It’s not just the poor. Even the middle class struggles with a complex and costly American legal system.
Our guest, Toni Marsh, JD, is a professor and director at the George Washington University School of Law Paralegal Studies program and a fierce advocate for the role of paralegals.
The paralegal profession is in flux. As Americans struggle to access their legal system, constitutional rights are becoming out of reach. Marsh believes paralegals can fill that gap as states explore expanding their role. Legal navigators, legal document preparers, and licensed legal professionals are stepping up. How can paralegals prepare for tomorrow’s legal profession?
Also, in the “Listener’s Voice” segment, host Carl Morrison answers a listener’s questions about seeking new challenges, perfecting a resume, and finding new opportunities. Got a question for Carl? Email him today at [email protected].
Special thanks to our sponsors CourtFiling.Net, InfoTrack, NALA, and ServeNow.
Carl Morrison: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Paralegal Voice here on Legal Talk Network. I’m Carl Morrison a Legal Operations Manager and Advanced Certified Paralegal and your host of the Paralegal Voice. Before we start today’s Show. We’d like to thank our sponsors NALA, ServeNow and of course, our newest sponsor Infotrac. So we are excited to have them. So with that, we’re just going to jump right off into our show today. And my guest is someone I followed for several years now, followed specifically in the paralegal educator circuit. She is highly respected. And well, I just have to say, she is an amazing legal educator and program director, and she currently is the program director for George Washington University School of Law their ABA-approved paralegal program, and I can truly speak from experience that she has an amazing program. And besides the program, the educators in a program, the students and it’s a phenomenal school, and I just really am so honored to have her on the show. So please help me welcome to the Paralegal Voice family, Toni Marsh.
Toni Marsh: Thank you Carl, you are too kind. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Carl Morrison: Well, I am in awe of you and have been for many years. So I’m just so excited to have you here on the show. And for our listeners today’s show is really — it’s something that’s kind of near and dear to my heart. And I know it’s also very near and dear to Toni’s heart as well. And it’s the concept and the topic of access to justice. And you know, access justice is such an important area right now. And of course, it seems like every cent, there’s been a lot of, you know, a big push for individuals to have, you know, the best access to legal services that are out there and before get the meat and potatoes of the show, I really wanted to start off kind of high level and speak in a broad sense. And, you know, when we talk about access to justice Toni, you know, we hear that term but do we really know what it means? You know, what is access to justice, as I put air quotes around that and you know, why is there such a need in our society?
Toni Marsh: Well Carl, our society today is quite complex. There are many things going on, on many levels and many different arenas and in order to survive and thrive in a society like this, you really need to know what’s going on legally and you need to be able to access your legal rights and you need to be able to access the people or the resources or the institutions that can help you to understand your rights and make sure that those rights are covered, make sure that they’re afforded to you. So the kinds of things that happen to all of us every day for many of us, those small obstacles that the things that many of us would consider small obstacles for another large group of us would be almost insurmountable. So it’s important in today’s society to understand what your rights are to be able to navigate through the complexity and to be able to know what resources you need to call upon to do so.
Carl Morrison: You know, that’s — our forefathers had the best foresight on, you know, making sure that we have the ability to be able to get our access to justice, and be able to, you know, redress problems with our neighbors, with criminal actions, things of that nature. And so when we talk about access to justice, we also talked about the crisis that has happened within a citizen’s ability to access those legal services. And, you know, I’d like for the listeners — for you to tell the listeners Toni, you know, when we talk about the access to justice crisis in the United States right now, what is that crisis that’s happening in the country.
Toni Marsh: Well, you know, you raised an excellent point, when you refer to the constitution and the constitutional rights that we enjoy. We do in fact, enjoy a certain right to counsel, to jury trial, to witnesses, to confront witnesses, things like that. So, we have a lot of constitutional rights, but usually, in most cases, the constitutional rights that we’ve got are referred to criminal actions, right? So those rights are afforded to us mostly in criminal actions. We don’t have the right to an attorney in, or right to counsel in other situations. And as you, well, know, a lot of other states — the criminal justice element of what we encounters are very small. Most people don’t ever encounter the criminal justice system. In fact, they encounter the justice system and things like family law and housing law, civil lawsuits and business law and things like that.
So, that’s where people do not have a right to an attorney. And that’s where they really feel the lack, you know, feel the absence of that right to counsel. So that’s one thing. The other thing is this, even in a criminal justice situation. Yes, you have the right to counsel but the council that you have a right to is going to be a public defender and, you know, I was a public defender. I know, there are great lawyers, right? Some of them are, most of them are. They’re great lawyers. They are dedicated, they’re devoted, they believe in what they do, but there are just not enough of them. There’s not enough resources. So there is literally just not enough lawyers to go around to provide the kind of legal counsel that people need in the criminal justice system. So there is this huge need for lawyers, for access to justice in every forum, criminal, civil, business, housing, family, probate, all of it and very little access to those resources. And the access to justice crisis does not only affect low-income Americans, it absolutely affects low-income Americans. So economically challenged Americans have all — it’s almost impossible for them to get the kind of legal resources they need, but it’s not just them, middle-income Americans are also feeling the crisis. So there are millions of people in this country who absolutely don’t have access to Justice when they experience a legal problem. 86% of civil legal problems of low-income Americans receiving inadequate or no legal health, 30 million people each year, lack legal representation and state courts, 40% to 60% of legal needs, go unmet for middle class individuals. So it’s a crisis everywhere. It affects — it’s a horizontal crisis and that it affects all legal arenas, and it’s a vertical crisis and that it affects people from the very, very poorest up through the middle class.
Carl Morrison: It’s amazing when we talk about, you know, the impact that this crisis has on all of us. The American Bar Association, the ABA in their great wisdom, you know, came out a couple of years ago with the ABA Resolution 115, which talks about encouraging regulatory innovation which I think it’s phenomenal. And my question to you Toni is, as a result of this resolution, do you think attorneys are going to fully embrace this? Especially the what they call the Old Guard, you know, looking for innovation as it comes to maybe some regulatory changes within providing legal services, or do you think it’s going to be a lot of lip service and it’s just going to be status quo. There’s going to be too many roadblocks set up.
Toni Marsh: That’s a really good question. I actually do think that lawyers will embrace this, of course, there’s always going to be those people that are just going to hold out and say no, no way. I don’t want no changes here. Everything is fine, and I’m just going pull up my dictaphone here and I’m going to dictate a memo and my secretary is going to type it up for me and we’re going to move on, right? There’s always going to be those people, but I think for the most part, I think lawyers are ready to embrace this, I really do. And the fact that the ABA has come out in front of this issue is going to be tremendously helpful. It’s going to have a tremendous impact. Lawyers love their ABA, they respect the ABA and when the ABA comes out with a pronouncement like this, I think that lawyers will absolutely heed that. You know, and it’s not only the ABA, but the Conference of Chief Justice, the Conference of Judges has also come out in favor of innovation and innovative approaches to access to justice, you know, the courts suffer almost as much as the parties do when parties come in unrepresented. I have sat in court rooms, where there is a tremendous crisis. I have studied the access to justice prices on Indian Reservations in the Southwestern US and I’ve sent in tribal courts and watched party after party after party come through unrepresented or poorly represented and the judges and the prosecutors are on the other side, trying to assist these people. The clerks are there, the schedulers, the bailiffs trying to assist these unrepresented parties because you know, they’re human, nobody wants to see people suffer unnecessarily and it’s actually draining the court resources as much as it’s hurting the unrepresented parties.
Carl Morrison: It’s such a sad situation that we live in a country where, you know, there’s too many people that do not have the ability to access and it’s encouraging. And I’m optimistic with this type of resolution that the American Bar Association and the Conference for Judges has come out with to encourage, you know, innovation and part of the innovation that’s being done is and we’ll talk more about it here but it’s about, you know, developing and creating a limited paraprofessional type of role. And you know, how can we — Toni paralegals, I’m talking about. How can we help encourage our bosses, our firms, basically attorneys that we work with our peers in general to look for those innovative ways to, you know, deal with the delivery of legal services and basically expand the role of a paralegal, how can we do that? How can we help them?
Toni Marsh: Well, we need to educate them and they are willing to be educated. I spend a lot of time on the road, delivering a presentation that I call the Who-What-Why-How-Where of Paralegals and I deliver that presentation to anybody who will listen to me. I go to bar associations all over the country. I talked to lawyers. I talked to law school and I got a law firms, I go to law offices, I’ve gone to government offices. Anybody who will have me I will go in there and talk to them. And I talked to these — and these are lawyers and I talked to them about who paralegals are, what they know and what they can do, how to use them best? Why they should use them best and where paralegals are having the most impact? And I’ve got some really graphic. I’ve got a 12-page document. Single-spaced document that is a list of tasks that — and the document is titled things paralegals can do and lawyers shouldn’t do. And I always start out by having them go through that and check out the things that they’re doing themselves, right? That they shouldn’t be doing.
This is a way used to demonstrate to them how paralegals can be making their practices more effective, more efficient, more profitable. If you go down and you look at the dollars and cents and what it costs to hire a lawyer and to pay a lawyer and what it cost to hire a paralegal and pay a paralegal. How you can build them out? It’s actually quite profitable to bring in a paralegal or another, you know, licensed non-lawyer professional. So when you talk to lawyers and you educate them, when I give this presentation invariably, it’s very well received. The lawyers are really interested. They want to know more, they always stay after and ask me questions. They’re really interested in making their practices more effective and more efficient. And I think they’re open into any good model.
Carl Morrison: You know, it’s also up to us paralegals to not only educate the lawyers but also educate ourselves on the trends that are happening within the legal industry, it’s so vitally important for paralegals themselves to stay on top of it, to help encourage innovative ways to provide those legal services to society as a whole, wouldn’t you agree?
Toni Marsh: Oh absolutely, absolutely. And you know, I’d also give that presentation to paralegals because they need to hear that, they need to know who they are and how powerful they can be and just how broad their duties and responsibilities can be in a legal practice. So absolutely and you know, the more that paralegals educate themselves, stay abreast of legal developments, stay abreast of technological developments, follow the whole license legal professional trend as devs developing, the better off they will be and everyone will be
Carl Morrison: And that very topic. We are going to talk about after this commercial break. So, don’t turn that down. We’ll be right back.
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Carl Morrison: Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice. We’ve been talking with my special guest Toni Marsh and the role of paralegals in greater access to justice and the need for it. And before the break, Toni, were talking about specifically, how parallel can, you know, get involved in helping identify, you know, identifying and developing innovative ways, but when it comes to providing very distinct and narrow legal services by non-lawyers, and I hate that term. by the way, I hate saying “non-lawyers”. We are just not — we’re paraprofessionals. So when we’re talking about, you know, and you mentioned it a minute ago about licensed paraprofessionals. What are like three of the main — what I call buckets of those “non-lawyer” roles?
Toni Marsh: Right. So they’ve got — and by the way, I agree. I don’t know. I can’t think of a good word besides non-lawyer though. It’s really hard. I think the terminology will evolve as these people — you know, as we get more of them and they start doing more things. But anyway, so the three main categories are, there’s legal navigators, legal document, preparers and licensed legal professionals. Now legal navigators are people who assist self-represented individuals in court. A lot of times you’ll go into court. I used to volunteer at the DC Court to do this. You’re just there, people coming, they’re entirely self-represented and you’re literally just showing them where to go and what papers they need to file. And you know, you’re showing them where to get the forms, you’re not really doing any of the work, you’re just kind of showing them what they need to do and navigating them physically through the courthouse. Legal document preparers do actually help to prepare the legal documents for self-represented individuals. They are not allowed to choose the documents they can.
So if you walk into a legal document preparer’s office and you say I want to get to do it my way, you know, my spouse and I want to get divorced. We were totally in agreement. We know what we’re going to do, what do we need to do. The legal document preparer cannot say, well, you need to fill out this form, this form, and this form. You’ve got to walk into the legal document preparer’s office and say here are these forms, can you assist me in filling them out? Now, there are ways that self-represented individuals can find out what forms they need, but you just have to have a sort of a break between who chooses those forms and who fills them out. Then there’s licensed legal professionals, which is a sort of a leap beyond the other two. So these are people who are not lawyers, but they are licensed. To be a licensed professional means that you can deal directly with the public. So paralegals are not licensed, right? That’s why paralegals don’t deal directly with the public. But lawyers are licensed because they do and that’s why doctors are licensed and nurses are licensed. So people that work directly with and advise the public need to be licensed. So these people are licensed. They are not lawyers. They actually and it varies from state to state. But in general, they can provide legal advice. They can choose and prepare forms. They can provide information, they can even litigate in a courtroom.
Carl Morrison: And it’s within a limited scope for those that may not know also. You know, they can do everything that what you’re saying Toni correct, but it’s limited and maybe in depending on the state. It may be only in family law or it may be family law and landlord tenant, correct?
Toni Marsh: That’s absolutely right. So again, it varies from state to state. The most probably you see the most is family law and as you said, there are some states that allow them to work in housing, landlord and tenant law and many, many states right now are exploring, adding these programs and they’re looking at all the different areas of the law. But yes, there are quite limited in what they can do in the area in which they can practice.
Carl Morrison: You know, you mentioned about the licensed professional and there’s several different names that you’re hearing depending on the state, you know, there’s the limited license, legal technician, the limited paralegal practitioner, a license paraprofessional, they’re going by a little bit of different names. There’s not been a lot of cohesiveness as it comes to titles quite yet. But when we talk about that particular role a licensed, paraprofessional, I’m going to say it like that. What are some of the benefits of having that type — creating that type of role in our society and specifically the legal industry?
Toni Marsh: Right. Well, these people can take on a lot of the legal work that lawyers are currently doing and really don’t need to be doing. So they allow — first of all, of course, people, clients can come to them and get legal services at a much more affordable rate and not only that. But in more personal, right? These practices are smaller and so they’re getting more personal attention. They’re meeting with these people one-on-one. They’re not going into a big law firm, you know, machine. But they’re actually working with their individual representative at an affordable rate. It’s great for the lawyers as well because it’ll life frees up the lawyers to practice at the top of their license lawyers. Lawyers don’t need to be doing the kinds of work that these licensed paraprofessionals are doing. So it frees up the lawyers to work better as well.
Carl Morrison: It really, and you mention this, and I kind of want to, you know, target this particular part of your answer, cost. It makes it more affordable for an individual Middle. American, not just the indigent and you know, the lower income bracket of our country and our society, but even Middle America to afford a license paraprofessional for a simple divorce, no major assets, no kids, type of you know, $7,500 an hour versus $500 for a lawyer to help you with a simple divorce. I say that with air quotes around the word. Simple, but you understand what I’m saying. It’s that, you know, affordability in order to provide greater resources for our society.
Toni Marsh: That is exactly right. It is so much more affordable. And yes when we are talking about access in legal services. We are not just talking about the indigent who can’t afford this. We are talking about Middle Americans who can’t afford the kinds of fees that many law firms are billing. And for, as you say, simple legal services. So, having these paraprofessionals in there to provide these simple legal services, will be a bloom to everyone.
Carl Morrison: Help me with this Toni, I am trying to remember. So Washington has sunsetted their particular license to paraprofessional role, but I just give a ton that’s going to come back. We have Utah, we have Arizona’s just recently with theirs, who else are were, Nevada has a legal document prepare program and noticed in the news yesterday that California is pushing through, they had a working group but now they are actually looking at starting the beginnings of a regulatory sandbox when it comes to a license paraprofessional role. So exciting times that we’re living in, wouldn’t you agree?
Toni Marsh: Oh definitely. and it’s exploding all over the country. DC is exploring them right now, they’re studying it right now. All over the country, many, many states all over the country are looking at this.
Carl Morrison: So you’re an educator. I’m an educator. So I have to ask this educators’ question for our paralegal educators that are out there and listening to the show. When we’re talking about legal education, paralegal education, what type of education you think is going to be necessary for these limited paraprofessional roles that are coming out in order for them to succeed. Do you think it’s going to have — we are going to have to have a whole different set? A different program or you think that really paralegal programs are still going to be able to provide, you know, the Stellar Education that they provide anyway, and maybe just tweak some of the actual education itself?
Toni Marsh: Yeah, I think that the current paralegal programs are going to prepare these paraprofessionals excellently. If you look at the states across the country that either have the program or about to have these programs or studying the programs, a paralegal credential is the one, you know, sort of thread that runs through them all. They vary in many respects but a baseline paralegal education seems to be the one commonality. I think if you’ve got a good paralegal education from a good reputable program, where you get lots of substantive foundational laws, they researched the writing you know, the rules and of course, quite importantly a good basis and ethics and professionalism. If that’s your baseline and every good paralegal program, does that right? Especially if they’re ABA-approved, you could rest assured that they do that because the ABA requires it. So if you’ve got this good baseline paralegal program, what a lot of states are doing, is they’re asking for that and then they’re adding you know, some states requiring to take a mini course like, say, you know, a course in family law, or in ethics and professionalism, or whatever. So there’s usually a little bit of education and testing beyond that, but I think a good solid paralegal education from a great school is where it’s at, is where it’s going to be, the baseline.
Carl Morrison: I agree a 110% and I think too, programs will you know, look at adding a seminar course, you know, on business acumen. And you know, things like that for those that may set up their own shop, you know, be able to alone without having to work under and within a law firm type of setting. So, you know, I think programs are pretty much set. There’s not going to be — have to be a bunch of work that’s going to have to be done to make individuals be able to have the skills necessary in order to succeed.
Toni Marsh: You know, that is a really good point. That the paralegals who are considering becoming paraprofessionals and entering into this world, license paraprofessionals should take a business course. That’s a — you know, I mean I’m a lawyer, we never — we don’t know anything about how to win a law firm, it’s really — nobody teaches us that, nobody teaches paralegal that. That’s a very, very good suggestion, they should have a course like that for people delving into this.
Carl Morrison: That’s free advice to program directors.
Toni Marsh: Watch for that to pop up in the GW curriculum in about a year.
Carl Morrison: Well Toni, we are running out of time. I can sit here and talk to you all day, but I always have to have a fun question for my guess. So you’re in — you get my fun question of the day. So if a TV producer approached you and they were going to make a TV show out of your life, what type of show would it be? Would it be a comedy? Would it be a drama? Would it be a Sci-Fi type show? And who’s going to play the role of Toni Marsh?
Toni Marsh: Okay, so it’s going to be a comedy, it’s going to be comedy, I have to say. It would be an outdoor adventure comedy, sort of a mix. And Linda Ronstadt bless her heart, she’s going to play me. When I was a teenager every told me I looked like her that it would just make my heart so glad and she is one of my favorites. So we’ll have Linda Ronstadt play me.
Carl Morrison: Okay, that’s so funny because I truly can see Linda Ronstadt playing you.
Toni Marsh: I wish she is my soul sister.
Carl Morrison: Well Toni, thank you so much for being on the show. If a listener wanted to reach out to you what’s the best way they could get in contact with you?
Toni Marsh: They should email me. I am on my email. God forgive me all day long, all day. So I’m very responsive to email. They can email me anytime.
Carl Morrison: Fantastic. Well, Toni thanks again for a great show. Really enjoyed it and hang tight everyone. We’ll be right back after a break for station identification.
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Well, it’s your favorite time of the show. Time for the listener’s voice. This is your opportunity to send me your comments questions and celebrations. And I’ll choose them to read on the air and you can send me your listener’s voice content to [email protected]. And today’s email comes from a listener wanting to make the leap from the law office world to corporate legal department.
And this person says Hi Carl. I wanted to thank you for taking time to make the paralegal voice. I love listening to your passion for the profession. I’ve been working at a small law firm since 2013 and re-listening to the last podcast with Tom Stevenson. It’s been so helpful for me. I’m hoping to transition to a corporate paralegal job within the next year. I love my office, but I feel like I’ve grown as much as I can in the setting. A jack-of-all-trades in the office, I do our state department, HR, IT, paralegal, event planner, marketing director or whatever else is needed. Our office is super chill and we behave like a small family more than like a team. We have a great system in place. So I’m hesitant to shake it up. But I’m also very eager to grow my career. I recently attended the virtual NALA conference and loved every minute of it. I wanted to ask you if you had any additional tips for crafting a resume that would stick out in the corporate world or interview tips. Any words of wisdom on how to bounce back from feeling burned out. Thank you signed burnt feelings.
Well, this is a great question burnt feelings. And here’s how I would approach it. I did the very — actually this happened to me about six-seven years ago feeling exactly the same way you did and or do, and that is, you know, feeling like I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career, is this it for me. Is there more life, you know, outside of the billable hour but still keep my finger on the pulse of the paralegal industry, absolutely. And you know, for a lot of people transitioning from a law firm into a corporate legal department, is a great way to re-energize, refresh your career. I made the leap, you know, because of my strong experience in litigation, trial, practice, e-discovery and so the company where I work at now, they kind of stole me from the firm I was working at about five years ago, and I haven’t looked back necessarily loved it and, you know, feel more energized as a paralegal. And when you ask about maybe, you know, creating your resume to look for and make that leap, you know, one of the best things to do is to take inventory of your skills that you have had within your particular firm and you know, focus on those on your resume, you know, look for corporate jobs in your town or different state if you want to move and you know, look for something that interests you, maybe it’s mergers and acquisitions, maybe it’s the corporate governance type of deal, maybe it’s litigation within the company. Whatever your particular area that you want to focus in on, craft your resume to focus in on the skills that are needed and necessary in order to succeed within the corporate legal department.
You, for example, having all these you’re kind of calling yourself, the jack-of-all-trades. That’s great. I mean, it demonstrates that you’ve got strong project management skills because you have to manage all these different areas every day all the time and you know, it’s a great way to you know, carve that out and show that in your resume and the same with the interview tips. Too many times when we interview for jobs and positions we go in and we want them to ask us questions about ourselves. Well tell your story, an interview is your opportunity to say, hey, here’s Carl Morrison. Here’s Carl Morrison’s story of, you know, where he’s come from what, you know, successes he has had within his, you know, positions within his current work. Here’s how you know, the work I’ve done within this particular firm translates into doing, you know, the job that you’re requiring in this corporate legal department, anytime. You can demonstrate, you know, successes fantastic. Even above and beyond, you know, having a really great education, certification, which I am so pro certification as everyone knows. But, you know, being able to demonstrate in your resume and in the interview that you have the skills necessary to succeed in that position, you’re golden. And so I always encourage you to take inventory and do it even if you’re not looking, for those that aren’t looking for a job, do it and create your own inventory, what I call inventory sheet of the successes that you have accomplished within your position at the firm you’re working at and at your prior firms or companies that you’ve worked at. It’s a great way to say. Hey, you know what? I do, have the skills necessary in order to succeed in that particular role.
So that’s it. That’s all the time we have for today, for the Paralegal Voice. If you have any questions about today’s show, please email them to me at [email protected] and stay tuned for more information and upcoming podcasts for exciting paralegal trends, news and engaging and fun interviews from leading paralegals and other leading legal professionals.
Thank you for listening to the Paralegal Voice, produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com. Find Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin or download Legal Talk Network’s free app in Google Play and iTunes. And reminding you that I’m here to enhance your passion and dedication to the paralegal profession and make your paralegal voice heard.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com