Guidelines for Rendering Ethics and Disciplinary Opinions

The intention of these guidelines is to 1) ensure the identity of the inquirer and any individuals whose actions are detailed by the inquiry are kept confidential, 2) ensure that the opinion or recommendation is offered by NFPA® as an organization based upon NFPA®'s positions and research in ethics, and 3) provide a permanent record of all ethics and disciplinary opinions it issues to ensure they are consistent and provide a historical perspective. The opinions of the Ethics Board are maintained as a member benefit.

16.3(a)    Jurisdiction
NFPA® may accept inquiries regarding the ethical conduct, obligations and/or utilization of paralegals from any NFPA® body, paralegal, attorney, corporate or governmental entity, court, legislature, professional association, or bar association as it relates to NFPA®'s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility as imputed to paralegals. The Ethics Board may also issue opinions on its own initiative if a matter involving the ethical conduct of paralegals comes to the attention of NFPA® through other means.

Confidentiality
Ethics Board members are subject to NFPA®'s Confidentiality Agreement, in addition to the below. 

Maintaining the confidentiality of the inquirer and individuals described in any inquiries is of utmost importance. In order to protect the information provided to NFPA®, the following provisions shall apply:

1.    All members of the Ethics Board shall act competently to safeguard all communications against unauthorized access by third parties and against inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure in compliance with ABA guidelines for confidentiality. See ABA Rule 1.6 Confidentiality of Information and ABA Formal Opinion 477R* May 11, 2017, revised May 22, 2017.    
2.    The identity of any complainant(s), member(s), credential holder(s), inquirer(s), employer(s), attorney(s), client(s), and other individuals identified or 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 Executive Director.
3.    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® Executive Director shall release an inquiry, supporting documentation, or identity of the individuals and/or entities identified or involved in an ethics investigation to any individual, investigator, attorney, or entity.
4.    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 or findings on the inquiry, but may not disclose the identity of those referred to in paragraph 2 above.
5.    The final ethics opinion shall not disclose the identity of the individuals and entities described in paragraph 2 above. However, when the Ethics Board makes findings or a recommendation regarding alleged ethical violations by a member, the Ethics Board may make the member’s

Initiating Ethics Board Action
All inquiries shall be in writing and directed to the Chair (ethics@paralegals.org) and copied to the Director of Positions and Issues (positionsdir@paralegals.org) and President (president@paralegals.org).

Inquiries shall contain the question or factual situation in as much detail as possible, including the rule or ethical cannon at question and any supporting documentation. The inquirer shall include a statement in the formal request confirming that any opinion of the Ethics Board will not affect the interests of the parties in any pending action. The confirmation must state 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.

Any inquiries or complaints received verbally, or in writing, by NFPA®'s Management Director, Management Company staff, NFPA®'s Board, or an NFPA® member, should be immediately directed to the Ethics Board Chair so proper submission procedures can be provided.

General Procedures
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® Executive Director.

The Ethics Chair and Director of Positions and Issues 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.

If the NFPA® Director of Positions and Issues is unable to perform his/her duties for any reason, the Ethics member of the Advisory Board will be appointed to serve temporarily in the Director of Positions and Issues’ absence and only in connection with the specific inquiry for which the Director of Positions and Issues was unable to serve. If there is no Ethics member of the Advisory Board or the Ethics member of the Advisory Board is unable to serve in that capacity, another member of the Advisory Board will be selected by the NFPA® Board. 

Opinions
If a formal opinion is warranted, the Chair will assign a committee of member(s) of the Ethics Board to research and draft a response to the inquiry on behalf of NFPA®. The committee assigned must include an attorney so that opining on ethics issues does not cross over into unauthorized practice of law. The formal findings and 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. Upon final approval, the Chair will finalize the opinion and cause it to be provided to the inquirer.

If a formal opinion is not warranted, the Chair will draft a response to the inquirer(s) for approval by the Director of Positions and Issues, with a copy to the President.

Basis for 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:

•    The NFPA® Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility;
•    Other policy statements and/or positions taken by NFPA®;
•    The ABA Model Guidelines for Utilization of Paralegal Services;
•    Any model guidelines for utilization of paralegal services as may be adopted and/or amended by the state from which the inquiry arose;
•    The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct;
•    Any model rules of professional conduct as may be adopted and/or amended by the state from which the inquiry arose;
•    The ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility;
•    Any model code of professional responsibility as may be adopted and/or amended by the state from which the inquiry arose;
•    Any formal and/or informal ethics or disciplinary opinion published in any jurisdiction; and
•    Any published decision concerning paralegal and/or attorney ethics. 

Format of Opinion
All opinions will include the title “National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. Informal Ethics 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.

NFPA®'s final opinion shall include the inquiry, the facts, and 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)(b) above, NFPA® ethics opinions shall not identify the individuals or entities involved in the inquiry.

All NFPA® opinions shall bear the following preliminary paragraph:

"The following opinion of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (“NFPA®”) is offered based upon its positions and research in 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®."

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, Inc. (“NFPA®”) for an opinion and/or recommendation concerning proper conduct for a member of the legal profession as it pertains to ethical conduct, obligations, and/or utilization 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 Executive 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 any regular written reports and on NFPA®'s web site. The Director of Positions and Issues or the Chair will provide all relevant information for a press release to the Management Company within two (2) weeks after each opinion has been finalized.

Maintenance
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.

Timeline
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.

Indemnification
NFPA® agrees to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend the members of the Ethics Board and Executive Director from any claims arising from any act or omission except those occasioned by the individual’s willful or deliberate acts.

Adopted by the Board of Directors in Section 16.9 of the NFPA Policy & Procedure Manual on December 15, 2020.

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