Paralegal Resource: The American Bar Association

By Vicki Voisin, ACP 

The American Bar Association (ABA) isn’t just about attorneys. Through some outstanding programs, the ABA promotes the paralegal profession and offers excellent resources for paralegals.

The ABA’s policy making body is the House of Delegates. In 1997, the House of Delegates adopted the current definition of “legal assistant/paralegal.” The definition reads as follows:

A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.

According to the ABA’s Web site, “The current definition of “legal assistant/paralegal” replaces the definition adopted by the ABA Board of Governors in 1986. It adds the term “paralegal” since the terms “legal assistant” and “paralegal” are, in practice, used interchangeably. The term that is preferred generally depends on what part of the country one is from. The current definition streamlines the 1986 definition and more accurately reflects how legal assistants are presently being utilized in the delivery of legal services.”

The ABA has also adopted Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Paralegal Services.The Model Guidelines were originally adopted in 1991 and revised in 2004. Their purpose is to encourage lawyers to utilize paralegal services effectively and promote the continued growth of the paralegal profession.

The 2004 revision incorporated new case law, advisory opinions, new and revised state guidelines and changes in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct since the original publication date.

The ABA’s Standing Committee on Paralegals develops and promotes policies relating to the education, employment, training and effective use of paralegals. 

The Standing Committee, through its Approval Commission is the body that sets standards for paralegal education. It also makes recommendations to the ABA’s House of Delegates for approval (and reapproval) of paralegal training programs that have met the standards and guidelines set by the ABA for quality paralegal education.

In addition to overseeing the approval program, the Standing Committee monitors trends in the paralegal career field. It maintains an information service for persons interested in becoming paralegals. In an average year, the staff office processes more than 6,000 requests for information and responds to numerous requests for assistance.

The ABA also offers information for preparing for a career as a paralegalwhere to get training and what it means to graduate from an ABA-approved paralegal education program. Here some additional resources offered by the ABA:

· Your ABA: Ethics training for paralegals: a winning situation for clients

· 2005 Survey of Approved Paralegal Education Programs

· Economic Benefits of Paralegal Utilization

· Information for Lawyers: How Paralegals Can Improve Your Practice

Are you a paralegal who has recently lost your job? Do you want to know how to market yourself in today’s economy? The ABA’s Economic Recovery Resources contains resources and tips on a variety of topics for both lawyers and paralegals. You can access invaluable information and resources for job search/networking, stress management, professional development and more. Visit the new ABA Job Board to search for jobs, create a profile and upload your resume.

If you are already working as a paralegal or legal assistant, the ABA offers anassociate membership that offers “access to the wealth of ABA benefits to develop a competitive advantage in your field.”

There are many other resources available. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are particularly helpful if you have ethics questions. There’s a very cool map of the US that gives paralegal status by state and much more.

The ABA Web site is an amazing resource for paralegals. Be sure to explore the ABA Web site to check out all of the information available there, including various publications and a list of recommended paralegal blawgs that you will want to follow. 

©2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

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