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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.

We regret any inconvenience.

Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.

Comments to Rhode Island Disciplilnary Rules of Professional Conduct

Guidelines - Provisional Order No. 18

1. A lawyer shall not permit a legal assistant to engage in the unauthorized practice of law. Pursuant to Rules 5.3 and 5.5 of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct, the lawyer shares in the ultimate accountability for a violation of this guideline. The legal assistant remains individually accountable for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

2. A legal assistant may perform the following functions, together with other related duties, to assist lawyers in their representation of clients: attend client conferences; correspond with and obtain information from clients; draft legal documents; assist at closings and similar meetings between parties and lawyers; witness execution of documents; prepare transmittal letters; maintain estate/guardianship trust accounts; transfer securities and other assets; assist in the day-to-day administration of trusts and estates; index and organize documents; conduct research; check citations in briefs and memoranda; draft interrogatories and answers thereto, deposition notices and requests for production; prepare summaries of depositions and trial transcripts; interview witnesses; obtain records from doctors, hospitals, police departments, other agencies and institutions; and obtain information from courts. Legal documents, including, but not limited to, contracts, deeds, leases, mortgages, wills, trusts, probate forms, pleadings, pension plans and tax returns, shall be reviewed by a lawyer before being submitted to a client or another party.

In addition, except where otherwise prohibited by statute, court rule or decision, administrative rule or regulation, or by the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer may permit a legal assistant to perform specific services in representation of a client. Thus, a legal assistant may represent clients before administrative agencies or courts where such representation is permitted by statute or agency or court rules.

Notwithstanding any other part of this Guideline,

1) Services requiring the exercise of independent professional legal judgment shall be performed by lawyers and shall not be performed by legal assistants.

2) Legal assistants shall work under the direction and supervision of a lawyer, who shall be ultimately responsible for their work product.

3) The lawyer maintains direct responsibility for all aspects of the lawyer-client relationship, including responsibility for all actions taken by and errors of omission by the legal assistant, except as modified by Rule 5.3(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

3. A lawyer shall direct a legal assistant to avoid any conduct which if engaged in by a lawyer would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. In particular, the lawyer shall instruct the legal assistant regarding the confidential nature of the attorney/client relationship, and shall direct the legal assistant to refrain from disclosing any confidential information obtained from a client or in connection with representation of a client.

4. A lawyer shall direct a legal assistant to disclose that he or she is not a lawyer at the outset in contacts with client, court, administrative agencies, attorneys, or, when acting in a professional capacity, the public.

5. A lawyer may permit a legal assistant to sign correspondence relating to the legal assistant's work, provided the legal assistant's non lawyer status is clear and the contents of the letter do not constitute legal advice. Correspondence containing substantive instructions or legal advice to a client shall be signed by an attorney.

6. Except where permitted by statute, or court rule or decision, a lawyer shall not permit a legal assistant to appear in court as a legal advocate on behalf of a client. Nothing in this Guideline shall be construed to bar or limit a legal assistant's right or obligation to appear in any forum as a witness on behalf of a client.

7. A lawyer may permit a legal assistant to use a business card, with the employer's name indicated, provided the card is approved by the employer and the legal assistant's non-lawyer status is clearly indicated.

8. A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a legal assistant if any part of the partnership's activity involves the practice of law.

9. Compensation of legal assistants shall not be in the manner of sharing legal fees, nor shall the legal assistant receive any remuneration for referring legal matters to a lawyer.

10. A lawyer shall not use or employee as a legal assistant any attorney who has been suspended or disbarred pursuant to an order of this court, or an attorney who has resigned in this or any other jurisdiction for reasons related to a breach of ethical conduct.

Entered as an order of this court on this 31st day of October, 1990.