Ethics

The following information was compiled by Karen Bruner Stroup, Paralegal, and member of IPA's Ethics Committee, January 2017:

Codes of Ethics:

Indiana Paralegal Association Code of Ethics and Responsibility and Rules for Enforcement:  http://www.indianaparalegals.org/resources/Documents/Board%20Documents/IPACodeofEthics.pdf

National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Guidelines for Enforcement:  https://www.paralegals.org/files/Model_Code_of_Ethics_09_06.pdf

National Association of Legal Assistants Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility: https://www.nala.org/certification/nala-code-ethics-and-professional-responsibility

Indiana Rules of Court Rules of Professional Conduct:  http://www.in.gov/judiciary/rules/prof_conduct/

American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/model_rules_of_professional_conduct_table_of_contents.html

Indiana cases:

Smetzer v. Newton, 2012 Case No: 1:10-CV93, N.D. Ind. May 23, 2012.  The attorney suggests that he missed the deadline because his legal assistant had not updated his calendar with email correspondence from the Court, explaining that his assistant had never signed up to receive emails from the Court, a matter he has now rectified.  But miscalculating a date does not necessarily constitute good cause or excusable neglect.

See:  https://casetext.com/case/smetzer-v-newton-4

Van Eaton v. Fink, 697 N.E.2d 490 (Court of Appeals of Indiana, 1998).  Paralegal sued for defamation by a witness who was accused by the paralegal of committing perjury in another lawsuit.  Absolute privilege applied to the paralegal’s statement made to the defendant’s attorney before the trial court entered final judgment for plaintiff.  A qualified privilege applied to the paralegal’s statement made by facsimile to plaintiff’s attorney.

See:  https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/2019809/van-eaton-v-fink/

Shell Oil v. Meyer, 684 N.E.2d 504, 525 (Court of Appeals of Indiana, 1997).  (When one considers that attorneys utilize paralegals to perform tasks which might otherwise have to be accomplished by a lawyer with a higher billing rate, recovery from a paralegal’s rates is hardly unreasonable).

See:  https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/2247262/shell-oil-co-v-meyer/

Daimler Chrysler Corp. v. Franklin, 814 N.E.2d 281 (Court of Appeals of Indiana, 2004).  (In this case, the paralegal’s hourly rate was $100.  We find that the trial court abused its discretion in including her fees for copying and mailing documents, which is work that requires no particular knowledge of legal concepts and is more in the nature of clerical or support staff work).

See:  https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/2228959/daimler-chrysler-corp-v-franklin/

Eli Lilly & Co. v. Zenith, 264 F.Supp.2d 753 (U.S. District Court, S.D., Indiana, 2003).  (Plaintiff questions substantial amounts of time plaintiff’s legal assistants spent shopping and coordinating travel arrangements and trial logistics, such as setting up the “war rooms.”  Defendant’s criticisms are valid.  Plaintiff’s time records include a great deal of excessive time by legal assistants, including time devoted to clerical or other tasks for which a $100 rate is not remotely justifiable).

See:  http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/264/753/2507459/

Mayberry v. State, 670 N.E.2d 1262 (Supreme Court of Indiana, 1996).  (The statement to a paralegal is protected by attorney-client privilege).

See:  https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/2015058/mayberry-v-state/

Whitehead v. Indiana, 511 N.E.2d 284 (Supreme Court of Indiana, 1987). (Paralegal allowed to sit at counsel’s table during trial).

See:  https://casetext.com/case/whitehead-v-state-155

In re Blumenthal, 825 N.E.2d 374 (Supreme Court of Indiana, 2005).  (The attorney instructed the paralegal to alter one of her release forms the plaintiff had signed by adding the name of an unnamed physician, and to alter the execution date of the document, which had expired some months before).

See:  http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/atty-disc-2005-Blumenthal_Ordr_App_Cond_Agree_4_7_05.pdf

Exterior Systems v. Noble Composites, 210 F.Supp. 2d 1062, (U.S. District Court, N.D., Indiana, 2002).  (Mills is a paralegal.  Strictly speaking, the conflict of interest rules do not apply to paralegals who are assisting the lawyers in a law firm.  Instead, paralegals are governed indirectly by Rule 5.3, which imposes on the supervising lawyers the duty to ensure that their non-lawyer assistants’ conduct is “compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.”)

See:  http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/210/1062/2579566/

Source for above cases:

William P. Statsky, Introduction to Paralegalism:  Perspectives, Problems, and Skills, Eighth edition, (Cengage Learning, Boston, MA, 2016, p. 665, available at:  https://books.google.com/books?id=VDZTCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA665&lpg=PA665&dq=paralegal+ethics+court+cases+Indiana&source=bl&ots=BNXlTo6boq&sig=0Yc67pKhXVj5aLggXaNCz7rqU_Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj88vuEn_LOAhXMLSYKHdOOBKYQ6AEIRzAH#v=onepage&q=paralegal%20ethics%20court%20cases%20Indiana&f=false

Case Law Involving Paralegals

Source for cases below: 

Angela Schneeman, Paralegal Ethics, West Legal Studies—Thomson Learning, 2000, available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=LzphrMTP05kC&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=Ethics+cases+involving+paralegals&source=bl&ots=OgYPE6HTAt&sig=bUSLeSNedAFL0sJ6kJXwEQ07nqg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwix76bgnO_OAhUI1CYKHTuCDuEQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=Ethics%20cases%20involving%20paralegals&f=false

Ferris v. Snively, 19 P.2d 942 (Wash. 1933)

An unlicensed law clerk handled uncontested probate matters, gave oral opinions on abstracts of title and prepared wills, leases, mortgages, bills of sale, and contracts upon his own initiative with no supervision from his employer.  The court held that the work of law clerks require attorney supervision to avoid the unauthorized practice of law.  The court further found that his work would not have been unauthorized practice of law if he would have limited it to “work of a preparatory nature, such as research, investigation of details, assemblage of data, and like work that would enable the attorney-employer to carry a given matter to a conclusion through his own examination, approval or additional effort.”

See:  https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/4222080/ferris-v-snively/?

People v. Alexander, 53 Ill.App.2d 299, 202, N.D. 2d 841 (1964)

The defendant appealed from a judgment order finding him guilty of contempt of court for the unauthorized practice of law.  The defendant in this case prepared an order with the collaboration of opposing counsel and appeared before the court for the purpose of apprising the court of the engagement and unavailability of counsel.  The appellate court overruled the lower court’s decision and found the conduct of a law clerk who prepared an order with collaboration of opposing counsel for the benefit of the court and as a mere recordation of what had transpired, did not constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

See:  http://www.leagle.com/decision/196435253IllApp2d299_1313/PEOPLE%20v.%20ALEXANDER

Florida Bar v. Pascual, 424 So.2d 757 (1982)

A paralegal who represented a party at a closing, gave legal advice, and signed correspondence for the firm without indicting her title as a legal assistant was found to be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

See:  http://law.justia.com/cases/florida/supreme-court/1982/61239-0.html

Louisiana State Bar Ass’n. v. Edwins, 560 So2d 831 (1990 La)

The court determined that the attorney involved assisted a freelance paralegal in the unauthorized practice of law by permitting the paralegal (1) to advise a personal injury client of merits of case, (2) enter a contract for performance of legal service, (3) prepare motions and pleadings, and (4) to handle and distribute the client’s money without close supervision.

See:  http://www.leagle.com/decision/19901391560So2d831_11152/LOUISIANA%20STATE%20BAR%20ASS'N%20v.%20EDWINS#

Monroe v. Horwitch, 820 F.Supp. 682 (D. Conn. 1993).

An independent paralegal brought suit against the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee and Statewide Bar Counsel, alleging they violated her civil rights by threatening her with prosecution for criminal contempt if she advertised an offer to prepare court documents in uncontested divorce actions.  The Connecticut District Court found that under Connecticut law, preparation of documents in divorce action is practice of law and the award of sanctions was not justified.

See:  http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/820/682/1759007/

Cleveland Bar Assn. v. Scali, 62 Ohio Misc.2d 562 (1991).

The Board of Commissioners on the Unauthorized Practice of Law found that a paralegal who prepared legal documents, gave legal advice, performed legal services in estate planning, preparation of a will and probating an estate was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

See:  http://www.leagle.com/decision/199162462OhioMisc2d562_1518/CLEVELAND%20BAR%20ASSN.%20v.%20SCALI


 

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Jamie Collins
Ethics Director



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