Ethics for ParalegalsThe Paralegal Resource
April 18, 2013 — 2,636 views
Paralegals are those individuals who do legal work although they are not lawyers. They usually work for law firms, attorneys, and legal departments of companies and businesses. Paralegals are expected to follow guidelines for legal ethics by governing authorities like the National Federation of Paralegal associations, also known as the NFPA, and the National association of Legal assistants, known as NALA.
This code of ethics enables the paralegals to make the right decisions, and helps to review whether the paralegals are performing their duties in a professionally and socially acceptable way.
The NFPA expects paralegals to ensure that they follow professional ethics by providing them with general guidelines for the same. This includes not having any Ex Parte communications or direct communications with parties that are represented by the attorneys. They are also expected to behave in accordance with dignity and decorum and avoid impropriety or any form of impropriety.
It is also mandatory for paralegals to maintain complete, honest, and accurate records for billing and time. Members of the NALA consent to adhere to the canons of the code of ethics. The Canon 10 requires the paralegals to also adhere to the codes of professional responsibility and rules of professional ethics set by the Bar Association.
Unauthorized Practice of Law
Codes of ethics, by both the NALA and the NFPA, prohibit the practice of law and the offering of legal opinions by paralegals. Paralegals are not allowed to accept clients, decide fee amounts, or represent a client in court or an agency, unless the agency’s rule or statute allows it. Unauthorized practice of law is also prohibited by the Canon 3 code of ethics by the NALA.
Disclosure provisions by the NFPA and the NALA code of ethics circle around the status, conflict of interest, and the confidentiality. The paralegals must have a system of tracing previous clients so that they can monitor any possible conflict of interest. In case of any conflicts, they must disclose it to the attorneys. It is also vital for paralegals to disclose that they are not attorneys, but paralegals.
Paralegals are obligated to protect the confidentiality of the client and also must not breach the privilege doctrine between the attorney and client. Information must not be shared unless it is approved by the client himself. Even the disclosure of any information that is received from a source, other than the client, must not be shared if sharing of that information might cause embarrassment to the client. That is why paralegals must take proper steps to ensure that any information about the client is neither intentionally nor accidentally passed on to others.
How Violation of Ethics Can Affect a Paralegal’s Career
Paralegals should not give advice to a client in any circumstance. This is considered as an unauthorized practice of law. Also, in case advice given by the paralegal is incorrect, the client may sue the supervising attorney or the paralegal himself. Professional discipline may also be faced by the attorney as a result of the paralegal’s wrong practice. A paralegal might put his reputation and career at stake by not adhering to the code of conduct and indulging in such practices.