Paralegal Ethics - What's Your Duty? By Elaine Bulawin

When you're working in a law office, you handle people', careers, conflicts of interests, livelihoods, and even their personal freedom so it's vital to understand and adhere to certain 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 ton of stuff written about ethics, but in no area as highly as 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.

Violations of Paralegal Ethics

First on the list is the unauthorized practice of law. 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 is always best to direct questions to a licensed attorney.

Maintaining Client Confidentiality

This is a BIG concern. Paralegal ethics require that you 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. You jeopardize your career and also 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 that you are an attorney, without this disclosure clients may simply assume it to be so. For this reason always 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. Paying careful attention to detail and being able to maintain confidentiality enables you to maintain these ethics. It's a good idea to remain vigilant in your protection of your client's privacy and protect your career as well.

Elaine S. Bulawin

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