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Are Your Paralegals Getting You Into Hot Water?

Nobody likes it when somebody hovers over their work -- especially when that somebody is an attorney.

But lawyers are directly responsible for the work of their employees, and it presents a serious challenge. You have to depend on them, but you can't expect them to do everything. 

So if your paralegals are getting you into hot water, maybe it's because you are pushing them into deep water. Maybe you need to supervise just enough to not agonize.

Too Much Work

According to reports, lawyers often fall into the habit of delegating too much work to paralegals. It is the biggest ethical concern for attorneys, reports the ABA Journal.

"The biggest minefield I see is overworked or inattentive lawyers failing to provide adequate direction and supervision, leaving the paralegal to figure things out," said attorney Keith A. Call, who writes about ethical issues for the Utah Bar Journal.

Kellyn O. McGee, a professor at Savannah Law School, said the problem manifests when paralegals end up practicing law. For example, they should not give clients legal advice.

That often happens when paralegals are meeting with clients for intake, preparing their discovery responses, or getting them ready for depositions and hearings.

Don't Sign That

Another common problem involves attorneys allowing paralegals to sign documents. Peter A. Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said they should not be signing up new clients or signing pleadings.

"Both the ethics rules and court rules require a lawyer to sign anything filed in court," he said.

Peter Geraghty, writing for the ABA, said asking a paralegal to sign your name is not a good idea either. It may violate laws of civil procedure and ethics.

For example, he said it could be a violation of Model Rules 3.3 Candor Toward the Tribunal and 8.4 (c) and (d) Misconduct and 5.3 Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistant.

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