Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

The Paralegal as Watchdog

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

A recent post dealt with the paralegal’s unique position to assist in preventing elder abuse. As I point out in Working with the Elder Client nursing homes, family, and other caregivers are not the only source of abuse. Guardians are often implicated. Although not directly on point an ABAJournal.com post today reminds me that at times even lawyers can be involved in the mistreatment and mishandling of client funds amounting to abuse:

A former Winston & Strawn partner has reached an agreement that could pave the way for a guilty plea in connection with his work for a celebrity money manager.

Prosecutors told a Manhattan federal judge on Monday that the former partner, Jonathan Bristol, has reached an agreement in principle to resolve charges he laundered more than $20 million stolen from celebrity clients by convicted money manager Kenneth Starr, according to the New York Post, the New York Law Journal and the Am Law Daily. The money was allegedly laundered through attorney trust accounts.

I am not by any means suggesting that paralegals become a law office Nancy Drew or Hardy Boy. (A lot of my youth was spent with those books.) Indeed, even the term “watchdog” in the title to this post may be too strong. However, it is incumbent upon the professional paralegal to see can be seen and sometimes notice what is not there to be seen, make an appropriate record and when necessary “do the right thing.” Here’s an example from a previous post.

Paralegal Student Blog: Attorneys Gone Wild

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

The Sinclair Community College paralegal program in Dayton, Ohio had an interesting project for the Fall 2010 Quarter. As part of the project student Amanda J. created a blog entitled, “Attorneys Gone Wild: Lawyer/Paralegal Misconduct.” The entries appear to end when the quarter ended, so I’ve not added the blog to the blogroll here, but it is interesting to see a paralegal students perspective on legal ethics and the misconduct of lawyers and paralegal. The next-to-last entry spins off a post from this blog regarding a Florida jury verdict in favor of a paralegal who sued her former employer. She comments:

A Florida jury found in favor of a paralegal who entered into a contract with her supervising attorney to receive a portion of the earnings from the attorney’s fees.

If you have been paying attention in Legal Ethics, this is fee-sharing or fee-splitting and is prohibited for non-lawyers. The paralegal goes to court, knowing she has committed unethical behavior, will be fired, and will be known in the community for her unscrupulous behavior, yet still pursues the case which ultimately results in her supervising attorney being disciplined.

I find it strange that two legal professionals can go to court, both having committed unethical behavior and only one is disciplined. Even though the lack of a paralegal ethical code protects me from court discipline, I would like to have the confidence that any non-lawyer with whom I work is under the same rules and guidelines as any lawyer with whom I work.

If Amanda J. is still reading this blog now that her project is done, she’s likely to be interested in the views of practicing paralegals on this, so feel free to comment.

Warning to my students: I like the concept of this type of project as an educational tool, so be prepared!

More Social Media Dangers

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

From time to time I’ve posted here on the dangers facing paralegals using social media, although I usually leave social media to Lynne Devenney at Practical Paralegalism because she covers it so well. However, the coincidence of a discussion on the Paralegal Today listserv and an article in the ABA Journal lead me to the topic for today’s post.

The listserv discussion began with a “venting” post by a paralegal. The vent itself was not bad and seemed to cover a legitimate gripe. However, one commenter soon noted, “Should you get a really vengeful supervisor — it would not be a good idea for you to have in writing this stuff with the firm name attached. You guys all know this – email has become as common place as talking now days…. and you don’t know who else is reading…… just a word to the wise – THANSK! deb”  This, in turn, prompted another post, “What a world when we have to live in fear of “what if my supervisor is lurking here to see what I say about my job?” Do you really think they have the time to be concerned with this?”  Most recently, Linda Whipple posted another of her insightful comments:

Nastynady the advice about venting about your boss in this particular vent is very smart advice. If you go back to her initial “vent” on this list serve she used her firm’s signature which is a dead giveaway if anyone in her firm or from a firm in her town decided to forward it to her boss directly. She would have been better served venting under an email “handle” such as nastynady rather than her own name with her firm’s name anywhere in that email. That is a dangerous game in today’s job market and the Venting came dangerously close to libel which could cost her more than her job. If members want to vent on this list serve by all means do so but don’t make it obvious as to who you are or who you are venting about. I just read in the news of a very similar situation that occurred locally here and the employee then sued the firm for wrongful termination. The jury wasn’t impressed and found for the employer. The article pointed out the employee in the end of the day also ruined her name as well as having dragged the firm thru a cmpletely avoidable termnation and lawsuit just by using “good judgment”. In our member’s situation I hope we don’t get a follow up venting over the loss of her job . . . . Just my 2 cents.

The advice from Linda and deb is good advice, a point emphasized by the ABA Journal article I referenced in the beginning entitled, “Seduced: For Lawyers, the Appeal of Social Media is Obvious. It is also Dangerous.” While the danger is depicted through lawyer examples, the basic point applies to paralegals. Examples include:

Sean W. Conway  who thought he was writing an ordinary blog post never suspecting he would wind up facing ethics charges.

“I felt completely within my rights as a citizen, exposing what I thought was an injustice,” he says. It seemed to the then-35-year-old defense attorney that a Florida circuit court judge was methodically depriving criminal defendants of their right to a speedy trial. Instead of allowing them four or five weeks to prepare for trial, as was routine, Judge Cheryl Alemán was asking defendants whether they were ready for trial only about a week after their arraignment, according to Conway.

His post, according to the Florida,  violated five ethics rules and  the Florida Supreme Court rejected the argument his statements were protected by the First Amendment. this. The result: a public reprimand and a fine of $1,250.

B. Carlton Terry Jr.,  North Carolina judge was publicly reprimanded by the state’s Judicial Standards Commission for becoming  a Facebook friend of an attorney appearing in a case before the him, and the two men exchanged a few brief online comments regarding the proceeding.

Kristine A. Peshek, an assistant public defender, blogged about the cases she worked on. ABA Journal reports, “Because she allegedly revealed confidential client information, Peshek was fired and then charged with violating legal ethics.”

The examples are not limited to attorneys. The article goes on to note:

Linda Lea Viken, a family law specialist who heads the Viken Law Firm in Rapid City, S.D., offers examples from her practice and that of her colleagues:

• A wife discovered her spouse was philandering when she went to his Facebook page, found a picture of him with another woman, then clicked on the picture and was taken to the other woman’s page. That displayed a picture of the pair drinking and embracing in a more-than-friendly fashion.

• A spouse is supposed to be watching the kids but is partying instead. Then a video of the spouse at the party is posted on YouTube.

• A mother, fighting for child custody, claimed the father had a terrible temper. The father denied it on the stand, then was confronted with a self-description he had posted on his Facebook page: “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”

But apparently a paralegal could cause problems not just by dissing their attorneys, but by praising them too highly:

Consider, for instance, an attorney who has a listing on LinkedIn. All the information she posts about herself must be correct or she will violate Rule 7.1. But what about information posted by others? LinkedIn (and some other social media) allows users to “recommend” others and praise their work. If a client posts a wonderful recommendation, must that praise comply with Rule 7.1?

Yes, according to the Ethics Advisory Committee of the South Carolina Bar, which stated in Ethics Advisory Opinion 09-10 (2009) that any such recommendation must not “create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client.” The Ohio Board of Com missioners on Grievances and Discipline also issued an opinion to the same effect, No. 2000-6 (2000).

Ethics rules might require even more from attorneys. The South Carolina Bar stated, in Advisory Opinion 99-09 (1999), that a lawyer must act against too-favorable comments posted by a client on the client’s own online site. Once a lawyer learns of these comments, the lawyer must tell the client to conform its statements to the ethics rules. If the client refuses, the lawyer must stop representing the client, or the lawyer will be deemed to have authorized or adopted the comments.

I assume the same would apply to comments made by a paralegal on a listserv or on their own Facebook page!

Bottom line is that the dangers of social media use are many and often not obvious. The ABA Journal article is long and I’ve only included brief excerpts here. I do suggest taking the time to read the whole piece.

Paralegal v Lawyer

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

No, this is not another post on the dangers of lawyers doing paralegal jobs when it is abundantly clear that paralegals are trained to do that job and are thus much better at it than lawyers. It is the actual citation name for a 1992 case out of Pennsylvania, Paralegal v Lawyer ,783 F.Supp. 230 (1992). The court notes the reason for using the generic terms rather than the names:

Because this case devolved from disciplinary proceedings, yet pending, and unresolved before the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and because such proceedings are generally to be adjudicated in private, Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, Rule 402 Confidentiality, see, e.g., In re Anonymous No. D.B. 88, 5 Pa.D. & C. 4th 593 (1989), the names have been changed to protect the presumptively innocent. Although the case number is public record, I would hope that the news or legal reporters would see fit to exercise similar restraint, at least until verdict. Of course, I in no way so order, being mindful of Amendment One.

The case is interesting not just because of the name, but because it deals with an issue which has been a frequent topic here recently – paralegals dealing with (alleged) unethical conduct on the part of the attorneys for whom they work. Here’s the basics, which may sound all too familiar, but are really from 18 years ago:

This is a diversity case, governed by Pennsylvania law and asserting wrongful discharge from employment. Defendant moves for summary judgment, essentially averring that the discharged plaintiff, a paralegal employed by the defendant, a lawyer, has no cause of action because of the virtually impervious employment-at-will doctrine in Pennsylvania, see Hall v. Lankenau Hospital, 524 Pa. 90, 569 A.2d 346 (1990), and because, asserts defendant, plaintiff did not perform her job to his expectations, to say the least.

Plaintiff counters that she was, in today’s parlance, a whistleblower, fired in retaliation for calling evidence of her employer’s alleged misdeed to the attention of her employer’s attorney in a matter brought against her employer-lawyer, then pending before the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. She 231*231 argues that a retaliatory dismissal in the context of a profession such as the law, which is licensed and regulated by the state, falls within the public policy exception to the at-will doctrine. In fairness to the defendant lawyer, it must be said that he vigorously denies her charges, and claims that she is mentally unbalanced, vindictive, and perjurious. It is fair to say that he speaks ill of her and she of him.

In any event, more fully, plaintiff avers that the reason for her firing was that she had notified her employer’s lawyer in the disciplinary matter that her employer had submitted to the Disciplinary Board a back-dated letter to the complainant in the disciplinary proceeding, thus fabricating a false record. Plaintiff states that the defendant told her over the phone, while she was in the hospital, that he had authored and typed the letter himself. The apparent purpose of the letter, according to plaintiff, was to deceive the Disciplinary Board into thinking that he had earlier communicated with his client, thus thwarting a disciplinary complaint.

Upon receiving this letter, the lawyer’s lawyer immediately wrote defendant about it, and sent him a copy. The very next day, the defendant placed plaintiff on suspension, and shortly thereafter he terminated her. Plaintiff asserts that this falls within the clear public policy exception to the at-will doctrine. For purposes of this Rule 56 summary judgment motion, I agree.

The full case is here.

Following up on “Handling Unethical Attorney Conduct: An Example”

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

A short while back I posted “Handling Unethical Attorney Conduct: An Example,” a post that came close to setting a record for views, pingbacks, and views for this blog. That post contained excerpts from a news story regarding an ethics proceeding involving six members of a Portland, Maine, firm, that emanated from a discovery made by a firm paralegal regarding unethical conduct by one of the firm’s top attorneys and disclosed by that attorney’s legal secretary. The proceeding was against six members of the firm who where charged with failure to promptly investigate and report the attorney’s unethical conduct, but I focused on the dilemma faced by paralegals and other legal staff when they discovered unethical conduct on the part of the attorney for whom they worked. I ended up stating, “Hence my modification of my original advice [given in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient and Professional: a paralegal in this position should consult an outside attorney not only if they decide to report, but in determining whether a report should be made. This case, whether or not the allegation is true, demonstrates the folly of seeking that advice within the firm.”

Today’s report from the Portland Press Herald and ABAJournal.com states that all six of the attorneys were cleared of ethical violations in that the court found they had reported the original attorney’s violations in a timely manner. Once again, though, my focus in on the employees who made the initial discoveries. I am including here the portion of court’s order that describes their experience. It may be helpful to put yourself in their position and consider now what you would do as you may indeed find yourself in their position at some time. I’ll try to post something a bit more upbeat tomorrow so the year does not end on this.

From the court’s decision:

In late 2006, a Verrill Dana paralegal, reviewing a bank statement, noted a discrepancy between the check register for an account managed by Duncan for Janice Thomas and the bank statement of that account. The check register indicated a payment to Verrill Dana. The bank statement, with a copy of the face of the check appearing on the back, indicated a payment to Duncan.
This paralegal had been filling in for Ellie Rommel, the regular secretary for Duncan in the private clients group. Rommel also was the secretary to another attorney working in the private clients group, Gregory L. Foster. Foster was a counsel to the firm and usually worked in the office two days each week. Rommel had a very good professional relationship with, and high respect for, both Duncan
and Foster.

In January 2007, the paralegal told Rommel of the discrepancy she had discovered between the check register and the bank statement. Rommel was extremely surprised by this disclosure. She assumed, initially, that the discrepancy would be based on an error in entry and not indicative of any impropriety. She then checked banks statements against the check registers going back to 2003.

Over that period, she discovered fourteen checks that Duncan, using his power of attorney authority, had written to himself from the Janice Thomas account. The check registers indicated that each of these checks had been written to Verrill Dana. The faces of the checks were reproduced on the bank statements.Therefore, confirming the party to whom the check was written, and comparing it with the check register, was a relatively simple process. Rommel was shocked and greatly disturbed by this discovery. To her, it appeared that Duncan had been embezzling funds from the Janice Thomas account.

However, considering Duncan’s impeccable reputation in the firm, and his very good professional relationship with her, Rommel hoped that there would be some legal and proper explanation for these discrepancies. She was unsure, however, to whom she should disclose her discoveries, to seek an explanation. She decided that she did not want to seek an explanation directly from Duncan because the facts, in her mind, looked like he had committed crimes. Duncan had been having some other health issues at the time, and Rommel was concerned that if she was correct that these facts indicated embezzlement, and they were disclosed, Duncan might be driven to suicide, a tragic event in itself, and one that would have tragic consequences for Duncan’s family and the firm.

Knowing these facts, and having no one to discuss them with, was a cause of considerable anxiety and stress for Rommel, making it more difficult to confidently do her job and live her life. These difficulties were enhanced when she observed that Duncan was viewing pornographic materials on his computer, sending and receiving e-mails with a sexual content, in violation of firm policy, and engaging in an affair out of the office with another individual at times when Rommel was aware that Duncan was billing some clients for time spent on their accounts.

Over several months, Rommel’s stress level and anxiety grew as she knew, but did not disclose, this information. In May, Rommel resolved to leave the firm and gave notice that her last day would be June 15, 2007. Rommel also began seeing a therapist. The therapist advised Rommel that she needed to disclose the information to someone for her own good and peace of mind and for the good of the firm.

Ultimately, in early June 2007, Rommel disclosed what she knew to Greg Foster. She made the disclosure by meeting with Foster, advising him that she believed that Duncan was improperly writing checks to himself from the Janice Thomas account, and giving Foster a file of the materials that she had gathered comparing the bank statements and the check registers. She stated that she believed that Duncan was embezzling money from the client.

Foster reported it to the firm’s managing attorney who eventually met with Rommel:

Following this investigation, Warren met with Rommel on June 13, 2007. At this meeting, he thanked her for providing this information and indicated that he would be addressing the matter appropriately with Duncan. Rommel testified that Warren complimented her, stating that her actions “took a lot of courage.” They also discussed Rommel’s status with the firm, whether Rommel might qualify for disability payments, and whether she should rescind her resignation. There are differences in the testimony regarding the extent to which the issues of disability payments and rescinding the resignation were of significance in the discussion. However, as the parties recognized at closing argument, these differences are not material to the issues the Court must resolve.

The outcome of the June 13 meeting was that Rommel’s resignation was not rescinded, there was a commitment to explore the issue of whether disability payments would be pursued further, and because of her emotional state, Rommel was excused from having to appear at the firm for her last two scheduled days of work. Warren also advised Rommel that, although she was leaving the firm, he would keep her apprised of developments relating to Duncan.

Paralegal Honored as Advocate for Low-Income People

Friday, November 19th, 2010

According to the Florida Times Union at Jacksonville.com, Jacksonville paralegal Virgina MaCabe is among those honored by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid as this year’s recipients of the Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Services. Congratulations to Virginia. This kind of service benefits not only the people served, but the paralegal profession.

I’d like to see a more organized approach to the utilization of paralegals as part of the resolution of access to justice issues in the United States, but until such a system is in place, paralegals like Virginia help bridge the access to justice gap while honoring their ethical obligations to the community, the legal system, and the profession.

When the Ethical Firewall is Breached

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Thanks for the email wondering why my posts have been sparse recently. There’s nothing major wrong, just a particular busy time professionally and personally. Great for discussion over a beer, but nothing pertinent for discussion here. (Other than the distinct possibility that I will be going to South Africa to consult on setting up a paralegal program at a major university there, which I will discuss here later.)

For now, I’ve barely been able to keep up with reading other people’s blogs, much less writing for my own. Today I’m going to cover myself a bit by relying on a post in the ABAJournal.com blog. Most paralegals are aware of the ethical wall that must be built between themselves and a new firm when a case being handled by the new firm creates a conflict for the paralegal because of their work for a previous firm. Unfortunately, sometimes those walls are accidently breached. A professional paralegal must be mindful of their professional ethical obligations when such a breach occurs. The following post relates to an attorney, but provides an appropriate warning to paralegals as well:

Because lawyers in the Lake County public defender’s office often handled both sides of guardian ad litem matters, representing children thought to be in need of protection and indigent parents, the office was set up in a manner intended to keep information confidential from attorneys not entitled to see it, explains an opinion yesterday by a hearing board panel of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. And there was a policy that lawyers there weren’t supposed to look into each other’s files, it notes.

However, when Scott Andrew Wineberg fortuitously found on the office copy machine one day medical record information that he had been seeking to discover through normal channels, he admittedly copied it for his own case, in which a hearing was planned the next day. Then, even after he was called to account both in his own office and before the ARDC hearing board for doing so, he contended he had done nothing wrong.

Wineberg disclosed to the judge in the case at issue that he had the three pages of medical record information and it was eventually produced to him in discovery, too, the opinion recounts.

However, calling his conduct in taking the three pages for use in his own case “dishonest,” the panel recommended that he be censured for doing so.

The rest of the post is available here.

Even without a rule it’s wrong. Even in Texas.

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Paralegal Hell reports on a proposed amendment to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that would  prohibit lawyers from having sex with their clients which is, believe it or not, dividing the Texas bar  at public hearings on the proposal.

According to her post,

The State Bar of Texas held the hearings at nine locations around the state. With regard to the proposed no-sex-with-clients rule, there was a marked difference of opinion among lawyers who spoke at the hearings.

Houston attorney Rich Robins, speaking at the Sept. 1 hearing in Houston, said that proposed Rule 1.13 — the no-sex-with-clients rule — makes lawyers susceptible to grievances if a client dissatisfied with a settlement makes a false accusation. Robins said that he “doesn’t engage in it” but that he doesn’t think there should be a disciplinary rule banning sex with clients.

“If it’s consensual, what’s wrong with it?” Robins asked during the hearing, which was attended by approximately 50 people.

But Susan Morrison, a partner in The Fowler Law Firm in Austin, told State Bar officials at the Sept. 10 hearing in Austin, “We’ve got to bring our level of professionalism at least up to the level of massage therapists. They have a rule; we need one.”

Morrison says in an interview that when lawyers have a grievance filed against them for having sex with clients, their defense often is “show me the rule that tells me I can’t do this.”

Well, first of all let’s be clear: When one person is in an unbalanced relationship with another, where one is dependent on the other, when one is in a stressful situation, the decision can never be truly consensual – or at least we can never be sure it is. If my client decides to leave me her house in her will, I can’t draft the will because of the danger that the gift is not truly consensual. That’s why there is a presumption of undue influence in such relationships. If the attorney does not have those basics down, they should be spending their time in CLE, not having sex with their clients.

But that’s attorneys you say. This is a blog for paralegals. Well the same considerations apply. As I stated in a previous post any kind of “social relations” is suspect when it occurs between a member of the law office part of the legal team and the client.  It is likely to be ethically wrong even when there is no specific rule of conduct prohibiting it:

One reader of this blog arrived here as a result of a Google search that asked, “can paralegal see client socially after legal relationship ends?” Here are some thoughts on the topic:

It is likely that you will not find a direct answer to this question in any of the various professional association Codes of Ethics such as the NFPA Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, but the answer can be derived from such codes as it can be derived for attorneys from the ABA Model Code. In general, since there are no paralegal code of ethics enforceable in the same way as the attorney’s bar rules are enforceable against attorneys, regulation of paralegal conduct is derivative of the rules governing attorneys. So, it is appropriate to look to rules governing attorneys and the advice given to them on issues such as this based on those rules.

Certainly both attorneys and paralegals must refrain from becoming engaged in an intimate relationship with a client during the course of the professional relationship. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Such a relationship can affect the objectivity of the members of the legal team
  • The lawyer and paralegal may be taking advantage (even if not consciously) of the already existing special relationship with the client – on in which the client is dependent upon the lawyer or paralegal
  • In most instances legal proceeding are stressful and traumatic placing the client in the position of not being able to make objective decisions about intimate relationships with others involved in those proceedings
  • Such a relationship can affect the expectations of the client

For these reasons and others dating clients during the professional relationships is not permitted as it violates the Code provisions requiring objectivity and the like. For example, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers advises :

D. Lawyers and Clients Should Maintain an Appropriate Professional Relationship.

Sometimes friendships and even romances develop between lawyers and clients. Many lawyers have close personal friendships with former clients. But because of the intense emotional nature of a divorce, it is usually best for lawyers and clients to defer establishing a social relationship until after the case is over. Romantic relationships are not advisable as they interfere with a lawyer’s objectivity and affect a client’s expectations. A divorce lawyer and a client should never have a sexual relationship during the case.

This does not, however, settle the question as to whether a paralegal can ethically date a client once the professional relationship is over. While the issue of objectivity may be eliminated, there is still the question of whether the client has gained enough distance from the professional events to make a free, knowing and independent decision to enter into the romantic relationship. Keep in mind that the lawyer and paralegal must not only avoid a direct violation of the specific rules of conduct, but also ” avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” NFPA Model Code EC-1.3(b).

Finally, keep in mind that whatever the rules of conduct may provide, your employer’s vision of what constitutes “the appearance of impropriety” should be considered. Should the client again need legal services make sure you advise your attorney of the romantic relationship before the client engages the services of the attorney. It may affect the lawyer’s decision on whether or not to take the matter, and whether to assign you as a paralegal on that matter.

Much of professionalism involves doing the right thing even when the rules do not say you have to.

When to Breach Confidentiality

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

I often wonder how Lynne DeVenny at Practical Paralegalism can find the time to post at all much less to be on the quantity and quality roll she has been on for the past couple of months. (In addition to everything else, Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, reports that Law Crossing has chosen Lynne as its Legal Staff Member of the Week.) I generally have no problem writing about a topic already covered in another blog, if I feel I can add to the topic. Unfortunately when Lynne posts on a topic, there’s seldom much that can be said that she has not already said. Also unfortunately she frequently gets to the best topics before I do.

In this case, she gotten the scope on a story that originates right here in Oxford, MS: “A news story out of Oxford, Mississippi illustrates one of the rare times that a lawyer or paralegal can reveal a client confidence: to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm. Rule 1.6, ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.” The post is entitled, “What Happens When your Client Threatens to Blow up a Government Agency.” You can read the whole post by clicking the link. I’ll be using it for ethics instruction for sure.

Dirty Dollars

Friday, August 6th, 2010

The news continues to be peppered with reports of paralegals being convicted of fraud or other crimes because they become mixed up in schemes with the attorneys for whom they work. Just a couple of days ago a Connecticut paralegal admitted a role in a mortgage fraud scheme in this report:

David B Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that HEATHER BLISS, 35, of Norwalk, pleaded guilty today before United States District Judge Janet C Hall in Bridgeport to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud stemming from her participation in a mortgage fraud scheme. According to court documents and statements made in court, BLISS was employed as a paralegal for a real estate lawyer in Wilton and, in that capacity, had responsibility for preparing and maintaining all legal and bank documents related to real estate transactions handled by her employer.

These reports frequently lead me to rant about who gets to call themselves paralegals and questions regarding whether we need a way to screen for character as they do in some parts of Canada. But today I’d rather focus on the paralegal’s reaction to illegal or unethical conduct on the part of the attorney. Apparently this paralegal reacted by becoming involved.

This issue has been addressed here several times, When Paralegals Work for Dishonest Attorneys and Handling Unethical Attorney Conduct for example. Today’s food for thought though comes from a post on the Paralegal Today listserv thread discussing raises:

I recv’d an 18% raise last year but ended up quitting earlier this summer because it was dirty $$. Lots of questionable illegal and unethical things going on in that office. I just took on a new job at considerably less per hour, but good, solid attorneys whom I can trust. The new job is worth every penny.

Sometimes this is the only real way to handle these situations. I applaud this paralegal for her choice.