What Is Adequate Supervision?
A situation reported in the New Haven Independent looks to be a case of inadequate supervision of a paralegal by an attorney. The setup is sort of complicated but here’s the short version. A paralegal is acting as an “advocate” for a teacher at a termination hearing in front of a local board of education. The teacher accessed school records over the internet to obtain allegedly confidential student information “to give to her paralegal for use in her case” thereby perhaps violating federal privacy law. (I know something about these laws, but this is not the place for my opinion on that issue, so I’ve included the standard waffling language.) According to the report,
The disclosure that the Farina legal team had the confidential test information from fourth-grade students at the Murphy school came from Mica Notz, Farina’s paralegal, who is acting as her advocate at the hearing. Notz, who is not an attorney, has sought the data for months.
But that’s not all:
A subpoena had been issued but not properly served, Rose said. So the matter was in legal limbo when Farina went into the data base…
As the afternoon session began, Notz created more pandemonium when she declared that Connon, whose role is equivalent to an administrative judge, had personally interviewed 14 teachers at the Murphy school as potential witnesses for the school district. Connon said he had done no such thing and that she had accused him wrongly.
Attorney Rose, who represents the district, immediately told the committee he was the interviewer. Logically he would have to be; he is calling witnesses and presenting the evidence for termination. But even after Rose openly declared he had gone to the school to interview these witnesses, Notz did not believe him. She said she had an email from a state union official who identified the lawyer as Connon. She would not step back from her belief until she checked further, she said….
Nor was it clear if Notz would face investigation. The actions of the paralegal raise questions.
I agree that these events raise questions, but I’m not so sure that Notz’ conduct is what should be investigated – at least not that conduct alone. Here is where the real questions arise:
At this hearing the firm’s leader, Eugene Axelrod, was not at her side. On Friday a young attorney named Robert Mollen sat at the table. Mollen did not intervene as Axelrod has. Nor did he try to keep Notz in check as Axelrod has. She was on her own. (Emphasis added.)
I’ve posted recently on a paralegal’s right to adequate supervision. One difficulty is the confusion among the bar regarding what a paralegal is and what a paralegal can do, a topic that has been discussed here often. (It may be that in this instance there was also inadequate supervision of the young attorney.)
Many problems that arise from a law office’s use of paralegals could best be avoid through adequate training not of the paralegals, but of the attorneys. The attorneys need to know what the role of a paralegal is, what the attorney’s duty of supervision is, other ethical issues that can (and do) arise from utilization of paralegals, and how attorneys and paralegals work together as a legal team.