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Nominations sought for Florida Registered Paralegal of the Year Award

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'If you’re an assistant, you’re a cost, if you’re a paralegal, you’re a fee'

2021 Florida Registered Paralegal of the year award promotionEven after more than 30 years in the profession, Margo Valenti never tires of the question she gets nearly every day — what’s a paralegal?

She prefers using a medical analogy to help explain that a paralegal isn’t a lawyer — but a professional who is trained to help lawyers serve the public more effectively and efficiently.

“I like to think of it along the lines of a nurse practitioner,” she says.

Too often, Valenti said, lawyers confuse paralegals with legal assistants.

“If you’re looking for someone to answer the phone and schedule things, then you’re looking for a legal assistant,” she said. “If you’re looking for someone who is actually going to work with you to create documents, then you’re looking for a paralegal.”

Valenti knows better than most. She is CEO of Tampa-based Law Office Support Services, and chairs the Florida Registered Paralegal Enrichment Committee.

The committee this year is marking a milestone by sponsoring the “2021 Florida Registered Paralegal of the Year Award,” — a first of its kind.

Valenti and her fellow committee members hope the award will raise the profile of paralegals and the nearly 5,000-member Florida Registered Paralegal Program, which every month attracts some 1,000 participants to its CLE programs.

The winner of the 2021 Florida Registered Paralegal of the Year Award will be recognized at the Bar’s Annual Convention June 9-11 and receive free travel and a night’s stay at the Orlando Bonnet Creek.

Too many lawyers fail to recognize the value of hiring a paralegal, insists Asha Maharaj-Lucas, president of the 783-member Paralegal Association of Florida.

“If an attorney hires a true paralegal for their firm, they have advanced billing capabilities, so you can bill for a paralegal,” Maharaj-Lucas said. “A paralegal has gone to school and is educated in the law and how to read the rules and how to write pleadings, and they know how to speak to judges and judicial assistants and how to facilitate a case.”

Valenti puts it this way — “If you’re an assistant, you’re a cost, if you’re a paralegal, you’re a fee.”

Maharaj-Lucas chairs the Paralegal Enrichment Committee’s Subcommittee on Special Projects, a six-member panel that will be reviewing the nominations for the award.

To qualify, a nominee must be a member of the Florida Registered Paralegal Program and be in good standing. The Florida Paralegal Enrichment Committee is soliciting nominations from legal aid groups, civic organizations, lawyers, and fellow paralegals.

“We are excited and we are really looking forward to hearing from everyone, and getting in as many nominations as possible,” Maharaj-Lucas said.

There are many reasons a paralegal deserves to be recognized, Maharaj-Lucas said.

“Your years of service, your knowledge about your profession, your involvement with different organizations that help educate paralegals around the state, if you’re a leader in your community or your law firm, if you take pride in what you do, that’s what we’re looking forward to reading about in the nominations,” she said.

Known as one of the paralegal profession’s most passionate advocates, Valenti jokes that she will probably need a tissue when the nominations start to pile up.

“I am looking forward to attorneys nominating their paralegals,” she said. “If someone takes the time to write something, I’m probably going to start tearing up.”

To access the nomination form, click here. Nominations are due by March 5.

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