And in the blink of an eye, it’s over… 

By Debbie Harris

The 2017-2018 Bar year flew by, and the Paralegal Division accomplished many great things. On behalf of the Paralegal Division Council, we hope the following summary will make you proud to be one of more than 1,600 members across the state. Allow me to share some highlights from the year:

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Paralegal Division

We celebrated our 20th Anniversary at our Paralegal Division Annual Meeting (reception and conference) May 3 and 4 in Pinehurst. THANK YOU to everyone who attended! We had a wonderful offering of CPE programs including General Sessions on “How to Assist Lawyers in Transition” and “Ethics and Professionalism for the Modern Paralegal.” Additionally, our breakout sessions included the “North Carolina Identity Theft Protection Act,” “Hot Topics with the Secretary of State,” “Updates to the Uniform Power of Attorney Act,” “What Would Lincoln Do” (which shared timeless ethics lessons preserved in historical documents), “Employment in the Age of Social Media,” “Care and Feeding of Court Personnel,” and many other great topics.

I had the pleasure of helping the CPE committee with planning the Annual Meeting. It was my first foray into conference planning, and to say it was daunting is an understatement!  A big thank you to the Annual Meeting planners! In an effort to be more responsive to our membership, we conducted our first electronic poll via Poll Everywhere during our Annual Meeting. Our goal was for the membership to provide their preferences for where the Division wanted to see our 2020 Annual Meeting, and the results were presented to the group during our final session.  We know there was a “sticker shock” at the pricing of this year’s Annual Meeting, and the Council will be working diligently as we move toward next year’s program to get the pricing down. If you know of any potential sponsors, please let us know!

Distinguished Paralegal Award/NCBA Annual Meeting

This was the first year that the Paralegal Division’s Distinguished Paralegal Award was presented at the NCBA Bar Association Annual Meeting, and we are very excited that this award presentation will be part of the Awards Dinner moving forward. This award was created to honor a member of the North Carolina Bar Association Paralegal Division who goes above and beyond the call of duty in their work life and for their community, and the winner is selected each year from nominations that we receive from attorneys and paralegals. I spoke to the Board of Governors at its meeting the afternoon of June 21, and then spoke again to the attendees of the Awards Dinner that evening during the presentation of the Distinguished Paralegal Award, encouraging all in attendance to nominate someone they feel is deserving of this award in the future, as it is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a member of our Division.

In years past, we have held our own Division reception at the Annual Meeting; however, this year the Division was presented with the opportunity to participate in a joint event with the Senior Lawyers Division and Young Lawyers Division at Front Street Brewery. A great time was had by all!  Look for this to continue in the future. The Annual Meeting is always a great opportunity to network and meet other paralegals and attorneys. Did you know registration to the Annual NCBA Meeting is free if you work the registration table?! If you are interested in volunteering next year, please look for those details in 2019.

Pro Bono Project

The Paralegal Division is partnering with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Lawyer on the Line Program to allow paralegals to have the opportunity to assist lawyers as they provide basic legal advice to Legal Aid Clients. On-boarding packets are being put together that include sign-up sheets for interested attorneys and paralegals. A member of the LANC Staff will be our point of contact and will be providing in-depth training on the program to participants.  There will be a ratio of 1 attorney to 10 paralegals. Look for more information on this project to be forthcoming, as service is one way we can give back.

Enhancing the Member Experience

The Division is working to align itself with the new direction the Bar Association is moving toward in incorporating the value of the membership experience into most everything it does. In this effort, we are folding our Student Relations Committee into our Membership Committee. We realized there was a need to better include the student member experience as part of the overall member experience, as the ultimate goal is for our student members to become regular members after they graduate and find employment. We feel it is important to expand the offerings we have historically provided to students to also include paralegals in the job market, those switching fields, or re-entering the work force. This move will allow us to focus our efforts (and limited resources) on a greater number of members. It is a challenge to connect with all 35 paralegal programs across the state, and we will be moving to a team approach so we can have membership representatives across the state to help address student/program needs and encourage membership with consistent messaging.

Return of the Webcast Series

We have diligently worked to get our Webcast Series back up and running, and doing so has been a hit with our membership. The webcasts are free for Paralegal Division members ($25 for nonmembers). If you have ideas for a webcast or have a topic you would like to present, please contact Stephanie Elliott – we’re always looking for ideas for content and/or speakers!

In an effort to provide year round CPE offerings, we are planning to move toward a webcast based version of Bankruptcy and Family Law programs, instead of day-long live programs. The goal is to provide educational information to a wider group of folks who may not be able to afford a whole day of programming. Our IP Institute continues to be well attended, as well as the North Carolina Certified Paralegal Exam Review Course, and those will still be live one-day programs in the Spring.

Books for Paralegal Programs

We have started a program to match our Paralegal Programs throughout the state with law books. It was brought to our attention that many of our programs have no access to these books, and the instructors want their students to know how to physically search for information, in addition to searching on line. I’m happy to report we were able to pair two programs with books this year, and hope that this will be an ongoing effort backed by the Paralegal Division. If your firm disposes of law books, please let us know and we will try to collect those books for donation to a school in need.

Be Involved With Your Division

Our efforts to increase member participation in our Committees and Council has worked!  We have seen a surge in participation at both the Committee and Council level, and feel that our blog posts are greatly responsible for this effort. I encourage you to get involved with your Division!  We are looking for volunteers to serve on one of our many Committees for this Bar year as we start up.  If you are not already on a Committee, please sign up to serve. If you are a member of one of the Sections of the Bar Association, we are also looking for Liaisons. Liaisons interact with their Sections and report to the Division Council on the activities of that Section. If you would like to know which sections have vacancies, please contact Lakisha Chichester. I serve on a Committee and as a Liaison and find both experiences very rewarding!!

Paralegal Division Survey

Our Survey Committee has been working diligently to create updated surveys and we hope to have those ready in the fall or early winter. It has been several years since a survey has been done. Once the surveys are complete, the information will be hosted on our webpage. One survey will collect general salary and benefit information; if the position is exempt or non-exempt; schedule of raises and/or bonuses; benefits provided; educational opportunities offered; associations and certifications; and how the firm seeks potential employees. A second survey will collect years of experience; location, size and type of firm; areas of practice; and staff breakdown. A final survey will be more technology driven, looking at if/what types of case management software is used; if/what type of timekeeping software is used; and if/what type of legal research software is used.

Honoring our friend Allan Head

Allan Head was a wonderful friend to the Paralegal Division and its members. Our past Division Chairs recently shared their memories of Allan. As a permanent reminder of his friendship and dedication, the Division purchased a paver in honor of Allan Head.  Pavers are located in the memorial garden at the Bar Center. We will have a dedication ceremony at the Bar Center sometime in the early winter or spring. Stay tuned for more information on this dedication and reception!

As my term as Chair has come to a close, I want you all to know that it was an honor and a privilege to serve as your Chair during the 2017-2018 Bar year.  It was a challenging, humbling and exciting year, and I’m looking forward to great things to come in the future.

In the words of Allan Head, I hope that I’ve left the campsite better than I found it.