Tuesday, February 2, 2010

ALDAP President Kathleen Mountjoy Speaks at Elkins Family Law Task Force Meeting

On February 1, 2010 the Elkins Family Law Task Force met to review revisions to its draft Recommendations. Gail Hahn, ALDAP's Director of Education is ALDAP's point of contact with regard to the committee's recommendations, which are to be delivered to the California Judicial Council on April 30, 2010.

The public comment period ended in December 2009. However, Gail noted that the committee was scheduled to meet for two days beginning February 1st at the Administrative Office of the Courts in San Francisco and was offering a public comment period for those who wished to preregister. At the December Task Force meeting, Gail Hahn had made a presentation on behalf of California's Legal Document Assistants which was met with the committee's request for additional information which we addressed in ALDAP's responses to the recommendations. Gail explained that she had a previously scheduled appointment which conflicted with the meeting schedule. She asked me if anyone else could attend on her behalf. I am a few hours away from the City by the Bay so I agreed to attend and to make a presentation on behalf of ALDAP and ALL California Legal Document Assistants. We could not let an opportunity to, once again, appear and speak of what we know to be true.

In an effort to focus on the salient points we wished to present to the committee, I worked on a short presentation which at completion consumed four single-spaced pages. We initially thought we would have seven minutes. Imagine my surprise when I noted the time limit - three minutes! It is extremely difficult to get one's point across in three minutes - that is how long it takes to introduce oneself.

During our three hour drive, I worked on our presentation, whittling it down to the bare essentials while trying to make certain it would be comprehensible to those committee members who might not be aware of the Legal Document Assistant.

I am not an experienced public speaker and I do not enjoy the butterflies and nervousness that overtake me when I have to speak in front of a group. I practiced with the stopwatch function on my cell phone almost all the way to San Francisco.

Upon arrival, I was impressed to be directed to the Office of the Judicial Council of California. Not knowing what to expect I was delighted and thrilled to be led into a paneled room with a large circular bay of desktop surrounding four wide screen televisions which faced in each direction. The circle consisted of several stations at which the committee members sat. The peons (me) sat around the edge in the audience area.

Many of the committee members came out into the public area and introduced themselves with a cheery good morning and a friendly smile. At that point, I started feeling a bit less nervous about speaking in front of the committee.

I tried to lose my inherent perception that these people are Gods (as my mother, the 50-yr legal secretary/paralegal had taught me) and that many were the very people who relied upon me to make their work lives less complicated and to do their work for the past 30 years. I also started thinking that some of these people aren't too much older than 30. What did I have to be intimidated about?

The committee got down to business and after a few revision reviews, those of us who stuck around to present made our pleas. I was the fourth person and as I strode to the podium I kept thinking I wish I could just submit a declaration in lieu of testimony. So that is what came out of my mouth. The entire room broke into laughter and my nervousness abated. I felt like I was in my old law firm making a presentation to the managing attorneys. All of a sudden it was easy, I just had to remain inside of my three minute allowance.

I started out slow and then sped up. I explained that ALDAP members are paralegal/LDAs and as such we provide our clients with educational information, rules of court, etc. I explained that California's Legislators created our profession 10 years ago with built in compliance provisions, but that enforcement was almost non-existent. I asked the committee to please provide for civil access by providing a list of all California registered and bonded LDAs in each courthouse. I explained about rogues and the "black eye" given our profession by the lack of enforcement and failure of many to comply with the regulations. I requested the committee consider mandatory pro per declarations at initial filing re LDA identification and compensation; and I requested that the court's assist consumer protections, and those of us who do comply, by posting (beware of) fraud notices in the courthouses and in the court's resource referral materials.

Finally, I advised the committee that it should not overlook the immediate and positive impact LDAs could have on court efficiency at negligible cost. I closed asking the committee to consider a statement made by Kevin Baker, the Deputy Chief Counsel, Assembly Judicial Committee, who was the writer of AB 590 (2009 Access to Justice) recently approved and signed by our Governor. Mr. Baker had stated to me during a telephone conversation that "Legal Document Assistants perform a much needed service for California's consumers."

When the last presenter was finished, the committee broke for a much needed lunch. I had a ton of work waiting at the office and while I could have sat and listened for the entire two-days, I knew my driver would not be too happy with me if we stayed.

So we headied back to Sacramento and when the comment was made that the drive home was so much faster than the drive to the City, I figured it best not to mention that we drove for almost five hours in one morning just so I could speak for three minutes. I do have to say though, that to me, it was time well spent.

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