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Classification & Qualifications Appeal Decisions

Washington, DC

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Classification Appeal Decision
Under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code

Rita A. Owen
Legal Assistant
(Office Automation (OA))
GS-986-7
Tucson Sub-Office
District of Arizona
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Department of Justice
Tucson, Arizona
Legal Assistant (OA)
GS-986-5
C-0986-05-01

Robert D. Hendler
Classification and Pay Claims
Program Manager
Agency Compliance and Evaluation
Merit System Accountability and Compliance

08/08/2016


Date

As provided in section 511.612 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this decision constitutes a certificate that is mandatory and binding on all administrative, certifying, payroll, disbursing, and accounting officials of the Government.  The agency is responsible for reviewing its classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with this decision.  There is no right of further appeal.  This decision is subject to discretionary review only under conditions and time limits specified in the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards (Introduction), appendix 4, section G (address provided in appendix 4, section H).

Since this decision lowers the grade of the appealed position, it is to be effective no later than the beginning of the sixth pay period after the date of this decision, as permitted by 5 CFR 511.702.  The applicable provisions of parts 351, 432, 536, and 752 of 5 CFR must be followed in implementing the decision.  If the appellant is entitled to grade retention, the two-year retention period begins on the date this decision is implemented.  The servicing human resources office must submit a compliance report containing the corrected position description (PD) and a Standard Form 50 showing the personnel action taken.  The report must be submitted within 30 days from the effective date of the personnel action to the OPM office that accepted this appeal.

Introduction

On January 12, 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Dallas Agency Compliance and Evaluation accepted a classification appeal from Ms. Rita A. Owen.  The appellant’s position is classified as Legal Assistant (OA), GS-986-7, but she believes it should be classified as GS-986-8 or to the GS-950 Paralegal Specialist Series at the 9 grade level.  The position is assigned to the Tucson Sub-Office, District of Arizona (District), U.S. Attorney’s Office, Department of Justice (DOJ), in Tucson, Arizona.  We received the complete agency’s administrative report on January 29, 2016, and the appellant’s comments on that report on February 16, 2016.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

Background and general issues

The appellant requested a review of the classification of her position from the District’s human resources office.  Their December 8, 2015, response determined the position is appropriately classified as GS-986-7.  The appellant subsequently filed a classification appeal with OPM, raising the following issues she believes should be considered in determining the classification of her position.

Personal qualifications

The appellant submitted a copy of her paralegal-related diplomas and her resume showing she has over 30 years of experience in the legal field.  The mere fact an individual possesses higher qualifications or stands out from other individuals in comparable positions is not sufficient reason by itself to classify the position to a higher grade.  Qualifications are considered in classifying positions only to the extent these are qualifications required to perform the current duties and responsibilities assigned to and performed by the employee.  Therefore, we could not consider the appellant’s personal qualifications except insofar as they are required to perform her current duties and responsibilities.

Volume of work and work quality 

The appellant mentions the volume of work she performs, as well as the performance rating and awards received due to the quality of her work.  However, volume and quality of work cannot be considered in determining the grade of a position (The Classifier’s Handbook, chapter 5).

Classification consistency

The appellant states she performs duties similar to higher-graded District positions, forwarding PDs for a Legal Assistant (OA), GS-986-8, and Paralegal Specialist, GS-950-9, in addition to a vacancy announcement for the latter position at the District.  However, the PDs do not include the OF 8 or equivalent coversheet showing the PDs had been certified as current and accurate by competent management authority or classified accordingly.  Furthermore, we note the legal assistant PD appears to be a draft rather than the final, approved version.  Under the Major Duties section, the PD states, “[p]repare and insert a major duty encompassing at least 25% of the incumbent’s workload which describes the work assignment at the GS-8 level.”  Under Factor 2, Supervisory Controls, the PD states that “[w]ork is assigned subject to review by insert job or organizational title of supervisor.”  We also conclude her work is substantially different from that identified by the paralegal specialist PD, which describes a position, unlike the appellant’s, analyzing legal decisions, conducting interviews, and requiring a specialized knowledge of law.  Regardless, we conclude the PDs, for the reasons discussed, and the vacancy announcement are not official classification documents, and we will therefore not address the comparisons of her work to the duties described by such documents further.

By law, we must classify positions solely by comparing their duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Since comparison to the PCSs and guidelines is the exclusive method for classifying positions, we cannot compare the appellant’s current duties to other positions, which may or may not be classified properly, as the basis for deciding her appeal.

Implicit in the appellant’s rationale is a concern her position is classified inconsistently with other positions.  Like OPM, the agency must classify positions based on comparison to OPM’s PCSs and guidelines.  In accordance with 5 CFR 511.612, agencies are required to review their own classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with OPM certificates.  Consequently, the appellant’s agency has primary responsibility for ensuring its positions are classified consistently with OPM appeal decisions.  If the appellant believes her position is classified inconsistently with another, then she may pursue this matter by writing to the human resources office at her agency’s headquarters.  She should specify the precise organizational location, series, title, grade, and responsibilities of the positions in question.  The agency should explain to her the differences between her position and the others, or classify those positions in accordance with this appeal decision.

Regular and recurring duties

The appellant mentions she volunteered to prepare plea agreements, indictments, and other work related to drug cases while a GS-8 legal assistant was on maternity leave for three months.  She also asserts she performs duties similar to work she performed for the District as a contractor with the title of Paralegal/Legal Assistant II, prior to her current Federal service appointment.  However, 5 U.S.C. 5112 indicates that we can consider only current duties and responsibilities in classifying positions.  Our analysis will focus on the current work performed by her based on the entire record, including information obtained from telephone interviews with the appellant and others.

In addition, the appellant mentions performing work we are unable to confirm by review of her official PD or by interviews with her supervisors.  In her appeal request to OPM, she states she reviews discovery documents and “can tab the documents [she] feel[s] are necessary to use as an exhibit for the indictment or for trial purposes.”  The agency submitted a written summary of a November 18, 2015, conversation with the first-, second-, and third-level supervisors, stating the appellant is expected to organize and chart discovery on an Excel spreadsheet.  Further, in the written summary of a January 12, 2016, conversation with the same individuals, the first-level supervisor stated she never officially assigned the appellant to review and tab discovery documents while the second-level supervisor stated that, in addition to not being able to recall asking her to perform such work, it was the attorney’s responsibility.  The authority to assign work to positions is statutorily vested in agency management.  See 5 U.S.C. 302.  Therefore, agency decisions concerning the assignment of work are not reviewable under the classification appeals process and we will only consider duties officially assigned by management.

The appellant states she prepared four extradition requests and made arrangements for translators, created a short timeline for newer legal assistants to use in trial preparation, and occasionally prepares plea and indictment packages for drug cases.  Only duties occupying at least 25 percent of an employee’s time on a regular and recurring basis can affect the grade of a position (Introduction, section III.J).  Therefore, we will not consider the appellant’s volunteer, past, occasional, one-time, and other minor duties falling short of meeting the 25 percent threshold.  Regardless, the assigning of more or different work does not necessarily mean that the additional work is more difficult and complex.  Each grade level represents a band of difficulty and responsibility.  Performing more difficult work than previously performed may still continue to fit within and support the same grade level previously credited to the position.

Position information

U.S. Attorneys and Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) prosecute violations of Federal laws and represent Federal agencies before Federal courts.  Appointed by the President, the U.S. Attorney is the District’s chief Federal law enforcement officer.  The District is staffed with approximately 170 AUSAs and 140 support staff.  Most are assigned to the Phoenix main office and Tucson Sub-Office, with remaining staff assigned to the Flagstaff and Yuma offices.  The District serves more than 8 million Arizona residents including those of the 22 Federally-recognized Indian tribes.  The appellant’s position is assigned to the Tucson office’s criminal division, which is composed of several different sections or “units” focusing on particular types of cases and staffed with approximately six deputy chiefs, 56 AUSAs, four paralegal specialists, one auditor, eight supervisory legal assistants, 22 legal assistants, one grand jury clerk, four docketing technicians, and two file clerks.  The appellant’s first-level supervisor is a Supervisory Legal Assistant, GS-986-9, and the second-level supervisor is the Deputy Chief of the Financial Crimes and Public Integrity Unit (Unit).

The appellant provides legal and administrative support to three attorneys, which include her second-level supervisor and an AUSA assigned to the Unit.  The Unit prosecutes financial crimes including bank fraud, investment fraud, tax crimes, healthcare fraud, mortgage fraud, student loan fraud, fraud related to Government contracts, bankruptcy fraud, securities fraud, embezzlement, counterfeiting offenses, public corruption offenses, election-related offenses, and multiple victim identify theft cases.  The Unit’s cases typically go to trial and last from two to six weeks, requiring more legal assistance support.  The appellant’s position also serves as the legal assistant to an AUSA assigned to the General Crimes Unit, which handles immigration crimes, firearm offenses, and drug crimes.  Although most cases in the General Crimes Unit plea-out and no trial is warranted, those going to trial typically last three to seven days.  Although a paralegal specialist is assigned to the General Crimes Unit, none are assigned to the Unit.

The appellant provides legal assistance at three different phases of the trial:  pre-trial, trial, and post-trial.  Most of her time is occupied by the pre-trial phase, which involves preparing legal documents, organizing discovery, loading data into the automated system, creating trial notebooks and binders, developing indices and tables of contents, arranging travel for witnesses, and creating spreadsheets to track and maintain custodian affidavits, witness contact information, and other data.  She assists attorneys with trial preparation and courtroom presentations by enlarging charts and photographs, duplicating tapes and videos, retrieving court decisions, and other duties as warranted.  Her post-trial work includes maintaining and filing case files, requesting court transcripts, and preparing appeals if necessary.  The appellant’s work entails using a variety of software tools including, but not limited to, the Legal Information Office Network Systems and its system components to track litigation on criminal matters, cases, and appeals; Sanctions to present exhibits during trials; Relativity to organize discovery materials for larger cases; Concordance to manage and review documents generated during litigation; CaseMap to create timelines and other tasks; and E2 Solutions to arrange travel.

The first-level supervisor certified to the accuracy of the duties described by PD, number L08034, a standard PD to which the appellant and several other District staff members are assigned.  In a January 19, 2016, email to the agency, the appellant had initially certified to the accuracy of her PD but subsequently withdrew the statement with no explanation of the inaccuracies in her PD other than to state “[i]t’s because of the work that [she performs] as described in the Classification Appeal.”  She asserts in her classification appeal request to OPM that a majority of her work is “outside of [her] Classification Rating,” describing duties such as preparing subpoenas as well as plea agreements and indictment packages for drug cases, making travel arrangements, and creating Excel spreadsheets requiring she locate, extract, and compile information from disclosure.  However, we noted her official PD identifies similar or identical duties; for example, major duty 1 describes examining, preparing, and processing a variety of technical legal documents that are characteristically voluminous and complex in format and independently determining the need for preparing legal documents such as pleadings and subpoenas.  The duty further states the employee, with limited instructions, prepares legal actions such as indictments.  Although major duty 2 describes performing work for instead of on behalf of AUSAs, it nonetheless describes making travel arrangements to include preparing itineraries, authorizations, and vouchers.  In addition, creating Excel spreadsheets is covered by major duty 3, which describes producing various graphs, charts, and tables.  We thus conclude the appellant’s PD fully covers the work she describes as “outside of [her] Classification Rating.”

A PD is the official record of the major duties and responsibilities assigned to a position or job by an official with the authority to assign work.  Major duties are normally those occupying a significant portion (at least 25 percent) of the employee’s time.  OPM considers a PD to be accurate for classification purposes when the major duties and responsibilities of the position are listed and proper classification can be made when the description is supplemented by otherwise accurate, available, and current information on the organization’s structure, mission, and procedures.  Based on these criteria, we find the major duties described by the appellant’s PD are adequate for classification purposes, and we incorporate it by reference into this decision.

To help decide this appeal, we conducted telephone audits with the appellant on March 2 and 3, 2016, and telephone interviews with the first-level supervisor on March 17, 2016, and the second-level supervisor on March 8, 2016.  In addition, we conducted a telephone interview with the two other AUSAs she supports on March 9, 2016.  In reaching our classification decision, we carefully considered all of the information gained from these interviews, as well as the written information furnished by the appellant and her agency.

Series, title, and standard determination

The appellant believes her position should be classified to either the GS-986 Legal Assistance or GS-950 Paralegal Specialist Series.  The GS-986 series covers one-grade interval administrative support positions that supervise, lead, or perform legal assistance work not classifiable in any other series in the Legal and Kindred Group, GS-900.  The work requires specialized knowledge of processes, procedures, and practices to support legal activities.

The GS-950 series includes positions not requiring professional legal competence which involve various legal assistance duties, of a type not classifiable in some other series in the Legal and Kindred Group, in connection with functions such as hearings, appeals, litigation, or advisory services.  Paralegal specialists analyze the legal impact of legislative developments and administrative and judicial decisions, opinions, determinations, and rulings on agency programs; conduct research for the preparation of legal opinions on matters of interest to the agency; perform substantive legal analysis of requests for information under the provisions of various acts; or other similar legal support functions which require discretion and independent judgment in the application of a specialized knowledge of laws, precedent decisions, regulations, agency policies and practices, and judicial or administrative proceedings.

It is not always easy to distinguish between positions classified to one-grade interval administrative support occupations (e.g., the GS-986) and positions classified to two-grade interval administrative occupations (e.g., the GS-950).  Some tasks are common to both types of work, particularly at the higher-grade levels of administrative support work and the lower, developmental grade levels of specialist work.  To decide the proper occupational series, it is necessary to consider the characteristics and requirements of the work as well as management’s intent in establishing the position.  Although some assistant duties may be similar to those of specialist trainees, the specialists are in temporary stages of development performing assignments requiring more judgment and analysis.  Assistants for legal or claims work have boundaries that narrowly restrict their work.  Assistants use a limited variety of techniques, standards, or regulations and deal with problems that are recurring and have precedents.  These limitations impact the breadth and depth of knowledge required, the complexity of problem solving, the applicability of guidelines, and/or the closeness of supervisory controls.  In contrast, specialists use broad legal knowledge, concepts, and principles to perform a wide variety of work in one or more subject matter areas.

Unlike two-grade interval occupations, the appellant’s work involves varied legal tasks that are procedural in nature and have many prescribed guidelines and precedents to determine the appropriate course of action.  For example, she creates disclosure logs to track the Unit’s up to 70,000 pages of disclosure, identifying the assigned bates number used on documents for consecutive numbering, document description, and date of disclosure.  During trial preparation, the attorney identifies the documents to be introduced as evidence and the presentation order.  The appellant retrieves the documents from disclosure, compiles exhibits as determined by the attorney, and creates trial notebooks with exhibit lists to identify the exhibit by number, brief description, and bates number range.  Other procedural tasks involve preparing trial subpoenas five to six months prior to trial, inputting information such as the case name, witness name and address, court address, hearing date and time, courtroom, and attorney information.  After receiving the return of service from case agents serving the subpoenas, she prepares the witness chart identifying the witness name, address, contact information, and date subpoena was issued and served.  To prepare motions for extensions to file the Government’s response to, for example, the motions of the defendant’s counsel, she inputs the due date of the original document and confirmation of objection or no objection from the defense counsel, who she contacts for verification.  We conclude this and other work involves clear, well-established guidelines and, although requiring she be extremely meticulous in retrieving and inputting the correct information on various legal documents, does not require a higher level of analysis or judgment to make the readily-available and clear information fit various procedural tasks or situations at hand.  Also unlike two-grade interval occupations, her work involves using a limited variety of techniques, standards, or regulations to deal with the varied legal tasks she is responsible for at different trial phases.

Although requiring knowledge of legal situations and procedures, the appellant’s work does not require performing the substantive legal analysis and research indicative of GS-950 positions.  We found no evidence her work requires identifying and analyzing significant facts, formulating legal issues to be researched, researching issues presented, or other such characteristics of legal analysis and research.  Rather, the appellant’s work is limited to retrieving court decisions from LexisNexis or Westlaw with explicit instructions from the attorney.  Our interviews with the AUSAs confirm she conducts no legal research.  She makes various decisions related to selecting and preparing the appropriate legal document, e.g., subpoenas and search warrants, depending on the situation; choosing the appropriate software tool for various tasks; and organizing information.  However, the appellant’s work does not rise to performing substantive legal analysis on requests for information or on the legal impact of legislative developments and administrative and judicial decisions, opinions, determinations, and rulings as expected of GS-950 positions.

The appellant’s duties are consistent with the series description of GS-986 work.  Similar to her position, legal assistants perform one or more of the following duties:  initiate and compose standardized legal documents needed for specific legal actions; accept service of legal documents, review them for correct form and timeliness, and annotate case files and status records to reflect receipt and due date for response or other required actions; process legal instruments by checking them for required information, determining if any treatment such as simple computations are necessary, and routing the assembled materials to a technical expert for examination; locate and compile information from files; maintain docket calendars and tickler systems, coordinate schedules with court clerks, remind attorneys of court appearances and deadlines for submitting various actions or documents, and notify witnesses of appearances and of changes resulting from suspensions or settlements; attend and keep a record of all court proceedings; maintain court calendar; and/or establish, maintain, and close case files or systems of legal records, annotate indices and status records, compile workload and status reports, and locate and abstract data from files and records.  Since the appellant performs nearly all of the legal assistant duties described above, we conclude the appellant’s position is correctly classified to the GS-986 series.  We evaluated her legal assistant duties by application of the grading criteria in the Job Family Position Classification Standard (JFS) for Assistance Work in the Legal and Kindred Group, GS-900.

The agency titled the appellant’s position as Legal Assistant (OA).  Since her position requires the regular use of OA technology and skills to load data into automated systems, create spreadsheets, and prepare legal documents, we concur with the agency’s determination of basic title and OA parenthetical.  We applied the OA Grade Evaluation Guide to the appellant’s OA work and determined that those duties and responsibilities are graded no higher than her legal assistant work.  Since the OA duties are not grade controlling, we will not discuss them further in this decision.

Grade determination

The GS-900 JFS is written in the Factor Evaluation System format, under which factor levels and accompanying point values are assigned for each of the nine factors.  The total is converted to a grade level by use of the grade-conversion table provided in the JFS.  Under this system, each factor-level description demonstrates the minimum characteristics needed to receive credit for the described level.  If a position fails to meet the criteria in a factor-level description in any significant aspect, it must be credited to a lower level unless an equally important aspect that meets a higher level balances the deficiency.  Conversely, the position may exceed those criteria in some aspects and still not be credited at a higher level.

The JFS provides illustrations as a frame of reference for applying factor-level concepts.  The illustrations describe examples of work meeting or exceeding the threshold for a particular factor level while still falling within the coverage of the factor level.  Comparisons to illustrations may not be solely relied upon to exclude credit at a factor level, because they do not necessarily describe the minimum threshold of the factor level.  Each illustration is to be used in its entirety in conjunction with the factor-level description.

Factor 1, Knowledge Required by the Position

This factor measures the nature and extent of information or facts the employee must understand to do acceptable work (e.g., steps, procedures, practices, rules, policies, regulations, and principles) and the nature and extent of the skills needed to apply the knowledge.

At Level 1-3, work requires knowledge of, and skill in applying, standardized rules, processes, and procedures sufficient to perform the full-range of legal support assignments, make simple determinations, assist others to acquire information, identify documentation and time requirements, and use personal computers and office software programs to retrieve and sort information from files or records and to prepare documents with complicated formatting, e.g., headers and footers.

The court-related illustration at Level 1-3 describes a position requiring knowledge of, and skill in applying, standardized court rules, processes, and procedures sufficient to:  provide answers to written, telephonic, electronic, and personal inquiries regarding court proceedings and records; prepare documents such as warrants, subpoenas, and hearing notices; notify appropriate parties concerning the scheduling of court hearings, postponements, cancellations, and rescheduling of court activities; and collect fees due to the court and maintain record of fees paid or due.

At Level 1-4, work requires knowledge of, and skill in applying, an extensive body of rules and procedures gained through extended training or experience sufficient to:  perform interrelated and nonstandard legal support work; plan, coordinate, and/or resolve problems in support activities; use a wide range of office software applications to prepare complex documents containing tables or graphs; and use online legal resources to obtain information accessible over the internet, as needed.  Sufficient knowledge is also required to examine documents where the information and facts are straightforward and readily verifiable; need little development; require limited searches of reference, file, or historical material; and entail comparisons with explicit criteria.

The court-related illustration at Level 1-4 describes a position requiring knowledge of, and skill in applying, an extensive body of judicial rules and procedures sufficient to examine case files to determine sufficiency of documentation, identify material that may be pertinent to issues or cases, identify and resolve issues or problems of court procedures and court documentation, and use personal computers to prepare legal documents that require legal research.  Another illustration at Level 1-4 describes a position requiring knowledge of, and skill in applying, an extensive body of rules and procedures concerning legal documents used in the department and other Government agencies sufficient to:  assist attorneys in researching pleadings, briefs, and other legal documents on questions relating to general law, administrative law, departmental decisions, and regulations; assess specialized source material available in the library, including Attorney General opinions, Comptroller General decisions, past decisions of the agency head, General Counsel’s opinions, and departmental manuals, circulars, field letters, and regulations; use automated legal databases on the internet; and select and compile information to be used as evidence.

The agency credited the appellant’s position at Level 1-4, but we find her position meets Level 1-3 instead.  As at Level 1-3, she performs the full range of legal support work for three attorneys to include preparing and processing subpoenas, warrants, motions for extensions to file the Government’s response, and other straightforward legal documents.  She identifies the documents to be completed and the time requirements, following standardized rules, processes, and procedures to perform this and other legal support tasks.  Her document preparation work requires understanding which legal document or form is appropriate for the situation and when to complete it.  If certified copies of court transcripts or company records are required by an attorney, she identifies which form is required to obtain records from the State court, County Recorder’s Office, Arizona Corporation Commission, etc.; prepares forms; obligates funds for expenses; and arranges the delivery of requested documents.  Although the appellant prepares search warrants by inputting the item to be searched, attorney number, violation code section, and name of the case agent and judge, it is the case agent’s responsibility to prepare the affidavit and attachments to the warrant.  In addition, when the attorney determines the disclosures to be used at trial, the appellant prepares and electronically forwards Rule 1006 letters to notify defense counsel of the disclosures identified.  She prepares standard correspondence including letters, in lieu of subpoenas, for case agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other investigative agency called as trial witnesses.  She similarly completes and processes other standard legal documents and correspondence where she is responsible for inputting readily-available and clear information while the case agent, attorney, or others are required to complete the substantive portions (e.g., basis of the complaints charge against the accused) on the form.  Her docketing duties require updating the status of assigned case files including opening and closing out files in the automated system.  Like Level 1-3, she uses her personal computer and office software programs to retrieve and sort information from files or records and prepare disclosure logs, witness and exhibit lists, custodian affidavit trackers, timelines, and other charts and spreadsheets.  Equivalent to the Level 1-3 illustration, the appellant responds to written, telephonic, electronic, and face-to-face inquiries regarding court proceedings and records; prepares warrants, subpoenas, and other notices; and notifies appropriate parties concerning the scheduling of court hearings including witnesses and case agents.

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 1-4.  Her work requires knowledge of court rules and preferences (e.g., number of copies to prepare), legal documents, appropriate timeframes, and the processes and procedures of litigation to prepare legal information and facts that are readily verifiable.  Although she has knowledge of a wide body of rules and procedures, the appellant’s position does not perform the interrelated and nonstandard legal support work expected at Level 1-4.  The appellant asserts the Unit handles complex cases with numerous charges containing up to 70,000 pages of disclosure, 250 to 700 exhibits, and 25 to 150 witnesses.  We fully considered the various legal assistance work she performs at different trial phases.  She prepares timelines for grand jury panels during pre-indictment.  In scheduling witness interviews, she coordinates dates with the attorneys and case agents, enters appointments into attorney calendars, sends invitations to case agents, and retrieves and forwards the documents identified by attorneys to witnesses for review prior to the interview.  One week before trial, she contacts the witnesses identified by the trial attorney, who decides the order of the witnesses and estimates the expected length of testimony, and provides the calendars with the witness schedule to the attorney.  She also arranges travel for witnesses, preparing the travel and lodging vouchers and the DOJ-3 (reimbursement of costs) for processing by the Victim Witness Unit.  In addition, the appellant reviews the disclosure pages of banking records, phone records, and other documents requiring a custodian of record or other qualified witness to certify, through written record, the document as a business record in lieu of live testimony.  She prepares the Notice of Intent to Use Written Certificates, inputting the bates range of the disclosure documents authenticated by the records custodian, as well as the custodian affidavit chart identifying custodian, company, or financial institution name; bates number of the custodian affidavit; and bates number range of the documents being authenticated.

We conclude the appellant’s work requires preparing straightforward documents that do not require considering the importance of information for document input, retrieving facts from readily available sources, and involving limited case development such as obtaining dates and other clear-cut information from case agents or others.  To place the description of nonstandard legal support work performed at Level 1-4 in the proper context, we note both pertinent illustrations at this level describe positions conducting legal research.  The court-related illustration describes the assistant performing legal research to prepare legal documents, examining case files to determine sufficiency of documentation, and identifying materials that may be relevant to issues or cases.  The other illustration describes work assisting attorneys by researching pleadings, briefs, and other legal documents on questions relating to general law, administrative law, departmental decisions, and regulations in addition to selecting and compiling information to be used as evidence.  We found no evidence the appellant conducts a modicum of legal research, for example, by searching for, not merely retrieving, court decisions related to case issues at hand.  As confirmed in a November 25, 2014, memorandum, the Criminal Division Chief (her third-level supervisor) stated that legal assistants would not be responsible for conducting legal research, providing substantive information in pleadings, or drafting substantive language in indictments and plea agreements.  That the appellant’s position is not responsible for conducting legal research within the meaning of the JFS precludes our crediting her position at Level 1-4.

Level 1-3 is credited for 350 points.

Factor 2, Supervisory Controls

This factor covers the nature and extent of direct or indirect controls exercised by the supervisor, the employee’s responsibility, and the review of completed work.

At Level 2-3, the highest level described by the JFS, the supervisor makes assignments by outlining or discussing issues and defining objectives, priorities, and deadlines.  The supervisor provides advice or additional specific instructions on new or unusual situations that do not have clear precedents.  The employee independently plans the work; resolves problems; carries out successive steps of assignments; follows instructions, policies, previous training, or accepted practices; makes adjustments using accepted legal practices and procedures; handles problems and/or deviations that arise in accordance with instructions, policies, and guidelines; and refers controversial issues to the supervisor for direction.  The supervisor reviews completed work for technical soundness, appropriateness, and conformity to policies and requirements.  The technical methods and procedures used in completing assignments seldom require detailed review.

The appellant’s position meets but does not exceed Level 2-3.  The Criminal Division Chief assigns cases to AUSAs assigned to the division.  When a case is assigned to an AUSA she supports, the appellant discusses the objectives, priorities, deadlines, and potential issues or concerns with the attorney.  Like Level 2-3, she independently plans her work according to the attorney’s priorities, court dates, and other deadlines, to include identifying the need for and preparing legal documents in accordance with rules governing style and format, assembling exhibits and trial binders, and scheduling witnesses.  She resolves problems,  such as witness scheduling conflicts, coordinating travel, gathering information, formatting and organizing information, etc.  Similar to Level 2-3, the appellant seeks advice from her supervisor, for example, to locate an out-of-State defendant or on other unusual situations.  The attorneys she supports review her work for technical accuracy, appropriateness, and conformity to stated instructions as described at Level 2-3, providing feedback to the first-level supervisor when needed.

Level 2-3 is credited for 275 points.

Factor 3, Guidelines

This factor covers the nature of guidelines and the judgment employees need to apply them.

At Level 3-2, the employee uses readily available guidelines in the form of agency policies and procedures that are clearly applicable to most transactions.  These guidelines consist of legal regulations, dictionaries and references, computer manuals, office manuals, office policies and procedures, directives, general decisions, and agency guides.  The employee uses judgment to determine the most appropriate guidelines or procedures to follow based on the nature of specific assignments, adapt guidelines in specific cases and make minor deviations, and refer issues that do not readily fit instructions or are outside of existing guidelines to the supervisor or a designated employee for resolution.

At Level 3-3, the employee uses guidelines that have gaps in specificity and are not applicable to all work situations.  When completing a transaction, the employee may have to rely on experienced judgment, rather than guides, to fill in gaps, identify sources of information, and make working assumptions about what transpired.  The employee uses judgment to select the most appropriate guideline and decide how to complete the various transactions.  For example, the employee reconstructs incomplete files, devises more efficient methods for procedural processing, gathers and organizes information for inquiries, and resolves problems referred by others.  In some situations, guidelines do not apply directly to assignments and require the employee to make adaptations to cover new and unusual work situations.

The agency credited the appellant’s position at Level 3-3, but we find her guidelines meet Level 3-2 instead.  As at Level 3-2, she uses readily available guidelines including the Office Procedures Manual; State, Federal, and local court rules; and regulations, policies, handbooks, and manuals such as the E2 Solutions Creating a Travel Authorization.  Legal documents are readily available in standardized templates and forms.  The appellant determines the most appropriate form and procedures to follow based on the requirements of the specific case.  Like Level 3-2, she refers issues and unusual circumstances that do not readily fit instructions or are outside of existing guidelines to the immediate supervisor or attorney (e.g., a warrant is issued but the defendant cannot be located).

In contrast to Level 3-3 where guidelines have gaps in specificity and are not applicable to all work situations, the appellant’s guidelines are readily available and provide clear precedents for most aspects of her work.  Her work involves recurring processes and procedures, following established guidelines for preparing and processing legal documents, reviewing internal consistency of legal documents (e.g., ensuring appropriate attachments are filed with search warrant requests), creating outlook appointments, maintaining files after trial completion, preparing travel vouchers and authorizations, redacting forms, and reviewing documents for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and proper format.  Our interviews confirm the organization is highly structured with clear, established requirements for legal assistant work.  For example, she has  the Legal Assistant Training Manual, which includes detailed instructions on, for example, how to calendar court hearings, plea deadlines, trials, indictments, and other dates; preparing and creating travel authorizations; opening and closing files; redacting legal documents; and submitting exhibits, exhibit lists, and witness lists for hearings.  Guidelines and answers to frequently asked questions are available to locate current forms and instructions.  Although using judgment to determine the appropriate guidelines to use, the appellant’s work does not require relying on experienced judgment, rather than the Legal Assistant Training Manual and/or other guides, to complete tasks as expected at Level 3-3.  As guidelines are readily available, her work does not require filling in gaps, identifying sources of information, and making working assumptions about what transpired as described at Level 3-3.  She prepares trial binders and organizes other information, but her work does not require the extensive reconstruction of incomplete files or devising of more efficient methods for procedural processing characteristic of Level 3-3.  Considering the guidelines applicable to her work and information from our interviews, we conclude the appellant’s work does not require making adaptations to cover new and unusual work situations as described at Level 3-3, and that any such alterations would occur rarely and require discussion with the attorney.

Level 3-2 is credited for 125 points.

Factor 4, Complexity

This factor covers the nature, number, variety, and intricacy of tasks, steps, processes, or methods in the work performed; the difficulty in identifying what needs to be done; and the difficulty and originality involved in performing the work.

At Level 4-2, work consists of related steps, processes, and standard explanations of methods or programs in the function.  Assignments may also be designed to prepare the employee for more difficult work.  The data in legal documents are factual in nature; usually designed to record specific items of routinely required information in a uniform manner; and used for only one primary purpose or action.  Supporting documents contain direct, firsthand evidence and are usually considered as conclusively establishing the point in question.  The employee checks and performs initial processing of legal documents received in the office; answers inquiries about applications, legal instruments, forms, and/or benefits; obtains missing or incomplete information as needed; compares information submitted with information previously recorded; and considers and evaluates sources of information, appropriateness of citations, and legal requirements of documents, legal instruments, or claims.  The employee recognizes different procedures required to process documentation and assist customers.  Choices are limited.  Difficulties encountered include meeting strict deadlines and keeping track of large quantities of facts, figures, information, and paperwork.

The court-related illustration at Level 4-2 describes providing administrative support for the Court.  The employee assists individuals with questions concerning various legal information required on documents and in finding the appropriate courtroom.  The employee assists employees of the Court, local law enforcement officers, and prosecutors in drafting complaints, subpoenas, warrants, commitments, and other documents incidental to the functions of the court.  The employee recognizes different procedures to evaluate inquiries and determine the appropriate response, and considers different legal requirements when assisting individuals in preparing court forms and official documents.  Another illustration at Level 4-2 describes a position providing assistance to applicants or petitioners and/or their representatives.  The employee presents routine information in response to telephone, walk-in, or written inquiries; prepares routine written correspondence in reply to personal, telephone, and/or written inquiries; locates and reviews case files and/or other material to obtain status of cases; checks citations on decisions; prepares evidence and exhibits; and routes court- and Board-ordered dispositions in accordance with the orders issued.  The employee recognizes difficulties that arise from keeping track of large quantities of facts, information, and paperwork and applies prescribed procedures to maintain data.

At Level 4-3, work consists of different and unrelated processes, methods, and sequences of tasks.  The employee analyzes facts and identifies issues; defines the problems; determines courses of action from many alternatives; searches, isolates, and determines the interrelationships among available information; assesses a variety of situations that depend on the particulars of the case and/or the submitting party; selects appropriate resources and applies those resources to the problem at hand; evaluates records in relation to legal requirements; develops recommendations for problem resolution; and adjusts and authorizes settlements.  The employee determines what needs to be done including choosing the order of research necessary, the sequence of steps, and the manner in which findings are presented.  Actions may be complicated by situations where the facts are not clearly established.  Verification or development of information from external sources is frequently required.  The organization and presentation of information on documents can vary substantially.  The same document is used for different purposes or actions.  Successive submissions of the same type of document may involve different kinds of information.

The legal assistant illustration at Level 4-3 describes conducting legal research concerning past court decisions.  The employee performs duties such as researching pleadings, briefs, and other legal documents; utilizing automated legal databases and the internet; and selecting and compiling information that provides insight on legal issues and situations.  The employee chooses the order of research necessary to obtain required action.  The situations on documents may not match the issue being researched.

The agency credited the appellant’s position at Level 4-3, but we find the complexity of her position meets Level 4-2 instead.  As at Level 4-2, her work consists of related steps, processes, and standard explanations of methods to prepare and process legal documents, correspondence, and other materials in accordance with governing style, format, and other rules.  Comparable to Level 4-2, the information she handles are factual in nature and for the purpose of documenting specific details.  She responds to inquiries and, when necessary, obtains missing or incomplete information.  Equivalent to the court-related illustration at Level 4-2, the appellant provides administrative support assistance to assigned AUSAs such as drafting subpoenas, warrants, and other documents; assembling exhibits and trial binders; and obtaining court transcripts from other Government offices.  In addition, she presents routine information in response to telephone, walk-in, or written inquiries; checks citations; and prepares evidence and exhibits as described by the other illustration at Level 4-2.  The attorneys she supports describe the appellant’s most complex work as document management (e.g., uploading information to the appropriate automated system, sorting and organizing information, creating trial binders, and filing case records), while she describes such work as compiling and organizing information to prepare legal documents and arranging travel for all parties involved in court proceedings.  Such difficulties would not exceed the Level 4-2 description of keeping track of large quantities of facts, figures, information, and paperwork and meeting strict deadlines.

Unlike Level 4-3, the appellant’s position does not consist of different and unrelated processes, methods, and sequences of tasks.  Her work involves established, related processes and methods with detailed timelines dictating sequence of tasks such as preparing and compiling trial exhibits, contacting witnesses, creating witness binders, and preparing and processing legal documents.  For example, she prepares trial binders three months prior to trial, including the tabs identified by the attorney (e.g., the indictment, grand jury transcripts, copy of trial subpoenas, witness list, copy of defendant’s witness list, copy of defendant’s exhibit list, and the Government’s jury instructions).  Six to eight months prior to trial, she prepares the Ex Parte Application For Order Authorizing Disclosure of Tax Return Information, to determine if the funds received by the defendant through fraudulent actions were reported to the Internal Revenue Service.  After the attorney and case agent decide the tax years and account records to request, the appellant prepares the application and proposed order by inputting the defendant’s name, tax years requested, and brief description of records.  Other work includes establishing and maintaining files, ensuring tax records and other documents are properly disposed of or returned to the Internal Revenue Service, proofreading documents, scheduling conferences and meetings, receiving visitors, and answering phone and other inquiries (e.g., from witnesses regarding travel and reimbursement).  In addition to the Legal Assistant Training Manual which provides detailed explanations of forms used and other information directly applicable to her work, standard templates and forms are available for her document preparation work.  The readily available and applicable processes and procedures established for most aspects of her work do not allow for searching, isolating, and determining interrelationships among available information and assessing a variety of situations dependent on the particulars of the case as described at Level 4-3.  Unlike this level, the appellant’s work does not require choosing the order of research necessary, the sequence of steps, and the manner in which findings are presented.  In contrast to the Level 4-3 illustration of a position conducting legal research on past court decisions, she retrieves court cases at the attorney’s request but does not research pleadings, briefings, and other legal documents.

Level 4-2 is credited for 75 points.

Factor 5, Scope and Effect

This factor measures the relationship between the nature of the work, as measured by the purpose, breadth, and depth of the assignment, and the effect of work products or services both within and outside the organization.

At Level 5-3, the highest level described by the JFS, work involves treating a variety of routine problems, questions, or situations within the work environment.  The employee advises and assists applicants or other individuals requesting benefits or services with a variety of problems, questions, or situations in conformance with established criteria.  Work may involve subjective considerations, such as looking for misrepresentations, fraud, or other illegal activity.  The work affects the accurate and timely attainment of licenses, permits, or other legal documents, rights, or privileges; the accurate and timely resolution of claims; and the economic well being of individuals requesting benefits, claims, and/or services.

The court-related illustration at Level 5-3 describes providing assistance in administering judicial services of the court.  Employees maintain the court calendar; examine case files to determine sufficiency of documentation; prepare court transcripts, court orders, judgments, and other documents incidental to the functions of the court; and resolve problems pertaining to court procedures.  Work affects the accurate and timely provision of court services and documentation.

The appellant’s position meets but does not exceed Level 5-3.  Similar to this level, her work involves treating a variety of routine problems, questions, or situations within the legal office.  She prepares legal documents, schedules trial witnesses, organizes information, coordinates and arranges out-of-State video depositions of witnesses to be used at trial, and maintains the attorneys’ calendars to include trial dates, hearings, and other important deadlines.  She resolves scheduling conflicts, obtains sufficient information from case agents and others to prepare legal documents, and advises and assists with other routine problems, questions, or situations in conformance with precedents or established criteria as described at Level 5-3.  Also equivalent to the Level 5-3 description and illustration (i.e., of work affecting the accurate and timely provision of court services and documentation), the appellant’s work directly affects the attorney’s ability to perform his/her work of representing the Government in the court system (e.g., failure to accurately calendar the attorney’s work may result in missed deadlines which could negatively impact the trial) as well as the accurate and timely submission of legal documents.

Level 5-3 is credited for 150 points.

Factors 6 and 7, Personal Contacts and Purpose of Contacts

Personal contacts include face-to-face and telephone contacts with persons not in the supervisory chain.  Levels described under this factor are based on what is required to make the initial contact, the difficulty of communicating with those contacted, and the setting in which the contact takes place.  These factors are interdependent.  The same contacts selected for crediting Factor 6 must be used to evaluate Factor 7.  The appropriate level for personal contacts and the corresponding level for purpose of contacts are determined by applying the point assignment chart for factors 6 and 7.

            Personal Contacts

The appellant’s personal contacts meet but do not exceed Level 2, the highest level described by the JFS.  At this level, contacts are with employees in the same agency and/or with members of the general public such as applicants, retirees, beneficiaries, Federal Reserve representatives, bank employees, taxpayers, court personnel, or other individuals related to court processes.  Contacts at Level 2 take place in moderately structured settings, i.e., the exact purpose of the contact may be unclear at first to one or more of the parities; and one or more of the parties may be uninformed concerning the role and authority of other participants.  Similar to Level 2, the appellant’s contacts are with District employees such as Administrative Division staff, who are responsible for information technology, procurement and support services, and finance and budget matters.  Her contacts with witnesses, case agents, defense attorneys, court personnel, and others related to the court process occur in the moderately structured setting described at Level 2 where the exact purpose may initially be unclear to one or more of the parties.

            Purpose of Contacts

The purpose of the appellant’s contacts meets but does not exceed Level b, the highest level described by the JFS.  At Level b, the purpose of contacts is to plan or arrange work efforts; to coordinate and schedule activities; to resolve problems relating to documents or procedures; to provide explanations of why approval was not given, discuss measures that might be taken to obtain approval in the future, and explain available alternatives.  Similarly, the purpose of the appellant’s contacts is to obtain contact and other information for documents or coordinate various activities such as the serving of subpoenas, scheduling interviews, and arranging travel and lodging for witnesses.

Level 2-b is credited for 75 points.

Factor 8, Physical Demands

This factor covers the requirements and physical demands placed on the employee by the work assignment.

Similar to Level 8-1, the only level described by the JFS, the appellant’s work is mainly sedentary but may require periods of walking, standing, bending, driving an automobile, etc.  Employees frequently carry case files and other similar materials.  Work does not require any special physical effort or ability.

Level 8-1 is credited for 5 points.

Factor 9, Work Environment

This factor considers the risks and discomforts in the employee’s physical surroundings or the nature of the work assigned and the safety regulations required.

Similar to Level 9-1, the only level described by the JFS, the appellant’s work area is adequately lighted, heated, and ventilated.  Her work environment involves everyday risks or discomforts requiring normal safety precautions.

Level 9-1 is credited for 5 points.

Summary
Factor Level Points
1.  Knowledge Required by the Position 1-3 350
2.  Supervisory Controls 2-3 275
3.  Guidelines 3-2 125
4.  Complexity 4-2 75
5.  Scope and Effect 5-3 150
6. & 7.  Personal Contacts and Purpose of Contacts 2-b 75
8.  Physical Demands 8-1 5
9.  Work Environment 9-1 5
Total 1,060

 

A total of 1,060 points falls within the GS-5 range (855 to 1,100) on the grade conversion table provided in the JFS.

Decision

The appellant’s position is properly classified as Legal Assistant (OA), GS-986-5.

 

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