Thanks to Kimberly Johnson from Carolina Paralegal News who sent me links to the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly and the South Carolina Lawyers Weekly. Opening the link to the NCLW, revealed an interesting story about an ethics opinion ruling that an attorney may let a paralegal sign the lawyer’s name to a pleading if “exigent circumstances” exist. According to the story:
Although the phrase “exigent circumstances” isn’t defined by the opinion, letting a paralegal sign an attorney’s name could not be done “as a routine matter,” cautioned Alice Neece Mine, the Bar’s assistant executive director.
“It has to be some extraordinary situation, like you’re out of town or deathly ill or can’t get out of court because you’re trying a case, and it has to be signed that day,” said Mine.
Under these circumstances signing the pleadings may appear to be a mere ministerial act. So we am I posting about it? I think it is important that the topic was brought up and an opinion published at all. It indicates a recognition of the role of the paralegal in the law office. Much of the discussion I see in state bar opinion seem to “talk around” or simply ignore the existence of paralegals as a member of the legal team. Here the panel seems to have at least attempted a realistic evaluation stating:
Rule 5.3, dealing with an attorney’s responsibilities for non-lawyer assistants, and Rule 5.5, regarding the unauthorized practice of law, were also relevant, the opinion states.
“Before permitting a paralegal or other non-lawyer staff member to sign the lawyer’s name to any court document, the lawyer must carefully review pertinent case law, local rules, or rules of civil procedure to determine whether such delegation is permissible and therefore compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations,” the opinion states.
“In addition, the lawyer must exercise the appropriate level of supervision to avoid aiding in the unauthorized practice of law.”
As regular readers are aware I’ve often commented on the attorney’s obligation to the paralegal to provide “the appropriate level of supervision.”