It’s been a very very very long time since I have posted here. I am pretty sure it was something I did but for over a year I was not able to find the blog. I’m not sure what I did but I most likely clicked when I should have kept myself from clicking ….. the blog went missing. I kept seeing your comments and your questions but I was not able to interact. I’m so sorry.
Again…. not sure what I did today but here I am. I have regained access to the blog and I am ready to go.
So……… without dwelling in the past and trying to figure out what happened, I want to concentrate on the future and figure out where to go from here. I know I want to post more about what it is that we, as paralegals do. I want to help you navigate the career development maze and help you learn from my mistakes so that hopefully it won’t take you as long as it has taken me to get ahead. Most of all, I want to work with you and be here for you. Please continue to send me your emails and your thoughts and your requests. I am sincerely happy to be back and I can’t wait to have a cup of coffee and a chat.
I have been a paralegal for well over 15 years. Today I was reminded of something that I tell all the new paralegals. “Under no circumstances are you allowed to give legal advice.”
From the minute I walked into the office this morning the phone did not stop ringing and the emails just kept on coming. Keep in mind that I am at the office at 7:30 a.m. London was calling at 7:45 and before then I wanted to make sure I sent some information over to our affiliate in Australia (maybe I could still find him awake and get a response). There were post-its on my desk of tasks I needed to complete before the day really got crazy (my attorneys like to leave “love notes” written on post-it notes. They really love me, I get lots of them).
My voice mail light kept blinking “yelling” at me that I had messages that needed to be pick up. It just felt like I was never going to have a moment to breath. In the midst of all this chaos I received a call from a client who had called twice the day before asking me a question about a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order). A “qualified domestic relation order” is a domestic relations order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee’s right to receive, or assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive, all or a portion of the benefits payable with respect to a participant under a retirement plan, and that includes certain information and meets certain other requirements. Reference: ERISA § 206(d)(3)(B)(i); IRC § 414(p)(1)(A)
The client wanted to know how he could go about taking the money out of the account to give it to his ex-wife. I knew how… after all, I was looking right at the QDRO and it was specified right there, in black and white, in paragraph 6… the amount and the way to do it. I almost told him how to go about doing it and how he could accomplish this task the “easiest way” possible. It would have been so easy to just get this one thing off my plate. There were so many files I could not close and so many started projects that just remained on my desk waiting for one of the attorneys to have a chance to review and give me the final go ahead to complete my work so I could close the file and consider it done. This was one of those times, when all I needed to do was give a simple answer and get things done and move on to the task.
I have to be honest. A part of me wanted this client to know that I knew what to do. I wanted to feel validated and feel intelligent. I wanted… Ohhh I’m sure most of you have been in this place. I stopped myself.
Instead of telling the client what to do, I listened to the question (again) and advised the client that I was in possession of the QDRO and I was reading the same paragraph he was reading but I was going to have to review the file with an attorney and I, or the attorney, would get back to him within the next day or so and give him the information he needed.
Why did I take this route? Well, had I given the client the information he was seeking I would have been giving the client legal advice. I would have been instructing the client how to proceed legally. That could have been considered unauthorized practice of law and it would have violated ethics rules.
As paralegals we handle the same type of cases day in and day out and most of the cases are very similar. It’s very easy to cross that line at times.
Could we have finally found a good reason for the recession? According to an article in the New Jersey Law Journal workers act more ethically during a bad economy.
A study released on November 18, 2009, by the non-profit Ethics Resource Center “employees are witnessing better behavior in the workplace since the start of the recession in 2007. The results of the study are:
• 49% of employees reported witnessing misconduct on the job, compared to 56% in the 2007 survey.
• 63% of employees said they had reported misconduct when they observed it, compared to 58% in 2007.
• 7% of workers said they had observed instances of sexual harassment, down from 10% in 2007.
• 14% saw discrimination in the workplace, similar to 13% in 2007, but more of them — 44% — reported it.
• Overall, the perceived pressure to commit an ethics violation declined from 10% two years ago to 8%.
The report suggests that employers stay alert for economic improvements. It appears that this spike in employee ethics has a similar pattern to a studies performed during the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the attacks of 9/11.
Thank you for reading and please leave me a comment.
For as long as I can remember there have always been “lawyer jokes.” However, it appears that when lawyers can do something to change the way they are perceived by the public they choose to do nothing instead. On May 3, 2007, Cindy Lopez, a New Jersey paralegal, and founder of NJParalegal published an article in the New Jersey Law Journal regarding paralegal ethics and ethics training A Conspicuous Hole in Ethics Training.
In 1969, the ABA published what is known as the the Model Code of Professional Responsibility. Since then the Code has been revised may times. Thirty amendments have been made to the Model Rules and I am sure more will follow. Because paralegals work under the supervision of the attorneys, they are bound by the same ABA Code as the attorneys. All the ethics regulations that apply to the lawyer also apply to the paralegals. Therefore, make sure you are fully familiar with the Code.
NALA “The National Association of Legal Assistants” developed the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to guide the conduct of its members. The Code was revised on various occasions and the last revision occurred in 1995 as it now stands. NFPA“The National Federation of Paralegal Associations” first adopted its Affirmation of Responsibility. The Affirmation was revised in 1981. NFPA finally adopted a completely new Code in 1993.
In her article with the New Jersey Law Journal, Cindy Lopez states that in a poll taken on January 3, 2007, by NJParalegal 80% of the paralegals that responded to the poll had not received training by their attorney on ethics rules. It is sad to say, but when a paralegal works in such closeness to the clients and the attorney, wouldn’t it benefit both to have some type of ethics training? Do we not see the writing on the wall?
As a veteran paralegal, I am not surprised. I have personally witnessed, on various occasions, some “new” paralegals not disclosing their title when on the telephone, giving out legal advice in response to a question.
Some large firms in New Jersey briefly speak with new hires and ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement, smaller firms, however, rarely do anything stating instead that “they do not specifically address the issue; it has only caused a problem occasionally, and the behavior was corrected when needed.” A Conspicuous Hole in Ethics Training.
Look for our upcoming essay on paralegal ethics.