Paralegal ethics – be known for your work ethic and not your unethical behavior

The news is filled with stories about attorneys – both for good deeds and bad ones. Americans seem to enjoy stories about the attorney gone bad in real life or on the legal dramas on television.

Paralegals historically don’t make the headlines because they are supervised by attorneys to make they are being ethical. It’s the attorneys who take responsibility that everyone working for them is performing their work ethically.

Until recently, the stories of paralegal gone bad may have been gone unnoticed because they were reported less frequently than attorney misconduct. This month, there seems to be an increase of stories about paralegals violating ethical rules and charged with crimes relating to the legal work they have done for clients.

Rebecca L. Konsevick, a paralegal, was charged with bank fraud and money laundering in connection with a multi-year, multi-property mortgage fraud scheme. from 2006 through 2008, Konsevick committed fraud in connection with condominium sales in Massachusetts by creating false documents that were submitted to lenders. If convicted, she could face up to 30 years in prison and up to $1 million fine.

Read more on the story at http://www.mortgagedaily.com/Fraud/PressReleaseKonsevick033012.asp

According to the Arizona Daily Star, Brenda Pinckney, a former paralegal with the Pima County Attorney’s Office, was charged with 19 felony charges including fraud, theft, forgery and aggravated taking the identity of another person. She recently pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery with intent to defraud.

Pinckney worked at the Pima County Attorney’s Office. Part of her duties at the Count Attorney’s Office were to obtain petty cash and give them to witnesses. She is accused of submitting requests for cash for nonexistent addresses, court events that didn’t happen, not returning the required receipts or forging the signatures of victims and witnesses on the receipts she did return. She has admitted submitting false reimbursement forms for travel to and from Yuma and Flagstaff for more than $442.

Read more at http://azstarnet.com/news/local/crime/ex-pima-county-paralegal-pleads-guilty-in-fraud-case/article_e40c3ce6-7cf0-11e1-b7ba-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz1sj4B7z9x

In Canada, an attorney may lose his license to practice law for failing to supervise his paralegal. Attorney Michael Puskas is accused of allowing his paralegal access to a trust account used for mortgage transactions at his law firm between 2002 and 2008. Shellee Spinks passed herself off as a lawyer and defrauded clients of $2.6 million. Spinks diverted about $893,000 from Puskas’ trust account for her own use. She pleaded guilty to 16 criminal charges, including 12 counts of theft by conversion, theft by power of attorney and uttering a forged document and was sentenced to four years in prison.

For the full story, read thespec.com article at http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/704443–local-lawyer-found-guilty-of-misconduct.

There’s a reason why we teach paralegal ethics. These stories are extreme cases of theft, but paralegals still have to work at being ethical. Make sure you know the rules regarding unauthorized practice of law, confidentiality, conflict of interest and competence. Study your state rules for professional responsibility. The National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations post their ethical rules on their website. If something doesn’t seem right, ask your attorney.

It’s your obligation to know the rules and follow them. Not only do you want to stay off the front page and out of jail, you also want to make sure that no one has to question your ethics.

National Association of Legal Assistants – http://www.nala.org/code.aspx

National Federation of Paralegal Associations – http://www.paralegals.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=796