In April 2006, the Board of Directors of the State Bar of Texas adopted the Texas Paralegal Standards (the “Standards”). These standards were adopted to clarify and further define the definition of a paralegal as well as “to assist the public in obtaining quality legal services, assist attorneys in their utilization of paralegals, and assist judges in determining whether paralegal work is a reimbursable cost when granting attorney fees.”
While the adherence to the education, training, and work experience portion of the Standards is not mandatory, more and more firms and companies are adopting the Standards as their hiring guidelines for paralegals. In addition, as the judiciary becomes more familiar with the standards, many judges around the state are informing attorneys who appear before them that any request for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees that include paralegal fees must comply with the Standards.
Paralegals should discuss the Standards with their attorneys in order to be prepared to provide evidence that they meet the Standards in order increase the probability of approval of reimbursement of paralegal fees as part of a claim for attorneys’ fees.
Education, Training, and Work Experience.
If a paralegal is an Active member of the Division, then he/she meets the Standards’ guidelines for education, training, and work experience. Active members of the Division must also have at least six hours of CLE per year, which is evidence of efforts to maintain competence. As the
Standards also encourage attorneys to promote paralegal attendance at CLE, as well as certification and membership in professional organizations, paralegals should discuss with their attorneys the benefits of these activities.
Substantive Legal Work
Adherence to the definition of “substantive legal work” is usually critical to the award of paralegal fees as part of a request for attorneys’ fees. Judges are almost never willing to approve paralegal time for tasks that are primarily clerical in nature and opposing counsel will also argue against the inclusion of such time entries in an award. Time entries should be crafted with goal of clearly identifying the substantive legal work performed.
As the definition and Standards make clear, paralegals must work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney. Unfortunately, when attorneys are busy, and when they come to trust and rely upon their paralegals, they often don’t supervise their paralegals as thoroughly as they should. It is up the paralegal to make sure the supervising attorney is providing adequate supervision. This may mean insisting that an attorney completely review documents drafted by a paralegal, reminding the attorney that certain duties are not appropriate for a paralegal to perform, and not giving legal advice, even when the paralegal knows exactly the answer the attorney would provide. Paralegals should also be familiar with the ethical requirements for paralegals and help educate their attorneys about paralegal ethics. While these requirements are listed in the Standards, a more complete list is the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas, available at www.txpd.org.
If a firm, company, or agency is not familiar with the Standards it would be prudent to make the organization aware of the Standards and the likelihood that the organization will need to determine how the organization will comply.
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP, is the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Paralegal Division and a past President of the Division. She is a frequent speaker on paralegal ethics and intellectual property and the lead author of the Division’s Paralegal Ethics Handbook published by West Legalworks. She is an Advanced Certified Paralegal in intellectual property by the National Association of Legal Assistants and a registered paralegal by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. She is a past President and District 5 Director of the Paralegal Division.