The scenario involves Susan, a paralegal working for Mr. Robert Sharky, a sole practitioner attorney. On a Friday afternoon, attorney Sharky leaves for a weekend trip to Las Vegas. Shortly thereafter, Bob Jones, a divorce client of the firm, rushes into the office and informs Susan that he shot his ex-wife in self-defense. Susan agrees to hide the gun used in the shooting and plans to consult Mr. Sharky on Monday. The following analysis will examine the ethical violations committed by Susan, referencing the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and discuss whether she should have informed the police.
Ethical Violations Committed by Susan
Confidentiality (Model Rule 1.6): Susan violated the duty of confidentiality by sharing the information about the shooting incident with her friends during happy hour. While Susan did not mention Bob’s name, discussing such sensitive and confidential client information is a breach of the attorney-client privilege, potentially damaging the client’s case (Model Rule 1.6).
Conflict of Interest (Model Rule 1.7): Susan’s duty is to her employer, Mr. Sharky. By aiding Bob in hiding the gun and withholding information from her attorney, Susan might be engaging in a conflict of interest between her loyalty to the firm and her moral obligation to uphold the law (Model Rule 1.7).
Criminal Act (Model Rule 8.4): Susan’s participation in hiding the gun used in a crime might constitute a violation of Rule 8.4, which prohibits engaging in conduct that reflects adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer. While she is a paralegal and not an attorney, her actions still reflect on the law firm (Model Rule 8.4).
Susan’s Responsibilities and Police Involvement
The ABA Model Rules do not specifically outline a paralegal’s responsibilities in this scenario. However, Susan’s ethical and legal obligations can be inferred from the general principles applicable to legal professionals.
Duty to the Legal System (Model Rule 3.3): Paralegals, as officers of the court, have a duty to ensure that legal proceedings are conducted fairly and truthfully. Given her awareness of potential criminal activity, Susan should consider her obligation to report such information to relevant authorities (Model Rule 3.3).
Duty to Prevent Client’s Criminal Activity (Model Rule 1.16): Paralegals have a responsibility to withdraw from representing a client if the representation will involve the lawyer’s services in a criminal or fraudulent act. In this scenario, Susan should have declined to aid Bob in hiding the gun, and she should have advised him to report the incident to the police (Model Rule 1.16).
Implications and Potential Consequences
Susan’s actions in this scenario have significant ethical and legal implications. Her breach of confidentiality and participation in hiding potential evidence of a crime could have far-reaching consequences for both herself and the firm. These implications include:
Professional Repercussions: Susan’s breaches of confidentiality and ethical obligations could result in disciplinary actions by the state bar association or other regulatory bodies. Her actions reflect negatively on her professionalism and could lead to suspension, disbarment, or other penalties (Model Rule 8.4).
Damage to Firm’s Reputation: Susan’s actions have the potential to tarnish the reputation of the law firm and Mr. Sharky, impacting their credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of clients and peers.
Legal Complications: By assisting in hiding evidence of a crime, Susan could inadvertently implicate herself in criminal obstruction of justice or aiding and abetting, further exposing her to legal consequences.
Client’s Rights: Bob Jones has a right to competent and ethical representation. Susan’s failure to advise him properly could lead to a violation of his rights, potentially affecting the outcome of his legal proceedings.
The Duty to Report to Authorities
In this scenario, Susan’s duty to the legal system, as outlined in Model Rule 3.3, would likely require her to report the incident to the authorities. While paralegals aren’t explicitly mentioned in the ABA Model Rules, they are officers of the court and have a responsibility to ensure that legal proceedings are conducted fairly and truthfully. Reporting the incident to the police could help ensure that the criminal justice system operates properly and that any wrongdoing is appropriately addressed.
Susan, the paralegal, committed ethical violations by breaching confidentiality, engaging in a potential conflict of interest, and involving herself in the concealment of evidence related to a criminal act. While the ABA Model Rules do not explicitly address paralegal responsibilities in this situation, Susan’s duties as an officer of the court and her duty to prevent client criminal activity should have compelled her to inform the police about the incident. Her actions not only compromised her own ethical integrity but also potentially tarnished the reputation of the law firm and its attorney.
American Bar Association. (2021). Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Arizona Supreme Court. (2021). Rules of Professional Conduct.
Colorado Supreme Court. (2021). Rules of Professional Conduct.
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