History of TAPA By Michele Boerder, CLA The first meeting of TAPA was held in Dallas in 1980 or 1981, organized by Dallas legal assistant Z. Locke. (Z. later became President of the Dallas Association of Legal Assistants) It is unknown how many associations participated, but was small enough to meet in a law office conference room.
TAPA meetings have continued from year to year since that time, and existed as a virtual entity, as there was no organizational structure, no membership dues or officers. TAPA has provided benefits of sharing among Texas associations and assisting new groups in organizing new associations. Such sharing includes association management, project ideas, member recruitment tools, retention of members, program suggestions, and a long list of other activities.
Traditionally, TAPA has met twice per year, once in the spring and once in the fall and alternated among the associations acting as hosts in their locale. Usually one or two representatives from each association attend, although additional persons may attend as observers. Occasionally TAPA has included seminars in addition to association reports. In approximately 1985 TAPA held a meeting at the American Airlines facility at DFW airport and had mini-seminars in substantive topics.
In October of 1996, the State Bar of Texas Legal Assistants Division hosted the TAPA meeting through the Long Range Planning Task Force. The program consisted of a panel forum on the issue of professional definition. The purpose was two-fold: to elicit ideas and opinions from paralegal leaders state-wide, and to foster cooperation and collaboration between the Division and local groups as we move into the future of the paralegal profession in Texas.
In May of 1998, the State Bar of Texas Legal Assistants Division once again participated with the TAPA meeting as hosted by the Capital Area Paralegal Association, by presenting a Focus Group session during the first portion of the meeting. The Focus Groups were to be the ground work for later Open Forums to be held across the state, beginning in Corpus Christi at the Annual Meeting.
Texas Alliance of Paralegal Associations Spring 1998 Conference, May 13, 1998
By Dawn Crider
The Texas Alliance of Paralegal Associations (TAPA) held its Spring 1998 Conference in Austin, Texas on May 13, 1998. The conference was hosted by the Capital Area Paralegal Association (CAPA).
On Sunday, May 3, 1998, the focus of the conference involved whether to formalize TAPA into a single entity whose membership would be comprised of the paralegal associations in Texas. The formalized association would be the designated entity to provide a single united voice in matters involving the guidelines and standards for the development of the paralegal profession in Texas.
Twenty-five delegates from 13 associations attended the session on Sunday. After conducting a straw poll, the associations voted overwhelmingly (though not unanimously) to not formalize TAPA at this time. Many associations said they could not see any advantages of formalizing TAPA, yet they could visualize many disadvantages. One of the advantages discussed included having one association or group of individuals as the united spokesperson for all members of paralegal associations in Texas. The disadvantages discussed included the possibility of increased dues to members and the smaller associations possibly not having an equal voice.
Javan Johnson, CLAS (Longview) commented that it will take the Long Range Planning Task Force at least a year to complete its public hearings and forums on regulation. It was decided by the TAPA delegates that maybe the issue of formalizing TAPA could be revisited after the results of the public hearings and forums are known. The TAPA delegates clearly understood that the opinions of the TAPA delegates regarding regulation is not necessarily indicative of the opinions of all paralegals around the State. Some associations indicated a strong desire to conduct their own surveys or disseminate the Divisions survey again to their members so as to obtain a consensus on a uniform position and act accordingly. In an effort to centralize discussions between TAPA delegates and to keep the lines of communication open, the delegates appointed two associations to act as the central depositories of information and communication between the member associations. Molly Gorena and Debbie Reed, of the El Paso Association of Legal Assistants, and Mary L. Markert, HPLA, and Ruth Silva, CLA, HPLA, from the Houston Legal Assistants Association, agreed to be the liaisons for all of the associations.
The Houston Legal Assistant Association expressed an interest in holding a conference and inviting local or state paralegal associations from across the country to attend. This would essentially be a national alliance of paralegal associations. The TAPA delegates agreed this may be a good idea and encouraged the Houston association to make its plans for the year 2000.
Overall, the entire TAPA Conference served as an excellent source of information and provided the stage necessary for the sharing of ideas important to all of us. All delegates to the TAPA Conference should be commended by their local associations for their hard work and dedication to their profession. These individuals have examined the issues and have investigated new and innovative ideas in an effort to strengthen and expand the paralegal profession. No change in our profession will take place without the work of individuals of this character. Their accomplishments should be recognized.
Long Range Planning Task Force Facilitates Focus Groups of Texas Paralegal Association Leaders
By Loretta Nesbitt
The Divisions Long Range Planning Task Force facilitated focus group discussions with Texas paralegal association leaders during the Texas Alliance of Paralegal Association (TAPA) meeting on May 1, 1998. The meeting was held in Austin and hosted by the Capitol Area Paralegal Association. Over 90% of the legal assistants who responded to the Task Forces Professionalism Survey last year indicated that they felt the paralegal profession should be defined/limited. The purpose of the focus groups was to begin to build a consensus on how to best accomplish this task. Questions presented to Texas association leaders included:
WHY do we need to define our profession?
WHAT...Form should the definition takeif regulation is necessary, what type is most preferable and why?
...Should be the definition of a legal assistant?
...Role should attorneys and educators play in the process?
...Costs will be involved? How should these costs be paid?
WHO should be responsible for accomplishing this task?
HOW do you see legal assistants accomplishing this task?
WHEN should this be accomplished? Suggested time line?
Association leaders were divided into five focus groups and spent hours debating these questions. The following outlines some of the conclusions reached.
WHY do we need to define our profession? The focus groups came to the same basic conclusion. Paralegals need to be defined in order to enhance the integrity and credibility of the profession. Concerns were raised over unqualified persons calling themselves paralegals and poor quality training programs producing unqualified paralegal candidates.
THE DEFINITION...The focus groups agreed that the ABA definition was a good starting point for a professional definition. The ABA definition defines a paralegal/legal assistant as:
...a person qualified through education, training or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, specifically delegated substantive legal work, which would for the most part, require a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such assistant, the attorney would perform the task.
WHO should be responsible for accomplishing this task? While the groups recognized the value of attorney and educator involvement in the process, all felt paralegals should lead any process undertaken. There was discussion but no consensus concerning which paralegal entity (Legal Assistants Division, TAPA or some other form of local association network) should take the lead.
WHEN....The groups appeared to be ready to get started today. Several groups wanted to see something accomplished (for example, registration begun) by 2000. Others envisioned a two to five year time frame.
The Legal Assistants Division of the State Bar of Texas Long Range Planning Task Force invites your comments at a public forum to be held Thursday, June 11, 1998 at 3:45 p.m. in Corpus Christi, Texas during the State Bar Annual meeting. The issue for the public forum is: Why should paralegals be defined as to who is a paralegal? And, how should defining who is a paralegal be accomplished? Comments may be made by individuals as well as on behalf of your association. It is requested that a typewritten copy of any statements made be submitted at the time of the presentation. Ten minutes will be allotted to persons who submit written statements of their presentation. Five minutes will be allotted to those who do not submit a written copy of their presentation. Speakers will give their testimony in the order they sign up at the Forum. A panel of paralegals, attorneys and others will be present to ask questions of each presenter.
Definitions for Processes of Regulating the Paralegal Profession
The Task Force has reviewed numerous definitions for the various processes which could ultimately regulate the paralegal profession. In order to remain consistent and create as little confusion as possible in the education of paralegals, attorneys and the public, the Task Force provides the following definitions for the purposes of these public forums.
Regulation: A general term, encompassing all processes granting authority for recognition to an individual or institution; includes setting specifications and requirements.
Registration: The process by which individuals or institutions register or list their names with an association or government agency. May be voluntary or mandatory. Although there are usually no educational or training requirements, such requirements may be set as part of the registration process, and references or bonding requirements are sometimes necessary. Registration may be used to set a mandatory requirement for legal use of a designated occupational title.
Licensure: The process by which an agency or branch of government grants permission to persons who have met predetermined qualifications to engage in a given occupation and/or to use a particular title OR which grants permission to institutions to perform specific functions.
Limited Licensure: In the paralegal context, the process by which a governmental entity grants authority to nonlawyers to assume roles that are customarily but not exclusively performed by lawyers.
Court Rules: The process by which a judicial authority, typically a states Supreme Court, defines legal assistant or paralegal and sets minimum qualifications for persons employed as such by a licensed attorney. The court rule states who is qualified to serve as a legal assistant.
Certification: A voluntary process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association. Such qualifications may include successful completion of an accredited educational program, acceptable performance on a qualifying examination or series of examinations, and/or completion of a certain amount of work experience.
Accreditation: A voluntary process by which an agency or organization evaluates and recognizes a program of study or an institution as meeting pre-determined qualifications or standards. The accreditation applies only to the institutions, programs of study or services.
Exit Assessment: A voluntary examination process, the purpose of which is to access the credentials of a person seeking to enter the paralegal profession upon completion of a paralegal training program. Assume for the purposes of this discussion that the examination is voluntary on the part of the paralegal training program, not the individual student.
Michele Boerder is a litigation paralegal at Hughes & Luce, (Dallas) with 18 years of experience. Michele received her paralegal certificate from El Centro College in 1979 and is Board CertifiedCivil Trial Law, by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization; she also received her CLA designation in 1985. Michele is a past Chair of the BoardLegal Assistants Division, State Bar of Texas, and past President of the Dallas Area Paralegal Association; she currently serves on the State Bar Legal Assistant Committee, the PACE Standards Committee, and the Legal Assistants Division Long Range Planning Task Force.
Dawn Crider, CLA, is a paralegal with Scott, Douglass &McConnico in Austin. Ms. Crider is the outgoing District 4 Director and Treasurer of the Legal Assistants Division. She will be assuming the duties of President-Elect of the Capital Area Paralegal Association in July, 1998.
Loretta Nesbitt is a graduate of Louisiana State University and received her paralegal certificate from the National Center for Paralegal Training in Atlanta, GA. Ms. Nesbitt is a board certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She has 14 years experience as a litigation paralegal and has worked in both law firm and corporate environments. Ms. Nesbitt is a past president of the Dallas Area Paralegal Association and currently serves on the Legal Assistants Division Long Range Planning Task Force.