Working with people during what may be the hardest parts of their lives is something those in the legal field have to do every day. Paralegals are no different as they sit with clients, conduct interviews, draft legal documents, and more in their career. However, Paralegals also have a code of ethics to follow in order to perform their job. For example, The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) has canons of their code of ethics for their members to follow. Every Paralegal group has their own but similar ethics to follow. Below are some ethics that all Paralegals need to consider when working.
While paralegals do not participate within the rights of attorney-client privilege, they do have to be confidential. This means not disclosing any information about clients, cases, or legal matters without proper authorization. Protecting client information is essential for building trust, not only with the client, but with their attorneys as well. The American Bar Association (ABA) says this about confidentiality from non-attorney workers: “any nonlawyer at a firm, district attorney’s or public defender’s office, or even a nonprofit legal service provider, is indirectly subject to the rules of professional conduct that have been adopted in every state except California.”
Avoiding Unauthorized Practice:
Even though paralegals do a lot of the administrative work within a firm, know the law, and work with clients, they are not lawyers. Paralegals cannot give legal advice, make decisions on behalf of clients, or represent clients in court as they are not licensed attorneys.
Conflicts of Interest:
Paralegals should be vigilant about identifying and addressing potential conflicts of interest. This means working with friends, family, or someone that would even cloud the paralegal’s objective judgement. If they become aware of a conflict, they should inform their supervising attorney so that appropriate measures can be taken to manage the conflict.
It is imperative that paralegals maintain a high level of professionalism in all interactions. This includes being respectful to colleagues, clients, opposing parties, and court personnel. Any act unbecoming of a paralegal reflects back on the attorney and firm that the paralegal works with.
While paralegals often communicate with clients, they should refrain from providing legal advice. They can relay information, schedule appointments, and address administrative matters, but any legal advice should come from a licensed attorney. Client communication should remain professional, and attorneys need to be made aware if a conflict of interest arises with the client and paralegal.
The legal world is always changing as political climates fluctuate, bills are written and turned into law, and policies shift. Staying updated on legal regulations, practices, and procedures is crucial for paralegals. Paralegals should look for ways to continue their education, stay up to date on certifications, and stay informed about legal changes. Engaging in continuing education opportunities helps paralegals provide the best support to attorneys and clients.
Reporting Ethics Violations:
Reporting wrong doings is especially important in the realm of law. Paralegals should always report ethics violations regardless if it involves clients, colleagues, or attorneys. This helps our justice system work as designed and demonstrates a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the legal profession.
American National University educates and prepares Paralegals to join the fast-paced legal field. Several of our classes focus on ethics in different areas of law and what our paralegal students will face within their career. Our students learn from legal professionals who have first-hand experience in the field. “The professors go down to the nitty-gritty of the gray lines [of law],” said by Paralegal Studies Certificate graduate, Megan Robinson. “They give us that personal advice that they already went through that will help us stay clear of what we shouldn’t be doing as paralegals.” To learn more about what you can learn in either our Paralegal certificate or Paralegal associate degree programs, go to an.edu.
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