In a story about another case of attorney/paralegal embezzlement of client funds, TampaBay.com reports,
A paralegal and her attorney boss spent about $70,000 of clients’ money on shopping sprees, lavish lunches and vacations. They got caught. Each blamed the other for being primarily responsible.
And these two were friends! We will likely never know the extent of each person’s responsibility here. Certainly, the attorney has ultimate responsibility because she’s the attorney, but the paralegal does have a past that indicates she may not be entirrely at fault:
…Lausburg had been implicated in crimes before. In 2005, she pleaded guilty to forgery and uttering a forged instrument after she was accused of forging the signature of a circuit court judge. At that May 2010 hearing, Andrews said Lausburg was “at least as culpable if not more culpable than Ms. Miller.”
The story raises many issues. There is always, I suppose, the potential that an attorney will at least attempt to blame a paralegal for misconduct or even missed deadlines that are really the attorney’s fault. However, there are steps paralegals can do to protect themselves:
1. Do your jobs and do them well. Do it with integrity at every step. Document what you do;
2. Do NOT become even tangentally involved in unethical or criminal conduct;
3. Do quit a job if you are being asked to or told to engage in serious unethical conduct or any criminal conduct. (The “serious” is there only because I consider “Tell the client I’m not in” to be unethical – it is a lie, but I would not advise a paralegal to quit his job over it;)
4. Do report serious unethical behavior and criminal conduct to the proper authorities (unless prohibited by the rules governing client confidentiality; and,
5. Do consult with an independent attorney before deciding to do or not do numbers 3 and 4.