C O L U M N S

PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE

It is with honor and pride that I assume the duties of President of the Legal Assistants Division of the State Bar of Texas. I have been a member of the Board of Directors since 1997 and have served in various capacities prior to my appointment to the board. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences to have served as a member of the board, and now as your president. Our board members, committee members, and other volunteers are so very gifted and I am infinitely proud to be a member of the Division. And I am privileged to have them by my side as we work together to build upon the foundation laid by our predecessors.


S. Kristine Farmer
President, 2001-2002

In preparing for the year, I have set some specific goals to work towards achieving. My highest goal is to increase public awareness of our profession by targeting the heart of the legal profession—attorneys. But in the words of Herbert Hoover, “We can not hope to succeed in directing this increasingly complex [association] unless we can draw all the talent of leadership from the whole people.”  Working with the State Bar and the members of the Division to continue the development of a higher standard for the paralegal profession is my top priority. To achieve this goal, we need your help. Are you educating the attorneys in your firm about the legal assistant profession and about the Division?  I challenge you to talk with associates and partners alike, pass this issue of the Journal to them. Increase their awareness and our worth with increase exponentially.

On October 23, 1981, the board of directors of the State Bar of Texas approved the establishment of a Legal Assistants Division, based upon the recommendation of the Legal Assistants Committee of the State Bar. In looking through past issues of the Texas Bar Journal, I came across an article reporting the approval of the Division. The president of the State Bar at that time was Wayne Fisher of Houston, who strongly supported the creation of the Division. President Fisher stated, “Legal assistants in Texas look to the State Bar for leadership and support. Part of this comes from the desire to be recognized, but mostly from a sincere desire to develop professionally.”  Indeed our profession has come a long way since 1981. We have continued to develop professionally, but our membership has not increased as it should have. Educating the attorneys could be a way to increase our membership. Be a part of the drive to increase our membership by educating our attorneys. Help them see what President Fisher saw —that “the time has come for the legal profession to recognize the paralegal profession and for us to move forward in cooperation and mutual support to provide better services to the public we serve.”

Happy 20th Legal Assistants Division!


Editor’s Note
by Debra Crosby

A Pause for Reflection:  2001 is the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Legal Assistants Division; we should all be proud to be members of such an active and progressive professional association. Those of us who have been around since its inception have seen many changes, not only in the Division, but in the legal assistant profession as a whole. I am pleased at what the Division has accomplished and look forward to seeing what challenges lie ahead of us.

As part of the continuing celebration of this anniversary, we are including in this issue a copy of the 1993 proclamation that established Legal Assistants Day in Texas. Remember that this day would not have been created without the efforts of the Division. Reflect also on your chosen profession on October 23 and try always to do honor to it.

By serving the Division, I have always hoped that I could, in some small way, give something back to the profession that I have been a part of for 25 years. If we each take on a task, help on a committee, make our voices heard, we can, together,  make a difference. Get a friend to join, volunteer to help with a project, let your board members know what you think!  You, too, can make an impression, can have a say in the future of your chosen profession!

Speaking of having a say: we are also printing, in its entirety, the results of the Division’s first state-wide Employment Survey. The results were compiled for us by the State Bar. Take a few moments to review the data and if you didn’t respond this year, please do so next time!  This information is important no only to legal assistants but also to employers and the larger a response, the more valid the data.

Let us hear from you if you have any requests or suggestions for future issues, or if you wish to submit an article. We can always use more ideas. Thanks so much for your continuing support.

SCRUPLES

The Ethics of Reporting Unethical Behavior
by Ellen Lockwood, CLA—Ethics Chair

Paralegals often mention to me that they have witnessed or heard about another paralegal’s unethical behavior. After they describe the unethical act, I ask why they did not report it for investigation. The usual responses I receive are listed below:

I Didn’t Think It Was That Important

I have had several acquaintances tell me about the apparently unethical actions of a legal assistant in their city. They allege she continued to use her Westlaw password even when she was no longer with that employer, that she used the firm postage meter for association mailings without the firm’s permission, and several other acts. Nevertheless,  none of these people, even the ones who have firsthand knowledge, including the law firm, have filed a complaint. Perhaps the law firm thinks it is too much trouble or doesn’t know it can file a complaint. The others may be concerned about having their names listed as the complainant.

This is just another version of the standard excuse, “I didn’t want to get involved.”  However, if no one chooses to get involved, unethical acts will continue by that person and others since there will be no consequences to their actions. If someone’s actions make you uncomfortable, you should contact me or the current Ethics chair to ask if the incident warrants investigation.

It Has Been Too Long Since The Event

Then why didn’t you report it sooner?  I agree that actions that occurred a couple of years ago are probably too old to report, but it depends on the offense. If it was egregious, such as UPL, then two years is probably not too long. It is always important to report offenses as soon as possible so they can be investigated while the information is still fresh in everyone’s minds. We all know how time dulls our memories. Again, waiting does not solve the problem. Instead it may encourage people to continue their unethical behavior since they got away with it before.

I Don’t Have Firsthand Knowledge

If you do not have firsthand knowledge of the unethical behavior, urge the person who does to report it. Remind them that by not reporting it, they are not helping the profession or the person involved. In some cases, the appropriate person to report it is an attorney or a law firm administrator. If they need more information, I (or the current Ethics chair) am available to discuss the issue and help determine whether it is appropriate to have it investigated.

I Don’t Know Whether He/She is a Member of the Division

If you are unsure whether the person is a member of the Division, contact me or the LAD Coordinator, Norma Hackler, and we will confirm the person’s membership.

Unauthorized Practice of Law

If you suspect a LAD member or anyone of UPL, please report it to the general counsel of the State Bar. If the person is a LAD member, please report it to me as well. If the person is found to have committed UPL, we will take the appropriate steps regarding that person’s membership in the Division.

As members of a profession that is not regulated in Texas, we must do everything we can to maintain high ethical standards. This includes reporting even suspected unethical behavior to the chair of the Professional Ethics Committee. If you have any questions regarding the process or any other ethical issue, please feel free to contact me at ellenlockwood@clearchannel.com or at 210/832-3382.

web WIZARDS

TECHNOLOGY UPDATE:  Head Injury Websites

http://www.headinjury.com/ —Head Injury Outline
Guide to head injury facts

http://www.texoma.com/business/biotech/thia-faq.htm —Biotech Home Page
Frequently asked questions about brain injury

http://comarecovery.org —TBI Resource Online
Facts, employment opportunities, suggested literature, rehab & product
information on brain injury

http://www.neurosurgery.org/aans/ —Neurological Surgeons Association
Neurosurgical information online


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© 2001, Legal Assistants Division State Bar of Texas