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Today’s Quote: Definitely an Advocate – But Not a Lawyer

“I should also draw your attention to the fact that Ms. Lynne DeVenny is erroneously listed as counsel [for our client] on the order. While I am confident Ms. DeVenny would be an outstanding advocate for our clients, she is in fact the paralegal working on the case. I am not sure how this slip happened, but do not want her exposed to any unjust accusation that she is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.” ~ My supervising attorney, Helen Parsonage, to the agency that mistakenly listed me as counsel on an order.

I’m sharing this quote, with Helen’s permission, to show how paralegals can look like they’re engaging in UPL without even knowing it. I thought Helen’s immediate response was not only appropriate, but necessary – notifying the agency immediately of the error, and protecting both the firm and me from potential accusations that I held myself out as a lawyer. (To get the full effect, you have to read the quote out loud, using Helen’s British accent.)

I have no idea how my name ended up on that order. In this particular case, I had little direct communication with either the agency or opposing counsel. Anything I sign identifies me as a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal, and I have never signed pleadings on an attorney’s behalf, even though the North Carolina State Bar’s 2006 Formal Ethics Opinion 13 says I can “if warranted by exigent circumstances.”

I’ve been a litigation paralegal for over two decades and have never been mistakenly listed on anything as counsel. Since I don’t see all of the incoming mail, I likely would not have seen this order for some time (or ever), had Helen not caught the error and brought it to the agency’s attention.

Helen was a paralegal for eight years before becoming an attorney and is amazing to work with; you can see why.

Related Post: Ten Tips for Immigration Paralegals by Helen L. Parsonage, Attorney

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