The relationships within a law office or legal department are critical in determining efficiency, productivity, and work fulfillment and satisfaction. One of the more important relationships is that between a paralegal and lawyer. While this bond can, at times, seem strained and even stale, it doesn’t have to be. There are considerations both parties must know to make the connection a strong and lasting one.
For the Paralegal
Paralegals receive excellent information and advice during their certification process. However, there’s some lasting guidance out there that we’ve heard - time and time again - from lawyers and office mangers. This includes:
- Maintain good communication. Attorneys often assume that all personnel are onboard with their directions and case approach. But, this doesn’t always happen. Paralegals should know that it’s okay to have questions. More importantly, they should ask questions if they have them. In addition, they should maintain communications throughout a project to ensure they’re clear on details.
- Anticipate demands. A great way for a paralegal to gain the trust of a lawyer is to anticipate what demands that lawyer might have. Attorneys are busy and often focused on many areas of a given case. Anticipating demands, and following through with them, saves an attorney time and helps the case progress better.
- Maintain a professional relationship. This is a huge tip. It’s okay for paralegals and lawyers to become friends. A friendly relationship often does develop. But, both parties must maintain a professional relationship in the work-place. When friendliness starts to shove out professionalism, the paralegal/lawyer relationship begins to breakdown, as does the productivity in the office.
For the Attorney
From a lawyer’s perspective, there are many advantages to bringing on a paralegal. However, lawyers must know that there are also troubles with this process – starting from the hiring decision throughout the paralegal’s term of employment. Further, many attorneys often over-look a large source of possible disruption.
This source lies within ethical considerations. Lawyers often forget that there are specific ethical rules that govern paralegals and the paralegal/attorney relationship. Prior to hiring a paralegal, it’s key that attorneys review these rules and consider their impact. Some important ones include:
- Conflicts of interest. Just as the conflicts rules prohibit an attorney from working on the opposite side of a continuing matter, the same holds true for paralegals. A lawyer should consider this in the hiring process. Please see 1.7 – 1.10 of the ABA Model Rules.
- Unauthorized practice of law. Paralegals are not lawyers, and thus, they can’t engage in the practice of law. Please note Rule 5.5 of the ABA Model Rules, which prohibits attorneys from aiding other persons in the unauthorized practice of law. Always make certain that paralegals never establish an attorney-client relationship. Further, note that paralegals may not give legal advice.
- Responsibility for violations. Rule 5.3 of the ABA Model Rules states that attorneys are responsible for nonlawyers’ violations of the ethical rules if they order or ratify an act, or are partners or supervisors of the nonlawyer and fail to take timely remedial action on the conduct. Lawyers must know this rule and find ways to implement it. Ethical violations can grow costly – for all parties involved.
The paralegal/lawyer relationship can do many things for the betterment of a legal firm or law department. The opposite, though, holds true if the relationship is not properly formed and developed. Both paralegals and attorneys must work at it and take note of the above directions in doing so. If any of our candidates – both lawyers and paralegals alike – ever have questions about this relationship, please contact us. We’re always here to help.