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Blog: Ethical Walls

When a firm hires a paralegal who has worked for opposing counsel or an opposing client, the entire firm should be notified that an ethical wall is to be erected around the paralegal and that no one may do the following:

  1. Discuss the case in the presence of the paralegal
  2. Allow the paralegal access to any documents, both hard copy and electronic
  3. Engage in any discussions with the paralegal about her prior work on the case or work her previous firm may have done.

All these precautions are necessary to avoid the firm’s possible disqualification in the case. Even an ethical wall is no guarantee that opposing counsel will not file a motion to disqualify your firm, despite the fact that the motion may ultimately be denied. In the course of defending such a motion, firms may be required to produce billing records and other documents, and provide documentation of any ethical wall that was erected around the person in question.

Other areas of conflicts include other jobs you may hold, a family member’s employer, and stock you may own.

If you think you may have a potential conflict, you should notify your attorney immediately so your attorney may determine if there is a conflict.

If you are contemplating changing jobs, be certain your potential new employer is aware of the cases and clients for which you have worked before you begin your new job.

In addition, be prepared to assist your new employer in determining how best to develop an ethical wall to shield you in the event of a possible conflict. If you are a freelance or contract paralegal, keep a list of each firm for which you have worked, as well as the cases and clients for which you have worked.

Ellen Lockwood is a frequent author and speaker on paralegal ethics and the lead author of the Paralegal Ethics Handbook published by West Legalworks.