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Independence vs. Tradition

November 17, 1994|SCOTT SHIBUYA BROWN

Independent or dependent? Typists or assistant attorneys?

While many independent paralegals have learned their trade from experience--either by working for attorneys or as employees in "typing services" that prepare legal documents--many dependent paralegals opt for educational training from schools and colleges that offer certificate programs in paralegal skills.

And therein lies a tale of two apparent professions united under a single name and, say some, complicated by the problematic matter of hierarchy.

"A lot of traditional paralegals have not liked us," said Lois Isenberg, president of the California Assn. of Independent Paralegals, who said independents are often looked down upon by their certified brethren. "A lot of them feel we're stepping out of our domain. (They) don't want us to be called paralegals."

Not so, said Richard Shaffron, who directs the Assistant Attorney Training Program at UCLA Extension, which turns out 250 graduates a year and is one of the nation's largest paralegal certificate programs. While it's true that most of their paralegals graduate into jobs working for attorneys, some who receive their certificates prefer to work independently.

"I don't see any schism between the two (fields)," said Shaffron, a former entertainment attorney. "There's a huge, huge range of skills."

At UCLA Extension, the five-month, $3,500 course is designed to acquaint students with a disciplines ranging from entertainment and environmental law to public advocacy and personal injury law. While Isenberg said most of what certified paralegals learn is more theory than form preparation, Shaffron said the 22-year-old program has tried to emphasize both.

"We give our students both theory and practice," said Shaffron. "Many independent paralegals have certificates."

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