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The American Bar Association ("ABA"), defines a paralegal as follows: "A legal assistant or paralegal is a person who is qualified by education, training or experience and is employed by a lawyer, corporation, governmental agency or other entity while performing specifically delegated legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."
NFPA uses the following definition: "A paralegal is a person, qualified through education, training or work experience to perform substantive legal work that requires knowledge of legal concepts and is customarily, but not exclusively, performed by a lawyer. This person may be retained or employed by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity or may be authorized by administrative, statutory or court authority to perform this work."
In June 2018, NFPA respectfully requested that the ABA remove the term “legal assistant” from its definition of a paralegal. The ABA's Standing Committee on Paralegals reconvenes in February 2020 to review the proposed definition.
At NALA's annual meeting, a panel of NALA leaders expressed that it does not care to take a position on the "age-old question" of legal assistant versus paralegal, believing that the titles are synonymous geographically based on regional practices.
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The Fourth Deadly Sin: Sloth -- Stepping Up Your Game
In 1994, American Recording Artist Cyndi Lauper released a greatest hits album entitled, “Twelve Deadly Cyns...and Then Some.” On April 18, 2019, before an audience of 53, The Honorable Mary M. Johnston and Shaun Michael Kelly, Esquire, co-hosted our National Affairs Luncheon topic of Ethics and Professionalism for Paralegals, with their own greatest hits and then some presentation and interactive game show on the Fourth Deadly Sin: Sloth.
A Paralegal’s ability to identify and diagnose difficult ethical situations faced by attorneys is helpful to ensure that we are neither engaging nor assisting in unethical conduct. The game show helped us explore specific scenarios implicating ethical dimensions of legal practice, including attorney conduct that paralegals must understand in order to avoid (and to help their attorney’s avoid) ethical pitfalls. This is especially important since the paralegal is often closer to the documents and/or clients and, thus, has more detail about the case. Paralegals can also identify what may be missing and make recommendations to the supervising attorney.
Paralegal-specific ethical rules can be found in the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility for Delaware Paralegals (the “DE Paralegal Code”), the Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility published by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (the “Model Code”), and the National Association of Legal Assistants’ (NALA) Code of Ethics & Professional Responsibility (the “NALA Code”), among others.
The preamble to the DE Paralegal Code cites directly to the Delaware Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, as amended as one basis for its advocacy of paralegals’ ethical and professional responsibilities in the delivery of legal services in the State of Delaware.
Additionally, Canon 10 of the NALA Code requires that a “paralegal’s conduct is guided by bar associations’ codes of professional responsibility and rules of professional conduct.” Canon 10 supports DPA’s position that, if you are a paralegal in Delaware, your conduct should be guided by the Delaware Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, as amended.