Paralegal ethics are important.
Because law is a very complex field. It covers quite a few ethical areas and you will have a responsibility to uphold those ethics once you become a employed as a paralegal.
When you're working in a law office, you handle people's...
- conflicts of interests,
- livelihoods, and
- even their personal freedom!
It's therefore vital to understand and adhere to certain professional ethics. You want to maintain your integrity and fairness while helping your attorney or business as well.
Ethics violations are serious. There's been a lot of stuff written about ethics, but in no area as highly as the law. You can hardly watch the news or read the newspaper without reading stories concerning ethical violations.
Good paralegal programs offer specific courses dedicated to legal ethics. You'll want to take an ethics course during your studies as a paralegal. And, over the course of your career it's good practice to take continuing legal education credits in this area as well.
Violations of Paralegal Ethics
First on the list is the unauthorized practice of law or UPL.
This may seem obvious, but it isn't...always. Sometimes, just doing too much could be a problem. Often this is the result of wanting to help a client.
Or your friends and family may seek your advice because you work in a particular area of law. It's always best to direct questions to a licensed attorney even though you may feel qualified to answer the question(s).
Here's a checklist of things you shouldn't do to avoid the UPL. Check your state's code for further guidance.
- Provide legal advice;
- Represent a client in court;
- Select, explain, draft or recommend the use of any legal document to or for any person other than the attorney who directs and supervises the paralegal;
- Engage in conduct constituting the practice of law;
- Contract with or be employed by, a natural person other than an attorney to perform paralegal services;
- In connection with providing paralegal services, induce a person to make an investment, purchase a financial product or service, or enter a transaction from which income or profit, or both, purportedly may be derived; and
- Establish fees to charge a client for the services the paralegal performs.
Maintain Client Confidentiality
This is a BIG concern. Paralegal ethics require you to maintain client confidentiality. You may be dealing with trade secrets, huge estates or bankruptcy information that could negatively impact a client if the information got out.
Failing to maintain confidentiality means you jeopardize your career and your attorney's practice. Because you will have access to private, personal information confidentiality is absolutely essential.
At no time should you ever share any personal information with the media, the client's family, the judge or opposing counsel.
All privileged information is to be kept between you and your attorney.
You Must Disclose Your Status
Clients need to know you're a paralegal. Though you may never say you're an attorney, without this disclosure clients may simply assume it to be so.
For this reason always be upfront with the client about your role and responsibilities.
You May Have To Report Others
You're not only responsible for your ethics but your attorney's as well. If you have knowledge of any dishonesty, misrepresentation, deceit or fraud committed by another legal professional you may need to report it.
Discuss this with your supervising attorney unless he or she is the guilty one. In that case, you may have to report it to either their supervisor or your State Bar Association.
Paralegal ethics is an area that's very important to your career and your attorney's. Pay careful attention to detail and maintain client confidentiality to avoid problems for yourself and the firm you work for.
Where To Next?
Career as a paralegal?
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