The season of thanks, joy and celebration is upon us but let’s not forget those who are less fortunate. Our blessings are many – we just have to stop and think about them once in a while. This is truly the season to share our good fortune with our family, friends or those in need. Let’s not forget that the simplest gifts are sometimes the most unforgettable – a smile is worth a thousand words.
The demands of our roles as paralegals defines who we are. The tasks are endless, the responsibilities are great and our stress levels soar — especially this time of year when so much is going on in our personal lives too. We are constantly challenged by technology and its changes which brings me to the point of this article. We need to step back once in a while and reassess our roles: professionally, ethically and most importantly . . . personally. Let’s call it the PEP talk!
Professionalism – How do YOU view your level of professionalism? How do OTHERS view your level of professionalism? Do you feel pride in what you do or is it just another task in an ordinary job? Your proficiency and efficiency in your job are your greatest selling points. Employers today are setting the standards high and your performance levels should be a high focus for you. Continuing education, networking and mentoring with experienced paralegals is a golden opportunity to improve your professionalism. Take advantage of your paralegal associations who work hard to provide you with the tools and resources to move you along in your career.
Ethics – How often do we step back and take a look at our Code of Ethics?
Canon 1 – A paralegal must not perform any of the duties that attorneys only may perform nor take any actions that attorneys may not take.
Canon 2 – A paralegal may perform any task which is properly delegated and supervised by an attorney, as long as the attorney is ultimately responsible to the client, maintains a direct relationship with the client, and assumes professional responsibility for the work product.
Canon 3 – A paralegal must not: (a) engage in, encourage, or contribute to any act which could constitute the unauthorized practice of law; and (b) establish attorney-client relationships, set fees, give legal opinions or advice or represent a client before a court or agency unless so authorized by that court or agency; and (c) engage in conduct or take any action which would assist or involve the attorney in a violation of professional ethics or give the appearance of professional impropriety.
Canon 4 – A paralegal must use discretion and professional judgment commensurate with knowledge and experience but must not render independent legal judgment in place of an attorney. The services of an attorney are essential in the public interest whenever such legal judgment is required.
Canon 5 – A paralegal must disclose his or her status as a paralegal at the outset of any professional relationship with a client, attorney, a court or administrative agency or personnel thereof, or a member of the general public. A paralegal must act prudently in determining the extent to which a client may be assisted without the presence of an attorney.
Canon 6 – A paralegal must strive to maintain integrity and a high degree of competency through education and training with respect to professional responsibility, local rules and practice, and through continuing education in substantive areas of law to better assist the legal profession in fulfilling its duty to provide legal service.
Canon 7 – A paralegal must protect the confidences of a client and must not violate any rule or statute now in effect or hereafter enacted controlling the doctrine of privileged communications between a client and an attorney.
Canon 8 – A paralegal must disclose to his or her employer or prospective employer any pre-existing client or personal relationship that may conflict with the interests of the employer or prospective employer and/or their clients.
Canon 9 – A paralegal must do all other things incidental, necessary, or expedient for the attainment of the ethics and responsibilities as defined by statute or rule of court.
Canon 10 – A paralegal’s conduct is guided by bar associations’ codes of professional responsibility and rules of professional conduct.
Personal Well-being – While our profession defines who we are, we can’t forget that taking care of ourselves is most important. In a field that is competitive, stressful and driven, we find ourselves exhausted by day’s end. How many times have we said, “I’ll just finish one more task” or “Where did the hours go”? Especially for those who are tied to billable hours – need I say more? We are star performers and personal well-being is so important to avoid burn out. While we may think we are invincible, we truly need to give our mind and spirit a “tune-up” now and then. Step back and give thought to the old saying “stop and smell the roses”. Whether it be a daily walk, yoga, meditation, quiet time — find what works best for you and stick to the plan. It will re-energize you and all of the above comes full circle.
Giving thanks for our great profession and the wonderful relationships and opportunities afforded to us!