A legal assistant responds to an employment ad for a "legal researcher". The employer describes the research project and states the work will be supervised by John Jones, the lawyer for the employer. The legal assistant takes the job and completes the project, but in fact has never met or been supervised by John Jones. May the legal assistant ethically turn over the work product to the non-lawyer employer?
Answer: Relating to the information in the textbook and the associations involving lawyers and nonlawyers, no, the legal assistant ethically cannot turn over the information to the client until it is reviewed by the supervising attorney. Chapter 2 in the Textbook defines a legal assistant as, "a person who assists an attorney and working under the attorney's supervision, does that absent the paralegal, the attorney would do." Also, the American Bar Association, National Association of Legal Assistants, and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations describe in their definitions that a paralegal must be under the supervision of an attorney.
Chapter 11 says that without the supervision of an attorney, work that a nonlawyer performs could be considered unauthorized practice of law and can be a crime punishable by law. Not only should the lawyer review the documents, but they must also be directly supervising the paralegal and he or she must be fully aware that if there is a mistake made in the work product the lawyer must take the full responsibility for its contents. Directly from the textbook, the case of In re Hessinger & Associates, paralegals were working in an office without a lawyer present and would deliver the completed documents to a lawyer who signed and filed them. After the matter was brought to court the court made its ruling and stated that mere accessibility of...