Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Electronic Submittal to Virginia’s Appellate Courts
Stephanie Meharg, ACP, VARP

On July 1, 2015 the Virginia Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals began requiring that briefs and appendices filed after the granting of a petition, or after the docketing of an original jurisdiction petition be transmitted to the Clerk and all counsel of record electronically via VACES (Virginia Appellate Courts Electronic System) in addition to filing the hard copies with the Clerk’s office.    Below is a summary of the VACES Guidelines (which can be found in their entirety here http://courts.state.va.us/online/vaces/resources/guidelines.pdf) and some helpful hints.  

Accessing VACES

VACES requires that each organization have an Administration account.  The Administrator manages and updates contact information, adds and deletes users, and unlocks and resets passwords.  The administrator need not be an attorney.  A non-attorney administrator should have an Administrator Only account.  An attorney administrator can have an Administrator/Filer account.  Attorneys who are not administrators can have a Filer only account.  It’s a good idea to have a back-up or secondary administrator. The process for applying for a new VACES account is outline is Chapter II of the VACES guidelines.  HELPFUL HINT Passwords expire periodically.  It’s helpful for the administrator(s) to keep track of Filers’ passwords as well as the date that they were set.

Preparing documents to file

Format and File Size 

Briefs and appendices filed on VACES need to be PDF/A compliant and text searchable.  Briefs should not be scanned.  Appendices can be scanned, but must be OCR’d so that they are text searchable.  If a scanned image must be used, the paper document should be scanned at 300dpi or higher. VACES does not accept any document over 150  MB, and document over that amount must be broken up into multiple filings.  HELPFUL HINT Documents scanned from paper usually have a larger file size.  Once scanned, a document can be saved as a reduced size PDF by selecting the Save As option on the File menu.

Documents must be PDF/A compliant to be filed on VACES, but PDF/A documents cannot be edited, so the PDF/A conversion is the last step in the filing preparation process.

Page layout, Bookmarking, and page numbering

Briefs and Appendices need to open to the cover page with the Bookmarks Panel. You can set this under “Navigation” by going to the initial view tab under properties in the File menu.  The Page Layout should be set to Single Page with Magnification set to Fit Width.
Documents should be bookmarked according to the Table of Contents.  Bookmarks can be inserted by clicking on the bookmark icon and seclecting the “Insert New Bookmark” icon.  HELPFUL HINT Bookmarks should follow an outline format.  You can indent the book mark of a section or subsection of the brief by left-clicking on the bookmark and dragging the bookmark into place.

The thumbnails should be also numbered according to the table of contents.  The thumbnail of the cover page should not have a page number.  Page numbering can be achieved by right-clicking on the thumbnail and selecting the Number Pages option.  You can suppress the number of the cover page thumbnail by selecting “None” under styles.  HELPFUL HINT Page numbering the thumbnails should be done in sections.  The cover (blank), Table of Contents and Table of Authorities (i, ii, iii, etc.), and the body of the brief (1, 2, etc.).


Hyperlinking (for example hyperlinking the cases in the Table of Authorities to the page in the brief where they first appear) is not required, but it is permitted, and it is helpful to the clerks at the court.  You can insert hyperlinks by clinking on the link icon in the task ribbon and following the steps.  HELPFUL HINT Linking from the table to the brief is fine, but you cannot include links to outside sources, i.e. websites.


An original signature is not required.  The attorney can “sign” using /s and his/her name.  However, if an original signature is used, the signature page must be scanned at 300 dpi or higher and OCR’d.  You can avoid scanning the whole brief by just inserting the signature page into the PDF. By right-clicking the thumbnail and selecting “inset pages.”

Once the document is prepared you can convert to PDF/A by selecting the Action Wizard under the File menu.  There are other ways of converting to PDF/A, but this is the easiest for me. 

HELPFUL HINT Be sure to check your page layout settings, bookmarks, and page numbers after you convert to PDF/A.  Settings can occasionally get stripped in the conversion, and the Clerk’s office will reject the electronic submittal it is not in compliance with the VACES Guidelines.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Vision for the New Year

Welcome to #RPA2017!  

In RVA, we've had near-shorts weather and "snowmaggedon" within the first week of the year.  Sometimes change like that is crazy (68 degrees to 3 degrees in a few days?), and sometimes it's planned and a good thing.  When it comes to your career, I hope any changes in 2017 are planned!

A great way to plan for change is to have a professional vision.  If you read the January 2017 edition of On the Record, you've already heard my suggestion for a vision board.  Decide what you want to accomplish this year, and put it on a vision board to keep it in sight.  Put a reminder on your calendar to review your vision board no less than once a month. Keep working to accomplish your vision. 

Additionally, determine your theme for the year.  Some people choose a single word to embody their goals for the year.  I chose "more" as my personal word for the year, but my 2017 theme as president of RPA is "inspire to get involved."  RPA's mission is to foster professionalism, CLE, public service, and networking for paralegals in Central Virginia.  How can our mission help you? The Board of Directors is hard-working and dedicated, but we aren't on the Board to make ourselves look good or feel good.  We are here to serve you- the members and the mission.  RPA's mission cannot be accomplished without you.  I believe that by getting involved in RPA, helping to fulfill RPA's mission, will help you achieve your professional vision no matter what it is.  

There are lots of opportunities discussed in the January On the Record, and the Board will send information on more opportunities and events in celebration of our 35th year.  We are working toward more professionalism, more CLE, more public service, more networking, and more fun!  I challenge you to make RPA membership more than an entry on your résumé- come out, get involved, get to know other members.  You may even qualify for our new conference scholarship!

There is a coffee social on January 18th at the James Center Starbucks at 8am, and our first dinner CLE (ethics!) on January 24th at Allen & Allen.  I hope to see you there, and we can chat about some of the things planned for #RPA2017, your professional vision, and your role in fulfilling RPA's mission.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What makes you different? A look at professional development, education, and credentials. (Part 2 of 2)

As RPA Education Chair, NALA Professional Development Committee (PDC) Chair, and a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal® (ACP®), I think about education and credentials a lot.  A good philosophy for professional development is to do something that will help you personally and professionally, and that will help distinguish you from your peers.  Maybe this is leadership development, continuing education, a degree, or a certification.  Something I see in every aspect of my professional life is confusion about certificates versus certification (Part 1, posted earlier), and regulation versus registration (Part 2).  Part 1 is an important piece of this conversation, too. 

Why does a paralegal need any of it?  Something to remember is that no formal training or education is consistently required in Virginia or nationally. Many “real” paralegals don’t pursue any additional professional development. 

According to the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR), regulation occurs when a government body, in Virginia the General Assembly, determines that a profession or occupation should be regulated in order to protect the public.  The General Assembly may direct a regulatory body or agency to develop regulations detailing entry requirements as well as standards of practice governing the profession or occupation.  Laws are enacted surrounding these professions, and can only be changed by the General Assembly.  Regulation requires specific licensing or certification in order to work in the profession.  Architects, body piercers, doctors, waste management facility operators, lawyers, real estate appraisers, cemetery companies, and polygraph operators, among many others, are regulated.  There is a need to protect the public- an architect who doesn’t follow building codes may design a building that collapses on the occupants, body piercers who decide not to clean their equipment endanger clients, polygraph operators mishandling equipment put subjects at risk of being incarcerated when they shouldn’t or not incarcerated when they should be!  The Virginia Department of Health Professions governs the health professions and its various practitioners.  The online application for Medicine and Surgery includes a $302 application fee.  Paralegals know that the Virginia State Bar is the mandatory professional organization that governs lawyers practicing in Virginia.  Mandatory dues for lawyers for 2015-2016 are $250 annually; voluntary section dues are in addition to that.  Required continuing education costs are in addition to these mandatory fees.  We know that paralegals must be supervised by an attorney, including free-lance paralegals.  Attorneys themselves are regulated; although Virginia has freelance and virtual paralegals, and paralegals who represent clients in areas where a lay person may do so.  Paralegals are already self-regulated; I cannot come up with any public need for outside regulation.

Registration is a voluntary process.  The best definition of professional registration is from the Babylon online dictionary: The process of compiling and maintaining a list of names of people who have met specified professional standards.  As a paralegal association in Virginia, RPA is a member of the Virginia Alliance of Paralegal Associations (VAPA), whose mission is to advance, foster, and promote the paralegal profession by providing a statewide voice for paralegals.  VAPA’s goals are to maintain a statewide communications network among the member associations and others in the legal community, and to monitor developments in the paralegal profession.   VAPA is preparing to introduce a voluntary registration program for Virginia paralegals- Virginia Registered Paralegal (VARP).  The website tab for VARP still under development as they have not announced full details yet, but my understanding is that by paying a small annual or biannual fee and meeting specific continuing legal education requirements on an ongoing basis, registrants may use the VARP designation. There may be prerequisites to applying for the registration, but there is no qualification exam.  The VARP program tells employers that holders met the continuing education requirements that VAPA required. 

With a goal of increasing the accessibility of legal services, several states are beginning to license or explore licensing in the legal field.  Washington state administered its first Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) exam in May 2015, the first of several requirements to practice as an LLLT (showing proof of insurance and 3,000 hours of supervised experience are the other requirements).  Seven people passed the first exam; as of January, nine have completed all requirements and were practicing.  LLLT is governed by the Washington State Bar Association.  There are rules, an LLLT Board, and training to go along with this designation.  The Utah Supreme Court accepted a November 18, 2015 report from its Task Force to Examine Limited Legal Licensing.  Oregon, North Carolina, DC, Indiana, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Mexico, Mississippi, New York, California, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri and California all have considered or are considering options.  If you follow RPA on Facebook, you may have seen the notice posted when the ABA recently adopted Resolution 105 (February 2016), a resolution on the provision of legal services.  It outlines the amended ABA objectives for the delivery of legal services, reiterates the ABA policy prohibiting no lawyer ownership of law firms, and potentially opens the field for non-lawyer options such as the LLLT.  Last year we heard Tom Spahn mention this subject at an ethics CLE he did for RPA- this definitely remains a stay-tuned subject in Virginia. 

Why does any of this matter?
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably made decisions for yourself about what you want to do— or not do.  I encourage you to choose a path and follow it— differentiate yourself from other paralegals out there.  RPA is here to help, but only a hiring employer can tell you if they require a specific professional achievement.  Determine what you want, what makes you different, what makes you proud of yourself.  Then go for it. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What makes you different? A look at professional development, education, and credentials. (Part 1 of 2)

As RPA Education Chair, NALA Professional Development Committee (PDC) Chair, and a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal® (ACP®), I think about education and credentials a lot.  A good philosophy for professional development is to do something that will help you personally and professionally, and that will help distinguish you from your peers.  Maybe this is leadership development, continuing education, a degree, or a certification.  Something I see in every aspect of my professional life is confusion about certificates versus certification (Part 1), and regulation versus registration (Part 2).  More importantly, why does a paralegal need any of it?

Something important to remember is that no formal training or education is consistently required in Virginia or nationally. Many “real” paralegals don’t pursue any additional professional development.

Paralegal education is generally voluntary.  Many, but not all, employers require or prefer applicants to have a degree or certificate in any field, and some specifically look for degrees or certificates in paralegal studies.  The American Bar Association evaluates and approves paralegal programs or schools that meet very specific requirements.  Some employers require that the paralegal studies degree or certificate be received from an ABA-approved school.  Only the hiring employer can tell you if they prefer an ABA-approved program.  When you go to a college and take classes in paralegal studies and graduate, you receive a certificate or associates, bachelors or masters degree.  A certificate program is typically shorter in duration than a degree program.  You can say you are “certificated” only if you completed a certificate program: you have passed all the requirements for the certificate program at the school you attended.  Additionally, there is a new certificate program for Legal Project Management, offered by the LPM Institute.  This LPM certificate program is a specialization rather than a paralegal certificate program.  There may be other specialization certificates offered.

Paralegal certification is a voluntary process, separate from education although there are education programs that incorporate taking a certification exam.  Many successful, knowledgeable paralegals never choose to become certified.  It is becoming more common for employers to prefer, and sometimes require, applicants to have passed a certification.  As a NALA affiliate, RPA focuses on the NALA Certified Paralegal® exam, although there are other certifications available.  NALA’s mission is to lead the paralegal profession by providing a voluntary certification program, continuing legal education, and professional development programs for all paralegals.  NALA reminds us that professional certification is a process respected by both employers and others within a field.  According to the American Society of Association Executives, professional certification is a voluntary process by which a nongovernmental entity grants a time-limited recognition to an individual after verifying that the individual has met predetermined, standardized criteria. (Rops, Mickie S., CAE, Understanding the Language of Credentialing, ASAE, May 2002.)  Common certifications include Certified Public Accountants (CPA), Certified Financial Advisers (CFA), and Project Management Professionals (PMP), among others.  For paralegals, once they meet exam prerequisites (which can be found on NALA’s website, here, and include significant education, experience, or a combination of both), they can apply to take the CP exam.  Not everyone will be successful: the exam is challenging!  People who have taken both the CP exam and their state bar exam to become lawyers have said that the CP exam was as hard as the bar exam.  NALA’s Certifying Board conducts job analysis studies every six years to determine the areas on which the CP exam should focus (the exam specifications).  The CP exam was updated most recently with the September 2013 exam.  In May 2014, the CP exam received accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).  The CP exam is the only NCCA-accredited exam in the country.  Only paralegals who have passed the CP or other paralegal certification exam may use the appropriate credentials and say that they are “certified.”  Advanced Paralegal Certification is available for CPs interested in specializing.  These credentials are valid nationally and tell employers that the holder met rigorous standardized evaluation criteria.  Passing the CP exam was one of the hardest but most rewarding achievements of my life.

Come back for Part 2 on registration and regulation.   

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Changes to the Paralegal Profession

By Teresa A. Clark, ACP
The changes to our profession over the past 20+ years have been astounding! Not only because of technological advances, but in general things are definitely different. I am sure that most, if not all you have been impacted by changes to the number of staff at your firms, mostly by lowering the attorney to administrative assistant ratio. Many paralegals that I have talked to, have been impacted by this, which has often resulted in increased administrative duties. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

3 Ways to Continue Growth

By Donna Strauss, ACP

Paralegal growth.  Is there really such a thing?  A paralegal can certainly learn more and take on more substantive work, but where does a paralegal go from there?  Unlike other business roles where employees work their way up the path to leadership, many paralegals don’t have anywhere to go unless they take the big step of attending law school.

So what is there to do?  For one thing, ignore my previous paragraph.  We all know that paralegals ROCK!  Where would all the great lawyers be without us?  As far as growth, there are so many ways we can grow, not just in our careers, but overall, which results in a more productive paralegal.  But how do you begin?

Friday, August 21, 2015

6 Important Soft Skills

By Kitty Bice, ACP

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Legal Assistants and Paralegals’ (“NALA”) 40th Annual Convention and Exhibition in Tulsa, Oklahoma.   It was a tremendous event with wonderful educational institutes, sponsors from companies which paralegals depend on to do their jobs well, great speakers and presentations and fellow paralegals from across the country.  At the Convention, members and candidates from the Executive Board introduced themselves and shared six important soft skills that were essential to being a successful paralegal.