“Formal paralegal education generally improves the legal services rendered by lawyers employing paralegals and provides a more satisfying professional atmosphere in which paralegals may work. … The benefits to both the law practice and the paralegals is consistent with the lawyer’s own responsibility to maintain professional competence under Model Rule 1.1,” according to Guideline 10 of the ABA Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services. The importance of participation in continuing legal education by paralegals is important at all experience levels—including both senior and entry-level paralegals.
Participating in continuing legal education can impact your experience as a paralegal. Paralegals are not only expected to maintain professional competence, but also to be cognizant of ethical obligations. In addition, continuing legal education serves to broaden skills and knowledge in the field. In turn, this knowledge allows paralegals to grow and contribute to the success of the legal team. Paralegals can attend CLE opportunities through a variety of institutions, including the Pennsylvania Bar Institute and the Philadelphia Bar Association, which provide year-round CLE classes. However, most CLE classes tend to concentrate on strengthening a particular skill set or developing knowledge in a specific area of law. The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals’ annual education conference, however, offers a selection of 16 different continuing education sessions, thus appealing to every paralegal experience level and encompassing almost every area of law.
On Nov. 8, PAP’s annual education conference was held at the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia. This all-day CLE event is organized by the education committee, which is composed of committee chairpersons working in a variety of practice areas. The purpose is twofold: providing attendees throughout the tristate area an opportunity to network while taking advantage of educational sessions geared toward keeping them abreast of the changes that occur in the legal field in the respective areas of law in which they work and/or related areas.
This year’s theme, “The Progressive Paralegal … Covering All the Bases,” encapsulated the courses offered. Presenters ranged from law firms large and small; from the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding counties; from corporations and educational institutions; and from companies, law libraries, mediation centers and more. Hot topics included ethics, taught by Gary Melhuish, paralegal manager at Ballard Spahr; construction litigation, presented by Larry Bendesky, a managing shareholder of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky; Internet legal research, taught by Dan Giancaterino of the Jenkins Law Library; “Handling the Difficult Client,” presented by John DeFeo, an attorney with Snyder & Barrett; and health care reform, including the Affordable Care Act, by Thomas Hutton, an attorney with Independence Blue Cross. Other courses included trademark basics and prosecution; employment law and bullying; corporate e-discovery; ethics issues in estate and trust administration; consumer law and bankruptcy; generation-skipping transfer tax planning; the 1976 Copyright Act; alternative dispute resolution; immigration; advanced legal writing; and litigation practices using social media. All of the sessions presented were in line with our theme, providing information based on changes taking place in the different areas of the law. Each was preapproved for CLE credit by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations.
PAP was also honored to have Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Sandra Mazer Moss as the luncheon keynote speaker. Previously, Moss was a civil division judicial team leader in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. Her duties included supervising a voluminous docket of complex medical malpractice, products liability and catastrophic accident cases, while overseeing a team of six trial judges. She is the founder and coordinating judge emeritus of Philadelphia’s nationally recognized Complex Litigation Center. In that capacity, she created groundbreaking case management procedures in mass tort litigation, particularly in asbestos and 18 pharmaceutical programs, where she supervised more than 9,000 mass tort cases.
Moss shared her memories and stories of past experiences, including her college years, her first job and various encounters throughout her career. Moss announced that she has just accepted a position as executive director of the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, which tells us she is not slowing down yet.
Our president, Judy Stouffer, also addressed attendees and acknowledged the tremendous ongoing support for PAP by our members, sponsors, speakers and attorneys, as well as the Philadelphia Bar Association through our joint membership program, which has been extremely successful over the past year and will continue in 2014. She also acknowledged our nationally certified registered paralegals, core registered paralegals and paralegals holding the Pennsylvania certified paralegal credential from the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations. PAP Vice President Vivian Luckiewicz also pinned our newly registered paralegals Mary Lou O’Connell and Doreen Ziccardi. In honor of our 40th anniversary year, numerous local establishments generously donated hotel packages and restaurant gift certificates as random giveaways for conference attendees. Our 2013 education conference ended with a networking reception at Freeman’s Auction House. Each of the day’s events is memorialized in photos located on our website at www.philaparalegals.com.
The importance of continuing legal education cannot be understated, especially in light of today’s change to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, which now includes a directive to “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Knowledge is power and paralegals should engage in learning opportunities to keep abreast of the ever-changing case law, technology, trends in the field and ethical issues. Participation in continuing legal education classes can be both personally and professionally rewarding. PAP encourages all paralegals to explore local CLE opportunities, including PAP’s annual conference, which certainly serves as an avenue for paralegals to accept the challenge to sharpen skills and expand on their knowledge in the legal field.
Lyndora Patterson Tiller is a senior paralegal specialist with Independence Blue Cross. She was the first African-American president of The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, serving from 2008-09, and has chaired the education committee for many years. She is currently second vice president and co-chair of the professional development committee.