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Ioana Petrou, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District, was formally sworn in as an Alameda County judge last night at the Claremont Country Club in Oakland.

There was no shortage of people wanting to say nice things about the newly minted judge. Attendees included Northern District Judge Marilyn Patel, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, former U.S. Attorney Joe Russoniello, and Berkeley criminal defense attorney Cris Arguedas.

Arguedas told the story of meeting Petrou for the first time to discuss the government’s case health care fraud case against her client. She said she was blown away after hearing Petrou converse fluently and openly about it, drawing from fields like pharmacology and economics. “I went back to the office and assigned two more lawyers to the case,” Arguedas said.

Alex Tse, a former AUSA now with the San Francisco city attorney’s office (who worked alongside Petrou on the off-label drug marketing case of InterMune CEO Scott Harkonen), advised lawyers who appear in front of Judge Petrou to be prepared. “You have to be on your toes,” he said. “She’s not going to stand by and she’s not going to wait for you, either.”

A couple of the speakers also gave the tip that Petrou loves good food – so if you ever have lunch with her, let her pick the place.

It is always great to learn about our new California judges, especially what to expect from them on the bench.  For those of you paralegals who have attorneys who practice in Alameda County and will be going before Judge Petrou, you might want to let them know to be well prepared and ready to go when they walk into her courtroom!

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LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car.
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According to the Tennessee attorney general’s office, Charlene Carter was doing business as Carter’s Paralegal Service and allegedly advertised her legal services on Craigslist and through business cards and was providing divorces to consumers.  There was no mention of how many divorces were provided and if there were any problems or issues with these divorces in the article I read at WSMV.com.  Carter has agreed to pay restitution to customers who paid for legal services and has agreed to stop the alleged illegal activity, according to the attorney general’s office.

I don’t know what the rules for a paralegal in Tennessee are, but in California a paralegal cannot offer legal services to the public, even completing documents, without the direct supervision of an attorney unless the paralegal is a Legal Document Assistant, (LDA).  I would love to hear from Tennessee paralegals on what they can and cannot do as a paralegal and if they have LDA’s or a comparable.

California LDA’s can prepare documents at the direction of the consumer, they cannot give legal advice, and cannot tell you what to put into the forms or select the forms for you.  An LDA must be registered and bonded in their county.  The California Association of Legal Document Assistants has a pdf that explains the differences between the Paralegal and LDA.

So, next time you think about making an extra buck, remember, it’s not worth it!

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The 50-year-old attorney from Las Vegas is at the center of a lengthy federal investigation into possible corruption involving local construction defect litigations and homeowner associations.  Nancy Quon began her career in Las Vegas as law office runner. She became a secretary, then a paralegal.  After earning an undergraduate degree at UNLV, she took out a government loan and attended California Western School of Law in San Diego, in part because it had a fast-track trimester system that would enable her to finish her studies more quickly.

Quon’s 15 year attorney life quickly went from 60-70 hour work weeks winning litigation battles against formidable opponents to being held on a Legal 2000 (we in California call this a 5050) meaning that she was held for a psychiatric hold for a possible suicide pact with her then boyfriend former Metro cop William Ronald Webb.  He has since been arrested on charges of conspiring to kill Quon.  Turns out that Webb had set her home on fire with the intent of killing her.

From what I read about Quon, she is a single mother, now a grandmother and is the caretaker of her 49 year old brother who has battled B-cell leukemia since age 15 and who is currently undergoing chemotherapy.  She sounds like one tough woman who has gone through quite a bit and it looks like she continues to do so.  It looks imminent that she will be indicted by the feds for her alleged involvement in homeowner association and construction defect litigations in Las Vegas.  Hopefully getting through the tough times in the past can help her get through whatever comes her way in the future.

For more of this story, you can read it here.

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As a Paralegal, sometimes it is left to us to figure out what to do when the attorney we work for is disabled or heaven forbid, dies while we are in their employ.  I don’t know if either of these has happened while you have been working for an attorney, but it has happened to me and it can be downright scary to figure out what to do.  Clients and heirs of California attorneys who die or become disabled can be left with the same sorts of issues faced by families of an individual who does not leave a will or living trust behind: what happens to client files and any funds that may be on deposit in a trust account? With the approval of a surrogacy agreement last month, the State Bar Board of Governors made it both easy and free to avoid such problems. The first to take advantage of the new “Agreement to Close Law Practice in the Future” was bar President Bill Hebert, who designated his law partner, James Quadra, to administer his practice in the event Hebert could not continue to work.

The sample agreement, available to all lawyers, spells out the responsibilities of the primary attorney and his or her successor.  Currently, if a lawyer dies or becomes incapacitated without having made any arrangements about the future of his or her practice, the State Bar seeks a superior court order to take over the practice.  It collects the attorney’s files and attempts to return those files to the client, although it does not try to find a new attorney to take over cases.

However, if a lawyer designates a successor using the new sample contract, the designated surrogate goes to court for appointment as the practice administrator who can take control and dispose of the practice. A lengthy list of duties is part of the contract and includes the ability to open mail, become a signatory on bank accounts, notify clients and transfer files, pay bills and handle funds, and accept the original attorney’s clients and cases. The practice administrator also will have the power to sell the practice.

The agreement includes a requirement that clients must be notified in engagement letters that a successor attorney has been designated.  Murray Greenberg, who for 15 years has handled State Bar takeovers of attorneys’ practices, whether for death, disability or discipline, said the numbers vary from year to year. He’s seen an uptick recently, probably due to the graying of the profession in general, he said.  He shares Oldman’s belief that many attorneys aren’t well-prepared for the unforeseen: “No one expects to become disabled.”

The California State Bar also has guidelines for closing or selling a law practice, which can be found here. As a paralegal, we have lots of responsibilities and while you may not think this should be one of them, I believe we should make sure that our attorney(s) know about this contract availability and that they make sure that their clients and yes, even their paralegals are assured of how things will be handled in the event of their death or disability.

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After nine years of debate, the State Bar adopted 67 proposed ethics rules to govern California lawyers’ professional conduct. The rules require Supreme Court approval before taking effect, and although the court is free to reject or return any of the proposals for further work, they offer a behavioral roadmap for attorneys and provide clear guidance in particular areas that have been confusing or controversial, and result in discipline for those who ignore them.

Although a rules revision commission was appointed to bring California’s rules in line with the ABA Model Rules, the state — in fact the only state whose rules are not patterned after the Model Rules — will continue to differ in 12 key areas, four involving fees. The rules were last revised in 1987, and since beginning its work, the commission has held seven public hearings, sought public response to its recommendations six times and received 530 written comments. Even as the final deadline loomed last month, the group sent out seven final rules for one last round of public input.

The rules can be divided into two categories: those that were changed to mirror more closely the ABA Model Rules, and those that remain distinctly Californian.

The first category includes rules that address lawyer advertising/solicitation; supervision of lawyer and nonlawyer subordinates; sexual relations with clients; aggregate settlements; limited legal service programs; trial publicity; and dealings with represented and unrepresented persons.

The areas that are substantially different from the Model Rules include the bar’s rejection of the so-called “snitch” rule and retention of California standards governing client secrets, unconscionable fees, competence and moral turpitude.  To read the breakdown of these differences, see them at the California Bar Journal article.

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I had to write about the articles that keep popping up in my Google alerts regarding home study paralegals.  Today I received notice of an article written claiming Paralegal Home Study Advantages.  Two paragraphs in particular caught my eye, they read:

“In the present day, there has been a raise in the demand of the paralegal profession. The rise in demand of such courses has led to the introduction of the paralegal home study course.”  Really, where?  Today I read that another large firm in San Francisco laid off dozens of attorneys and paralegals.  This does not say there is a raise in the demand of the paralegal profession to me.

“The reasons behind not being able to physically attend the classes can range from the simple fact that they are far from their school of choice or they work during the day and would like to study in a homely environment in the evening. That is the only difference between home study and school study of paralegal course. One may think that the home study course is very disadvantageous but the fact is that it has advantages of its own.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to study in a “homely” environment, lol.  I love my home and I would resent it being called homely.  Now, my neighborhood maybe, but not my home!  This same paragraph infers that the only difference between home study and school study is that you don’t have to travel to school and that home study has many advantages.  It goes on to name the advantages, which, in my opinion are ridiculous.  While I admit when I went to the ABA approved college program that I graduated from, that it was tough working a 40-50 hour a week full-time job and going to school in the evenings and on weekends.  I had no life for 18 long months, but I loved every minute of going to school and interacting with others who felt as passionate as I did about what I had chosen to make my lifelong career.  I also had a family to care for and a home and a yard, which I managed to keep running quite well by myself, thank you very much.  (Could be why I am single now, I found out I can do it by myself and love it!)  Sorry, got off track, back to where I was going with this.

What this article and many others like it fail to say, is that taking a home study course does not prepare you for being a paralegal and I don’t know any attorneys (well, competent attorneys) who hire home study paralegals.  Actually, I did meet an attorney earlier this year who did hire a home study course paralegal (to save a few bucks) and while he was the nicest man, this “paralegal” had no clue what he was doing.  He wasn’t required to intern in a law office for the home study course, (I had to do 90 hours of internship and have an evaluation to get credit for that internship), he had no idea how to put documents together to go to court,  he didn’t know how to do an intake, didn’t know how to question a potential client, didn’t know how to, well, you get my drift.  This attorney eventually had to let this “paralegal” go due to a costly mistake made by this same nice man.

With the economy the way it is and many paralegals and attorneys being laid off, it irks me to read these articles about how great it can be taking the paralegal home study course.  These people are making money from people who have no clue how tough it is getting a job in the legal field right now.

Many paralegals with years of experience are struggling to find a decent paying job (friends and family of mine) and are being slapped in the face every day with employment adds offering only $12-$15 an hour for experienced paralegals here in California.  If you know California and our high cost of living, you know that this kind of money won’t even pay your rent, let alone put food on the table if you have a family.  So, if you know anyone who is thinking about taking one of these paralegal home study courses, please tell them to research online, talk to paralegals and attorneys about how tough it is right now to find work and help prevent them from throwing their money away on programs that don’t even guarantee that they will be hired.

If any of you reading this are working paralegals who took a home study course, I would love to hear from you, good or bad.  I always welcome comments, after all, I am a paralegal and I love a good discussion!

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Why is it important for California paralegals to keep a compliance log of their continuing legal education?

B & P § 6450 requires a paralegal every two years to certify completion of four hours of mandatory continuing legal education in legal ethics, and four hours of mandatory continuing legal education ineither general law or in an area of specialized law.

The courts are cracking down on attorneys who do not require their paralegals to meet the requirements of B&P § 6450.  There are a number of court cases where paralegal fees were denied or disallowed by the court because the paralegal failed to meet the requirements of § 6450.

The amendment to CRC Rule 7.703 clarifies that paralegals performing services for counsel for fiduciaries in decedents’ estates, conservatorships, and guardianships must satisfy the qualification and continuing education requirements of B&P 6450 for counsel to be eligible for compensation for paralegal services from the estate of decedents for the estate’s extraordinary legal services.


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Another great post by Lynne DeVenny of Practical Paralegalism, who reports that California attorney Patrick Passenheim was suspended for failing to notify the bar that he had hired a disbarred Ohio as his paralegal.  Passenheim also admitted to misappropriation of client funds in an employment case and for “engaging in acts of moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption.” Effective January 2009, he was suspended by the State Bar for 30 months and placed on four years of probation. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the client.

In aggravation, Passenheim had a record of prior discipline. In 1992 he was found culpable of misconduct and suspended for two years. In mitigation, during the period of misconduct Passenheim suffered extreme financial stress due to a cerebral hemorrhage he had in 2002, after which he could not work for one year. (California Lawyer)

Both of these cases seem to have a common denominator of lawyers hiring friends who just happen to be disbarred attorneys. Are your law license and fiduciary duties to your clients worth helping out any friend that has already been tried and found guilty of subverting his or her own livelihood and ethical responsibilities?

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Seal of the United States Air Force
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In an article I read today, the Air Force is looking for Paralegals.  When Airmen enlist, they swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution.  In addition to defending the geographic territory and populace of the United States, paralegals defend the rule of law and the freedoms that the Constitution awards citizens.

In the Air Force, Paralegals defend the Constitution by advising commanders on operational matters, defending the Air Force from lawsuits, helping enforce criminal laws and helping Air Force members find just and peaceful resolution of disputes that arise.  In representing the Air Force and Air Force members, paralegals defend the Constitution by ensuring the law is correctly and fairly applied in every situation faced by clients.

The Air Force is currently looking to expand its paralegal force.  As an enlisted member, Airmen may be eligible to re-train into the paralegal career field.

The primary mission of The Judge Advocate General’s Department is to provide legal counsel to commanders, first sergeants, and other key personnel on a broad spectrum of legal matters. The paralegal’s role is to assist judge advocates (attorneys) in achieving that mission.  Consequently, paralegals support virtually all areas of the Air Force’s legal practice, including operations law, military justice, claims, civil law, legal assistance, contracts, labor law and environmental law.  Within these areas, paralegals conduct legal research, interview witnesses and victims, draft legal opinions, create and notarize powers of attorney and draft wills.  Paralegals also support investigations of serious incidents, such as aircraft, missile or rocket accidents.

To ensure paralegals are qualified to support these many legal areas, the department provides the necessary training, both on-the-job and in the classroom.  Paralegals attend basic and advanced paralegal courses at the Judge Advocate General’s School, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and may also attend specialized legal courses.  Recently, the American Bar Association has certified the paralegal Community College of the Air Force degree as an accredited degree, making it easier to continue in the legal field after leaving active duty status.

There is no deadline for career Airmen but first-term Airmen must meet the requirements set by the Air Force Personnel Center.  Specifically, four-year enlistees cannot apply before their 35th month and six-year enlistees cannot before their 59th month.  From the department’s perspective, the minimum qualifications include the ability to type 25 words per minute, a minimum AQE score of 51 and no derogatory information in their records.

The paralegal career field can be extremely interesting and very challenging. It is rewarding for individuals who are looking for a job that provides independence in their work, personal growth, and most importantly, a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.  Being a Paralegal may be the job for Airmen who are interested and eligible to retrain. To submit retraining applications, contact the Employment section of the Military Personnel Flight.  For more information about the paralegal career field, contact the Law Office manager, Master Sgt. Jamie Murray at (661) 277-9613.

This would be a great way for anyone interested in joining the Air Force and entering the legal field as a paralegal.  Just one more way to get the education needed to succeed as a paralegal.

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In Ontario, Canada, paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, giving paralegals an independent status in this jurisdiction and are licensed and regulated the same way that lawyers are.  The Province of Ontario, Canada, recently became the first jurisdiction in North America to provide for the licensing of independent paralegals. This change now allows paralegals to act as legal agents who have the ability to represent on many matters, including all Provincial Offences, work for Provincial Tribunals and Boards, as well as Summary Criminal Cases. They are not “law clerks” in the province of Ontario, Canada but rather are considered officers of the court, a formal part of the legal system.

In researching this, I found that paralegals can represent clients in the Ontario Small Claims Court, Landlord and Tenant Board, Worker’s Safety and Insurance Board and for Summary Criminal Cases.  There is of course, a licensing procedure before a paralegal can represent a client.  To read more about paralegal licensing and regulations, click here.

In California, paralegals can represent clients in Workers Compensation (California Bar Committee on Professional Responsibility formal opinion 1988-103) but only a law firm can allow its paralegals to represent clients at workers compensation hearings if there is supervision and the client consents to nonlawyer representation.

Part of the opinion states that a lawyer or law firm contemplating entering into such an arrangement should remember that an attorney stands in a fiduciary relationship with the client. (Krusesky v. Baugh (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 562, 567.) When acting as a fiduciary, the law imposes upon a member the strictest duty of prudent conduct as well as an obligation to perform his or her duties to the best of the attorney’s ability. (Clark v. State Bar (1952) 39 Cal.2d 161, 167; and cf. Bus. & Prof. Code, sec. 6067; Rule of Professional Conduct 6-101(A).)  However, an attorney does not have to bear the entire burden of attending to every detail of the practice, but may be justified in relying to some extent on non-attorney employees. (Moore v. State Bar (1964) 62 Cal.2d 74, 80; Vaughn v. State Bar (1972) 6 Cal.3d 847, 857.)

The attorney who delegates responsibilities to his or her employees must keep in mind that he or she, as the attorney, has the duty to adequately supervise the employee. In fact, the attorney will be subject to discipline if the lawyer fails to adequately supervise the employee. (Chefsky v. State Bar (1984) 36 Cal.3d 116, 123; Palomo v. State Bar (1984) 36 Cal.3d 785, 795; Gassman v. State Bar (1976) 18 Cal.3d 125.)

Paralegals may represent clients before the Labor Board (California Labor Code, sections 5501, 5700) California Labor Code section 5501 states that nonlawyer representation is allowed but the appeals board must be notified in writing that the representative is not an attorney licensed by the State Bar of California.

Paralegals can also represent clients before California Unemployment Appeals Board (California Unemployment Insurance Code § 1957 (1956)  The codes states that a nonlawyer may represent any individual claiming benefits in any proceedings before the Appeals Board.  No agent or counsel shall charge or receive for such services more than an amount approved by the appeals board.  Violations for this provision shall be fined no less than $50 and no more than $1,000 or be imprisoned not more than six months or both.
As a paralegal looking to branch out, I am considering the options above.  I would love to hear from other paralegals, in California and elsewhere, on the types of representations they have done and why they loved it or would never do again.  I would also love to hear from paralegals who are also considering branching out into representing clients in some way.  


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