Becoming a paralegal has many different aspects to it that many do not know about. Paralegals have to be more worried about Unauthorized Practice of Law or PULP then a lawyer in my opinion. There are so many things that a Paralegal can get in trouble for because it is out of their scope of practice. Paralegals are there to help assist attorneys whenever they are needed. Is answering a simple yes or no question considered PULP? Is telling someone they have a case considered PULP?
We will look more in depth into these topics next.
Poly Paralegal has two friends, Mr.. & Mrs.. Smith. Mrs.. Smith just found out that Mr.. Smith has been committing adultery during their marriage. Mr.. Smith calls Poly up and asks her if “the grounds for divorce in North Carolina include adultery (APIPA, 2014). The question is if she answers his question, will she be committing PULP? When we were talking about PULP in class, this topic came up, if we answer something that is common knowledge, would it be considered PULP.
In this situation it is in a grey area, just because it is technically giving legal thought into it, but not giving legal advice. North Carolina has their own definition of what Unauthorized Practice of Law is. North Carolina State Bar states this about their view of PULP is, “The unauthorized practice of law is engaging in the practice of law in North Carolina or advertising or otherwise holding out to the public of an ability to provide legal services by someone other than a licensed North Carolina attorney.
The unauthorized practice of law is illegal because a person who is not trained and licensed as an attorney may seriously harm the interests of a member of the public by providing incompetent legal services. ” (n. D. ). By looking at this definition, I would say that Poly would not be in violation for PULP because her response ultimately does not do any harm to the interests of a member of the public. I say this because it is something that if Mr.. Smith looked hard enough, he would be able to find out whether or not adultery is taken into consideration.
Not only that, it is giving him information that is yes or no but not actually giving legal advice. She is able to give yes or no answers when it does not include legal advice. Like we learned in the seminar that dealt with PULP you are able to answer simple questions that the person should know themselves. Now later in the day Mrs.. Smith calls up Poly and asks her “do I have grounds for divorce in North Carolina? Just found out that Stan committed adultery’ (APIPA, 2014). If she answers this question, would she be committing PULP? This is where any paralegal will get themselves into a tight space.
You always want to help a friend out, but is it worth possibly losing your job? In this situation if Poly answers the question, she would be committing PULP. Poly would be going against Cannon 4. Cannon 4 states, “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” (North Carolina Paralegal Association, 2007).
She would be going against professional judgment if she answered the question because she is not an attorney who can render legal advice on the topic. She would also be going against Cannon 3(b), which states, “a paralegal must not 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” (North Carolina Paralegal Association, 2007). By answering Mrs..
Smith’s question, she would be giving a legal opinion which falls under Unauthorized Practice of Law. How questions comes up, will depend on whether it is unauthorized or not. If there is any rendering of legal opinion or advice, it would be considered Unauthorized Practice of Law. In either scenario, she should have told them that she was unable to give an answer because it would be going past her scope of practice and refer them to an attorney that could help them. This would protect her from having to worry about Unauthorized Practice of Law in any aspect.
Remember, if there is any legal opinion or advice being sought, it is safe not to answer because of it being out of the scope of practice as a paralegal, it will also prevent being in violation of professional codes of ethics.
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