5 Legal Ethics for Paralegals
As you might expect, it seems like every professional on the planet has certain codes of ethics to abide by, and a paralegal is no exception to that rule. Taking up paralegal studies will introduce you to vast knowledge related to the legal field, including legal ethics for paralegals.
No one knows the complicated and ever changing landscape of the law better than a knowledgeable attorney. Other than simply knowing the law, an attorney should also uphold it. Because of this, they are expected to exude ethical behavior, which is something that not only helps a lawyer project an authoritative image but might also win the trust of clients.
Since paralegals are also in the legal field and can work closely with lawyers, it is essential for a paralegal to follow certain codes of ethics to uphold the law just like the lawyers that they might work for.
In case a soon-to-be paralegal breaches legal ethics, you can be certain that there could be serious consequences. They might include paying a fine, suspension or revocation of license, or possibly prosecution. Committing a breach of legal ethics could lead to an abrupt ending of a paralegal career if found guilty.
Now that you are acquainted with codes of ethics, as well as the probable outcomes should the said ethics be breached, it is time to take a look at 5 legal ethics for paralegals, which you will likely learn further as you complete your paralegal studies degree program.
Exhibit Personal Integrity and Competence on a Professional Level
Just like lawyers, paralegals serve as representatives of the law. Because they are a part of such a very serious field, they are expected to maintain professional conduct just like a doctor, teacher or counselor would. Otherwise, they can easily lose their credibility, and may lose their jobs.
Competence and integrity are both important for paralegals to exude. They should carry out their designated tasks (researching, interviewing, etc.) with diligence and precision, and should also strive to improve and widen their skills and understanding.
Refrain from Committing Unauthorized Practice of the Law
Even though paralegals work closely with lawyers and often have to carry out certain tasks delegated to them by their respective employers, they are responsible for refraining from doing unauthorized practice of the law. It is definitely important for them to avoid executing certain activities that are exclusive to the lawyers they are working for.
One of those things that paralegals should steer clear of is providing legal opinion or advice. Similarly, they should not set fees for various legal services provided by their employers. If found guilty of committing unauthorized practice of the law, serious repercussions might be expected.
Respect and Uphold Client Privilege at All Times
In the legal world, there is what’s known as attorney-client privilege, and it’s basically about confidentiality – the client may share pieces of information with their lawyers without fearing that the information will be shared outside of the legal team. Some might describe it as keeping communications between the client and lawyer a secret.
There is also the so-called paralegal-client privilege, the existence of which cannot be hindered since one of the numerous tasks that lawyers may delegate to paralegals is interviewing clients. Sharing pieces of information even to a neutral party might be a breach of such. In this digital age, communicating via e-mail, text or chat has to be done with utmost caution.
Keep Away From Conflicts of Interest or Disclose Them
Because it’s very important for paralegals to always maintain client privilege, it might be important to refrain from getting involved with tasks that entail conflicts of interest between clients from a previous job and clients of their current employers. Otherwise, the pieces of information they know could prove to be disadvantageous to one party or the other.
What paralegals might do if faced with conflicts of interest is to inform the lawyers they are working for and ask to be excused from being a part of the case.
Always Make Known to Clients That They’re Paralegals and Not Lawyers
Last but not least, paralegals might need to disclose the fact that they are paralegals who work under the supervision of lawyers. The truth is that a person who doesn’t know your job title might be quick to consider anyone who works at a law firm to be a lawyer, and it is possible for them to seek legal advice.
In conclusion: During your paralegal studies, you might learn about legal ethics and numerous other important topics that could be critical in your future career. During your career, it is possible that you may find yourself in various legal ethical dilemmas. It’s during those instances when you should be on your guard and uphold the highest legal ethics.