Local government attorneys, it’s time to revise your sign codes to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2218, 192 L. Ed. 2d 236 (2015).
In this landmark case, Pastor Reed successfully sued the Town of Gilbert alleging violation of the First Amendment because the town’s code provided for greater restrictions on temporary event directional signs compared to other noncommercial signs like ideological and political signs. The court held that content-based laws, such as laws applying to temporary event directional signs, are presumptively unconstitutional and must meet a strict standard of review. To be held constitutional, they must be justified by a compelling governmental interest and be narrowly tailored to achieve it. A sign law is content-based when:
If the sign law is content neutral, the court explained that the standard of review is intermediate. The law must be justified by a substantial government interest such as legitimate aesthetic and traffic safety objectives.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Alito provided a non-exhaustive list of sign rules that are content neutral:
Based on this decision, local governments should avoid any content-based sign laws such as laws specific to political and real estate sale signs. This brings many challenges for local government attorneys who must revised sign codes. For example, if a municipality allows political signs for an upcoming election in its right-of-way, it must also allow other temporary signs as it cannot discriminate based on content.
Timeframe can also be an issue. Let’s say that temporary signs are allowed for 30 days, what happens to real estate sale signs and political signs which are based on an event? One could draft an ordinance to say that if a temporary sign pertains to an event, it should be removed within five days after the conclusion of the event. However, this would allow a temporary sign to be posted months before the event. This may work well for real estate sale signs, but not so much for other event-based temporary signs. I have studied and reviewed many revised sign codes to see what other cities have done to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, but I have not found one that solves the above-mentioned issue.
As you can see, this decision provides a few guidelines on what content-based signs are, but it also creates practical issues for local government attorneys revising sign codes.
The Florida Legislature enacted laws affecting local governments during the 2016 Session. One of them relates to public records requests to local government contractors. Local government and business law attorneys should ensure their clients follow these new statutory requirements.
Chapter 2016-20, Laws of Florida, amends Section 119.0701, Fla. Stat., by requiring public records requests related to contract for services with a public agency to be made directly to the public agency instead of the contractor. If the public agency does not possess the records, it must immediately notify the contractor of the request. The contractor must then provide the records to the public agency or allow the records to be inspected or copied within a reasonable time. A contractor who fails to provide the requested information within a reasonable time may be subject to penalties under Section 119.10, Fla. Stat.
Pursuant to the new law, a public agency must include a statement in contracts for services informing the contractor of the contact information of the public agency’s record custodian. The statement must also instruct the contractor to contact the record custodian with any questions regarding the contractor’s duty to provide public records. The following language, in at least 14-point boldfaced type, should be included in contracts for services entered into or amended on or after July 1, 2016:
“IF THE CONTRACTOR HAS QUESTIONS REGARDING THE APPLICATION OF CHAPTER 119, FLORIDA STATUTES, TO THE CONTRACTOR’S DUTY TO PROVIDE PUBLIC RECORDS RELATING TO THIS CONTRACT, CONTACT THE CUSTODIAN OF PUBLIC RECORDS AT … (telephone number, e-mail address, and mailing address).”
Contracts for services must also address whether the contractor will retain the public records or transfer them to the public agency after the completion of the contract. If the contractor keeps the public records, it must follow all requirements for retaining such records, including nondisclosure of confidential or exempt records.
I get asked that question a lot when I go to networking and CLE events. Before I answer it, it’s good to know what a local government entity is. Local government typically includes municipalities, counties, special districts and any political subdivision of the state.
As part of their work, local government paralegals draft resolutions, ordinances, enabling legislations and policies. When drafting ordinances, they must follow a specific format which includes underline and strikethrough for new and deleted text. They may also be involved with code enforcement. For example, if a paralegal work for a special magistrate, the paralegal may draft code enforcement orders.
Local government is a good field for paralegals who like legal research. I research and write memos on a weekly basis. I often have to look up ordinances, statutes, case law, Attorney General Opinions and rules specific to government entities such as ethics and public records rules. Topics vary widely from shopping cart nuisance to sale of alcohol for special events. Research also consist of looking up public records. I often search for real property or corporate information.
Local government encompasses other practice areas like litigation and real estate. Local government paralegals may be involved in eminent domain cases, non-ad valorem assessment litigation, bond validation proceedings, zoning issues and land purchase by developers.
Paralegals who work in this practice area are employed by local government law firms or directly by local government entities. Although employment may be hard to find, especially in a slow economy, I highly suggest this type of practice area for paralegals who like drafting, legal research, politics, and have an impact in their local community.
If you have any questions on becoming and working as a local government paralegal, post it below.
Pretty much all paralegals can attest that it’s hard to find employment in the legal field when you’re fresh out of paralegal school and you don’t have much legal experience. I have also heard paralegals say that it’s as hard to break out in a different area of law when you have been practicing in the same field for many years. I tend to agree with them, especially if you read all the paralegal employment ads requesting 5 years of experience in a specific field. So, how do you break out of a practice area?
I asked this same question to a former colleague last year after I started my virtual paralegal services company for attorneys. She had successfully made the move from local government law to probate. I wondered how she did it. She said a lot of the skills you acquire practicing in one area are transferable to other areas. She also told me that it may help if you're willing to come in at an "entry level" if you're starting over in a new practice area. She was right!
Most of my past experience related to local government law with limited litigation, probate and real estate experience. Although I love local government law, it’s a narrow field with low employment opportunities for paralegals. I felt it would be easier to offer my services in other fields. So I started promoting my services in areas I had limited experience in and lowered my rate to gain the experience. It worked!
I did more litigation, estate planning, probate, and recently entered the world of family law. How did I get into family law? By transferring my litigation skills to the new practice area. One thing I noticed, and this may have to do with the type of attorneys I work with, is that solo practitioners and small law firms are usually more open to work with someone who has limited experience in one area.
So go ahead. Don’t hesitate to change practice areas if you don’t like what you do or need another challenge. It can only benefit your career, and you may bring a fresh perspective to your new employer.
If you have successfully changed practice areas, please share your experience with us. Was it difficult or easy? What convinced your employer to hire or contract with you? How do you like your new practice area?
Your Paralegal Help Desk is one year old this month! After working from home on an as-needed basis for my employer for the last two years, I thought it would be a good idea to offer virtual paralegal services to other Florida law firms. My employer can’t be the only law firm that doesn’t need a full-time paralegal working in office, I thought.
I was right, but finding law firm clients hasn’t been easy. My professional network was basically non-existent. I had worked for the same law firm for over 7 years. I didn’t make an effort to get out there and meet legal professionals. I had other priorities like starting a family. I also enjoyed my work and the office environment was for the most part stress-free. As a result, it took several months to get my first client.
Now that I am at the one year mark, business is picking up, but not enough to leave my part-time job with a local law firm. I have to constantly market my services in addition to doing legal work. I have tried different marketing channels and I can’t say one was more successful than the others. I have come to the conclusion that passage of time and combined marketing approaches will bring in more clients. Persistence is key.
If you have been in the legal field for a while, you probably know by now that attorneys are reluctant to changes, which can be a good or bad thing. With the advance of technology, it makes sense for solo practitioners and small law firms to delegate work to a virtual paralegal. They save overhead costs and only pay for the hours worked. However, I have found that attorneys prefer to have someone work in their office as opposed to working remotely. And if they’re okay with remote work, they often want someone local just in case something comes up and they “need” to see you in person. I have a feeling it will take some time before attorneys get used to the idea of delegating work to someone outside their office. However, I am counting on the new generation of lawyers to be more open to the idea of using virtual paralegals.
Paralegals, on the other hand, wish they worked remotely. There’s a lot of interest on social media concerning virtual and freelance paralegal work. Paralegals often ask me if I am hiring because they like the flexibility of doing virtual paralegal contract work. One thing they may not realize is that contract work is very unpredictable, especially when you start. You can be overwhelmed with work for a few days and have nothing to do the next week. And sometimes you have to work nights and weekends to meet deadlines or manage your company. It’s hard to have this kind of professional lifestyle when you have to pay the bills, unless you can make ends meet on your spouse’s salary.
I’ll be honest with you. I have had thoughts about finding a full-time in office paralegal job because starting a business is not easy. However, I love the flexibility I get as a virtual paralegal. I can pick who I work for. I can stop work to pick up my daughter at school and start again at night when she’s in bed. I can even work when I am traveling out-of-state.
I also feel more productive and creative when I work from home. There are less interruptions. I rarely have computer issues. It’s quiet! Having a business makes you think outside the box. When you have a problem and you don’t get the result you want, you have to think about solutions. I am constantly thinking about what I should do to improve my services and get more clients. I try something and learn from my successes and failures.
What I like about having a business is that it has pushed me to do things I would not have done one year ago. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone and meet people by networking, volunteering and getting involved in my community.
Cheers to another great year to come!
Last year, the Florida Legislature created Section 189.069, Fla. Stat., (Chapter No. 2014-22, Laws of Florida), requiring special districts to maintain an official website. Under the provision, the website must include the following information by October 1, 2015:
If you have special district clients, don’t forget to tell them about these new requirements. To help ensure all required content is posted, use the Special District Website Requirement Self Checklist provided by the Special District Accountability Program. And don’t forget to provide the website address of your special district clients to the Program.
Do you know what a Florida Registered Paralegal is? A Florida Registered Paralegal is someone who meets the definition of paralegal and the requirements for registration with the Florida Bar. The Rules Regulating the Florida Bar define a paralegal as:
“a person with education, training, or work experience, who works under the direction and supervision of a member of The Florida Bar and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a member of The Florida Bar is responsible”
Unlike paralegal certifications, you don’t have to pass a test to be a Florida Registered Paralegal. You must meet the education combined with work experience requirement or be certified through NALA or NFPA to be eligible. There is also a grandfathering provision for paralegals who were registered before March 2011, but resigned or had their registration revoked.
If you meet one of the eligibility requirements, the application process is quick and easy. You must complete the application form, pay an application fee and provide supporting documentation to prove your education, work or certification. You must also sign an acknowledgment that you have read Chapter 20 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and will comply with the Code of Ethics and Responsibility. Lastly, you must be currently working and your current and/or previous supervising attorney(s) must provide an attestation.
To maintain your Florida Registered Paralegal status, you must complete a minimum of 30 hours of CLE every 3 years, including 5 hours of ethic or professionalism. You must also be continuously employed as a paralegal and pay an annual renewal fee.
So what are the benefits of being a Florida Registered Paralegal? Prospective employers may be more likely to hire you because your registration shows that you have the education, training and work experience as a paralegal. Your contact information is listed on the Florida Bar website. You also have access to the same benefits available to attorney members of the Florida Bar, including free access to Fastcase and discounted CLE programs.
I have to admit I was hesitant to become a Florida Registered Paralegal, mostly because of the continuous employment requirement. If you lose your job or resign, you also lose your Florida Registered Paralegal status. And then, once you are hired again, you must submit a new application and fee. Some paralegals may also be reluctant to register because the program is administered by attorneys (who are also employers of paralegals), as opposed to certification programs administered by paralegal associations. One may wonder if the Florida Bar has the paralegal’s best interest at heart.
As you can see, there are Pros and Cons to be a Florida Registered Paralegal. Please consider them before applying.
I am curious to know what other paralegals think about this topic. Do you feel it’s worth it to become a registered paralegal with your state bar association?
It’s that time of the year. The 2015 Florida Legislative Session starts today and will last until May 1. Over 1460 bills have been filed. Only a few will make it to the end of the session and become law. Below are bills of interest to attorneys and legal professionals. Keep an eye on them as they may impact your practice areas if they pass in a few months. For your convenience, I’ll provide a status update at the end of the legislative session.
HB 47 State Minimum Wage
HB 47 increases state minimum wage from $6.15 to $10.10. It provides that an employer may not pay an employee at a rate less than the state minimum wage. It deletes the requirement that only individuals entitled to receive federal minimum wage are eligible to receive state minimum wage. (Identical Bill: SB 114)
CS/SB 102 Digital Assets
Known as the “Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,” this bill authorizes a personal representative to have access to specified digital assets and electronic communication of a decedent and provides compliance requirements to receive and collect digital assets. It also give a similar authorization to guardians, agents and trustees. (Similar Bill: HB 313)
CS/HB 113 Local Government Construction Preferences
This bill prohibits local ordinances and regulations from restricting competition for award of construction services based upon the location of the vendor’s office or place of business. It requires state colleges, school districts and other political subdivisions to make specified disclosures in competitive solicitation documents. (Similar Bill: SB 778)
SB 126 Social Media Privacy
SB 126 prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring access to a social media account of an employee or prospective employee. It also prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory personnel action for an employee’s refusal to allow access to his social media account. However, it provides that an employer is not prohibited from seeking access to social media accounts used primarily for the employer’s business purposes.
SB 150 Student Loans
This bill would require the Justice Administrative Commission and the Office of the Attorney General to implement a student loan assistance program to assist a career assistant state attorney, assistant public defender, assistant attorney general, or assistant statewide prosecutor in the repayment of eligible student loans. (Similar Bill: HB 45)
SB 462 Family Law
This bill provides that a collaborative law process commences when the parties enter into a collaborative law participation agreement. It prohibits a tribunal from ordering a party to participate in a collaborative law process over the party’s objection. SB 462 provides for confidentiality of communications made during the collaborative law process. (Similar law: HB 503)
HB 611 Residential Properties
HB 611 provides requirements relating to the request for an estoppel certificate by a unit or parcel owner including a 10-day timeframe to deliver the certificate. It also provides that an association waives any claim against a person or entity who would have relied in good faith upon the estoppel certificate if the association failed to deliver the certificate. It revises fee and supplemental fee requirements. (Identical Bill: SB 736)
As you can see I can’t cover all bills that may affect your practice areas. If you want to look and find bills, you can do a word or statute amended search under the Bills tab on the Florida House of Representatives website.
This is one of the first things I learned when I started working for a local government law firm. If you often work with and negotiate agreements, you need to know track changes. Track changes shows all changes you make to a document. You can also make comments and ink a document. In this blog post I’ll show you how to use track changes.
Before you use track changes, make sure you save your original document. Then save it as a different name. I usually call it “documentname redline date.” Sometimes I also write the initials of the person making the changes. To turn on track changes, go in the Review tab and click on Track Changes. You can now make changes to your document. When you add words, they will appear in a different color. When you delete words, they will show as strikethrough. To make comments, click on New Comment. Your comment will show in a balloon. You can also ink your document as if you were writing with a pen or highlighter.
You can play around with the settings based on what you need. You have the option of seeing All Markup, Simple Markup, No Markup or Original. I mostly use All Markup when I revise a document and No Markup to see what the final document will look like. Under Show Markup, you can pick which markup you want to show by clicking on Comments, Ink, Insertions and Deletions, and Formatting. You can also pick what will show in Balloons. Finally you can select which Author you want to see. If you like to see all changes in one place outside of the document, click on the Reviewing Pane.
To make sure the other party doesn’t turn off track changes when editing the document, click on the arrow on the Track Changes button and then select Lock Tracking. Enter a password to lock the document and make sure you remember it. When locked, you can’t accept or reject changes.
Before you finalize your document, save it as a different name ex: documentname Final date. Then you can accept or reject the one or all changes and delete comments. If you review the changes one by one, you can click on the Previous or Next button. You can do the same thing with the comments. When you’re done, turn off Track Changes and review your final document to make sure the formatting is right.
Final Tip: Did the other party make changes to your document without using track changes? Do you want to know what changes they made? Use the Compare tool to find out. You can compare two versions of a document and see the differences in blackline.
Do you have a hard time delegating? It’s understandable because you have always done everything yourself. You are just used to it. However, when you reach the point when you have too much work to do and not enough hours in the day to do it, you need to delegate. Even though you know you should delegate, are you still making excuses not to? These are the most common ones:
I can’t delegate because you are not in my office: As a virtual paralegal, I have heard this one several times. Maybe you feel you don’t have as much control over the work if it’s done outside your office. Or maybe you think it’s quicker to delegate if the person is right in front of you. It’s not when you follow the tips below.
I can do it quicker than you: This may be true at first, but if you delegate the same tasks on a daily basis, the person you delegate it to will get used to it and become faster at it…maybe faster than you.
You don’t work the same way I do: What you should keep in mind here is the end result, not the way used to achieve it.
I can do it because it’s quick and easy: You’re right, but if you combine all the quick and easy tasks you do throughout the day, it amounts to a good chunk of time you could have spent developing leads or doing substantive work.
Delegating is expensive: How much is your time worth? If your time is worth more than the time of the person you delegate to than go ahead and delegate. You will save time and money.
Do you still think your reasons for not delegating are valid? If so, let’s see what the consequences are:
As you can see, there may be risks when delegating, but they outweigh the consequences. If you are finally ready to delegate, here are some tips that may help you:
It’s time to let go and rise above your delegation fears. The end result will be positive for both your business and yourself.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Your Paralegal Help Desk's blogger is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should immediately seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.