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                                         98 N.J.L.J. 105
                                        February 6, 1975


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Paralegal Employees -
Identification With Law Firms

    Three inquiries have been submitted to this Committee relating to investigators and paralegal employees of a law firm.

Question One

    Is it ethically proper for an attorney or firm to permit an investigator-paralegal full-time employee to sign correspondence on the attorney's or firm's letterhead where he identifies himself as a non-lawyer?
    A paralegal employee is a lay person employed by an attorney to perform certain law office functions for which legal training and bar admission are not required.
    Disciplinary Rule 3-101(A) reads as follows:
        A lawyer shall not aid a non-lawyer in the unauthorized practice of law.

Attorneys should avoid not only unprofessional conduct but also the appearance of such conduct. Our Opinion 8, 86 N.J.L.J. 718 (1963)
and 9, 86 N.J.L.J. 617 (1963).
    If a staff investigator were permitted to sign correspondence on the firm letterhead, such a seemingly innocent practice could foster myriad abuses, not the least of which might be the unauthorized practice of law in violation of DR 3-101(A). Such signed correspondence, even accompanied by an identification of the investigatory position of the signatory, might be taken as a representation that the layman is involved in the firm's practice in a manner contrary to DR 3-101(A) and DR 3-103(A). Given such a possible consequence, it is our conclusion that such practice cannot be sanctioned.
Question Two

    May a firm include on its letterhead the name of a full-time investigative employee along with his title as staff investigator?
    The A.B.A. Comm. on Professional Ethics, Informal Opinion 619 (1962), quoting Drinker, Legal Ethics 228 (1953), refused to allow a secretary's name to appear on a lawyer's letterhead stating:
            A lawyer's letterhead may not carry the name of a client or of a patent agent associate, non-lawyer, notary or engineer or clerk or student or other layman, or give the names of references, or state that a layman's association is associated with him in handling collections.

    Similarly, A.B.A. Comm. on Professional Ethics, Informal Opinion 845 (1965) held that the inclusion of a name on a letterhead with the designation "office manager" would be improper. Likewise, A.B.A. Comm. on Professional Ethics, Informal Opinion 1000 (1967), citing both Informal Opinions 619 and 846, supra held:
            that it would be improper to list your salaried investigator on your firm letterhead as, "Staff Investigator" or in any other manner.

Disciplinary Rule 2-102(A)(4) stipulates that an attorney or firm can use no letterhead except one of a prescribed content and dignified form. Additionally DR 2-101 inveighs generally against self-laudation, an inescapable effect should we allow the inclusion of a staff investigator's name and title on the letterhead. In A.B.A. Informal Opinion 845, supra, it was stated that use of such a letterhead would:
            impress, upon those seeing the letterhead the size, importance and efficiency of the firm....

Clearly, such a letterhead would have a self-laudatory effect, contravening the spirit of DR 2-101 in addition to offending the letter of DR 2-102(A)(4), and therefore it cannot be permitted.
Question Three

    We are also called upon to consider whether the use by such an investigator-paralegal employee of a business card in the following form would be ethically proper:
                    John Doe

                    Firm Name & Address Tel. No. 123-4567

We considered this question in our Opinion 9, supra, and answered it in the negative. Parenthetically, it might be added, that we maintain this position in full cognizance of the A.B.A. Comm. on Professional Ethics, Informal Opinion 909 (1966) which saw fit to sanction such cards, though the committee admitted:
            It is true, of course that the card is a physical article and that possibilities, of its improper use or effect are far greater than in the case of an oral identification.

    As, we stated in Opinion 9, supra, of this Committee:

            There are, of course, other ways of identification besides, the suggested means, without any possible abuse or misrepresentation.

Therefore, such cards may not be used as they are in possible derogation of the general integrity of the legal profession.

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