UPL is the unauthorized practice of law and is a criminal offense. UPL includes giving legal advice, accepting cases or clients, setting fees, signing pleadings, appearing in a representative capacity in a court of law, holding oneself out as an attorney, or doing anything only a licensed attorney may do. Courts have generally prohibited UPL because of a perceived need to protect individuals and the public from the mistakes of the untrained and the schemes of the unscrupulous, who are not subject to the judicially imposed disciplinary standards of competence, responsibility and accountability. See Tex. Disciplinary R. Prof. Conduct 5.05 and Canons 1, 2 and 3. See also www.txuplc.org
No, only an attorney or a party if not represented by an attorney may sign a pleading. The only person who may “sign by permission” for a licensed attorney is another licensed attorney. See T.R.C.P. 57. The signatures of attorneys or parties constitutes a certificate by them that they have read the pleading, that to the best of their knowledge, information and belief formed after reasonable inquiry the instrument is not groundless and brought in bad faith or groundless and brought for the purpose of harassment. See T.R.C.P. 13.
No, only an attorney may sign a certificate of service. The certificate by an attorney or party shall be prima facie evidence of the fact of service. See T.R.C.P. 21a. The only person who may “sign by permission” for a licensed attorney is another licensed attorney.
A paralegal may have a business card with the firm name on it provided the status of the paralegal is clearly disclosed. The business card is designed to identify the paralegal and to state by whom the paralegal is employed. A lawyer who permits their name or the name of a law firm to appear on the business card of a paralegal is charged with ensuring that the card meets the same standards of dignity and accuracy as would be required for the lawyer’s own card. Generally, office address, telephone and facsimile numbers and e-mail address are also listed. See Texas Ethics Opinion 403 at www.legalethicstexas.com.
The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct do not prohibit the listing on firm letterhead of the name and any certification of paralegals employed by the firm with a further designation that the person is a paralegal and is not licensed to practice law. See Texas Ethics Opinion 436 at www.legalethicstexas.com.
Yes. Not to correct this assumption could expose the paralegal to charges of UPL, which is a crime.
A paralegal may provide information regarding current and prior legal matters on which the paralegal has worked in order for the prospective employer to comply with conflict of interest rules as long as the prospective employer agrees that the information will be considered confidential and solely be used for determining whether conflicts of interest exist. See Texas Ethics Opinion 607 at www.legalethicstexas.com.
Paralegals are obligated to preserve and protect the confidences and secrets of a client. Confidential information includes both privileged information and unprivileged information. Unprivileged information means all information relating to a client or furnished by the client acquired by the lawyer during the course of or by reason of the representation of the client. Unless it is public record, even the fact that the client has retained the lawyer should be considered confidential information. Thus, as tempting as it may be, it is best not to discuss anything concerning your lawyer’s cases with friends or family. See Tex. Disciplinary R. Prof. Conduct 1.05 and Canon 4.