Just for Attorneys and Paralegals – Take Two

Just for Attorneys and Paralegals – Take Two

People go to law school for a variety of reasons. Some do not know what else to do, and it seems to be a good way to make a living. Others know from the start they want to be involved in the legal profession and to try and help people. Others perhaps love the intellectual part of being a lawyer.  In the years that I have been holding Continuing Legal Education seminars across North Carolina, I have gained a new appreciation for lawyers and the difficult and stressful work they do every day, and the many ethical challenges they often face.

Paralegals become such for many reasons.  Some began a long time ago as a secretary and worked their way up.  Others went to school and knew they wanted to work in the legal profession. Others just sort of fell into it by chance.  But there is a consistent theme with almost all of them that I have learned about in the years that I have been meeting them in Continuing Education seminars across the state – they are some of the most dedicated and hardworking people in the legal profession today, and that profession would be hard pressed to survive in its current form without them.

The topics I seek to discuss in a very inter-active way in this new program is a direct reflection of many of the statements, hopes, concerns, and in some cases, fears that attorneys and paralegals deal with every day.

First, though, what are some of the basic Ethical Principles for Attorneys and by extension for Paralegals –

  • Build and keep trust with clients
  • Communicate often and truthfully with clients
  • Do not over promise
  • Follow through on promises made
  • Give clients individual and complete attention
  • Treat clients equally
  • Treat clients as though their case is the most important in the world – it is to them
  • Preserving the confidences and secrets of the clients
  • Representing clients competently and zealously within the bounds of the law
  • Avoiding even the appearance of impropriety

Attorneys and paralegals deal with these principles every day.  Attorneys have to supervise paralegals closely for they are ultimately responsible for their every action within the legal profession. How best to do that?  Paralegals observe their attorneys very closely, and so it is important that the attorneys live and work by the ethical principles stated above.

This is a  new Continuing Education program on Ethics for attorneys and by extension paralegals based upon a number of questions everyone has continued to raise in the seminars I have hosted.  I believe a detailed discussion of their ethical responsibilities should be practical and reflect their everyday concerns.

The following questions for attorneys and by extension  paralegals are the ones that seem to me to be most important and are ones often raised by those in the legal profession themselves:

  • Why did you become an attorney or paralegal?  Did it happen by chance or by choice?  Do you enjoy it?  Are you passionate about it? If not, why not? Can you get it back?  Do you think passion is an essential part of being a good at what you do?
  • What to you hope to get from this profession? Is it money?  Security? Helping people?  Being a part of the legal profession?
  • What do you think are the traits that are most important ?
  • Have you ever been asked to do a task you did not know how to do, and no one helped you figure it out?  What did you do or should do in the future if that should happen?
  • Confidentiality – do you know the importance of this and what it means?  Has anyone ever explained it to you before?  What is the importance of the attorney-client relationship?  Are there any exceptions?
  • Have you ever been asked to do something you feel uncomfortable with doing – by a client?  What if information is revealed to you that indicates your client is not being honest or truthful with you?
  • What if you say something to a client that is not true?  What can happen to you then?  What is your responsibility if you see someone else doing that? To yourself?  To the law firm?  To the legal profession?
  • How honest do you have to be on billable hours to clients?  What are the consequences if you are not?
  • Have you ever been fearful of starting a new job or keeping the one you have now?  Does that put you under any ethical challenge?
  • Mental health issues – do you know what depression is? Does your job cause you to be depressed?   Are you afraid of any stigma attached to it?  Are you afraid of seeking professional help or taking anti-depressant medication?
  • Are you worried about you’re your own mental health?  If so, what should you do about it?
  • What are your specific obligations if you believe another attorney is not acting in an ethical manner, either with respect to clients and/or the law firm? What if you suspect he or she is taking money from a trust account?

Each of these questions represent the real world today for attorneys and paralegals.  They are faced not only with their own decisions and actions but also the people with whom they work.   This program seeks to be a discussion and a forum by which attorneys can learn better how to act in a totally ethical manner and how to handle those situations where they are confronted by others who perhaps are challenging them in any way.  It is a study of the Rules of Ethics that govern attorneys and paralegals in the practical world in which they work.  It is learning how to deal with these issues, in compliance with the Rules of Ethics, one situation at a time.

As a basis of this program, I seek to use not only my own times as an attorney, but also the many circumstances I have learned regularly face paralegals and the interaction they daily have with attorneys in North Carolina.

Contact us with any questions.