The legal profession is best served when lawyers and all the paraprofessionals who support them meet the highest competency and ethical standards in the delivery of legal services. From all the sacrifices and dedication to complete their degrees to the sweat and tears shed over the Bar Exam, protection of the attorney’s license should be of utmost importance to all lawyers and all of those who support their work. While each profession has its own standards and aspirational goals, compliance often demands that each professional not only know but also meet the goals set by the codes set for others in the profession.
For example, lawyers must abide by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and Rule 8.04 requires lawyers not to “knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or other law.” Tex. Disciplinary Rules of Prof’l. Conduct R.8.04 (Emphasis added).
Paralegals have also promulgated standards and ethical rules with their various organizations. Members of the National Association of Legal Assistants ("NALA") have the NALA Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility; the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) have passed a Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility; and the conduct of all others (and including all members of specific associations) is governed by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 5.03. NALS, the National Association of Legal Professionals, has also promulgated its Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility. Membership in these various organizations will assist these professionals in obtaining necessary education, discussing and developing best practices and importantly, will encourage professionalism.
Yet, too often lawyers cannot afford to hire the most competent staff or choose to skimp on this need for business reasons. While this is understandable, it is not recommended. In addition to hiring staff that will adhere to the standards and mission of ethical conduct rules, lawyers should consider the return when hiring the most competent paralegals. Paralegals can obtain certificates and certification. Certificates can lead to certification but they are not the same. For a paralegal to be certified or obtain certification, that person must pass qualification exams through state agencies or paralegal associations, as well as meet the educational or professional guidelines required by the certificate-granting association, state or agency. Both the NALA and FBPA offer paralegal or legal assistant certifications. NALS also offers paralegal and legal professional certifications.
Paraprofessionals who invest in their own education are more likely to have the education and training regarding the competence and ethics required to protect the licenses of the lawyers they serve. They will have received education on the administration of justice and the roles of all professionals within that system. Most importantly, they have a greater stake in protecting their investment in their own education and that of their supervising lawyers. Certified paralegals may require higher compensation, but having competent staff is a high goal for this most honorable profession.