For those of you who are dismissing the idea of paralegal regulation, now’s the time to sit up and take notice! Recently, Florida enacted a voluntary Registered Paralegal Program that regulates who can be called a paralegal. The program requires 30 hours of continuing legal education requirements every 3 years.
To become a Florida Registered Paralegal, a person must be supervised by an attorney and meet certain prior education and work history requirements. Because a paralegal is defined as a person working under the supervision of an attorney, those who are delivering services directly to the consumer can no longer call themselves a paralegal. This program is very much like Business & Professions Code 6450 enacted in California in 2001.
The difference between California and Florida is that the State Bar of California does not govern paralegals but there are mandatory continuing legal education requirements and certain education requirements to enter the field in order to call yourself a paralegal.
What effect does this have on the paralegal field and the legal field as a whole? A higher standard for entry to the field is being set. This trend is literally sweeping the country. So far, at least 12 states have either enacted some type of regulation or is considering regulating paralegals. Canada has also joined the regulation bandwagon.
Regulation sets a certain standard for those calling themselves a paralegal and there are inherent benefits for establishing these standards. Paralegals who are regulated possess higher education and continue to stay current through mandatory continuing legal education. These factors force a highly educated person to be the standard, not the exception in the field. (Remember, prior to regulation, anyone who wanted to could call themselves a paralegal.) The result? Law firms will end up paying higher salaries to attract and maintain the more qualified professional.
When the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations both came out with certifying exams years ago, few, if any, employers paid much attention. Possessing a CLA or RP after your name meant very little in terms of getting a raise or much recognition beyond your peers. That tide is turning, thanks to associations such as the Los Angeles Paralegal Association and others who support the designation. Law firms are just beginning to understand the intense study and preparation it takes to pass the 2-1/2 day exam.
The field is coming into a new era. Whether you support it, hate it or disengage yourself from it, regulation is not going to go away. Any thoughts?