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Paralegals Proffering Legal Advice Is Wrong

Non-lawyer staff are essential to the practice of law. Our Houston bankruptcy practice could not survive very long without our wonderful assistant, Jessica. She enters a lot of bankruptcy data for us, answers many client questions, does our direct mail and many many more of our offices essential tasks. One thing she does not do, and is not allowed to do, is practice law.
I’ve never understood how or why bankruptcy law firms use non-lawyer staff for their initial consultations with a potential client. There is nothing wrong with a non-lawyer assistant gathering information for a lawyer to analyze. Almost once a week, however, I speak to or meet with someone who tells me they’ve been to another firm, had a 20 minute meeting with a paralegal and was advised of their bankruptcy rights. Many times we discover that some of the advice was wrong, or that certain very important questions such as “do you have a bank account and how much money is in it” were not even asked. I’ve learned that some firms regularly use paralegals to tell the potential client which chapter of the bankruptcy code they should choose. If that’s not the unauthorized practice of law, I don’t know what is.
I’m conflicted here as I know some amazing paralegals (including our own) and know of some lawyers whose work I respect greatly that use paralegals to provide the first consultation. What do they know that I don’t? Here’s what I know: I think it’s wrong to have a paralegal conduct that first consultation as it is practically impossible to have fruitful consultation without the delivery of legal advice.
In our practice, we will never have non-lawyer staff conduct that first consultation. People struggling financially deserve as complete an analysis of their situation as is possible to give at that first meeting and non-lawyer staff simply cannot provide that.

Attorney Adam Schachter is a Featured Member of the National Bankruptcy Forum. Follow this link to arrange a bankruptcy consultation to discuss your financial situation or call (281) 847-4345.

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