Law Firm Training and Unauthorized Practice of Law

When was the last time your non-legal staff attended a CLE seminar that addressed issues of ethics? Have you ever spoken with them about the Rules of Professional Responsibility? Do they know they exist? If you have recently hired non-legal staff who do not have experience working in a law firm, chances are they don’t know anything about the Rules of Professional Responsibility under which you practice. What about how to handle difficult clients, client confidentiality, conflicts? Proper management of the firm’s trust account is another critical area on which staff must be educated.

Send them to an ethics or law office management seminar which is specifically targeted for non-legal staff. An annual seminar is produced each fall by ANLIR and the TBA, specifically for staff. Better yet, conduct a 1-hour "lunch and learn" each month on the ethics issues that most relate to the staff’s role in your practice. If you don’t have time to prepare for a monthly presentation yourself, call TnBar Management Services to schedule a "lunch and learn" for your staff.

The training of non-legal staff in the area of ethics and client relationships is a critical component of law office staff education. Take advantage of the educational services being provided in this area by your state bar.

Are You Assisting In The Unauthorized Practice Of Law?

Ethics Consideration 3-6 of the Tennessee Code of Professional Responsibility states that the delegation of tasks to non-legal staff is proper so long as the lawyer maintains a direct relationship with the client, supervises the delegated work and maintains responsibility for the work product.

Canon 3 of the National Association of Legal Assistants’ Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility also provides guidelines as to what legal assistants are and are not permitted to do. Legal assistants, according to their organization’s rules, may not 1) establish an attorney-client relationship, 2) set fees, 3) give legal opinions or advice or 4) represent a client before a court or agency unless authorized by the court or agency. Legal assistants may 1) conduct client interviews, 2) locate and interview witnesses, 3) conduct investigations, 4) conduct legal research, 5) draft legal documents, 6) draft correspondence and pleadings for the attorney’s signature, 7) summarize depositions, interrogatories and testimony, 8) attend executions of wills, real estate closings, depositions or administrative hearings and trials with an attorney and 9) author and sign letters. However, the legal assistant must be properly identified as a legal assistant in all of these functions; all of these tasks must be done under the supervision of the lawyer and reviewed by the lawyer.

Legal assistants can be an important asset for the firm in terms of file management and client communication. They are many times a profit center for the firm. However, the effective use of non-legal staff on a client matter must be within the confines of the ethics rules pertaining to the unauthorized practice of law.

Most software (e.g., case management, time & billing, word processing), and lots of hardware (e.g., switches, hubs and NICs, and printers, etc.), come with full product manuals in PDF format. The manuals can be far more helpful than the "Help" button. However, these manuals are often hidden from easy access. For example, WordPerfect 9 comes with a 700+ page book, in PDF format, but its hidden in C:\Program Files\Corel\WordPerfect Office 2000\Shared\Refcntr (if you go to this folder you’ll also find other useful manuals).

Create a folder on your local drive called "Manuals." Find all your hidden manuals and copy them to the new folder. If you have a local area network, create the "Manuals" folder on the file server and put the copies there. Then, from Windows explorer, create a shortcut on each work station desktop to the "Manuals" folder. Now everyone in the office can find the Time Matters or PC Law or WordPerfect book in seconds! Of course, if you’re a laptop user, you’ll want to copy the "Manuals" folder to your laptop or put it on a CD.

PDFing without Acrobat Although Adobe’s Acrobat has better name recognition, there are free and low-cost alternative products available that may meet your needs:

"Free PDF" is freeware that creates PDF files from any windows-based application. Download it at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html (You might find installation is a bit difficult but it is manageable if you closely follow the instructions. Hey, it’s free!)

Win2PDF is an affordable tool for creating electronic documents in the PDF file format. A trial version is free; a single-user license is $35. Win2PDF installs as a printer under Windows NT, Windows 2000, or Windows XP. Creating a PDF file is as simple as selecting the "print" command from any application. A file will be created which can be viewed with a PDF viewer on any type of computer. This is a Zdnet Editors’ Pick. To download visit www.daneprairie.com.

Another product is pdfFactory, from FinePrint Software (www.fineprint.com). The entry-level version is $50. Like Acrobat PDFWriter, it installs as a printer, but has two main advantages over PDFWriter: the ability to preview and edit the product before the PDF file is made, and the ability to create a single PDF file from a number of different print files in different Windows programs.