Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

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 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.

The Price of Appreciation

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

There is little doubt that attorneys frequently under appreciate those who work with and for them. Witness, for example, posts here such as Paralegal Unhappy. There are good ways to handle the feeling of not being appreciated, which for paralegals often hinges. Some of those ways are discussed on other posts here and in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. There are also many bad ways of handling it. Here’s a story from WHTM in Pennsylvania regarding one of the worst. It involves legal secretaries rather than paralegals:

Two legal secretaries in Cumberland County have been charged with ripping off their boss.

Tina Garlinger of Enola and Bethany Noss of Honey Grove, Juniata County, were arraigned Tuesday on theft, conspiracy and forgery charges. Police allege the woman stole $94,000 from Camp Hill attorney Patrick Lauer over the last two years by racking up false overtime and cashing forged checks from his office account. Lauer employed the pair as legal secretaries.

“They were just stealing checks, writing them to cash, forging my name, writing them to my own name and cashing them,” said Lauer. ABC 27 Talkback:
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Lauer said he caught on to the scheme in April when one of the women mailed a personal bill using a metered stamp from his office.

… Lauer said he was told by police they did it because they felt unappreciated.

There does seem to be something to the thought that it is OK to steal from unappreciative employers. See for example this from John Dierckx who, according to his website, assists employers in reducing the risk of employee theft:

While opportunity is most important, there may be other relevant factors. Low morale can lead employees not only to steal, but can also lower productivity. Feelings of being wronged or mistreated may ust offer that rationalization when the opportunity presents itself. The same applies to feelings of under-appreciation.
Lack of punitive measures in place or there is a lack of preventative and detection measures including but not limited to appropriate policies and procedures and control measures are similarly factors that could lead to an increased risk of employee theft and fraud.

However, one commentator who collects stories of employee theft mocks the idea and notes:

Hourly, salary, blue collar, white collar, rookie, or professional are all represented in the stories above. One individual was even a weekend pastor at a small church. At what point do people decide that taking things that do not belong to them is acceptable? Many will attempt in vain to justify inapt conduct with a Robin Hood justification thought process of taking from the “haves” by the “have nots” as being the way life is. Spend a little too much time surfing the net during work? Cheat on your taxes? Keep excess change that is not yours? Steal an identity? How would you answer the question “Are you honest”?

That question is, of course, important for everyone, but especially for professional paralegals. After all, professionalism is all about standards.

Ad: Professionalism is a must

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Our local paper (yes print media still exists) carries this ad:

Law firm seeks paralegal that can handle additional secretary and receptionist duties. Ideal candidate will have ability to organziae, prioritize and complete tasks under time constraints. Must be multi-tasked oriented and able to work in a fact paced envrionment. Excellent writing, verbal and communication skills. Professionalism is a must.

Of course, this ad interests me because it confirms my contentions that (1) those paralegal who demonstrate professionalism with control the market, and (2) professionalism is more than a set of skills. Thus, the empowered paralegal is one who is effective, efficient and professional.

This leads to the real challenge – determining just what professionalism is. In some ways it is like art and pornography – you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. In this blog and in my book I attempt to shed some light on its primary ingredients.  It is, quite clearly, more than simply a manner of dress. I frequently point out to students that the very phrase “I dressed like a professional” implies that there is something more to professionalism than a good suit, clean hands, and a haircut. If one can “dress like a professional” and still not be professional, then dress alone does not make a professional.

As discussed in The Empowered Paralegal and throughout this blog, the ingredients of professionalism include reliability, trustworthiness, work ethic, honesty, attitude, self-reflection, standards, personal integrity, the ability to think ahead, and inter-personal skills especially in dealing with clients and attorneys.

Initial results of the Professionalism Anthology are encouraging and I hope that publication will ultimately lead to a better understanding of professionalism in the paralegal profession. In the meantime I will contact the firm that place this ad to see what it means by “Professionalism is a must.”

Honesty and the Professional Paralegal

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Last June 4th Kim Walker posted on Paralegal Pie regarding an Honesty Test. She noted,

The questions are hard.  For instance some of the questions pertain to stealing from your employer.  If you answer no, well you are a big fat liar.  I am willing to bet that everyone who works in an office has stolen a pen, a legal pad, a paper clip.  So you do in fact steal from your employer.

There does seem to be some “gray area” in the concept of honesty in the workplace. There is no doubt that honesty is essential for the professional paralegal. Every employer, including attorneys, expects it of their employees – except when they don’t.  Sometimes you will be asked to be just a bit not-so-honest such as when you are asked to tell a client the attorney has just left for the courthouse when she is still in the office. The rightness and wrongness of such “white lies” is a matter that cannot be treated fully here. Personally I believe that the best policy is to be as honest as possible with the people with whom both the lawyer and the paralegal deal whether it be clients, co-workers, court personnel, etc.

Regardless of how situations like this are resolved, you should strive for an honest relationship with your attorney. This does not mean you have to be the one to point out he has put on twenty pounds and needs to exercise more. But be honest about yourself.

  • Avoid dishonesty when you have made a mistake. Don’t try to cover it up. No one is perfect. Honesty can initiate steps to help you avoid making the same mistake again.
  • Avoid dishonesty in explaining why you are late for work, taking time off and the like.
  • Avoid dishonesty when stating what you can and cannot do. Be frank about your own limitations both in terms of time and competence. Ask for assistance and training.