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The Keystone Alliance of Paralegals, a consortium of eight paralegal groups across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, recently made a significant change in how individuals and groups perceive their professional mantle. Last month, Keystone Alliance members changed the group’s definition of “paralegal” to the following: “A paralegal is a person who is qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work requiring the knowledge of legal concepts and ethics, and is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity to work under the direct supervision of an attorney, or pursuant to state statute, administrative regulation or court authority in a capacity that, in most instances, would be performed by an attorney in the absence of a paralegal.” The change in the definition, overwhelmingly approved by the Keystone Alliance, removes the language referring to the term “legal assistant.” The state group has now determined that “paralegal” is the term of preference in Pennsylvania. However, the Keystone Alliance is not alone in its stance. There has been significant debate over the years regarding the use of the terms “paralegal” and “legal assistant.” Traditionally, the terms had been used interchangeably. Recent developments in the use of such interchanging of terms, however, has started the ball rolling to delineate the titles, and precisely who can use them. In California, the Legislature in 2000 introduced a bill to “establish the qualifications for practice as a paralegal and make it unlawful for any person to identify themselves as a paralegal unless he or she meets those qualifications and performs all services under the direct supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California.” This legislation (AB 1761) went into effect Jan. 1, 2001. The following year, the National Federation of Paralegal Associations took a stand to remove the designation of “legal assistant” from its definition. According to the November/December 2002 issue of “Legal Assistant Today,” this meant “breaking with industry standards of interchangeability of the terms.” NFPA certainly was not alone in its thinking. The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Assistants, in the summer 2002 issue of “SCOLA Update,” contained an article by Arthur Greene, the committee’s chairman, who wrote “The title paralegal seems to have become more popular and widely recognized by employers as the preferred one.” He further expressed the committee’s discussion on the use of the two terms by noting “SCOLA members concluded that it is important to remove any basis for confusion and that paralegal is the preferable title for the years ahead.” To underscore its position, SCOLA later changed its name to the Standing Committee on Paralegals. Anyone searching the Internet can attest to the fact that this was (and still is) a hot topic, discussed by many paralegal groups in their newsletters and on their Web sites; by bar associations, national professional magazines and other interested parties in the legal community. Many across the country kept their eyes on this evolving trend, and shortly followed suit. The New Mexico Bar Association identified the growing national support of the term “paralegal.” In 2003, a proposal was sent to the board of bar commissioners of the State Bar of New Mexico to change the name of their legal assistant division to the paralegal division. A petition was later forwarded by the legal assistant division to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which approved the change in September of that year. Though not opting for a change in their definition, the National Association of Legal Assistants, also in 2003, provided a certified paralegal designation for those preferring the term “paralegal” while still offering the certified legal assistant designation for those preferring “legal assistant.” This change of course continued throughout 2004 and into 2005, when another major professional group � the Legal Assistant Management Association officially redefined itself as the International Paralegal Management Association. Simply put, the name change was the result, in part, of a LAMA task force finding that 75 percent of its members opted on the side of the “paralegal” designation. What does all of this mean to the practicing paralegal in Pennsylvania? While Pennsylvania does not have a formal definition of “paralegal,” it does have a statute � 42 Pa C.S.A. Section 2524 � that addresses the unauthorized practice of law and is often cited in various ethical opinions published by the Philadelphia Bar Association as well as the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Paralegals are also governed by the ABA’s Model Rules, specifically Section 5.3. In addition to the more defined role of a paralegal, educational requirements, including continuing legal education, is fast becoming the standard for those in this vibrant and expanding profession. This is especially true given that California, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida and New Jersey have established committees and/or legislation that address the regulation of the paralegal profession in some particular fashion, whether by virtue of certification, licensure or regulation. The ABA opines that whether a person is titled a paralegal or legal assistant depends on the geographic location. In California, Pennsylvania and other states, though, the position taken by paralegals and paralegal managers is clear. The adoption of the definition change by Keystone Alliance member groups is in line with a national trend toward a more responsive and regulated role of a paralegal. ROBERT S. HROUDA is the primary delegate of the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals to the Keystone Alliance of Paralegals, and the primary delegate to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

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