Posts Tagged ‘rules’

“The Paralegal” Speaks on Time Management

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As regular readers of this blog know, time management is one of the basics of paralegal empowerment and professionalism. So, I enjoyed reading Ana Perrio’s post regarding time management onThe Paralegal. According to her website, Ana Pierro, “is a paralegal supervisor in the Office of the General Counsel at a large financial institution in the Greater New York area.   Ana has over 16 years experience working in law firms and in corporate legal departments with experience in insurance defense, plaintiff’s personal injury and product liability, asbestos litigation, securities litigation, compliance, regulatory work recently government affairs.”

Ana’s post two of the biggest impediments to time management: the telephone and email. The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” devotes entire chapters to time, workload, and client management. Ana is correct that time management requires active management of email and telephone. If you do not control them, they willcontrol you. So, I recommend some specific rules. These are rules that you put in place to govern the way you manage emails and calls. Click here to check out the fundamentals for email rules and client management phone rules.

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.

Give the Judge His Space

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Another entry in our “Consequences of Sloppiness” series, but this one seems like more than just sloppiness. ABAJournal.comhas a post entitled, “Judge Warns Lawyers for Blackwater Defendants About Single Spacing.”  Here’s part of it:

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has put lawyers for five Blackwater Worldwide contractors on notice that their failure to double space won’t be tolerated.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina wrote in a short notice (PDF) filed on Monday that the lawyers submitted a legal memorandum in single-space type, according to the Washington Post blog The Crime Scene. Urbina said the filing was “an apparent attempt to include more information in their submission than would otherwise be permitted.”

Urbina said the parties are now on notice that any further single-spacing will result in sanctions. The lawyers represent five former security contractors accused of shooting 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007.

As is often the case, it may appear that this judge has gotten angry over a minor matter, but the rules are the rules and a line must be drawn somewhere. More important here, this does not appear to be a simple matter of a clerical error, but  “an apparent attempt” to gain an advantage by violating the rules.

As yet the judge has not applied any formal consequences, but there are informal consequences associated with this type of thing. Think about it – the lawyers who are representing people accused of violating rules have a problem following rules! Seems that must influence how the defense is perceived.

Client Management – Phone Calls

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

In her comment to yesterday’s post on Honesty Lynne DeVenney of Practical Paralegalismcorrectly notes:

A great way to avoid telling whole or partial untruths, and still protect your attorney when he or she needs some “do not disturb” time to meet deadlines, is to simply say, “Mr. Jones is not available at this time.  May I help you or take a message?”

The professional paralegal knows how to manage a client in this manner.  Such client management should begin with the initial interview.  Make it clear your office represents many clients and you have a system for seeing that each case is treated with the utmost of professional care. When you and the attorney are working on that client’s case, it (and they) will receive undivided attention.  In turn, when you or the attorney are working on another client’s case, it must also receive undivided attention. Remember this means you cannot take calls or allow other interruptions when you are interviewing the client!

While establishing means for communication to the client, explain your office procedures, including rules, for communications from the client such as when must the client communicate with you, e.g., if he is contacted by an adjuster or investigator, if there is a change in her medical condition or simply once a week at a set time;  when to expect responses from you or the attorney to calls or other communications, e.g., within twenty-four hours, only between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.; and when a client should acknowledge communications from you.

Of course, this  means the client must be called back. When the client isn’t called back (whether by you or the attorney), the client calls you back. Some clients call back sooner and more often than others. Some are impatient. Some are down right testy and rude. Have some pity on the person at the front desk and make things easier for yourself at the same time.  Establish rules and policies for calling back. More important, establish mechanisms for calling back and let the client know what those mechanisms are.

Instruct the receptionist, or if your calls go directly to your voicemail leave an informative outgoing message, on how calls will be returned. For example, the receptionist might say “Ms. Forest will be returning clients calls between 2 and 4 this afternoon, can I schedule a telephone appointment for you then?”  Any general rules your office makes about managing phone calls should include provisions for both protecting your and your attorney’s time and time for returning the calls.