An Interview with Karen George, FRP
We’ve all certainly heard a lot about licensure and regulation of the paralegal profession in recent times. You can’t go online or pick up a paralegal magazine without reading about it. In this interview, Karen George, FRP, shares her candid stance with us regarding the rather controversial topic of paralegal licensure.
What is your stance regarding licensure of the paralegal profession?
I am all for it. Perhaps, even to my own detriment, but still for it.
Tell us why you support licensure and/or regulation so strongly?
The title “Paralegal” is no longer solely used as a title given to an “exceptional” legal assistant in the form of a promotion, so that a firm will not lose him or her as an employee. We, as paralegals and as professionals, should expect and demand more for our profession.
Those in our profession who teach in colleges and universities frequently speak out regarding this topic. Even the American Bar Association has recognized us as working professionals. Yet, we are working within a profession that is without any real governance or set direction. We attempt to implement our own rules and regulations through codes such as ethics and by-laws, but there are no “laws” for a paralegal.
I know you are a Florida Registered Paralegal. How does the State of Florida currently regulate its paralegals?
In my home state of Florida, we are “registered” with The Florida Bar, but we are not members. In fact, the department of The Florida Bar that oversees Florida Registered Paralegals is the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) Department. Is this because they are so afraid that we will commit UPL? Do they think if they give us a “title” that we will go out and represent ourselves as pseudo attorneys at a lower price? I really don’t think that would be an issue.
The paralegal profession needs a set of laws licensing them, a board set up to oversee the activities of the individual paralegals and to set forth the criteria for the profession based upon the laws. I feel that standard rules must be implemented for education, as well.
What are some of the reasons you feel licensure is needed?
Too many “colleges” and “universities” are popping up around the countries that offer no real value for our profession. They charge exorbitant fees to unsuspecting pupils and turn out graduates who cannot get a job. In large part, this is because paralegal students are not being taught the essentials which are fundamentally necessary in order to do the job. These “victims” are saddled with school loans, no job and the daunting potential for financial ruin. This would end with licensure because standards would be set and educational institutions would have to abide by them.
Yes, the American Bar Association is trying to set the standard, but they do it alone and the public doesn’t really understand the difference between ABA approved schools and non-ABA approved schools. Prospective students are just looking at the time they will have to invest in order to obtain a paralegal certificate or some form of a designation and the cost of obtaining it. Paralegal students do not realize they need to place more weight upon the actual value and education (or lack thereof) that they will receive.
We read these posts every single day: “I am a paralegal graduate and I can’t even get an interview,” “I have a AS in paralegal studies, but no one will hire me.” Why is that? Experienced paralegals rally around these folks and step up to offer their guidance and support. We try to advise them to polish their resumes, better elaborate their strengths and prior work experience to bolster their appeal as a prospective candidate for a paralegal job since they have no paralegal experience. The working, active, experienced and involved paralegals across the country need to rally around this issue and put an end to the this.
Schools need to require internships as part of the education for their paralegal students. When I say internship, I don’t mean 4-6 hours. I mean an extended internship that will teach the fundamental job skills they will need once they enter the paralegal world. This is no different than nursing students being required to attend clinicals as part of their education. No extensive internship, no diploma. I feel that’s how it should be with our profession, as well.
Earlier you said you supported licensure even “to your own detriment.” Could you please clarify what you meant by that?
Licensure will bring about educational standards and requirements that I, as a self-made paralegal, may not have. Although I am sure I would likely fall within the parameters of whatever “grandfathering” standards they establish, I realize that I may be at an inherent disadvantage. Therefore, I view it as my duty to do all I can to insure that I meet the standards that may be set forth in the event of licensure.
Is there anything additional that you would like to tell us about this topic?
Licensure of the paralegal profession is going to happen. It must, it should and it will. The question then becomes will it be now, tomorrow or sometime in the not too distant future? I prefer sooner than later, so that I can have the ability to speak out and contribute to what it ultimately becomes for the profession.
This is just one paralegal’s view regarding the issue of licensure. If you have an opinion that you would like to share with us regarding this topic (either in support of Karen’s position or perhaps one to the contrary), please leave a comment below or contact us via e-mail. Speak up! We would love to hear from you.