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                                         99 N.J.L.J. 113
                                        February 12, 1976


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court

OPINION 296 (Supplement)

Paralegal Employees -
Identification with Law Firms

    The Professional Economics Committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association and several law firms of this State have petitioned
that we reconsider Opinion 296, 98 N.J.L.J. 105 (1975), relating to the use of paralegals in law offices.
    The original opinion dealt with three inquiries. The petition for reconsideration was limited to Question One.
    In response to Questions Two and Three, we had held that the names of non-lawyers may not be included on a firm letterhead and the use of the firm business card identifying a non-lawyer was improper.
    For convenience we repeat Question One in full:
            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?

The inquiry as posed called for the approval of the unrestricted right of a paralegal employee to sign correspondence on the attorney's or firm's letterhead.
    A hearing was held before this Committee on the petition for review to decide the propriety of our determination and whether it should be modified. The use of paraprofessionals was described as being in a state of development, a development which the petitioners urged as being in the best interests of the public and
practicing lawyers.
    The American Bar Association has recently concluded extensive hearings concerning the use of paraprofessionals and the subject is still under discussion.
    There are two kinds of legal paraprofessionals:
    1. Those who assist lawyers on behalf of clients, performing a variety of tasks, such as investigation, drafting, tax return preparation and research, which are performed under the supervision of a lawyer who is completely responsible for that work to a client. See ABA Comm. on Professional Ethics, Opinion 316 (1967) and Code of Professional Responsibility, EC 3-6. These paralegals cannot counsel clients, interpret the law, or represent people in
adversary proceedings.
    2. Individuals involved in the management of law firms who are not involved in the rendition of legal services, but who assist the partners in the conduct of their practice.
    As noted, the original inquiry was unrestricted and made no differentiation between the kinds of paraprofessionals. As to the
latter, the ministerial or office-type matters not involving the practice of law, we see no objection to the paralegal's signing such correspondence, since it does not in any way involve the practice of law. As to the former, we believe that routine requests for documents from officials, court stenographers, and the like would not constitute the practice of law and should be permitted.

    However, we believe that any interaction with other attorneys, law firms, parties, or agents of parties would tend to aid in the practice of law by laymen. Parenthetically, in the course of the hearing, one of the firms described its use of paraprofessionals in adjusting property claims. Whether that would constitute the unauthorized practice of law is a point which we need not decide here, but it is an apt illustration of the difficulty in permitting the unrestricted use of paraprofessional assistance.
    It is not the function of this Committee to undertake to designate every particular act or function of lay employees which would constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Whenever any question might reasonably arise, it seems to us that the profession's duty to the public and the recognition of the need to
preserve the dignity of the profession suggest that correspondence ought to be signed by the responsible lawyer in the firm. Since the ultimate responsibility must reside with the attorney in the firm, the burden of signing the correspondence ought not to be intolerable.
    If it be contended that this would place too great a burden upon the practicing attorney, one should refer to the ethical considerations relating to DR 3-101(A) and DR 3-103(A).
    EC 3-6 reads as follows:
            A lawyer often delegates tasks to clerks, secretaries, and other lay persons. Such delegation is proper if the lawyer maintains a direct relationship with his client, supervises the delegated work, and has complete professional responsibility for the work product. This delegation enables a lawyer to render legal service more economically and efficiently.

    See also A.B.A. Comm on Professional Ethics, Opinion 316 (1967), which contains the following language:
            A lawyer can employ lay secretaries, lay investigators, lay detectives, lay researchers, accountants, lay scriveners, non- lawyer draftsmen or non-lawyer researchers. In fact, he may employ non-lawyers to do any task for him except counsel clients about law matters, engage directly in the practice of law, appear in court or appear in formal proceeding a part of the judicial process, so long as it is he who takes the work and vouches for it to the client and becomes responsible for it to the client.

    In summary, we conclude that Opinion 296 should be modified by amending the answer to Question One, to permit the paraprofessional to sign the letter if his identity is dearly stated and under the guidelines noted in this option.
    We reiterate that a paralegal should never perform services which involve the exercise of the professional judgment of a lawyer, nor should he advise clients with respect to their legal rights, nor should the activities of a paralegal in any way modify or interfere with direct attorney client relationships or those between an attorney and his opposing attorney.
    Our modification of Opinion 296 does not extend to Questions Two and Three which are not being amended by this opinion. Accordingly, we would modify our original opinion as follows:

    1. A lay assistant may sign letterhead stationery of a law firm involving administrative communications not involving the practice of law to ministerial officials, vendors, and others.
    2. A lay assistant may sign letterhead stationery of the law firm addressed to other administrative personnel, such as court printers, stenographers, court clerks, record custodians, and the like.

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