Ethical Rules For Paralegals
The paralegal career can be challenging, but it can also be tremendously rewarding — both personally and professionally. By applying their knowledge and skills to the tasks assigned by their supervising attorneys, talented paralegals can add value to their employing law firm, corporation, or government agency and, ultimately, improve the client experience.
To succeed in this growing field, it is critical to understand the ethical rules for paralegals and avoid potential pitfalls. Ignorance of the rules is generally not a valid excuse for violating them, and a failure to uphold ethical standards can have long-lasting career implications. By educating yourself about paralegal ethics, you can enter the workforce with more confidence.
ACT WITH INTEGRITY
As members of the legal profession, paralegals are expected to comport themselves professionally and with personal integrity at all times. In addition, paralegals must demonstrate competence in their roles, carrying out assigned job responsibilities with care and seeking guidance and additional training when confronted with something new.
MAINTAIN CLIENT PRIVILEGE AND CONFIDENTIALITY
In addition to acting with integrity, paralegals must understand and uphold client confidentiality and legal privilege. Paralegals frequently encounter highly sensitive client information in the course of carrying out their duties and are expected to keep such information confidential. This includes information captured and retained in written and electronic documents and client correspondence, verbal (and even non-verbal) communication with or about clients, and any other form of communication which might contain privileged information. Your obligation to uphold client confidentiality extends beyond your employment with a particular law firm or company even if you no longer have any role serving the clients in question.
DON’T BLUR THE LINES BETWEEN THE PARALEGAL AND ATTORNEY ROLES
As a paralegal, transparency about your role is important. In many firms, paralegals are the first point of contact with potential clients. These clients may assume the legal professional they are talking to is, in fact, a licensed attorney. Legal ethics rules for paralegals require that paralegals disclose that they are paralegals and not lawyers. Paralegals must also take care not to promise that their supervising attorneys or employer firms will be able to obtain any type of specific results for clients’ legal cases — no matter how straightforward a case may seem.
AVOID THE UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW
State bar association rules mandate that certain responsibilities be handled only by attorneys licensed in the applicable jurisdiction. Specifically, paralegals (and anyone else who is not authorized to practice law) may not determine legal fees, enter contracts with clients establishing an attorney-client privilege, represent clients in court, or provide legal advice or opinions. Allegations that someone engaged in the unauthorized practice of law are taken seriously and can result in career-altering consequences.
UNDERSTAND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Finally, paralegals should seek to identify any real or perceived conflicts of interest that could impact legal outcomes and make full and fair disclosure of such conflicts. Conflicts can arise under a variety of circumstances, including when a paralegal changes law firms and has information about a former client that, if shared, could be beneficial or detrimental to a client or potential client at their new firm. Paralegals can avoid violating ethics rules by proactively seeking to identify potential conflicts and obtaining client waivers or excusing themselves from working on client cases when conflicts of interest are present.
Keeping these potential ethical issues in mind can help ensure you do not inadvertently violate the rules as a working paralegal. Generations College Paralegal Studies Major includes in-depth instruction about these potential ethical concerns and much more. We offer both traditional on-campus degree programs and fully accredited online degree programs you can complete entirely from the comfort of your own home. Contact us to learn more, or apply online today!