Paralegals do not practice law but assist lawyers with the delivery of legal services. As a paralegal, you work under the supervision of an attorney who expects nothing less from you than competency and high ethical standards. Through your job, you have the attorney's trust, clients' trust and the public's trust. If you violate state laws or do anything unethical, you could face serious consequences.
Limits Disciplinary Action
Knowing the rules and guidelines for legal ethics helps you avoid serious consequences. For example, you are acting unethically if you provide paralegal services without an attorney, give legal advice, or sign pleadings or other papers to be filed in court. If you act unethically, you could face disciplinary action by the Paralegal Association, and your attorney could be disciplined through the court system.
The paralegal industry follows the standards of the Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, and the Model Disciplinary Rules adopted by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations Inc. (NFPA). As a paralegal, when you abide by ethical standards, you maintain the confidence of the legal community, your colleagues and the public. They trust your competence, integrity and conduct. By placing importance on ethical standards, you show your commitment to increasing the quality of legal services.
As an attorney, when you retain a paralegal, you are responsible for his work. Your paralegal's level of education allows him to assist you in delivering legal services under supervision, not perform them. He can conduct research and draft legal documents for your clients under your supervision. He cannot set your client's fees, offer legal opinions, or represent your clients in court. If he acts unethically, it can break the trust between you and your client, and you could be the target of a civil lawsuit.
Maintains Public's Expectations
Following ethical standards ensures that you provide the proper legal services to the public. As a paralegal, you can't practice law, but you can perform certain legal tasks on the request of your supervising attorney. You can communicate settlement terms to a claims adjuster; however, you can't exercise independent legal judgment regarding the value of the case. In a residential real estate closing, you can let the clients know which documents to sign and where to sign, but you can't advise them on how to interpret the documents. The public trusts you to know what services you can ethically provide.