When you hire a firm to help with your case, it can help to know who does what at the firm. Each law office will operate somewhat differently, but your main point of contact could be a case manager, secretary, legal assistant, or paralegal. Or you may speak directly to the attorney working on your case, depending on the issue and circumstances. Our friends from The Babcock Law Firm, P.C. have provided some insight on working with your law office during your case.
You will probably also notice, that at least when you are first talking with someone at the law office, they should tell you what their job is at the firm. That way you know if you’re speaking to an attorney, or a member of the staff.
While some states, like California, may require ongoing ethics training for paralegals, most states do not have such rules. Instead, it falls on the attorney to be responsible for their staff, and make sure they abide by the rules in their state. Model Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3 requires that staff oversight, and while the individual state rules vary, almost all are substantially similar with respect to that principle.
Lawyers may do that training when making new hires, or through periodic meetings, to go over the rules. Clients should understand that a lawyer may delegate most day to day assignments, as long as the lawyer retains oversight over the projects. This training will make sure staff know and understand the attorney-client privilege, keeping clients’ confidences or secrets, and the limits of the staff’s authority, among other major topics.
You may have heard for example, that only an attorney is allowed to practice law. So, that means that, even if you have been having routine, day to day contact with a paralegal on your case, on the day of your deposition, or when you go to court, your lawyer is the person who will be there to represent you. It also means that a paralegal or other staff may handle a client intake call or meeting, for example, but a lawyer will need to supervise that process, and ultimately make sure the case is appropriate, before an attorney-client relationship begins.
Another major point to understand is that if the lawyer can’t do something, nor can a member of their staff. Finally, to wrap up this post, another rule to keep in mind is that you won’t be able to rely on law firm staff to provide you with legal advice. It is the attorneys’ job to make sure their staff understands this important rule, and it may help you understand either when you need to speak to an attorney about a question you have, or if you need to wait for a member of the staff to get input from a personal injury attorney before that staff member can get back with you on a particular issue.