What is the official roll of a paralegal in the workplace? While they are authorized to conduct a lot of business for their law firms, there are certain things that must be off limits. This is why there is a movement to review the ethical practices of paralegals and the firms that employment. What is the unauthorized practice of law? It often comes down to specific actions that are not within the purview of a paralegal that are performed by them. So how can you maintain your ethics in the workplace and when should you say something to stop the practice? Here is a short guide.
Initiating Client and Lawyer Relationships
There are a lot of things that are covered under attorney-client privilege. But as a paralegal, that doesn’t apply to you. Paralegals need to work under the confines of the attorney’s processes, but cannot initiate the relationship. This can be a difficult tightrope to walk as a paralegal is often the first point of contact. It’s important to let clients know in this onboarding phase that you are not their legal counsel.
Providing Legal Advice
Another line that can be difficult not to cross is providing legal advice. It sounds like it’s common sense. Without being licensed to practice law, you’re not going to give legal counsel to clients. However, there are instances where off-handed statements that you perceived as innocent can be perceived as legal advice. Take care to avoid statements that can be interpreted that way.
Appearing in Court to Carry Out Legal Proceedings
Much easier to follow than some of the other situations that may be foggy, a paralegal cannot appear in court specifically to carry out the legal proceedings. The good news is a court of law is not likely to recognize a paralegal in any official capacity in this way, so the risk of being placed in this situation is reasonably low.
Charging for Legal Services
Fees paid by clients to attorneys are part of the contract to receive legal services. As a paralegal, if you were to charge clients for any sort of legal service, you would be misrepresenting yourself as someone qualified to provide these actions. In this sense, it’s also essential that you not negotiate fees with clients. This may require some client education as it’s not unusual to discuss fees with a company representative in most business dealings.
How to Speak Up
The current movement in paralegal ethics is encouraging paralegal professionals to speak up any time they see these protocols breached. The paralegal society, an organization for paralegal professionals, has initiated The Uprising, a movement designed to give paralegals a platform to provide support to professionals who feel the need to speak up about their positions.
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