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Blog: Ethical Guidelines for Potential New Client Inquiry

Most law firms have a procedure to follow concerning legal inquiries from a potential new client. Even with a solo to small law firm, the attorney is most likely not going to answer the incoming calls to obtain the general information surrounding a potential new client’s legal inquiry. The legal support staff will typically be responsible for obtaining the basic facts for the attorney.

There are ethical guidelines to follow when speaking with a potential new client. These guidelines include, but are not limited to:

1. A paralegal has a duty during any professional contact to clarify that the paralegal is not an attorney. When a potential new client calls, a non-attorney should always begin the conversation by introducing themselves and their job capacity. You never want a caller to think that you are an attorney. [National Association of Legal Assistants, Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegals, Guideline 1]

Example: Good morning. My name is Sally Smith and I am the paralegal for Attorney James DoGood. I need 10 to 15 minutes of your time to obtain some preliminary information regarding the legal inquiry that you are calling about. Do you have 10 to 15 minutes to go over your legal matter at this time?

2. A paralegal is absolutely prohibited from providing an opinion on the merits of a potential case or providing legal advice. [California Business and Professions Code § 6450(b)(1); National Association of Legal Assistants, Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegals, Guideline 2]

Example: If asked for an opinion on the merits of a potential case or for legal advice, simply say something like: I am not permitted to comment on that. I am merely gathering information for Mr. DoGood’s review. Mr. DoGood will answer all of your questions when he contacts you to discuss your matter.

3. A paralegal is absolutely prohibited from quoting legal fees or establishing the fees to charge a client. [Business and Professions Code § 6450(b)(8); National Association of Legal Assistants, Model Standards and Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegals, Guideline 2]

Example: If asked what the attorney charges for this type of matter, simply say something like: I am not permitted to discuss Mr. DoGood’s legal fees with you. Mr. DoGood will go over his fees with you when he contacts you to discuss your matter.

4. A paralegal must be on constant guard against a breach of confidentiality. Any information a potential new client provides to you is confidential. The hard and fast rule of not discussing client matters with third parties applies. When it comes to confidentiality, it is always better to err on the side of caution.

5. It is important to tell the potential new client the general turn-around time for a return telephone call from the attorney. This provides the caller with a timeline for a return call.

Example: Please hold while I transfer your call to Mr. DoGood; or, Mr. DoGood will return your call by the end of the day; or, Mr. DoGood will return your call within 24-hours; or, Any other timeline designated by your supervising attorney.

Finally, it is always important to write down all of the information that a potential new client provides to you so that an accurate summary can be provided to the attorney. Always follow the attorney’s instructions on how to conduct an initial interview so that the attorney is prepared to speak with the potential new client with ease.


DISCLAIMER: Barbara Hass, ACP/CAS, is not an attorney. Any information derived from this blog post, and any other statements contained herein, are for information purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice or a recommendation on a legal matter. This information is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, or current. Barbara makes no warranty, express or implied, about the accuracy or reliability of the information provided within this website, or to any other website to which this website or articles may be linked.

Barbara Haubrich-Hass, ACP/CAS, is an Administrative Legal Assistant with the law firm of Chain | Cohn | Stiles in Bakersfield, California.