What is an Ethical Wall and what is it used for?

An ethical wall is a device by which a paralegal helps to preserve and protect the confidences and secrets of a client and avoid conflicts of interest pertaining to a client.  Paralegals are not in a position to determine whether a potential conflict is of concern and should let their supervising attorney make that determination.  Freelance and contract paralegals have a particular responsibility to keep up with the cases on which they have worked and the parties and attorneys involved to avoid possible disqualification of an attorney for whom they may work in the future.  In any event, a paralegal is obligated to inform the supervising attorney of the existence of any possible conflict.  See Canon 7.

When a firm hires a paralegal who formerly worked for opposing counsel or an opposing client, the entire firm should be notified that an ethical wall is to be erected around the paralegal and that no one may:  (1) discuss the case in the presence of the paralegal; (2) allow the paralegal access to any documents, including keeping files locked away from any cabinets to which the paralegal would normally have access; and (3) engage in any discussions with the paralegal about prior work on the case or work his or her previous firm may have done.  These precautions are necessary to avoid the firm’s possible disqualification in the case.  Texas case law is clear that it is presumed that a paralegal receives confidential information while working on a case.  See Phoenix Founders, Inc. v. Marshal, 877 S.W.2d. 834 (Tex. 1994).  See also In Re American Home Products Corporation, 985 S.W.2d. 68 (Tex. 1998).