Everyone’s got a “Hallmark holiday,” right? Even paralegals? I’ll never forget The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals’ 2010 postcard for Paralegal Week. Picture the bomb technician from The Hurt Locker with the caption, “Me, afraid?” and the flip side reading, “Nah, I used to be a paralegal!”
Believe it or not, paralegals in Pennsylvania have had their own day, and week, of recognition for the past 11 years. This year, Governor Tom Corbett has issued a proclamation claiming July 21-27 as Paralegal Week and July 26 as Paralegal Day in Pennsylvania. (See http://goo.gl/1tp3N.) Eleven years? Yep; Mark Schweiker was the first Pennsylvania governor to issue such a proclamation in July 2002.
We are not alone. Pennsylvania joins at least 33 other states (all but — to the best of this author’s knowledge — Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming) in current or past proclamations for either a Paralegal Day or Week, or both. In Pennsylvania, the proclamation is secured by the Keystone Alliance of Paralegal Associations, an organization formed in 1995 to provide a statewide voice for our paralegals, maintain a communication network amongst associations and the legal community, along with the advancement and promotion of the profession. We are supported by paralegal associations on the national front through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the National Association of Legal Assistants. Akin to the American Bar Association and state and county bar associations for lawyers, these organizations promote the paralegal profession and continuing legal education, along with invaluable networking and professional development opportunities for paralegal members. The PAP’s membership fee includes both Keystone Alliance and NFPA memberships and, for the first time this year, we are pleased to partner with the Philadelphia Bar Association in offering our voting members a discounted dual membership.
The American Bar Association has championed paralegal recognition as far back as 1968. Paralegals are cost-efficient partners in, and a viable alternative to, the way legal services are delivered — performing nearly every task that attorneys perform, but always under the supervision of an attorney. And, although I’ve said it before, it does bear repeating: The ABA’s Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services state that lawyers should facilitate paralegals’ participation in continuing legal education and pro bono activities. (See Guideline 10 at http://goo.gl/iTne2.) Taking things a step further, the Philadelphia Bar Association has honored paralegals by including a representative on its prestigious board of governors since 1996.
Some attorneys are probably still questioning why paralegals should have a dedicated week or day. My guess is that those attorneys are not effectively utilizing their paralegals to assist with higher-skilled tasks such as conducting factual and legal research; drafting documents for legal transactions, as well as pleadings and discovery notices; interviewing clients and witnesses; and assisting at closings and trials — just some of the tasks paralegals are capable of executing. Only if your paralegal spends too much time chatting at the water cooler or on his or her cellphone and/or social media, or acts inappropriately (e.g., unauthorized practice of law or unbecoming behavior) should you forgo recognition. In that case, problems should be addressed as they arise, and not saved for an annual review.
So, lawyers, listen up: While recognizing diversity, pro bono and sustainability commitments have become politically correct, you need to include recognition of paralegals if you’re not already doing so. This is especially true if your paralegal anticipates your every move before you do and reliably covers your, um, “practice” — yep, that’s the word I was looking for.
Paralegals should listen up too: You can do everything possible to keep that brief from getting bounced, but if the messenger doesn’t get it there on time or the receptionist isn’t fielding unannounced visitors and callers and the secretary isn’t working his or her magic with helping you coordinate the whole effort, you have a very lonely and uphill battle in getting the whole job done accurately and timely. There really is no “I” in team and you need to recognize the individuals who support you on a daily basis. I am very fortunate to have such a team in my office and they truly are invaluable to me, not to mention our firm’s attorneys, who offer day-to-day recognition, along with “pleases” and “thank yous.”
The PAP is set to celebrate Paralegal Week on July 24 at the Mellon Bank Atrium in Philadelphia from noon to 2 p.m., generously sponsored by McCarter & English and Magna Legal Services. This is a members-only, RSVP-required event. Visit www.philaparalegals.com for more information. In addition, some of our surrounding county paralegal associations have special events planned; check their respective websites for details.
Hey, you have to agree that Paralegal Day beats Ratcatcher’s Day any day. I’m not kidding; see http://goo.gl/tStcf. And, don’t be too jealous, attorneys — that’s why you still get paid the big bucks.
Judy Stouffer is the 2013 president of The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, celebrating its 40th year September 19. She is also the law firm administrator and senior paralegal at Berner Klaw & Watson.