A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But, if you prepare legal documents for Florida consumers, your name, the title you use to refer to yourself --- is everything.
It would be simple and obvious to refer to ourselves as paralegals, unfortunately it is forbidden. It is not unusual for attorneys, judges, and consumers to refer to us (legal document preparers) as paralegals. It also happens that it is the judges and the attorneys who forbid us to use that title. In Florida, anyone who is not an attorney and who prepares documents for consumers, may not legally refer to himself as a “paralegal”; not even as an “independent paralegal”.
Only legal practitioners who work under the supervision of an attorney may use the term “paralegal”. I’m also not quite clear as to whether someone in the business of preparing legal documents is allowed to use the term “legal practitioner”; although I am sure that “legal assistant” along with “paralegal” is disallowed.
The preferred term, according to the Florida Bar Association, is “nonlawyer”. I have a problem with that term for a few different reasons. First, it always comes up with a red squiggly line under it on my spell check. Webster and Microsoft agree with me, that it isn’t a real word; it also doesn’t appear in my copy of Black’s Law Dictionary.
Second, nonlawyer doesn’t define anything. I have a difficult time drawing the Venn diagram that would explain it. Using the term nonlawyer to define legal document preparers is like calling a zebra a nonhorse. Defining anything by its negative is not only vague, but downright confusing. What if we called a parking lot a nonbuilding? Or walking nondriving? True enough, but what is it?
Confucius said that if he were to rule the world, the first thing he would do is to rename everything. Words are important. We use words to think. Without words our cognitive processes fall short. The names of things are fundamental to our perceptions.
Members of a powerful group naming and thereby defining members of a less powerful group has been a technique used throughout history for the powerful to remain powerful. We only need to look as far as the terminology surrounding racism or feminism to realize that this is so.
Many of the name labels for minorities are no longer acceptable. Everyday terminology has evolved to reflect women in the work force -- mail carrier not mailman; firefighter not fireman; police officer not policeman.
Feminists and members of minority groups pushed for the changes in our language; choosing to name and define themselves rather than have others do it for them. So am I saying, stand up and fight for the right to use the word paralegal? No, not really, I’ve learned to choose my battles.
You may be wondering what this has to do with you. The Florida Bar Association “owns” the word “paralegal”; and they are very protective of it. I caution Florida legal document preparers to refrain from using the term "paralegal" or "Florida paralegal" in any of your advertisements.
For your own protection, and to avoid harassment from the Florida Bar Association use a different term. “Legal document preparer” seems to pass muster. A consumer complaint is not required for the Florida Bar Association to initiate an investigation against you for the unlicensed practice of law.
Believe it or not, the Florida Bar Association, has the time, resources, and energy to troll the internet for legal document preparers who make the mistake of referring to themselves as “paralegals”. The Florida Bar Association has the largest budget in the country, of any state Bar Association, for enforcement and prosecution of the unlicensed practice of law.
Forewarned is forearmed
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