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Houston Breakthrough, May 1979
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Houston Breakthrough, May 1979 - Page 24. May 1979. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. January 22, 2021. https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/625.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(May 1979). Houston Breakthrough, May 1979 - Page 24. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/625

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough, May 1979 - Page 24, May 1979, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed January 22, 2021, https://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/630/show/625.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough, May 1979
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date May 1979
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women
  • Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
  • Newsletters
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Text
  • Image
Original Item Location HQ1101 .B74
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the UH Digital Library About page.
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Title Page 24
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File Name femin_201109_550aw.jpg
Transcript Paralegals by Hildegard Warner %i^ A new legal specialty has emerged during the seventies—the paralegal, or legal assistant—offering a professional career opportunity for women. Although it has grown out of the traditional concept of law clerk, paralegals are recognized as professionals by attorneys and clients. Paralegals are not legal secretaries, although, at this time, their salaries are about equal. Because the paralegal position is so new, there is no clear-cut definition of job duties, according to Lee Kooistra, director of Texas Paralegal School in Houston. "Paralegals are able to do many of the tasks traditionally done by an attorney and accept greater responsibilities than a secretary or clerk," she said. Paralegals are coming into their own because of increased demands placed on lawyers, Kooistra said. Legal services, once a right for only the elite and well-to-do, are now available to all groups in society. "More and more people seeking legal counsel put an attorney in a position of needing assistance," Kooistra added. But soaring costs have put legal services out of reach of the poor and lower socioeconomic groups. Norma Stewart of the Houston Legal Assistants Association (HLAA) said attorneys are recognizing that paralegals can perform services for their clients at a lower cost. The State Bar of Texas reports,'The use of legal assistants is not only desirable but in the future will become essential to the furnishing of competent legal services at a price which clients can afford to* pay." "Paralegals can enable attorneys to take on different types of cases, and add to their clientele," Kooistra added. Paralegals work in all areas of the law: corporate, family practice, estate administration, civil and criminal litigation, probate, taxes, copyrights and trademarks, real estate and labor. The job potential in Houston is great, with over 8000 licensed attorneys in the area, according to John Sharp, coordinator of the legal assistants program at Houston Community College. Although Houston has a large number of attorneys, many of them need to be educated regarding the use of paralegals. "The attorneys have a need they do not know how to fill," Kooistra said. "They are carrying a heavy load. We want to educate them to use paralegals to fill this need. Paralegals can lighten their load." While paralegals are not considered legal secretaries, their salary range has not yet surpassed that of the secretaries. According to Stewart, coordinator of the HLAA job bank, large law firms are hiring beginning paralegals at $850 per month. Texas Paralegal School graduates start at $1100 to $1200 a month, Kooistra said. A beginning legal secretary also starts at $850 a month, according to Mariella Testa, past chairperson of the employment committee of the Houston Association of Legal Secretaries. "A very qualified legal secretary will start at $1200 to $1400 a month, plus paid parking if she works downtown," she explained. Although many legal secretaries, such as Testa, look at paralegals as "glorified secretaries with a special title," the paralegals consider themselves on a professional level with the attorneys. Often they have secretaries of their own. Connie Landers said her position in the office changed after she became a paralegal. She formerly was a secretary before her boss put her through Texas Paralegal School and promoted her with "a substantial increase in salary." "Before I had to run after him like a puppy dog to get him to answer questions. Now when I say I need to talk to him, we go into his office or mine and he pays attention," Landers said. "When you become a paralegal, you move up from being a clerk or secretary," Theresa Emmitt added. You are thought of as a professional and have more responsibility. You have to make decisions on your own. You are expected to do your own thinking and organizing." Anderson and Stewart believe that paralegals working for small firms are given the greatest amount of responsibility. In large firms duties are more clerical and paralegals are 'gophers,' getting coffee and typing,"Anderson said. But paralegals Emmitt and Brook Dold do not agree. Emmitt works with four other paralegals and 30 attorneys in the patent and copyright division of Arnold, White and Durkee. She was a legal clerk in the firm for six months prior to her present position. "My duties include gathering required information and documents for persons •- * * g""'^^rjKj^7 CX3 **3*2f ess icssr*** ~^~~* —* ■■■■•■•■•*-..*...j r~:^r~!r?r*l Soaring costs have put legal services out of reach of the poor and lower socio-economic groups. Paralegals can perform services for clients at a lower cost. The main difference between a legal secretary and a paralegal lies in the performance of duties and the amount of responsibility on the job. Legal assistants, like attorneys, work under a legal code of ethics because they work directly with clients. "I feel the responsibility very heavily," Donna Anderson, a paralegal student said. "A person could go to prison because a brief I prepared failed." A paralegal assumes as much responsibility as she can handle, Landers said. "I interview clients, file divorce petitions, do research, draft documents, prepare inventories and workmen's compensation claims, handle probate and maintain the books for six corporations," she explained. Her boss had not taken probate cases or kept corporate books before she became a paralegal. He added these services to his practice because she is now able to do the work. wishing to obtain patents in foreign countries and investigating the tax structures of the countries so the clients can fulfill their tax obligations properly," Emmitt explained. Dold works in the area of municipal financing and water districts for Vinson & Elkins, the second largest law firm in the country. She has been at her present position for six years. "I consider myself a professional," Dold said. "I work independently of my boss on a day-to-day basis and have had a growth of responsibilities each month since I have been here." She handles all the administrative duties of the water districts her boss represents. "My job never gets boring," she said. Occasionally paralegals find themselves in jobs where they are not treated professionally. Sheila Boydstun and Edith Gonzalez both attended paralegal school and went to work for firms which handled collections. Neither firm would delegate responsibility and the women became frustrated and left. "I was tied to the typewriter. I wasn't trained to be a legal secretary. I would like to have gotten into the law books and gone to the courthouse," explained Gonzalez. She changed careers and now works as an aide to U.S. Representative Mickey Leland. Like professionals in other fields, paralegals are forming groups to provide solidarity and support among members and to educate others about the paralegal career. Within the last six months, a group of local paralegals has formed the Houston Legal Assistants Association, which now has about 100 members, according to Dold, corresponding secretary. The Houston organization has not yet affiliated with the state or national associations. There are three paralegal schools in Houston which are approved by the Texas Education Agency to train legal assistants. Each school's curriculum has courses in law theory, as well as in special areas of law—real estate, family law, torts, wills and trusts. The schools prepare general practice paralegals, although most graduates get into specialized areas of law on the job. Each school offers a different type of training program. Students attend Texas Paralegal School for nine months, completing 720 hours of classes. Kooistra said it is a strenuous program: "The work load is equal to taking 20 hours of college credit a semester." Students may participate in an optional intern program, working on actual cases for attorneys. The Southwestern Paralegal Institute offers a three-month program, according to Janet Covington, director, while Houston Community College offers a two-year course leading to an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Legal Assistant Technology. Sophomore students work 20 hours a week in a lawyer's office as part of a cooperative program, coordinator John Sharp said. Not all paralegals have attended special schools, however. Paralegals at Harris County Child Welfare (HCCW) have received training while on the job as case workers and moved into legal work, said Judy Hay, community relations director. Dold, who has a college degree, said she has also received her paralegal training on the job. "There is no training school for the work I do," she said. "My job does not require paralegal school and what I have learned here will easily transfer to another position." Paralegals come from a variety of backgrounds, whether they have attended paralegal school or received on-the-job training. Most have baccalaureate degrees;some have advanced degrees. Some cannot find jobs in their major fields; others are switching careers. Many are former legal secretaries. Some paralegals have ambitions to attend law school at a later time; others say they plan to make paralegal work a career. With the rapid population and corporate growth occurring in the Houston area and a corresponding need for additional legal services, it is inevitable that the demand for paralegals will grow. Hildegard Warner is a UH journalism student and an intern at Breakthrough. Houston Breakthrough 24 May 1979