These guidelines are directed to Connecticut lawyers who employ or retain legal assistants and are intended as a brief summation of the legal and professional responsibility obligations pertaining to lawyers’ utilization of legal assistants. The guidelines are not meant to supersede any applicable federal, state or local laws or any provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct as approved by the Connecticut Superior Court judges. Legal assistants can help lawyers to provide quality legal services to clients at an affordable price. However, to protect client interests and public interests, lawyer utilization of legal assistants should be in accordance with these guidelines and the underlying laws and rules of professional conduct on which the guidelines are based.
A legal assistant is a person, qualified through education, training, or work experience, who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency, or other entity in a capacity or function which involves the performance under the ultimate direction and supervision of an attorney, of specifically delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires a sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent such assistant, the attorney would perform the task.1
As used herein, "legal assistant" and "paralegal" are synonymous terms.
A legal assistant shall not engage in the unauthorized practice of law and shall not encourage or contribute to any act which could constitute the unauthorized practice of law.
Comment. The practice of law relates to the rendition of services for others that calls for the professional judgment of an attorney. A legal assistant shall not give legal advice or opinions, accept cases, set fees, or represent a client in court or before an administrative agency (unless otherwise authorized by court or agency rules) or perform acts that attorneys themselves may not do. Except as stated above, a legal assistant may perform any task delegated and supervised by an attorney, as long as the attorney is responsible to the client, the attorney maintains a direct relationship with the client, and the attorney assumes full professional responsibility for the work product.
A legal assistant may not represent a client before any court or administrative agency unless expressly permitted by statute or administrative regulation.
Comment. A legal assistant may not appear in court to plead, to try cases, to argue on behalf of another person, or to sign pleadings, except as expressly permitted by statute, court or administrative agency regulation. This does not, however, prohibit a legal assistant from signing documents as a witness or notary public, or in some other nonrepresentative capacity.
A legal assistant may perform services for an attorney in representation of a client, except as otherwise prohibited by statute, court rule or decision, administrative agency rules or regulations, or by rules of discipline relating to attorneys.
Comment. Except as specifically prohibited, a legal assistant may perform assignments to assist any attorney in the representation of a client, provided that:
(1) the services do not require legal advice or opinion or constitute the unauthorized practice of law;
(2) the attorney maintains a direct relationship with the client and supervises all matters;
(3) the attorney remains fully responsible for all work done on behalf of the client and for any actions taken or not taken by the legal assistant;
(4) the work product of the legal assistant is considered to be part of the attorney’s work product.
A legal assistant must disclose professional status at the beginning of any professional contact.
Comment. In order to prevent any misunderstanding concerning the role of the legal assistant, it is imperative that clients and others outside the law firm are advised that the legal assistant is not an attorney.
A legal assistant must preserve and protect the confidences and secrets of a client as well as those involving attorney/client privilege.
Comment. A legal assistant must preserve and protect the confidences and secrets of a client made either to the legal assistant or the attorney and must not violate any rules controlling privileged communication nor reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client consents after consultation.
A legal assistant may not engage in conduct which would cause the attorney to be considered unethical.
Comment. A legal assistant shall strive to maintain the high level of integrity and competence expected of the legal profession. A legal assistant shall strive to uphold the high standards of ethics and shall comply with the responsibilities imposed by statute or rules of court.
A legal assistant shall not share legal fees.
Comment. An attorney or law firm shall not share legal fees with a legal assistant. This does not, however, deny the legal assistant a salary, bonus, or benefits related to overall performance, but relates to compensation directly involving a particular legal fee or a percentage of the profits of the attorney or law firm.
A legal assistant shall not form a partnership with an attorney if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.
Comment. This guideline does not prevent the legal assistant from forming a business association with a member of the legal profession for purposes other than that of the practice of law.
A legal assistant shall not participate in matters where there may be a conflict of interest.
Comment. A legal assistant shall not participate in any matter in which a conflict of interest could have an influence on the exercise of judgment by the attorney. The personal, social, or business relationship or other nature of conflict must be disclosed to the attorney.
A legal assistant may have a business card and may be included on the letterhead of an attorney or law firm provided that the professional status of the legal assistant is designated.
Comment. A legal assistant may sign letters on an attorney’s letterhead, provided that such signature is followed by the appropriate designation of the legal assistant’s professional status.
A legal assistant should maintain a high level of professional competency, such as actively pursuing continuing legal education.
Comment. The Connecticut Bar Association recognizes, endorses, and encourages participation in continuing legal education courses sponsored by various bar associations, legal assistant associations, and educational institutions.
1. Approved by the ABA Board of Governors on February 6, 1986.