Although many paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney, paralegals are professionals in their own right. As many people still have the common misconception that a paralegal’s place in the law firm consists of little more than being an underling to a superior, it might be a good idea to get a clearer view of the facts, and possibly set this misconception to rest.
The paralegal’s professional status can at once be underscored by what is known as the Professional Code of Ethics. A paralegal is as equally bound to this Code as any attorney in the law firm. He or she is expected to adhere as strictly to the policies set forth in the Code of Ethics, and can face suspension or even termination from both the job and loss of credentials if he or she does not do so.
For example, one of the most significant points set forth in the Code of Ethics is that of privileged communications. A paralegal, no different from an attorney, a doctor, or a minister, is bound from disclosing information that he or she is told, has read, or learns, regarding the case and the client. As a paralegal who works in a law firm or for an individual attorney routinely has access to such information in general, and, in many situations, is the person who actually receives the information directly, the information can go no further than the attorney who is actively working on the case.
If someone does not recognize the paralegal in her professional regard, the person may assume that the paralegal is free to talk about a case. This is not true; for whether a paralegal is your best friend, your spouse, or a family member, she is never at liberty to disclose privileged communications. This is a fact which paralegals and the people in their lives must take seriously; for even talking about a case or a client in a vague manner can lead a paralegal to lose not only her job but her credentials to practice in the field.
One of the best ways to keep this in its proper perspective is to keep in mind that while you are working for an attorney, you are basically working for the client as well. The trust that the client places in his attorney, he also places in you. This is true whether you have had personal communications with the client, or whether everything you know about him and the case has come from the paperwork that you have been dealing with on a regular basis in the office.
In the legal field, violating a client’s confidentiality is something which simply is not allowed, and cannot be allowed. Regardless of the specifics of the case, privileged communications is the client’s right, and it is the responsibility of the paralegal as well as the attorney to ensure that this right is not violated.
Even for this reason alone, it is essential for anyone who plans to enter the paralegal field to not only be fully aware of her responsibility for professional conduct, but also be fully willing to adhere to it at all times.