Board wants to see more study on the issue
By Gary Blankenship
Members of the Bar Board of Governors said they are sensitive to the desire of paralegals for recognition of their importance to the legal system, but proposed bills in the legislature to license and regulate paralegals aren’t the best way.
The board’s vote to oppose HB 395 and SB 906 as originally filed, followed the recommendation from the Special Committee to Study Paralegal Regulation. Bar President Alan Bookman also announced at the board’s December 16 meeting that he was extending the life of the committee, pursuant to its recommendation.
The Bar’s stance on the bills was also endorsed by the Legislation Committee.
“There are some things that don’t make sense in the legislation as proposed. That is truly why this [paralegal] committee needs to keep on looking at it,” said President-elect designate Frank Angones, chair of the Legislation Committee. “It doesn’t look like the legislation as currently proposed has a great possibility of passing. Nonetheless, we did recognize the importance of the issue, the importance of the paralegal profession, and the importance that they should be recognized.”
The position adopted by the board is: “The Florida Bar opposes HB 395 and SB 906 as originally filed because the Bar further believes that more meaningful recognition of the paralegal profession can be achieved by continuing the discussion with the legal profession and judicial branch before enactment of this particular legislation.”
Legislative Counsel Steve Metz said that position allows the Bar to point out problems with the legislation but still allows flexibility in dealing with lawmakers in addressing the issue.
The special committee was appointed last year after four legislators, two in the House and two in the Senate, filed legislation to create a licensing and regulatory scheme for paralegals. The legislation, however, was not pushed after the Bar agreed to study the issue which resulted in the paralegal committee.
Committee members include Rep. Juan Zapata, R-Miami, one of the bill sponsors. The committee initially moved toward a recommendation to create a paralegal section within the Bar with voluntary membership and a charge to study the many thorny problems related to regulation and licensing. Zapata said that didn’t go far enough and refiled his bill. Sen. Nancy Argenziano has since refilled the bill in the Senate.
At its December 9 meeting, the committee tabled the section idea and instead listed the issues that needed to be addressed, recommended that its tenure be extended (the committee was scheduled to complete its work prior to the March regular session), and recommended the board oppose the two bills.
Asked if lawmakers might move forward on the bills because the Bar hasn’t acted, Angones noted nobody expected the special committee to have a final recommendation by December and it will meet extensively before the regular session opens in March.
Added Metz: “This committee has done precisely what it should have done and that is get this issue out there and talk about it. Everything this committee has done is in good faith.”
Board member Ross Goodman, chair of the paralegal committee, summarized its activities, and added, “There is a strong possibility that we can bring the issues to resolution without the legislation going forward.”
“The dialogue will continue because it is important,” Bar President Alan Bookman said. “It’s one of those issues that you just can’t bite off in the very short time period the legislature gave us.”
He also said that Bar UPL Counsel Lori Holcomb had analyzed the bills and found problems. Holcomb said the bills talk about preventing UPL in the listed purposes of the bill but then never addressed that issue. Additionally, the bills may overreach into regulatory issues and may set a restrictive standard for grandfathering existing paralegals that may exclude many from getting the license.