Guidelines for Rendering Ethics and Disciplinary Opinions
The intention of these guidelines is to ensure the confidentiality of the inquirer's identity, ensure that the opinion or recommendation is offered by NFPA as an organization based upon NFPA's positions and research in the ethics arena, and provide a permanent record of all ethics and disciplinary opinions it issues to ensure that they are consistent and provide a historical perspective. The opinions of the Ethics Board are maintained as a member benefit.
Jurisdiction. NFPA may accept inquires regarding the ethical conduct, obligations, utilization and/or discipline of paralegals from any of the following individuals or entities: any paralegal, attorney, corporate or governmental entity, court, legislature, professional association, or bar association. Nothing in these Guidelines should be interpreted as a prohibition upon NFPA from issuing an opinion on its own initiative if a matter involving ethical conduct, obligations, utilization and/or discipline of paralegals comes to the attention of NFPA through other means.
Confidentiality. Maintaining the confidentiality of the inquirer is of utmost importance. In order to protect the information provided to NFPA, the following provisions shall apply.
a. The identity of the inquirer, employer(s), attorney(s) and client(s) involved in the matter shall be considered confidential and not disclosed or published to anyone with the exception of those individuals comprising the Ethics Board and NFPA's Managing Director.
b. Except by leave of court granted on good cause shown, or in response to a subpoena to appear in court to testify, neither the members of the Ethics Board nor the NFPA Managing Director shall release an inquiry, supporting documentation or identity of the inquirer, employer(s), attorney(s) or client(s) involved in an ethics investigation to any individual, investigator, attorney, or entity.
c. Members of the Ethics Board may consult with outside individuals, entities or sources which they deem appropriate and necessary to conduct research and render an opinion on the inquiry, but may not disclose the identity of those referred to in paragraph (a) above.
d. The final ethics opinion shall not disclose the identity of the individuals and entities described in paragraph (a) above.
Form of Inquiry.
a. All inquires shall be in writing and directed to the Chair.
b. Inquiries shall contain the question or factual situation in detail. The inquiry may include information citing the rules of court or canons of ethics involved, and any other pertinent authorities. It may also include supporting documentation, if appropriate.
c. The inquirer shall include a statement in the formal letter confirming that any opinion of the Ethics Board will not affect the interests of the parties in any pending action. The confirmation stating that the matter is not the subject of a pending action before any court or other entity shall not be waived under any circumstances. The Ethics Board shall not address an inquiry which may affect the interests of any party in a pending action.
d. Any verbal inquiries received by NFPA members or the NFPA Board of Directors shall be directed to the Chair so that the Chair can provide the inquirer with information regarding proper submission procedures.
e. Requests for written inquiries may be waived for good cause by a majority vote of the Ethics Board.
Disposition of Inquiries. NFPA may respond to and/or offer an opinion or recommendation on inquires concerning the ethical conduct, obligations, utilization and/or discipline of paralegals in accordance with the following provisions.
a. The Chair shall immediately stamp all documents "confidential" and transmit copies of the inquiry to all members of the Ethics Board and, for the purpose of maintaining a permanent record, to the NFPA Managing Director.
b. The Vice President and Director of Positions and Issues and Chair will determine whether a formal ethics opinion is warranted. In the event of a disagreement, the President shall make the final decision as to whether a formal opinion will be developed.
c. If a formal opinion is not warranted, the Chair will draft a response to the inquirer for approval by the President, the Vice President and Director of Profession Development and the Vice President and Director of Positions and Issues.
d. If a formal opinion is warranted, the Chair will assign a member of the Ethics Board to research and draft a response to the inquiry on behalf of NFPA. The formal opinion will not be finalized until it has been reviewed and approved by all members of the Ethics Board. If an opinion is not unanimous, the President will make the final decision as to the opinion to be rendered.
e. Upon final approval, the Chair will finalize the opinion and cause it to be provided to the inquirer.
f. The Ethics Board will make every effort to respond to inquiries as soon as possible; but, in any event, no later than sixty (60) days after receipt of the initial inquiry.
Basis of Opinion. NFPA may respond to an inquiry and offer its opinion which may be based on, but not be limited to, the following as adopted and/or amended as of the date of the inquiry:
a. The NFPA Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Guidelines for Enforcement;
b. Other policy statements and/or positions taken by NFPA;
c. The ABA Model Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegal Services;
d. Any model guidelines for utilization of paralegal services as may be adopted and/or amended by the state from which the inquiry arose;
e. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct;
f. Any model rules of professional conduct as may be adopted and/or amended by the state from which the inquiry arose;
g. The ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility;
h. Any model code of professional responsibility as may be adopted and/or amended by the state from which the inquiry arose;
i. Any formal and/or informal ethics or disciplinary opinion published in any jurisdiction; and
j. Any published decision concerning paralegal and/or attorney ethics or discipline.
Format of Opinion.
a. All opinions will include the title "National Federation of Paralegal Associations Informal Ethics and Disciplinary Opinion No. __." The numbering system for opinions will include the calendar year in which the opinion was finalized and the consecutive number assigned to each opinion for that year, e.g., 94-1.
b. NFPA's final opinion shall include the inquiry, the facts, a discussion which includes the basis for the opinion or recommendation with references to prior opinions and/or authoritative sources and a conclusion. As stated in paragraph (2)(d) above, NFPA ethics opinions shall not identify the individuals or entities involved in the inquiry.
c. All NFPA opinions shall bear the following preliminary paragraph:
"The following opinion of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) is offered based upon its positions and research in the area of paralegal ethics. It should not be construed as binding and must be interpreted in conjunction with the applicable state's Supreme Court rules and opinions governing the professional conduct of members of the legal profession. This opinion may be used for guidance, and, by the appropriate entity, as a persuasive argument in favor of the findings of NFPA."
d. All NFPA opinions shall bear the following clause after the last paragraph of the opinion:
"By making a request to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations for an opinion and/or recommendation concerning proper conduct for a member of the legal profession as it pertains to ethical conduct, obligations, utilization and/or discipline of paralegals, the inquirer and his/her employers, employees, agents, and representatives agree to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend the NFPA, its Officers, Directors, Coordinators, Ethics Board and Managing Director from any claims arising from any act or omission of NFPA except those occasioned by NFPA's willful or deliberate acts."
Publication of Opinion. The Chair will forward a copy of all final ethics opinions to the Management Company. Opinions shall be provided electronically for inclusion in INSIDE NFPA and on NFPA's web site. The Vice President and Director of Positions and Issues or the Chair will provide all relevant information for a press release to the Management Company within two weeks after each opinion has been finalized.
Maintenance of Record. The Chair shall maintain a cross-referenced index of NFPA's final ethics opinions and cause a full copy of said opinions to be maintained and provided to NFPA members and outside individuals or entities as directed by NFPA procedures.
Indemnification of Ethics Board. NFPA agrees to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend the members of the Ethics Board and Managing Director from any claims arising from any act or omission except those occasioned by the individual's willful or deliberate acts.
Adopted by the NFPA Board of Directors June 1995
Amended November 1995
Amended January 1996
Amended May 1997
Amended July 2005