Everyday Ethics Laurie Borski, Ethics Chair
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:
- A paralegal who preserves and protects client confidentiality and secrets in the workplace shares something a friend told to her in confidence with casual acquaintances.
- A paralegal who would never dream of signing a pleading for his attorney, even with permission, signs his name to a check, knowing the account has insufficient funds to cover the expense.
- A paralegal attends a seminar, decides to skip some of the speaker presentations for a leisurely lunch or sightseeing, but returns in time to obtain a CLE reporting form where she claims full hourly credit.
- A paralegal who juggles pending matters and deadlines at work without missing a beat decides he will blow off a volunteer commitment at the last minute and without notice so a replacement can be found.
- A paralegal who would not dream of charging a client for work that was not done fudges on her hours to meet her monthly target or allows work that she performed on behalf of a client to be attributed to her supervising attorney which will be charged to the client at a higher hourly rate.
- A paralegal who is meticulous in seeing that copies, faxes and telephone calls are charged to client files receives too much change from the grocery store cashier but keeps it, figuring it is the cashier’s “fault” or the store’s “cost of doing business.”
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.
If you have any questions regarding any ethical issue, please contact the Professional Ethics Committee.
Originally published in the Texas Paralegal Journal © Copyright 2004 by the Legal Assistants Division, State Bar of Texas.