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126 N.J.L.J. 1525
November 29, 1990
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
Appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey
Paraprofessional Employees -
Identification on Law Firm
The inquiry here is thus articulated:
May Paralegals/Legal Assistants working under
the direct supervision of an attorney be
permitted to carry business cards, so long as
the name of the attorney or law firm appears
on the card and issuance is authorized by that
law firm and/or attorney?
The inquiry is necessitated by four prior Opinions of this
Committee: Opinion 9, 86 N.J.L.J. 617 (1983); Opinion 296, 98
N.J.L.J. 105 (1975); Opinion 296 (Supplement), 99 N.J.L.J. 113
(1976); Opinion 471, 107 N.J.L.J. 127 (1981); and Opinion 553, 115
N.J.L.J. 96 (1985).
In Opinion 9, supra, 86 N.J.L.J. 617, this Committee held that
it would not be "... proper for an attorney to permit his name or
that of his firm to be placed on the business card of an
investigator investigating facts ... for the attorney or his firm."
The ostensible reason was that such permitted conduct could lead to
Opinion 296, supra, 98 N.J.L.J. 105, and the Supplement there
to, supra, 99 N.J.L.J. 113, rule that non-lawyers' names on firm
letterhead and business cards was improper, but that "lay
assistants" who were involved in administration could sign
letterhead stationery not involving the practice of law to
ministerial officials, vendors, other administrative personnel such
as printers, court clerks and others in the same category. The
Committee specifically referred to the fact that at that time the
use and function of paralegals was still developing and that the
ABA had just concluded extensive hearings on the subject.
Opinion 471, supra, 107 N.J.L.J. 127, held that there was no
ethical violation for an office manager to use a business card so
long as it contained the term "Office Manager" and was used only in
conjunction with suppliers, administrative people, etc. However,
the Opinion specifically prohibited the use of business cards by
paraprofessionals. Opinion 554, supra, 115 N.J.L.J. 96, merely
clarified Opinion 471, supra, 107 N.J.L.J. 127, by permitting the
use of titles such as administrator, director of administration and
director of operations instead of office manager.
To the extent that the role and function of paralegals has
been defined, the American Bar Association defines paralegals as
A Legal Assistant is a person, qualified
through education, training or work
experience, who is employed or retained by a
lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or
other entity in a capacity or function which
involves the performance, under the ultimate
direction and supervision of an attorney, of
specifically-delegated substantive legal work,
which work, for the most part, requires a
sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that,
absent such assistant, the attorney would
perform the task. American Bar Association
Standing Committee on Legal Assistants to the
American Bar Association Board of Governors,
January 22, 1986.
RPC 5.3 recognizes the employment of non-lawyer assistants and
creates an obligation of the lawyer to maintain reasonable efforts
to ensure dignified and ethical conduct on the part of those
assistants. R. 4:42-9(b) not only recognizes the use and utility of
paraprofessionals, but permits fee allowances, in actions where a
fee is allowable, for paraprofessional services.
The recent United States Supreme Court case of Missouri v.
Jenkins, ____U.S.____ , 109 S.C. 2463, 105 L. Ed. 2d 229 (1989),
upheld the grant of fees based on paralegal services on a market
value basis and stated that the use of paralegal services whenever
possible "... encourages cost effective legal services, by reducing
the spiraling cost of ... litigation ...." Id. at ____, 109 S. Ct.
at 2471, 105 L. Ed. 2d at 243.
The Court further stated:
It has frequently been recognized in the lower
courts that paralegals are capable of carrying
out many tasks, under the supervision of an
attorney, that might otherwise be performed by
a lawyer and billed at a higher rate. Such
work might include locating and interviewing
witnesses; assistance with depositions,
interrogatories, and document production;
compilation of statistical and financial data,
checking legal citations, and drafting
correspondence. Much such work lies in a gray
area of tasks that might appropriately be
performed either by an attorney or a
paralegal. To the extent that fee applicants
under §1988 are not permitted to bill for the
work of paralegals at market rates, it would
not be surprising to see a greater amount of
such work performed by attorneys themselves,
thus increasing the overall cost of
litigation. Id. at _____, n.l0, 109 S.C. at
2471-72, 105 L. Ed. 2d at 243.
It cannot be gainsaid that the utilization of paralegals has
become, over the last 10 years, accepted, acceptable, important and
indeed, necessary to the efficient practice of law. Lawyers, law
firms and, more importantly, clients benefit greatly by their work.
Those people who perform paraprofessionally are educated to do so.
They are trained and truly professional. They are diligent and
carry on their functions in a dignified, proper, professional
manner. They understand ethical inhibitions and prohibitions.
Lawyers assign them work expecting them to respect confidences
which they obtain and to comport themselves in the best traditions
of those who serve in the legal area. Giving to them the ability of
clearly identifying themselves and for whom they work can only
better serve their employers and clients. The business card, as is
true in every area where business cards are used, serves to define
the status of the person presenting that card and has the desired
effect of eliminating confusion.
It is too late in the day to view these paraprofessionals with
suspicion of their morals or ethics. We, therefore, modify our
prior Opinions prohibiting the use of business cards by
paraprofessionals and answer the inquiry in the affirmative with
the admonition that the applicable Rules of Professional Conduct
and Court Rules must be followed.
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