Paralegals, the Public, & UPL

August 9, 2018

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-image35229672

The scope of services a paralegal is permitted to provide outside of a traditional law office is constantly morphing. The existence of virtual paralegals (like me!), rising costs of legal representation, and the persistent misunderstanding surrounding the concept of ‘paralegals’ (yes, 50 years as a profession and we’re still explaining ourselves!) has created a whirlwind of confusion.

Can a paralegal provide services to the public?

The short, but qualified, answer is no. Generally speaking, doing so is considered the unauthorized practice of law (“UPL”) and should be avoided like the plague. If only we could come to a consensus on the definition of UPL.

While there is not an all-governing definition of UPL, the ABA Model Rules provide direction, bar associations usually have a variation on the theme, and national paralegal associations have provided more clarity. For the most part, any paralegal worthy of the moniker agrees that UPL includes:

• giving legal advice
• accepting cases,
• setting fees,
• planning strategy
• making legal decisions
• taking depositions, and
• appearing in court

USLegal.com summarizes the definition  as:

…  engaging in the practice of law by persons or entities not authorized to practice law pursuant to state law or using the designations “lawyer,” “attorney at law,” counselor at law,” “law,” “law office,” “J.D.,” “Esq.,” or other equivalent words by any person or entity not authorized to practice, the use of which is reasonably likely to induce others to believe that the person or entity is authorized to engage in the practice of law in the state.

Perhaps it’s my lifetime of paralegaling, but the concepts of ‘practice of law’ and ‘legal advice’ have always seemed pretty straightforward to me.

What about LDPs (“legal document preparers”), LDAs (“legal document assistants”), state level registered paralegals, other special designation paralegals?

The states that have created those designations also have very clear and direct rules for what those paralegals may and may not do. But for very narrowly defined purposes, they are not authorized to answer questions of law or provide legal advice.

For the rest of us, why take the chance of ruining someone else’s life or losing your livelihood?

Think of it this way, would you, a paralegal, want to be responsible for telling a non-attorney the wrong thing thereby causing more harm than good? Would you want to risk disciplinary action or being a named defendant in a lawsuit because ‘you just wanted to help’?

Paralegals working independently, WITHOUT attorney supervision, aren’t covered by malpractice insurance and have little recourse if accused of providing incorrect ‘advice’ or just getting it wrong.

When (intelligent) non-attorneys call me ‘with a simple question’ or ‘for some advice’ because ‘they don’t really need/want to pay for an attorney,’ I explain that it’s worth the expense to hire a lawyer to get the job done right, then I direct them to find the links for self-help/pro se information on the court website, or suggest they contact legal aid or the local bar association. I won’t even read the content from one of those pages to the caller for fear they will think we’ve created a client relationship.

As Mariana Fradman put it, ‘Why do people ask paralegals to stand in as attorneys because of cost? Would those people ask a surgical nurse to perform surgery because they don’t want to pay for a doctor or hospital?’

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The Disclaimer is There for a Reason

August 8, 2018

It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon … a hot, summer day in Atlanta.

At StarrParalegals, I was fulfilling my duties as NFPA’s Ethics Chair, knocking out some administrative and other non-billable work, and (lucky me) getting sucked into word play ping-pong with a willfully clueless non-lawyer.

You’ve got Mail!

(NB: StarrParalegals complies with all ABA guidelines for electronic communication. References to AOL are for entertainments purposes only.)  

The subject line referenced an upcoming hearing in bankruptcy court. With visions of billable hours dancing in my head, I read the email:

Ms. Starr:

I really enjoyed your web site, truly texan. It conveyed that you are good at what you do and there is no doubt that you speak your mind.

Not to waste your time, I am NOT an attorney.  I am a small [businessman].  I am asking for your recommendation.

Can you recommend a paralegal that could attend a bankruptcy Hearing being held …  Thursday … [in] Houston Texas (see attached)?

(The attachment was a Chapter 11 341 Notice)

The execution of a Settlement with the Debtor is possible. The person would need to be a notary?

Also would like to know what the anticipated charge for their services will be.

Why do people think the disclaimer that is prominently displayed all over my website doesn’t apply to them?

I wanted to speak my mind; hit him with both barrels. Instead, I forwarded the email to a handful of trusted, dot-wearing, ethical legal folk and shared the redacted email on Facebook

My high school crush saw the problem and fixed it. The author wrote ‘texan’. Who doesn’t know that ‘Texan’ is always capitalized??

One of my bankruptcy attorney friends quipped:

I also like the part where he wants the person practicing UPL to attempt to collect on a debt by “settling” it, because that’s not a stay violation.

(I trust you read that with all the intended sarcasm.)

I crafted and sent my response. It was delicate (mostly) and direct:

I’m flattered you like my site and my style. I am good at what I do, which is why I recommend you hire an attorney. You need one – especially in a Chapter 11. Paralegals are not permitted to work for non-attorneys – even in Texas.

It would be unethical for me to suggest another paralegal provide services that fall under the umbrella of practicing law. Even if a freelance paralegal were to attend the Meeting of Creditors ‘on your behalf’, (s)he would only be allowed to report what was said – not answer questions or interpret the facts and, most definitely, not permitted to ‘represent your interests’ regarding a settlement.

‘Nuf said? Right?

Apparently not.

Whilst speaking with potential NFPA Ethics Board members, my email pinged, the phone rang (I didn’t recognize the number), text was sent and a voicemail left.

I checked the voicemail transcription (useless). I listened to the message.

Then I listened to it again,
– FLUMMOXED –
and again,
– GOBSMACKED –
and again,
– INCREDULOUS –

Here’s the clarified (and redacted), albeit unpunctuated, transcription:

Pam <REALLY???> you know I think I have a solution um the person that you recommend could just work for the —– law firm for —– he’s an attorney so you can just send the bill to the —- law firm and uhm you know uhm that way ⁠it gets by the idiosyncrasy that you um mention, but basically we don’t need any representation or anything we just need somebody ⁠to just go there, be there and pick up any paperwork that needs to be picked up or you know um and if there’s anything … because they’ll be a report that the court will ⁠ give as to you know what happened but we just want somebody there just to pick up stuff or to be there and report back you know exactly what happened and not not technical law to make any representation on our behalf so anyway thought you’d work for the —- law firm or whomever you’d recommend and I think I sent you an email that person’s address thank you very much thank you very much…

And the somewhat less offensive (also redacted) email:

I have lost a great deal of money to the person who is declaring bankruptcy.  I made my money and try to spend it wisely.  I do not need an attorney for this matter on Thursday.  All I need is for a person to report back and pick up any related paperwork the court hands out. And, possibly witness the execution of a document(s).

I have an attorney with —– Law Firm here in —– that is advising me. The —– firm is one of the oldest most respected firms in —.

Let’s circle back, shall we?

uhm that way it gets by the idiosyncrasy that you uhm mention

IDIOSYNCRASY??????!!!!!!
To borrow from Inigo Montoya: I do not think it means what you think it means.

The phrases “are you out of your ducking mind” and “are you ducking kidding me” rang loudly in my head and desperately tried to make it into my response.

An end run around the law with complete disregard for everything I stand for as a dot-wearing* ethical paralegal … INCONCEIVABLE!

So many potential ethical violations … I tell myself to keep the response plain and concise. It wasn’t easy.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written or about me, you know 1) I won’t budge on this issue – it’s not an idiosyncrasy, it’s the law; 2) there is no ‘work around’ in which I allow an individual to hire StarrParalegals but bill a law firm for my time; and 3) no one but my mother gets to call me ‘Pam’.

If —- is a bankruptcy attorney licensed to practice in the Southern District of Texas bankruptcy court and wishes to discuss the possibility of the —- firm hiring my company, he can call me to discuss. Otherwise, this conversation is over.

It took him almost 2 hours to reply with his perceived loophole:

Please know that I carefully read what you wrote, which was, “If a freelance paralegal were to attend the Meeting of Creditors ‘on your behalf’, (s)he would only be allowed to report what was said“.  Sending a report and picking up any hands out is all that is being asked of the paralegal.  I can have a Wells Fargo bank teller witness and notarize a signature if needed.

My apologies for referring to you by the name your mother used.  

Your involvement, or the name of a respected associate would be appreciated.

What part of “conversation over” is so difficult to understand??

Sir,

You have selectively read my words to construe the intent in your favor. The first word of the sentence is “EVEN” [emphasis added] purposefully chosen to convey the unlikelihood of such event ever taking place.

I repeat, it would be unethical for me or any paralegal to provide services that fall under the umbrella of practicing law. It is not my job to educate you or your ‘advising attorney’ in the nuances of UPL.

I will not involve my company in this matter, nor will I ‘refer you to a respected associate’.

End of discussion.

We shall see.

 

* The ‘dot wearing’ references … take a quick gander at The Uprising (a faction of The Paralegal Society) on Facebook; a dedicated faction of paralegals who believe in upholding ethics for all paralegalkind, who have adopted polka dots, in all shapes, sizes, combinations, and colors as our standard.

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See the tree …

May 30, 2018

I am, and always will be, a Houstonian – born in Methodist Hospital on Friday, October 13, 1961 at 14:13, and, but for a year in El Paso as a wee little one and 4 years in Austin at the University of Texas (and my dislocation to Atlanta nigh on 20 years ago), lived there my whole life.

My heart, family, and friends are in Houston. My amazing mother lives in the Meyerland house my grandparents bought not long after I was born. That house and my soul bear the scars of two floods – 50 years after the house was built. 

Houston, my hometown, will be forever marked by Hurricane Harvey’s devastation; some places more than others.

This morning #MommieStrong sent a picture, a lone tree in an empty field a piece of my soul died.

The tree stands on the grounds of what used to be Congregation Adath Emeth/United Orthodox Synagogue – the beit knesset where I learned and prayed for the first 12 years of my life.

The shul where I davened on yuntif with my grampa, Charlie Novak (Z”L) and he held me close under his tallis.

I was consecrated at UOS,
named ‘Queen Esther’ one Purim, and
planted the tree on Tu b’Shevat 1970 …

It was another time.

The shul and surrounding community were heavily damaged by the Memorial Day 2015 flood. My former rabbi and teacher (Z”L) was rescued by canoe.

They rebuilt.

Two more freak, flooding incidents followed.

They rebuilt.

Then, Harvey.

This time, they tore it down.

See the tree.

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Another Holiday: Shavuos

May 16, 2018

StarrParalegals will be closed Monday, May 21st, in observance of Shavuos. 

I can hear the collective “Oy vey!” from here.

The Atlanta office will close at 3 pm (EDT), Friday, May 18th (same time as any other week) and reopen Tuesday morning, May 22nd.

Shavuos celebrates the day HaShem gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai.
On Shavuos, we renew our acceptance of this very precious gift.
Oh, sure, we congregate, eat, … and we learn.
Oy, how we learn!!
All night we study and learn.

So, even if work weren’t prohibited, you wouldn’t really want an exhausted me handling your files.

We wish everyone a relaxing weekend and a hearty Chag Sameach for ‘our’ MOTs!

 

 

 

Remember, StarrParalegals is the most useful tool in your toolkit – utilize us:

  • E-filing, anywhere and everywhere
  • Bankruptcy Petition Preparation – from intake to filing – ALL chapters
  • Bankruptcy Motion Support (draft, file, serve)
    • Motions for Relief
    • Proofs of Claim
    • Notices of 4001 Examination
    • Proposed Orders
    • Fee Applications
    • and more . . .
  • Adversary Proceedings & Preference Actions (draft, file, serve)
    • Complaints/Answers
    • Case Management
  • UCC Filing, Search & Retrieval, Summarize Priority/Status
  • Litigation Support
    • Draft Pleadings
    • Document Review
    • Deposition Summaries
    • Prepare & Serve Subpoenas
    • Discovery Requests/Responses
    • Legal Research / Memoranda
  • Immigration Support

We’re here to make your billable hour worth every penny. Tell us what you NEED. We’re quick studies and welcome the opportunity to increase our skill sets. If we can’t help you, we’ll refer you to someone that can.

 

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What Part of “ONLY Licensed Attorneys” Don’t You Understand?

May 7, 2018

My company, StarrParalegals, provides paralegal support to attorneys PERIOD.

A simple concept, that is until I realized people have developed ‘selective reading’. It’s a bit like selective hearing. You know, the way a parent doesn’t hear, “Mommie!!! Mommie!!! I WANT THIS!” Or an attorney doesn’t hear repeated reminders of upcoming deadlines and bar dates 😉

Why is this an issue? Because non-lawyers keep wasting my time – constant calls from folks that “don’t really need an attorney” or “just want to ask a simple question” or who dive straight into the facts of their case despite the loud repetition of my mantra: “I’m sorry, we can’t help you. We only work for attorneys. If you’re not an attorney, we can’t help you.”

They even ignore the outgoing message on my phone, “Thank you for calling StarrParalegals … if you’re not an attorney or representative of a law firm, we can’t help you. Please hang up; don’t leave a message …” (I need to re-record it, so please don’t call to check it out.)

Everyone claims they’ve ‘been to my website’.
Nu? DID YOU SEE THE DISCLAIMER AT THE TOP OF EVERY SINGLE PAGE??!!??

Well, uh, yeah, but …

Or better yet, “I didn’t actually go to your website. You just came up on Google, so I called.” (BULL CACA!)

And the emails … OY!! The emails!!

Really? Did you REALLY look? Did you READ THE WORDS?

Clue, buy you should.

 

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It’s Almost … Spring, Pesach, and Easter

March 19, 2018

 Yes, they’re all just a few weeks away.

At StarrParalegals, we honor our commitment to Torah and our attorney-clients. Our minhag (“tradition”) is to provide our holiday schedule in advance so we can coordinate calendars, deadlines, and projects. Since Pesach and Easter overlap this year, the impact will be nominal. In addition to our regularly scheduled Shabbas shutdowns, our offices will be closed (no phone/no email) the following dates/times:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a moment to review your to-do list and calendar for any impending deadlines, then send us your wish list so we can accommodate your needs.

As always, we appreciate your business and look forward to working with you.

Chag kasher v’pesach sameach!

Pamela and the StarrParalegals‘ team

Please note: Our holiday observances, including Shabbas, officially begin before sundown the evening before (“erev”) the calendar date and end after sundown on their final day.

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Time For An Upgrade

March 14, 2018

We’re busy, busy, busy here at StarrParalegals, but never too busy for new assignments and referrals.

This Paralegal Extraordinaire started out as a true solo with a laptop, printer, phone, and internet connection. I worked at a small desk in the 2nd floor hall/landing, overlooking my living room (and with so much more natural light). A couple of years in, my friend and mentor, Lyza Sandgren, gifted me with the gorgeous desk you see below.

I wore almost all the hats those first few years. When I wasn’t working or writing, I was learning. Over 5-years, I learned myself into two graduate degrees – a Master of Science of Law and a Master of Arts in Training & Development. With sheepskins in hand and new letters following my name, StarrParalegals is flourishing.

Oh, how things have changed!

I work with a team of experienced sub-contractors and like-minded virtual paralegals to offer more services. My laptop is now the brain controlling dual (dueling?) monitors and 2 LaserJet printers (black & white and color). Sure, my desk and workspace are cluttered, but they say that’s a sign of brilliance 😉 

After almost 10 years (yes … TEN years!), I’m finally turning my dungeon basement into a proper office! 

Imagine the space with:

The cat stays. Mr. Sulu is my supervisor and that’s his chair; Lt. Uhura is lurking under the desk.

Remember StarrParalegals for your virtual paralegal support needs. We’re here for you.

And with that, it’s back to work!

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F*CK YOU, #WellsFargo!

January 18, 2018

 

I’ve been on a social media hiatus (hopefully someone noticed) since Harvey the Hurricane destroyed the Gulf Coast and my hometown – Houston TX. It knocked me down and every time I got up, something else knocked me down …

Well folks, I’m back and I’m one PISSED OFF redhead!

Last night, as I was wrapping up a client project, my email dinged. It was an alert from #WellsFargo, my account had fallen below a set minimum balance.

Not to worry … I’d set up the alerts to keep me in the black. After all, I’m single and self-employed; my company receivables vary monthly; and I don’t have a set salary or income. Even though I check my accounts regularly, I’ve always thought it important to take a belt & suspenders approach to finances. (That’s why I use Mint to send alerts about upcoming payments and multiple resources to monitor my credit reports).

Maybe I forgot to ‘pay’ myself. If only.
Then the second email arrived: 

Your available balance has reached or dropped below zero

A BIG RED NEGATIVE BALANCE$0.00 available funds. My checking and savings wiped out!

My account showed ‘pending payments’ to creditors – IN DUPLICATE – of nearly $13,000.00!!! I hadn’t started with anything near $13K in my combined accounts. It was like a blinking, neon sign.

Pamela, youre screwed!

Paralegal mode engaged. SYSTEM FAILURE. Breathe Pamela … check your settings.

  • Had I mistakenly set up double payments? NO.
  • Did an alternate personality set up automatic draws on the creditor side? NO.

What the ever-loving F**K??

I couldn’t breathe. My vision was blurry. I found the number for customer service … fingers tingling. I dialed … ring, ring … the automated system welcomed me and asked how it could direct my call. I couldn’t form words, sentences. I screamed into the phone.

“REPRESENTATIVE!”

“I understand you’d like to speak to a representative. Please say or enter your account number so I can properly direct your call.”

Account number? I couldn’t remember my own name!

“000000000”

“That is an invalid entry, blah, blah, blah.”

BREATHE. Find account number.
BREATHE. Enter account number.
C A N ’ T   B R E A T H E.

Everything’s a blur … something about transferring me to a banker … hold music … ‘we’re experiencing an unusually high call volume’ … more music.

I really can’t breathe. Part of my brain is saying ‘DON’T PANIC!’ Yeah, right … I’m having a panic attack.

A voice! A human voice!

“Is this Ms. Starr?”

The working part of my brain is amazed. My information made it to the rep’s screen. I try to form words – he needs to hear words.

“What the hell???”

“Are you referring to the duplicate bill pay payments? This is a known IT issue. Everything is okay.”

“OKAY??!!! My m-m-m-m-m-money is g-gone! A-a-a n-n-negative b-b-balance of m-m-more m-m-money than I had. There is N-N-N-NOTHING okay about this!!”

“Ms. Starr, are you alright? Is there someone there with you? Please calm down, I need you to calm down and breathe.”

“I C-C-CAN’T B-BREATHE! <insert tears and far too rapid breaths> M-m-money. G-gone.”

“Ms. Starr – your money’s there. It’s just a glitch. Please check your account in an hour. I need you to call 911 now.” Click.

Lightheaded, hyperventilating, crying, trying to process his words.

A GLITCH!!???!!
A F*CKING GLITCH???!!??

I call a friend to talk me down. I take a Valium. I post to Facebook for the first time in almost 4 months.

A known IT issue??!!?? BEFORE panic sets in:

  • send a f*cking mass notice to your customers;
  • post a notice PROMINENTLY on EVERY PAGE of your website;
  • post an advisory on every social media platform.

My money is back where it belongs. How do I know? Because I went online and checked. Did the brain trust at #WellsFargo send a notice and apology? No.

#WellsFargo’s IT SNAFU nearly put me in the ER.

My money will soon be residing elsewhere. I’m losing time and business opening new accounts, resetting my bill pay and autopay accounts, changing everything linked to WF, calling creditors to alert them to possible late payments, likely incurring late charges and interest …

#WellsFargo must be held accountable to everyone affected by their ‘glitch’. We’ve been damaged and deserve compensation.

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It’s 2018 – Let’s Get Back to Work!

January 8, 2018

Happy New Year from StarrParalegals! We hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday season.

Yes, we’re a week into 2018 –  time to clear all that drudge work off your desk and get crackin’.

StarrParalegals is ready for new challenges. Bring it on!

  • E-filing, anywhere and everywhere
  • Bankruptcy Petition Preparation – from intake to filing – ALL chapters
  • Bankruptcy Motion Support (draft, file, serve)
    • Motions for Relief
    • Proofs of Claim
    • Notices of 4001 Examination
    • Proposed Orders
    • Fee Applications
    • and more . . .
  • Adversary Proceedings & Preference Actions (draft, file, serve)
    • Complaints/Answers
    • Case Management
  • UCC Filing, Search & Retrieval, Summarize Priority/Status
  • Litigation Support
    • Draft Pleadings
    • Document Review
    • Deposition Summaries
    • Prepare & Serve Subpoenas
    • Discovery Requests/Responses
    • Legal Research / Memoranda
  • Immigration Support

StarrParalegals is here to make your billable hour worth every penny. Tell us what you NEED. We’re quick studies and welcome the opportunity to increase our skill sets. If we can’t help you, we’ll refer you to someone that can.

Here’s to 2018 – a year of abundance and success for everyone!

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#Harvey sucks – HB1774 & Insurance Claims

August 29, 2017

I’m keeping this one short – the title says it all. 

I’ve spoken with lawyers and the insurance companies … the new law only applies to homeowners’ and auto policies. Claim letters need not be submitted for federal flood insurance claims.
click below to download the form: 

Formal Notice of Claim Form

* print, complete, and mail to your insurer
* print, complete, scan and email to your insurer

#HoustonProud
donations can be made to: The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston Harvey Relief Fund

(original form: Lone Star Legal Aid @LStarLegal)

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