themselves paralegals without any requisite education or experience -- should be distanced from the many ethical, responsible paralegals whose work in firms, government agencies, in-house legal teams is invaluable to their employers. Because of the Florida Bar's apparent lack of interest, in 1996 the Florida Alliance of Paralegal Associations came together to lobby the legislature to formally define the term of 'paralegal', provide guidelines or regulations for minimum standards for education and/or experience, provide for some sort of formal recognition of the profession, and to help protect the public against those individuals who hold themselves out as paralegals without the requisite educational or legal background. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT FAPA.
Although FAPA's attempts at passing some form of legislation have been unsuccessful to date, its efforts have certainly been recognized around the state and it continued to build momentum for the official recognition of paralegals in the State of Florida. FAPA became incorporated in 2004 and in the 2005 and 2006 legislative sessions, bills supported by FAPA were filed by Representative Juan Zapata and Senator Nancy Argenziano in support of paralegal regulation. Finally, the Florida Bar took notice and, after forming a committee to research and conduct hearings around the state, Rule 20 was drafted and finally became effective in April, 2008. CLICK HERE TO READ RULE 20.
Mandatory Regulation vs Licensing Paralegals
Commonly known as the Florida Registered Paralegal Program, or FRP, the significance of Rule 20 was that a registration program for paralegals was set up sanctioned by the Florida Supreme Court under the umbrella of the Florida Bar. The term "PARALEGAL" was finally defined and with it, came the opportunity to be aligned with Florida Bar members on a professional level. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THE FRP.
The FRP has been an enormous success as a voluntary program for registration. As of July 1, 2011, there are 5,535 people who have met the requisite levels of education and/or experience to call themselves paralegals and have voluntarily registered with the Florida Bar. Some in Florida had hoped the FRP would go a little further in terms of the education requirements and allow for self-governance and oversight than the Florida Bar's program has provided. For instance, the FRP remains a voluntary registration program rather than a mandatory licensing program. FAPA, for one, is a statewide alliance of some paralegal associations who continue to press for more oversight and regulation for the paralegal community. As a result of this and other differences, some paralegal associations, including PAF and CFPA, have withdrawn membership from FAPA. Nonetheless, FAPA remains active and continues to pursue licensing of paralegals in the State of Florida.
In order to address concerns about the voluntary aspect of Rule 20, the Florida Bar formed a Special Committee to research the prospect of making Rule 20 a mandatory registration rather than voluntary. That Special Committee filed a report to the Florida Bar which was considered at the Board of Governor's meeting in Orlando onMarch 25, 2011. CLICK HERE TO READ THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE FLORIDA BAR SPECIAL COMMITTEE. The Program Evaluation Committee unanimously rejected the majority recommendation of the Special Committee to Study Mandatory Regulation of Paralegals and instead endorsed the special committee’s minority report on May 27, 2011. The Florida Bar Board of Governors have agreed to enhance the Florida Registered Paralegal Program as a result of this recommendation as well as feedback received from paralegals who are currently registered.
Back in 2011 FAPA's pursuit of licensing Florida paralegals resulted in two pieces of legislation filed during the regular legislative session: House of Representatives Bill HB1149 and Senate Bill SB 1612.
CLICK HERE TO READPAF's NOTICE TO ITS MEMBERSHIP UPDATE: As the 2011 legislative session has ended without either HB 1149 or SB1612 coming out of committee for a vote, these initiatives are dead at the present time. Florida Bar initiatives may still move forward and additional legislation may be filed the future. Normally, the regular legislative session starts on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. The legislative sessions last for a period not to exceed 60 calendar days. To ensure clarity, the following comment was provided by Lisa Vessels, CP, FRP the 2011 FAPA Vice President: The bill proposed by FAPA, and those adopted by the Florida legislature for consideration in the 2011 legislative session did not recommend oversight by the Dept. of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), rather oversight was specifically designated to the Florida Supreme Court in the bills. Any questions as to FAPA's position regarding licensing can be made directly to FAPA.
Arguments FOR paralegal licensinginclude the following:
Paralegals could be licensed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, FDBPR, which also currently licenses the following businesses and professions: Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco, Architecture & Interior Design, Asbestos, Athlete Agents, Auctioneers, Barbers, Building Code Administrators & Inspectors, Certified Public Accountants, Community Association Managers, Condo, Timeshare & Mobile Homes, Construction Industry, Cosmetology, Electrical Contractors, Elevators, Employee Leasing Companies, Engineers, Geologists, Home Inspectors, Labor Organizations, Landscape Architecture, Mold-Related Services, Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Pilot Commissioners, Real Estate, Restaurant & Food Services, Talent Agencies, Unlicensed Activities, Veterinary Medicine
Concern because The Florida Bar does not create CLE programs designed specifically for paralegals
Paralegal Regulation can be accomplished for less money (less than $100 per year versus the Fla Bar's $150 registration fee)
Establish a minimum mandatory standard for education and experience to be considered a paralegal
Governance of paralegals should be BY paralegals rather than by attorneys
Concern that attorneys and the Florida Bar might not be as stringent in its application of guidelines for educational standards as other paralegals would be
Concern that attorneys may consider their own interests and billable hours before -- or give greater weight to their own perspectives rather than -- fairly applying standards to paralegals
Arguments AGAINST licensing of Florida paralegals include the following:
The FRP program and Florida Bar Assn have defined the term "paralegal" and established a minimum mandatory standard for education and experience to be considered a paralegal
The Fla Bar accepts any CLE hours approved by NALA or NFPA which allows local associations to develop their own seminars in response to local need
Licensing is a way to enter a profession that delivers services directly to the public. Paralegals require the supervision of an attorney and do not serve the public directly
Licensing is a standard for minimum skills required and does not adequately address advanced skills
Although not technically a "MEMBER" of the Florida Bar, Florida Registered Paralegals are listed on the Florida Bar website and are afforded the same member benefits as attorney members of the Fla Bar
Being a paralegal is not a "trade" as regulated by the FDBPR, but a profession and should be governed as such in the same way as other legal professionals are governed - by the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida Bar Association in a similar manner in which a nurse is licensed as a medical professional through the Department of Health, the licensing agency of physicians
It is important to note that the CFPA is an all-volunteer professional association of individuals. At this time, CFPA, as an origanization, does not endorse or promote any perspective or position regarding the licensing, registration, regulation or certification of paralegals. CFPA members are encouraged to be compliant with all rules and regulations regarding ethical legal practices, continued legal education and the highest standards of professionalism as set forth by the Florida Bar, NALA and the ABA.
The above is provided for informational and educational purposes only.
CFPA encourages each individual to form to his/her own opinions regarding licensing, registration, and/or certification of paralegals in the State of Florida and respond/react accordingly.