How Can Paralegals Avoid Engaging in the Unauthorized Practice of Law?

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How-Can-Paralegals-Avoid-Engaging-in-the-Unauthorized-Practice-of-LawUnder the law, paralegals are prohibited from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Violating this prohibition can result in fines and imprisonment. It’s important that law firms who have paralegals on staff carefully monitor their activities so that they don’t fall afoul of the law. Allowing your paralegals to engage in the unauthorized practice of law could leave your firm vulnerable to legal trouble.

What Is the Practice of Law?

How the “practice of law” is defined is very vague. The Model Code defines the “practice of law” as “the educated ability to relate the general body and philosophy of law to a specific legal problem of a client.” In a nutshell, the practice of law is the ability of an attorney to give professional legal advice to a client that depends on their experience, skills, and education.  This rule is in place so that laymen who have not studied the law do not give bad legal advice to unsuspecting people who ultimately pay a hefty price that could result in losing money, imprisonment or even the loss of their life.

Facts vs. Opinion

Paralegals are allowed to share facts with a client in their capacity of working for a law firm. So, they can inform a client of the date of a hearing or the next step in the legal process. But a paralegal cannot give an opinion. For example, a paralegal is prohibited from telling a client what they think their chances are of winning a case, and they are prohibited from formulating a legal strategy on behalf of the client.  Only lawyers are authorized to give their educated opinion about a client’s chances of winning a case or give strategy tips.  If a paralegal gives legal advice in the course of working for a legal firm, the firm could be vulnerable to a lawsuit if the client takes the advice and it harms them.

Drafting Legal Documents

Paralegals are allowed to draft legal documents but those documents must be reviewed by an attorney before they can be shared with anyone outside the law firm.  If a lawyer has a good working relationship with their paralegal, allowing them to draft legal documents could save a tremendous amount of time. But the time saved is only valuable if the law takes the time to review those documents and make any necessary edits.

Form Completion

Paralegals are allowed to help clients fill out legal forms but there are some restrictions. A paralegal can enter into a legal form the information the client gives them but they cannot tell the client what to put in the form. This is very important because some paralegals may be tempted to share their knowledge about what should go into a form but doing so could mean that they’re engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

A paralegal is allowed to do some legal tasks as long as an attorney is carefully supervising their work. However, paralegals are never authorized to give legal advice to clients, set fees, or accept cases. They must also clearly indicate to the other party that they are not an attorney.

 

By | January 22nd, 2018|

About the Author:

For years, Josh has helped lawyers become more organized, productive, and profitable. A trained litigator, Josh came to Smokeball from a large east-coast law firm where his practice focused on franchise, insurance, marine, and general litigation. His work with Smokeball, and his continued passion for what he does each day, is driven by a desire to help lawyers and their staff do better in every way. Knowing well the stress and strain put on today’s legal professional, he regularly focuses on improving work and life in the law. He has traveled the country working with and learning from lawyers and their staff. Josh speaks regularly to bar associations about successful law firm practices and other legal topics. Recent notable engagements have been with the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference. In addition to his work at Smokeball, Josh serves on the Writing Resource Center staff at The John Marshall Law School. Besides legal technology, his research interests include judicial decision-making, jury decision-making and psychology, and legal writing. He has written and overseen research exploring causal effects of sex/gender on federal appellate court decision-making, and assisted with research for a forthcoming textbook on judicial decision-making. Josh holds his J.D., cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Wash. U. Law Review, held the prestigious Thompson Coburn Research Fellowship, served as Research Assistant to then-Vice-Dean (now Chancellor) Andrew D. Martin, and clerked at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and a B.M. in Music Performance with Honors Scholar distinction from the University of Connecticut, making him a Huskies basketball fan through and through. Follow Josh’s activity on LinkedIn, and keep up with new articles on the Smokeball Blog.

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