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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

New Immigration Laws -- What's Up With That?

Guest Post  by Sydney Muray


A new immigration law that recently passed in Alabama is being called the toughest of its kind in the nation by critics and supporters alike. The law has incited a slew of passionate backlash, and recently the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state, fighting Alabama’s decision in a way that echoes what happened in Arizona. There is no doubt that this trend will continue to grow, affecting everyone from the court lawyer to the paralegal to the families of immigrants and beyond. State leaders are fed up with what they perceive to be the federal government’s inability to control the problem of immigration – and as we can see, they’re now taking matters into their own hands on a large scale.

The movement toward more stringent state laws governing illegal immigration began in 2006. Though various bills have been proposed in many states, few have been enacted into law that can actually be construed as being detrimental to the freedom many illegal immigrants enjoy in the U.S. This cannot be said for the law in Alabama.

The Alabama Law

The new Alabama law, which takes effect on September 1, 2011, gives police the power to request documentation of a person's legal right to be in the United States when they are stopped for any purpose.

Let Look At This Example

A person who is pulled over for speeding might be asked to produce proof of their citizenship or residency status in the U.S. if the police officer suspects the person may be an illegal alien.

Sounds Familiar?

This component of the Alabama law is similar to the one that passed in Arizona in 2010. The Arizona law gave police officers the right to ask for such verification of legal citizenship status, but continuing litigation over the matter has kept that part of the law from going into full effect.

The Alabama law, however, goes even further than the controversial Arizona law. Public schools in Alabama will now be required to collect information regarding each student’s citizenship status upon enrollment. Students seeking enrollment who cannot produce a proper birth certificate or provide a sworn affidavit will not be admitted to school. Critics suggest that this component of the law will harass young students and cause an undue financial burden on the school districts that would have to collect the information.

Businesses in Alabama that knowingly employ illegal immigrants could also face stiff penalties for the practice, up to and including the suspension or revocation of the business’ operating license. Under the law employers would be required to utilize the federal government E-verify database system. As they begin the hiring process with new employees, the employer would be required to check the applicant’s Social Security number against the contents of the E-verify database. Anyone whose information could not be verified would fall under suspicion of being in the U.S. illegally and could not be hired.

And there is more:

It would be a crime to knowingly provide transportation or shelter to illegal aliens. This even applies to churches and other charitable and aid organizations, something critics suggest would sadly circumvent the stated mission of such organizations. They cite the fact that the law essentially allows the state government to determine who receives aid from non-profit organizations as needlessly harmful and invasive.

The Pro's:

Not surprisingly, this new legislation is causing a great deal of controversy. Supporters hail it as a way to safeguard the state from the estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants currently thought to be living in Alabama. They believe the new law will protect the interests of U.S. citizens and their businesses.

The Con's

Critics suggest that the new law will lead to racial profiling. Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU believe the new Alabama law to be unconstitutional as well as racist in nature. Many such individuals and organizations are planning litigation to protest the law. The Obama administration has already sued the state, citing that illegal immigration is a national issue that must be addressed on the federal level, rather than having each state enact their own statutes.

What Do Other States Do?

Other states have passed laws dealing with immigration issues. Utah tried to find a happy medium by allowing undocumented workers within the state. The bill also allows police to check immigration status for people arrested for serious crimes. Virginia may at some point pass a law aimed at keeping illegals from enrolling in public universities. Florida is also considering legislation that would require businesses to use the E-verify database when hiring new employees. Whether any of these bills become law, and whether they stand up to litigation, remains to be seen. One thing is certain. Illegal immigration is likely to remain a hot button issue until the federal government can propose a fair-minded and comprehensive policy that will be reasonable enough for all states to accept.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

For-Profit College: Friend or Foe

It is hard to avoid news and blog articles these days about for-profit colleges. For the most part, these businesses are written off by academics, politicians, and many students as scams created to take advantage of potential students. I have read that for-profit colleges encourage students to take on hefty student loans for useless degree/certificate programs, then abandon the debt-laden students in the real world with a degree of little to no value, hundreds of dollars a month in re-payment, no job placement, and no hope of finding an employer who will value the student's education.

I admittedly have a difficult time conjuring sympathy for many of the students who claim they have been duped (although I am sure some have been taken advantage of despite their due diligence). Personal responsibility still requires us to make the most educated decisions we can. Look at the story of Eric Schmitt, who claims that he took out $45,000 for an Associates and a Bachelors degree at Kaplan in paralegal studies before slowly learning that the employers in his area do not value the Kaplan degree. Obviously this stinks. But my own degree in English at a state school left me with the same amount in student loans. (I should point out that the amount I borrowed was only for my last two years at an out-of-state rate after transferring from a college where I already had a full scholarship. Lots o' monies? Yes. My own bad financial decision? Absolutely.)

And with a degree in such a broad area as English and no other specialized training, your choices are either to teach at a private school, get further education and certification to teach in a public school, write books/poetry while waiting tables, find a job in copy-editing, or go to graduate school to eventually become an English professor. No one told me this when I decided on my degree. The school I paid for happily took my student loan money, and they did not even offer to help me find a job when I graduated! Also, my first college, the one where I had the scholarship, did not provide job placement. And yet, why would I expect them to? By the time I graduated, I was an adult who could ostensibly go out into the world and find a way to make a living myself. My education and degree would help me, of course, but a degree does not a great employee make (not even a degree from a brick-and-mortar not-for-profit school).

Some students have also complained of the lack of accreditation by for-profit schools. This, too, is a matter of personal responsibility. In the age of Google, and particularly for individuals who intend to take fully online classes. a simple search will bring up an institution's accreditation. Some of the issues I have heard regard the fact that the for-profit college paralegal program is not ABA-accredited. First, the ABA does not accredit but rather approves paralegal programs. Second, the ABA will neither accredit nor approve online programs of study. If you want to be thorough and check for ABA-approval, you have to look at the school's accreditation page or ask them directly. If you only ask whether they are accredited, and they are, they will only tell you they are accredited. I cannot imagine a school volunteering to tell you that it is not ABA-approved. Since there are no minimum requirements for paralegals, ABA-approval only means as much as the student and his prospective employers think it means, anyway.

As an example, I have a B.A. in English and a non-ABA-approved paralegal certificate. Neither my current employer in Memphis, TN nor my previous employer in Alabama asked whether my program was ABA-approved. In interviews where I did not accept the job, not once was I asked whether my program was ABA-approved. Obviously, depending on your area, graduation from an ABA-approved program might be more or less valued by employers. Since the paralegal world has no minimum standards across-the-board, we have to check our specific areas ourselves. Even if you find yourself in a bind after graduating from a non-ABA-approved program, or a program that is not highly valued by employers in your area, there are still things you can do to make yourself more marketable.

For instance, get certified! There are so many possibilities for certification these days! While your A.A. or B.A. might not be from an ABA-approved program, designation as certified could be look as good or even better on a resume. In fact, in my personal experience, employers have been more interested in my certification than which school I attended or my GPA.

So to end my ramblings, please potential paralegals-to-be, take responsibility for your career from the beginning. Research and make educated decisions. While for-profit colleges are not for everyone, plenty of people who do the research and make careful decisions can find them to be helpful alternatives to traditional colleges.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Three Month Update

Once again it has been weeks and months since the last time I posted. Opportunities to write are so rare these days. Nevertheless, I'm sitting down on this cloudy Sunday morning to update the Internet on my life.

First, I was admitted to the MBA program at University of Memphis recently. It will be an online degree, giving me time to work full-time and maintain somewhat of an extracurricular life (I hope). I was completely undecided about which degree to pursue - an MBA or Communications - so I originally applied to both. Apparently the Graduate School here does not allow you to apply to two programs, so when I found out that my MBA application had not gone through, I realized that it was the degree I actually want. So here I sit today on the brink of a new learning adventure ripe with possibilities and knowledge.

The boyfriend and I moved out of our ritzy downtown apartment to a more sensible place in midtown. I never understood all the car decals and other signs I used to see that said "Midtown IS Memphis," but now I do. I thought downtown was edgier, truer to the gritty, grindy Memphis we've all heard about. But as it turns out, downtown is rich and pretty safe. Midtown has edginess. We have had something stolen from one of our vehicles and found someone digging in our trash, all within two weeks of moving in. And we live on a good street.

Even with all that, Memphis is infectious. It has personality. It has swagger. Memphis is strong and proud and undeniably blue collar. Down to earth. Possibly too down to earth. It is heart and soul and blues, even in 2011.

Which brings me to my next topic: the Memphis Grizzlies. We went in with some friends on season tickets this year and went to fifteen home games of the Grizzlies. Before this season I did not watch sports. Somewhere during the season I became a Grizzlies fan, then a basketball fan, and finally a Memphis-the-city-itself fan. It is amazing what a winning team in the national spotlight can do to a city.

Finally, I am still with the firm I moved here to work for. At times I have questioned whether I fit in there, with my insatiable desire for CLEs and substantive work. But the attorneys and staff I work with have kept me going. I have continued, and will continue, to softly and slowly push my way upstream because that it just who I am. I will tell anyone who will listen that I and the other paralegals can do substantive work. Because my worry is not that we are not given substantive work, but rather that some of the attorneys do not know that they could give us such work. I would rather my attorney know he could use me on a project and choose not to for his own reasons than not know I could be used and continue to work inefficiently for no reason.

Because when it comes down to it, I feel that the paralegal's truest purpose is efficiency. We are here to save attorneys time and clients money. Little by little, I see various attorneys at my office thinking in those terms. And I like it.

So this is my all-too-short recap of the last few months. I hope you've enjoyed it, and I expect there is more to come.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sharia Law and Civil Law in the UK

Have you ever heard someone state that law is boring, technical, not a diverse career field? I have to admit that a few of my non-legal friends think so. I don't hold it against them. Listening to legal professionals talk about work life is about as much fun as holding your head under water for ninety seconds. At first it isn't so bad, then suddenly you find yourself struggling to breath. By the end of the conversation, you feel like you will either explode or pass out.

Still, not all law falls into a shade of grey. At least in the UK, solicitors are finding interesting niches in which to practice. For instance, Asian Image reports that trainee solicitor Farah Razaq and paralegal Sidra Ghani will be offering family law services in conjunction with Sharia law advice to clients.

Says Razaq,“The new service will focus upon divorce in accordance with Sharia Law. Any male or female Muslim who needs a divorce in accordance to Sharia law can come to us and we’re here to provide services for them."

Talk about niche practice. I know very little about UK demographics, but it seems that a relevant percentage of its residents practice Islam to one extent or another. I'm sure followers of Sharia law in the UK will welcome a firm that is willing to provide civil law services while remaining ever mindful of religious implications.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Paralegal... Still a Top Job

The ABA Journal online is reporting that the paralegal career is #13 in a list of 200 jobs by This ranking beats lawyers at #82 and judges at #53. CareerCast based their ratings on physical demands of the job, work environment, income, outlook and stress.

Even though my days are spent developing paper cuts from overexposure to file documents, and legally substantive work is scarce in my med mal defense firm, I have to agree with CareerCast's assessment, at least in its comparison of the paralegal career versus the lawyer career. The investment/benefits ratio seems pretty darn good for paralegals these days.

When I worked for the Boss back in Alabama, I loved to declare how being a paralegal encompassed all of the fun things about being a lawyer without all of the responsibility and stress. Of course, in a small law office, there was still a considerable amount of stress. I worried about file management, due dates, whether clients were paying, whether we were being efficient, etc. These days, the stress level is much lower, but there are noticeably fewer fun things to do.

Even so, a few associates toss me interesting and substantive work when they can, and unless I'm prepping a file for trial or running some emergency errand, I leave the office and my work worries behind me at 5 o'clock. As long as I meet my billable hours and perform my work competently, I fret not. I do not have to worry about meeting monetary goals to make bonus, when I work over 40 hours a week I am well-compensated, I have a great benefits package, paid time off, and decent co-workers.

Associates, on the other hand, do have to worry about monetary goals in order to meet bonus, constantly compete with each other on the road to partnership, spend countless hours over 40 working for no extra compensation, and must make work first in the list of adult priorities if for no other reason than to pay off massive student loans. Of course, the rewards are a much higher salary, flexible hours, and the ability to climb the ladder, become the boss, be the person other people work for. And for many if not most of them, the end is totally worth the means. To me, it all sounds great in theory. But when I see it in action on a day to day basis, I realize how much I enjoy the freedom of having a solid job I don't mind doing with enough time left over at the end of the day to maintain the kind of personal life I want.

I'm not sure why CareerCast listed judges so far down the list, though. I'm not so sure my job can compete with the hours, compensation, and other benefits of being a judge.

What do you think?