Monday, January 4, 2016

Word of the Month for January 2016: Paralegal

Unauthorized Practice of Law is a slippery slope
The funny thing about law and the practice thereof is that so many people seem to think they can do it with ease.  Yes, my blog universe is called "Legal Research is Easy," but finding the law is not the same as applying the law.  Let me elucidate.

A while back, a couple come into our law library.  They were looking to file a lawsuit for breach of contract.  When they announced they didn't have the money to hire an attorney,  three people within earshot jumped up and claimed that they could help them for a fraction of what attorneys charge.  For the record, you get what you pay for.

Turns out of the three people, only one had had any legal experience (i.e. the paralegal).  The other two were opportunists looking to make a quick buck filling out legal forms....because, that's all there is to the practice of law, filling out legal forms, right?  Uh....no.

This, of course, brings me to the word of the month: PARALEGAL.  According to Black's Law Dictionary, a PARALEGAL is someone who has some education in law and assists a lawyer in duties related to the practice of law but who is not a licensed attorney.  Breaking this down, this person:
  1. Has some knowledge (that's "some" as in they know when the fire is getting too hot)
  2. ASSISTS lawyers (that's "assist" as in "help with")
  3. not a licensed attorney (that's "not licensed" as in "can't represent")
The problem these days is that there are lots of people going around "helping" people with their legal problems without any legal knowledge or expertise.  The result is that cases are being dismissed with little or no recourse against the offending practitioners of UPL (what with the State Bar not stepping up).

Of course, if you choose to not work with a licensed attorney (i.e. someone who has errors and omissions insurance) you're just looking for trouble.  Heck, while paralegals don't have to carry insurance, cya is always the best policy.  

In any event, because person who "helped" couple had no legal experience (meaning they did not even select the paralegal) nor was working with an attorney, couple's case was (ultimately) kicked out and the limitation of actions ran.  Oops.  Best to stick with professionals than professional hacks.

Sad that there are so many unscrupulous people out there preying on their fellow man.  Sadder still is the fact that the State Bar (or the District Attorney, for that matter) seemingly refuses to prosecute people who habitually practice law without a license (giving a bad name to those in the legal biz who actually do know what's what).