Are you leaving your ethics behind when you step out of the office each day? In other words, are you as ethical outside of work as you are while you are at work? The Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility adopted by the Legal Assistants Division (LAD) on March 27, 1982 recognizes that
Fundamental to the success of any professional organization are the integrity of its members and a high standard of conduct. This Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility is promulgated by the Legal Assistants Division of the State Bar of Texas and accepted by its members to accomplish these ends.
The paralegal profession is by nature closely related to the legal profession. Although the Code of Professional Responsibility of the State Bar of Texas does not directly govern legal assistants except through a supervising attorney, it is incumbent upon the members of the Legal Assistants Division to know the provisions of the attorneys’ code and avoid any action which might involve an attorney in a violation of that code or even the appearance of professional impropriety.
The canons set forth hereafter are intended as a general guide, and the enumeration of these canons does not exclude others of equal importance although not specifically mentioned.
Contained in the Code are canons regarding the unauthorized practice of law, practicing as an “independent” paralegal, soliciting clients, setting fees for legal services, maintaining competency and fulfilling a duty to participate in the administration of justice in cooperation with the legal profession.
The Code also states, in part:
Canon 8. A legal assistant shall maintain a high standard of ethical conduct and shall contribute to the integrity of the paralegal profession.
Sounds simple enough, but what does it really mean?
Webster’s defines ethics as “standards of conduct and moral judgment; the system or code of morals of a particular person, religion, group, profession, etc.” Ethics is also defined by Webster’s as “dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation; a set of moral principles or values; a theory or system of governing an individual or group.”
As paralegals, we are mindful of the Code of Ethics attorneys must follow, and we follow that Code as well as the one adopted by LAD. But what about our conduct outside of work, and outside of the office? Are we maintaining our “high standard of ethical conduct” at all times?
These are some examples of paralegals who have left their ethics at the office:
As legal professionals, we are expected to maintain high standards and conduct ourselves in a manner befitting the practice of law. It has been said that “character is what you do when no one is looking.” As paralegals, let us always maintain a high standard of conduct that reflects well on our personal reputations and on the integrity of our profession.
Laurie Borski is the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Legal Assistants Division. She has served on the LAD Annual Meeting and Election Committees and is a past president of the Alamo Area Professional Legal Assistants in San Antonio.