In an excellent feature article, “Paralegals Given Wider Latitude in Signing Business Correspondence,” Law.com reports that the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics and the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law issued a joint opinion last month, allowing New Jersey paralegals to sign routine correspondence. Previously, they could only sign routine letters not addressed to clients, opposing lawyers or courts.
Opinion 720/46 (not yet available as of the date of this post at the Rutgers School of Law site) replaces the much more restrictive Opinion 611, in place since 1988, and allows paralegals, under the supervision of attorneys, to sign correspondence regarding the following types of matters to clients, courts and opposing parties:
- Setting dates
- Transmitting documents
New Jersey paralegals still cannot sign substantive correspondence that:
- Negotiates a settlement
- Drafts a contract
- Interprets the meaning or effect of legal documents
- Takes a position in a dispute
The new opinion specifically addresses email, one of the most common forms of business correspondence in today’s law practice:
As for electronic correspondence, substantive communications should be sent from the attorney’s e-mail account rather than the paralegal’s, since transmission of an e-mail is akin to a signature, the opinion states.
Steen says the joint opinion reflects the committees’ understanding that electronic communication has increased the types and amount of correspondence law practices generate. He says the change improves efficiency in terms of client fees as well as law practice operations.
This is an excellent reminder that paralegals should not send substantive correspondence from their own email addresses. It doesn’t mean we can’t draft it for the attorney’s use, but the content needs to be reviewed first, and then emailed to the recipient directly from the attorney. Supervising attorneys should always be copied on routine email correspondence sent by paralegals.
If I Can’t Write Clients, Courts or Opposing Parties, Who Can I Write?
The change in New Jersey’s rules broadening a paralegal’s role in sending routine correspondence makes me very thankful that we have not suffered under the same stringent limitations in North Carolina. It’s hard to imagine how adversely our productivity would be impacted if we couldn’t even sign letters confirming court-related dates or enclosing documents. I thought about who I could write if clients, opposing parties and the courts were excluded, and that would pretty much eliminate most, if not all, of my letter-writing activities.
In North Carolina, paralegals have long been allowed to sign correspondence on law firm letterhead, provided they clearly indicate their titles, i.e. that they are not lawyers, with their signatures. Since 2006, they can sign a lawyer’s name to a pleading if warranted by exigent circumstances and with appropriate supervision.