Paralegal or legal assistant is currently a poorly defined term and field. From the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) we learn that “A paralegal/legal assistant is a person qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer.”

With a little further study one learns that as with all fairly young fields (the paralegal field has only been around since the 60s) the qualifications to enter into training for the field and the actual training as well as type of work done varies widely. Even the use of the word “paralegal” or “legal assistant” is not restricted to any single standard. There is a certification exam, The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE), developed in 1994 by the NFPA that confers the credential "PACE Registered Paralegal," or "RP" on the candidates who successfully pass. This exam is not associated with any school providing paralegal education and was developed by an independent company in an attempt to fairly test the knowledge of the candidate. Minimum education and experience as a paralegal are required before even sitting the exam. There were provisions to “grandparent” individuals with a lot of experience but a low formal education up until the year 2001. Individual schools continue to issue their own degrees or certifications and there is no requirement for a paralegal to be an "RP".

The formal education required by a paralegal’s employer is rising as is the number of paralegals rises. Unlike the nursing profession, which also has at least 3 levels of entry and requires state licensure in order to practice; paralegals are not in short supply. In view of this and in my opinion only, the profession will likely become more standardized instead of less. The PACE exam requires at least a bachelors degree but in 1999 in the US 21% of all paralegals held only an associate degree. Also, in 1999 only 83% of paralegals surveyed by PFPA had received any formal paralegal education. There are “Over 800 formal paralegal training programs are offered by 4-year colleges and universities, law schools, community and junior colleges, business schools, and proprietary schools. There are currently 247 programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Although this approval is neither required nor sought by many programs, graduation from an ABA-approved program can enhance one’s employment opportunities.” ( - The Outlook For the Paralegal Profession Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: 1998 - 1999 Occupational Outlook Handbook)

Employment trends and salaries (the NFPA’s 1999 survey showed salary range of $22,000 to $98,000 with an average of $38,000) reflect an increasing demand for higher education including formal paralegal studies as well as a bachelors degree.

April 22, 2028. 0044 hours.

Deep in the bowels of their secret headquarters, the radar operators scanned the streets of London, looking for trouble.

"Sir!" shouted a young female recruit at the farthest desk. "I think we've got something!"

In a flurry of activity, the officer of the watch dashed over to the youth, accompanied by two immaculately-uniformed adjutants.

"What's that, Private Harrington?" snapped the officer.

Harrington saluted. "Sir." she said in tones more severely clipped than her haircut. "We have a potential Code TS at the corner of Love Walk and Camberwell Road. Looks like a big one too."

The officer of the watch's eyes narrowed. "God, damnit, Harrington," he growled, "I think you're right." He stood up and stared off, lost in thought for a moment, while the bleeps of the radars and sensors echoed throughout the bunker.

"Sir?" one of his adjutants ejaculated.

"Get me Commodore Willetts. At the double." Mentally he made a note to recommend Harrington for promotion. She was doing well for someone only recently graduated from university.

The adjutant scurried off through the door at the rear of the bunker, the uniform steel and plate glass sliding open and shut with the precision suitably befitting an organisation of their prestige and reputation. Soon enough, he scurried back with the Commodore in tow, suited and booted just so, a fat cigar clamped between his considerable jaws.

The Commodore looked the Officer of the Watch up and down, and shifted the Cohiba to the other side of his mouth.

"I hope," he spat through clenched teeth, "you've a very good reason for disturbing me, Lieutenant." Despite not being American, he pronounced his junior's rank in the intrinsically disdainful way that told of a man who'd seen far too many Hollywood war films.

"Sir," said the officer of the watch, "we've got a TS on the corner of Love Walk, and the target seems immobile. What do we do?"

"A TS? Is that all?" sneered the Commodore. "Nevertheless, I want a full insertion on this matter. A whole team, fully equipped, who can hit the ground running and get this cleaned up. And as you said, it's still immobile. That's easy pickings. Now get it done. Stat."

"Sir... all that rigmarole... for a mere TS...?"

"I'm giving the orders here, Lieutenant. This is a matter of principle." The Commodore turned on his heel. "Those idiots James Murray and Martha Danehurst deride my bunker mentality. I'll show them. Get me that TS cleared up and take control of the situation before they get near it."

"Yes, Sir." The junior officer could only agree.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

April 22, 2028, 0105 hours.

Thirty thousand feet above southern England, a sleek, powerful transport plane was moving into position. In its cavernous belly were three men. Two of whom were attempting to convince the third, a rather hesitant recruit called Voyle, to volunteer for his first hot aerial insertion.

"Come on now," said the first of these worthies, a genial young officer. "We'll be right behind you. You remember your training, don't you? It'll be just like at jump school. Remember to cover and roll, and divest yourself of your chute as quickly as possible. Then, make contact with the target and take it from there. Then all you have to do is exfil to one of our bases and the ground crew will take care of the rest."

"And besides, son, think of it like this. Once you've got over the initial hump, the rest will be easy. Just close your eyes, think of your rosy future career, and step into the void," said the second persuader, a grizzled flight sergeant with a moustache. "I know, I remember my first hot jump... I was terrified just like you are. But if it hadn't have been for my sergeant giving me the push in the right direction, I'd have still been in this plane right where you are now."

Voyle looked terrified. "But... I took up jumping because I thought it would be a bit of fun... I didn't expect to be up here... not now... What if my chute fails?"

"Come now, let's not be having any of that sort of talk," said the officer. "Besides, if your chute fails, we'd detect it back at Base and we'd have you covered in no time."

"But sir, I - " said Voyle, just as the red light blinked on. "Oh shit," he said in the smallest of voices, and for a moment he thought he felt a trickle of same down his trouser leg.

"There's the light!" barked the sergeant. "Ready... Jump!"

Voyle froze.

Rolling his eyes, the sergeant gave Voyle the very same nudge in the right direction that he himself had been given at the start of his career.

"NOT LIKE THAAaaaaaa...." Voyle yelped as he became but a speck in the blackness below the plane.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

April 22, 2028, 0107 hours.

Martha Danehurst lay legbroke in the London road-mud. If only she had seen that open manhole cover. She would have something to say to Southwark Council about this when the ambulance arrived.

She growled into the blackness in vain. "I've a good mind to sue those bastards for this!" she shouted into the wind.

Just that moment, in a riot of nylon and webbing, a man in a flight suit and goggles touched down beside her. In one swift moment, he divested himself of his canopy and unzipped his garb to reveal an immaculately pressed pinstriped business suit underneath. Reaching out a hand, he pulled Martha to her feet, and repeated the lines he'd been taught at the base.

"Good evening, Ma'am." Between two fingers he thrust into her face a business card. "David Voyle, representing Willetts Walkyier Davey, solicitors. I see you've had an accident. You may be entitled to compensation."

Possibly to be continued...

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