Legal Assistant’s Corner: The Sticky Wicket of Conferring With Clients

Clients and legal assistants often build a strong and friendly relationship during the course of a case. Assistants act as a go between for the client and the attorney, obtaining and passing along information about the case for both. While we exist to make a case run smoothly for both the client and the attorney, discussing the case directly with a client sometimes gets sticky for us. Legally, we aren’t allowed to provide you with legal advice. It’s ACTUALLY a crime that we can be personally charged with. So, we generally pass you along to the attorney when you tread into those waters.

However, clients quickly learn that talking to a legal assistant is less painful on their pocketbook than discussing their case with the lawyer and, as a result, some clients will do their best to avoid what they consider unnecessary interaction with their attorney. Some clients will go so far as to refuse to be passed along to their attorney insisting, instead, that it’s okay with them if we answer their questions, which is regularly accompanied by the client’s attempt to flatter the assistant with a comment stating that they understand the legal assistant does most of the work. This comment is sometimes true, but what they fail to understand is that assistants complete their work with an attorney’s supervision. Ultimately, the legal work will bear the attorney’s name and it will be on their head if anything is deemed improper.

To further muddy the waters, it is also appropriate for an attorney to confer with their assistant to have the assistant convey legal advice and/or opinions to the client directly. In this situation, we are passing along advice directly from the attorney to the client and not actually practicing law without a license.

Most of us try to do our best by our clients and appreciate it when they understand and respect the limitations of our roles. Not much else aggravates a legal assistant more than blatant disrespect. So, next time you consider trying to push your attorney’s legal assistant into committing a crime just so you can save a few dollars, I strongly suggest you think twice.

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Heather Carr is a Legal Assistant, Bookkeeper and Office/Marketing Manager with the law firm Hunt & Associates, PC in Portland, Oregon. She is experienced and proficient in the fields of civil litigation, contracts, business law, family law, elder law, probate, estate planning, personal injury, family law, real estate, and criminal defense. For additional information, please check out the company’s website: http://www.huntpc.com

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