The Ethics of Using Firm or Company Letterhead and Email Addresses
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Many paralegals spend much of their time sending correspondence on firm or company letterhead or from their work email address. As long as a paralegal’s title is included in the signature line, use of company letterhead and email address for business correspondence is permitted. Paralegals may also use work email for personal emails as permitted by their employers. It is often more convenient to send and receive personal email correspondence at work because we spend so much time there. However, using company letterhead or email for a personal matter such as a dispute with another company or individual can be an issue.
I was recently contacted by a paralegal about a problem her friend was having. Her friend was involved in a minor traffic accident with a person who happens to be a paralegal. Her friend had received a letter from the paralegal on the letterhead of the personal injury firm where she works. The firm isn’t representing the paralegal in the matter but just receiving a letter on law firm letterhead was intimidating to her friend. The letter was even more intimidating because the law firm letterhead includes the firm’s trademark that makes reference to how hard-hitting the firm is.
While it may be tempting to use company letterhead or your work email address to intimidate the other party or make them take you more seriously, it is unethical. Using company letterhead or your work email address implies, at least at first glance, that you are writing in your capacity as employee of firm or company or that one of the attorneys is representing you. If that is not the case, the correspondence should be on your personal letterhead or from your personal email address.
If your supervising attorney has agreed to assist you with a personal matter, correspondence should either come from the attorney on firm letterhead or from you on your personal letterhead with information on contacting your attorney. It would still be inappropriate for you to send correspondence from your work email address or on firm letterhead.
Freelance paralegals should also avoid using their work letterhead or email for personal matters involving a complaint or dispute. Although they do not work for a law firm, sending correspondence from their business email or using their business stationery for a matter not related to their business could give the impression that the issue has escalated and attorneys are now involved.
Correspondence involving personal matters such as a dispute, complaint, or similar issue should not be on company letterhead or from a work email address. While this rule applies to everyone regardless of whether they work in the legal field, it is especially important for paralegals as use of firm stationery or work email addresses for personal issues implies that the firm is also involved in the matter or that the matter has now become a legal dispute.
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP, is the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Paralegal Division and a past president of the Division. She is a frequent speaker on paralegal ethics and intellectual property and the lead author of the Division’s Paralegal Ethics Handbook published by Thomson Reuters.
If you have any questions regarding any ethical issue, please contact the Professional Ethics Committee.
Originally published in the Texas Paralegal Journal © Copyright 2012 by the Paralegal Division, State Bar of Texas.