121 N.J.L.J. 301
February 18, 1988
Assistants: Signing Correspondence
We have been asked to clarify and possibly modify prior
Opinion 296 (Supplement), 99 N.J.L.J. 113 (1976) relating to the
types of correspondence which non-lawyer assistants, sometimes
called paralegals, may properly sign on the letterhead of the firm
which employs them.
The inquiry specifically addressed the problem in the context of a real estate practice. In that context, inquirer argues that it should be proper for a paralegal to sign letterhead in correspondence with mortgage companies, offices of county clerks, title companies, and the like.
We are in accord with that view as long as the correspondence is confined to the gathering or dissemination and filing of routine information or documents in connection with a title or mortgage closing.
Generally speaking, and going beyond real estate practice, it is the sense of this Committee that the use of legal assistants can be of great benefit in increasing efficiency in the practice of law and in the consequent reduction in the cost of performing legal services, to the mutual benefit of both clients and attorneys. It is not and should not be our intention to hamstring the effectiveness of the non-lawyer assistant by placing artificial barriers in the way of the performance of his or her duties. Thus, for example, the non-lawyer assistant may, we believe, properly sign firm letterhead in connection with routine tasks in many fields of law such as the gathering of factual information and documents including from governmental agencies (other than tribunals). Our mention of these specific categories of tasks, however, should not be construed to exclude other tasks of a similar routine nature. Also, of course, we continue to require that on all correspondence signed by a non-lawyer assistant his or her identity should be clearly set forth.
The inquirer additionally suggests that correspondence "with clients or other attorneys might also be signed by the paralegal." In this area, as in correspondence with tribunals before which only an attorney is permitted to practice, we have more difficulty. We believe that the signature on such correspondence generally speaking should be confined to that of the responsible attorney. The principles expressed in our prior opinion concerning the ethical considerations relating to former DR 3-101(A) and DR 3-103(A), and former EC 3-6 remain in full force and effect. The governing provisions are presently found in RPC 5.3(a) and (b) entitled "Responsibilities Regarding Non-Lawyer Assistants" and in 5.5(b) relating to the unauthorized practice of law and prohibiting a lawyer from assisting a person who is not a member of the bar in the performance of activity that constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.