We frequently see, read, or otherwise hear about people who have single-handedly “made a difference” in their communities, their counties, their states, or even at the federal level. Motivated by some compassionate force, a sense of fairness, or even personal desperation, they took it upon themselves to lobby for changes in laws, rules, regulations, or some similarly bold project at the legal or legislative level. Some have altered laws concerning their environment; some have altered laws protecting children, women, or the elderly; some have created new laws establishing fairness or expansion that benefit large groups of people. We might wonder how they did it and whether we, ourselves, are remotely capable of such large-scale projects—and do we have the patience and fortitude to see them to completion, accomplishing what we intended. The inspiration to do this seems to come from the wellspring of the human spirit and a sense of utter dedication to make changes that seem to solve problems or fill a need for the good of the many.
Having recently been influenced by two inspirations relating to my legal community, both local and statewide, I embarked on the following dedicated quests.
Two years ago I spearheaded a personal campaign to persuade our local Oregon Lane County Bar Association (“LCBA”) to create an “Affiliated Member” status of membership for nonlawyer legal support professionals. This would allow membership in the LCBA, the ability to receive credit for CLE meetings they present, and admittance to other LCBA events, social or otherwise. The main purposes for the campaign were to expand ways of attaining CLE credit, because NALS requires us (not unlike attorneys) to maintain a certain level of CLE over a certain number of years for those of us holding certifications; and, where possible, to broaden our abilities to network with attorneys on their turf and be recognized as important—and visible—parts of the legal community.
I contacted the then president of the LCBA with the concept and she immediately favored the idea, and it went directly to discussion by their board of directors. The board then assigned the monitoring to one of their attorneys and board members, who dutifully interfaced with me for a couple of months while the concept was in committee sorting out bylaws changes and constructing new forms.
On October 10, 2014, I received an email from then current Lane County Bar Association President Judge Mustafa Kasubhai confirming that an Affiliate Membership had been created for us, and we nonattorneys could now receive credit for seminars attended and would be able to attend other miscellaneous LCBA events and meetings as would any other member of the LCBA.
So, after a little diplomacy, much enthusiasm, and a dollop of patience, NALS members and other legal support personnel in Lane County, Oregon, are now free to join the Lane County Bar Association—and reap the benefits—for a modest annual membership fee. I was thrilled at the success of the project and pleased to see that the Lane County Bar Association welcomed us so warmly. It is a milestone, yes, but surely a win-win for all concerned as well.
My question is, have any of you looked into this matter (assuming you do not currently have a local Affiliate or Associate Membership available to you)? If you do not, would you be willing to suggest it to your local bar association and make your case persuasively? It is something to think about.
My next grassroots effort was far more daunting and bore far greater, wider-ranging ramifications. It involved attempting to convince the Oregon State Bar’s Minimum Continuing Legal Education Committee (“MCLE”) to alter their rules to allow our NALS education meeting speakers to earn one CLE credit for teaching our hour-long NALS monthly education classes. The MCLE assists and advises the Board of Governors on issues relating to the MCLE Rules and Regulations and operation of the MCLE program. The MCLE Committee consists of six active Oregon State Bar members and one public member appointed by the Board of Governors. Members serve three-year terms. The MCLE Committee reviews decisions of the MCLE Administrator that are challenged by members or sponsors. It also recommends changes to the MCLE Rules, Regulations, and operating procedures to ensure that the program is efficient and effective.
My CLE credit concept was a project that actually began much earlier in time, when one of our guest speakers assisted me and wrote a letter to the MCLE Committee on our behalf in support of the CLE credit concept. There was essentially no substantive resolution to the inquiry. End of discussion—for the moment. I did not feel defeated, however. Moreover, our guest speakers sometimes asked if they could receive credit for teaching our NALS education classes, and I very much wanted to someday tell them YES.
As you can guess, this task was a bit more complex and challenging a project than chatting with my local bar association principals and discovering that they are fully supportive of us as Affiliate Members. This MCLE project was a rather rarified state-level bit of business with highly qualified perfect strangers, with several levels of approval needed, and requiring a clever, dignified approach on my part. I composed a serious written proposal, a hopefully persuasive writing, explaining why the concept was valid and why it would benefit both our meetings’ attendees and our guest speakers alike. I cited some examples of current Rules where the benefit could conceivably be inserted or where some creativity could be applied to allow the benefit. In the course of my research, I discovered that many states’ bar associations did NOT allow teaching credit when nonlawyers were the recipients of the teaching. I found this a bit astounding, but that made the effort all the more important and passionate. Oregon has been a vanguard for many other state-level issues (its environmental stance being no exception, as well as its residents’ commitment to volunteerism), so why not on the legal stage. For some reason, Idaho has long offered teaching credit to its attorneys who instruct nonlawyers:
An attorney who teaches an accredited course shall receive three (3) credit hours for each hour of teaching. No credit will be given for preparation time; time spent in introductory remarks, coffee and food breaks, business meetings, or other activities that do not involve educational aspects of the CLE activity; presentations by attorneys that include the promotion of goods or services; or CLE activities for which the attorney is directly compensated other than as an honorarium or for expenses. An attorney who teaches an activity that meets the accreditation standards under Rule 403(a) that is directed primarily to nonlawyers shall receive only one (1) credit hour for each hour of teaching.
This sets a fine example and a decent precedent for the Pacific Northwest. I urge Washington State NALS chapters to approach their state bar association and lock up the Pacific Northwest as a progressive and dynamic region when it comes to the value of pro bono teaching to nonlawyers.
The growth of the legal assistant/paralegal profession is now, in some firms, greater than merely a secretarial slot. We are no longer simply assistants to a profession—we are a profession unto ourselves. The gradual expansion of the position has not only influenced NALS to evolve over the years, but has inherently changed the legal support professional’s relationship to his/her attorneys and his/her local and state bar associations. Change is healthy. Laws change all the time. Allowing a closer relationship between support professional and the persons they answer to—beyond the office—is the direction the industry is taking. I was counting on this to support my petition to the Oregon State Bar.
On April 19, 2016, after the long wait, and the necessary deliberation of the powers that be, the MCLE Program Manager forwarded me some of the areas of the Rules which had been altered. The following is the pertinent Regulation that applies to the credit available to those persons teaching nonlawyers.
Regulation 5.300 Category III Activities.
(b) Other Volunteer Activities. . . . volunteer activities for which accreditation is not available pursuant to Rules 5.3, 5.4, 5.6, 5.7, 5.8, 5.9, or 5.10 . . . may be claimed at a ratio of one credit hour for each two hours of uncompensated volunteer activities provided that the MCLE Program Manager determines the primary purpose of such activity is the provision of legal services or legal expertise. Such activities include but are not limited to:
(iii) Teaching a legal education activity offered primarily to nonlawyers high school age and older.
We could start a movement nationwide. If your state bar association’s rules do NOT happen to allow your education meeting speakers to receive CLE credit for teaching nonlawyers, it is time the topic of that credit was persuasively presented to them. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Imagine the incentive you can offer your professional speakers that was not there previously if your persuasiveness is taken seriously. Locate someone in your chapter who likes to write and let them be your vanguard with this concept. It is so very simple. If I can do it, anyone can.
Charlene Sabini, PLS, ALP, is legal assistant for attorney David Vill in juvenile law matters in Eugene, Oregon. She is Director of Education for her local chapter, NALS of Lane County in Eugene, and has enthusiastically occupied that position for over four years. She is editor of her chapter’s bimonthly newsletter, NALS in Motion, which has been published unfailingly for nearly four years. She has earned three successive NALS CLE Awards and plans to sit for the PP exam in September 2016. She is a proofreader on the NALS Editorial Board and has contributed articles/essays for the NALS docket and @Law. Charlene is an affiliate member of the Lane County Bar Association and was responsible for initiating that level of membership with the bar for nonlawyers in 2014. She also petitioned the Oregon State Bar Association to allow guest speaking attorneys at nonlawyer education meetings to receive CLE credit (which was formerly not allowed in Oregon) and was successful. She is also a 13-year volunteer with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office in Eugene, has served as the county sheriff’s newsletter editor, and is currently serving as the county jail librarian. The Oregon State Sheriff’s Association/Jail Command Council awarded Ms. Sabini the Jail Volunteer of the Year award in 2009.