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                                         126 N.J.L.J. 1525
                                        November 29, 1990


Appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey


Paraprofessional Employees -
Identification on Law Firm
Business Cards

    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 abuses.
    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 follows:
        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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