Learning from Others' Mistakes: Legal Staff in Court over Ethical Violations

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While attorneys are held to strict ethical guidelines by their respective state bar associations, those working under their supervision are not. Yet serious ethical violations and mistakes by paralegals, legal assistants, and other legal staff are not unheard of; and they're not without consequence either. Such mistakes may warrant tort liability by the firm and employee, as well as lead to termination of employment and serious harm to the employee's reputation. "People take pride in the work product they turn out," explained Tracy O'Keefe, President-Elect of the International Paralegal Management Association and Director of Paralegal Services at Gardner Carton & Douglas, LLP. "You don't want to [compromise] your ethics by unprofessional behavior."
Learning from Others' Mistakes: Legal Staff in Court over Ethical Violations

Consider the following mistakes and ethical breaches; in all of them, legal staff found their way into the courtroom to answer for their actions.
•   Errors made in utmost confidence

Protecting the attorney-client and attorney work product privileges is perhaps one of the most important ethical considerations for any law firm employee, but one that has been broken intentionally or inadvertently by paralegals of the past. Take, for example, the paralegal who mistakenly included transcripts of a privileged attorney-client conversation as part of an exhibit prepared for trial.1

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