Paralegals meet, greet, and learn

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LEGAL NEWS PHOTOS BY CYNTHIA  PRICE

 Photo 1:  State Bar Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section members surrounding speaker Dawn Evans (center front) are, left to right: Doreen Defauw (Council Member), Piper Smith (Chair), Kelly Preuss (Committee Chair), and Linda Jevahirian (Committee Chair).

Photo 2: Paralegals, legal assistants, paralegal students, and others interested in networking gathered at the GP?Sports Bar in the Amway Grand Hotel.

Photo 3: Dawn Evans, Director of the Professional Standards Division, State Bar of Michigan, makes a point about ethics to the group.

 

 

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

 

The Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) is holding Meet and Greets throughout the state, and last Friday was West Michigan’s turn.

Paralegals, paralegal students, and a smattering of significant others  showed up at GP?Sports Bar in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to network, enjoy each other’s company, and obtain some useful information.

SBM’s Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section “provides education, information and analysis about issues of concern through meetings, seminars, the website, public service programs, and publication of a newsletter.”

Recently-sworn-in Chair Piper Smith was the dynamic hostess of the event, joined by Council Member Doreen Defauw of Troy.

Smith, who will serve one year as section chair followed by a year as ex-officio chair, works in-house as a paralegal with  Wayne State University Physician Group’s Legal Affairs and Compliance unit. She is also a member of Oakland Community College’s Paralegal Program Advisory Council for the American Bar Association Paralegal Curriculum, and an adjunct educator on e-filing presentations for litigation.

Other council officers include chair-elect Jennifer Petty from Detroit, Secretary Renee Jent  of Okemos, and Treasurer Marianne Delaney of Dearborn. The ex-officio is Cheryl J. Nodarse, of Lansing. Council members include people from Detroit and nearby Southeast Michigan cities, Lansing, and one from Suttons Bay, but no one from Grand Rapids is currently serving.

The 30-35 locals who attended Friday seemed to be very engaged and having a good time. Smith said, “We’ve received feedback that folks in attendance truly enjoyed this event and were very grateful for Ms. Evans’ informal discussion on ethics.”

Dawn Evans, Director of the Professional Standards Division of SBM, offered substantial advice.

She started out by telling the paralegals, “What you do involves a lot of diplomacy,” and went on to cover not only the ethical responsibilities of paralegals who work directly as attorney assistants, but also the options for those who fear an attorney may not be behaving ethically.

She emphasized that a professional paralegal can greatly enhance the ethical operations of a practice, through such practices as using a conflict-checking system and communicating clearly the expectations in the lawyer-client relationship, especially around timelines and payment. Evans noted that paralegals should know how client funds are to be managed, including legal requirements they will be operating under.

Evans felt it was important to tell clients early and often the attorney’s/

firm’s policy on record retention and destruction, so they will “understand that their ability to obtain copies from the file will end at the end of that period of time.”

Noting that SBM has a number of resources to help, Evans cautioned that there is never a reason for a paralegal to be put in a compromised position. She advised those who suspect an attorney is not following good ethical practices to first ask the lawyer about their suspicion, if possible, since it may result from a misunderstanding of the circumstances. If that does not clear it up, she advised talking to another lawyer, adding that it is important to be cautious about revealing client information. If that fails, SBM?can help. Both the Ethics webpage, www.

michbar.org/opinions/ethicsopinions.

cfm#recent and the Practice Management Resource Center (PMRC) page  at www.michbar.

org/pmrc/content.cfm, are available for guidance. If the attorney needs information, there are two corresponding hotlines, both operating during business hours Monday to Friday: ethics, 877-558-4760; PMRC 1-800-

341-9715.

Evans especially urged paralegals who see an impaired attorney to contact the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program, at www.michbar.org/

generalinfo/ljap or 800-996-5522.

An audience member who is a paralegal student (several from Davenport’s program were there) asked Evans if she had any advice as her group graduates. Evans replied that they should give themselves time to learn this complex field, and have patience with themselves.

The Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section has scheduled two additional Meet and Greets in 2014, one in Royal Oak on March 7, and one in Ann Arbor July 11. To RSVP for either, contact Piper Smith, psmit@med.wayne.edu.

There will also be an Annual Day of Education in the Metro Detroit area May 1-2, with a social event Thursday evening followed by Friday educational sessions.

Ongoing information is available on the Section’s Facebook page, which is subject to SBM guidelines, at https://www.facebook.com/pages/State-Bar-of-Michigan-ParalegalLegal-Assistant-Section/421047361287823.