There may be nothing more important in the legal industry than ethics. Lawyers are bound by them and can be disbarred for many reasons. Even legal support positions need to adhere to essential codes of ethics to maintain a good reputation. Sticking to a code of conduct will be the backbone of your career. Here are the ethics you can never break in as a paralegal.
Don’t Enter into an Attorney-Client Relationship
Lawyers who have passed the bar and are licensed to practice adhere to rigorous ethics. One of the most significant rules is the attorney-client relationship. For paralegals, there is also a risk of creating an accidental relationship based on things you say or do for someone who is not an actual client. This can be challenging since paralegals are often the first point of contact, but it’s essential that you communicate very clearly in these beginning stages.
Don’t Negotiate Fees
Negotiating fees is one of the aspects of actually determining an attorney-client relationship. The agreement to pay is a contract, even before money exchanges hands. So it can only be negotiated by the attorney and the client, not any support employees. However, clients don’t always see this as an essential factor. It’s common in any other industry to ask about pricing when talking with the staff, so paralegals need to know how to handle this part of the conversation to avoid talking about fees.
Don’t Misrepresent Yourself
This feels like an easy ethical problem to avoid, but it often comes down to client misunderstanding. A paralegal cannot represent someone in court, but clients don’t always realize that the paralegal they’re working with isn’t their actual lawyer. It’s critical that this is communicated and reiterated throughout the process. Paralegals often draft documents, but even filing them without direct supervision and a lawyer’s signature is a misrepresentation.
Don’t Provide Legal Advice
Here is a rule that gets very hazy. In your support role, you may communicate several things to the client. Some of this can seem like legal advice. Most state bar associations have determined that anything a client perceives as legal advice is, which means anything you say or do as a paralegal has that possibility. That doesn’t mean you have to defer every task to the attorney, but as long as you stick with fact-based information and no speculation or opinion, you’ll be safe.
Are you searching for a career as a legal support professional or paralegal? Contact NRI Legal Staffing today.