A great degree and probably the most important part of the process of paralegal education relates to legal research and familiarity with state statutes. These codes serve society as a whole and these are the rules that define the process of law. The California Business and Professions Code governs private businesses and professions deemed to engage in activities which have potential impact upon the public health, safety, and welfare, and are adequately regulated in order to protect the people of California.
Knowledgeable and capable paralegals have complete familiarity with laws governing their own profession. To fail to do so is a gross indicator of a lack of experience and knowledge, and of course, abilities. A paralegal working directly on behalf of a lawyer or law firm, whether by employment or by contract who maintains the mandatory continuing legal education hours, is a bona fide paralegal. This professional is well respected throughout the field of law. Paralegals perform a variety of tasks, serving as the "glue" on a legal team. A member of a legal team who seeks any type of case information is best served by asking the paralegal who is most commonly the teammate with the broadest range of knowledge regarding the location of that information - and probably can get it to you in a fast minute.
An unregistered, non-attorney legal document preparer providing services to the public is neither paralegal nor legal document assistant. These "rogues" do not comply with the laws governing our professions and therefore, give both professions a "black eye." Rogues prey upon uninformed or "confused" consumers who of course, have no knowledge of the consumer protections afforded under law. There is legislation in California that is in place to protect the consumer, but we need to educate the public and enforce the laws.
This is a seemingly controversial topic and many LDAs are hesitant to publicly address the issue of rogues. We might think that we will suffer ourselves from any bad publicity. Or, we might be concerned that current legislation might be affected by such disclosure. Sweeping rogue operations and UPL "under the rug" creates a far more damaging reality. We must understand that "rogues" are not paralegals and they are not legal document assistants. They do not belong in either profession unless and until they comply with the laws. And, in all reality, if their character and integrity is so lacking that they operate outside the law; and, if they fail to comprehend the rules, should they not be put out of business?
If we fail to protect our own profession we may end up without a profession. Dedicated and diligent individuals advocated so that consumers in California are allowed to make informed decisions concerning their own legal affairs, including the hiring of a non-attorney legal service provider, or legal document assistant.
These issues require our attention as they pertain to the field of law. As non-attorney legal services providers we have a duty to ourselves and to those we serve - attorneys and/or consumers. The authorities cannot successfully audit each and every county, seeking out illegal operations to ensure compliance. However, I am certain that they are required to consider each and every complaint received and that in and of itself must be a major task.
We have a responsibility to report. The authorities have the responsibility to enforce compliance. An additional and necessary component of protection is consumer education. Future legislative amendments may include an examination process, mandatory minimum continuing education, background checks, and state licensing of legal document assistants. All of these measures will help increase consumer protection and enhance our position in the legal field.