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The Problem with Rubber Stamps
Posted in Litigation

A woman walks into a law office seeking help with an OWI charge and a warrant for her arrest. The lawyer is in court, so his legal assistant helps the woman execute a fee agreement and files an appearance for the lawyer using a stamped signature. Is there any problem here?

You bet. A lawyer may delegate most matters to a non-lawyer as long as the lawyer “maintains responsibility for the work product.” But a non-lawyer can never agree to begin the representation, negotiate the fee agreement or give a legal opinion. In May, the Indiana Supreme Court disciplined a lawyer for facts like those above. The court found that the lawyer had failed to supervise his non-lawyer assistant, had violated the court’s guidelines on the use of non-lawyers and had assisted in the unauthorized practice of law.

Indiana lawyers have also been disciplined for hiring a suspended attorney as a paralegal, allowing a legal assistant to mismanage trust accounts, and — strangely — for hiring a legal assistant who was incarcerated (and thus could not be properly supervised).

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