Business people


Ethics in Life

Ethics is a branch of philosophy concerned with how humans should live, and what should be considered right and wrong. The word originates from the ancient Greek word “ethos,” but the concept is said to be much older, with every society possessing its own code of ethics, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Ethical behavior is defined by the character of an individual. The most important word in this sentence is “individual.” Your ethical behavior is defined by the character of you, not that of your employer, co-workers, spouse, children, or friends, etc.

Some of the many ethical attributes a paralegal should possess and continually improve upon can be found through review of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association (ABA), and the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility of NALA. Here are a few that stand out to me as being most related to our working and personal lives:

  • Integrity. Tell the truth and do not cheat. Respect your life and the lives of others. In establishing a client relationship and continuing said relationship, competence, communication, and confidentiality are high on the list of relationship rules. If living a life of integrity, working with integrity shouldn’t be a problem. ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information), requires that the attorney not reveal information about the case without client consent, and also that the attorney make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client. Canon 6, NALA Code of Ethics requires that a paralegal strive to maintain integrity and a high degree of competence. In practicing integrity, a paralegal must realize the effect a situation has upon others and possess the empathy and respect to maintain integrity and confidentiality on behalf of the person in the situation. Integrity requires qualities of honesty and possessing strong moral principles. I challenge you to not only practice integrity when you are at work but to make it a way of life.
  • Responsibility and Self-Discipline. Clients are owed a duty which requires their representatives be competent in their representation, that they be responsible for the matter at hand, and that they be responsible for their own actions. Clients are owed a duty that their representatives are qualified in the area of law for which representation is needed, and that their representatives are truthful in their statements and representations. Clients are owed a duty that their representatives will follow all rules applicable in the particular situation. They are owed a duty of confidence and comfort that their representatives will maintain a high level of professionalism and confidence with regard to their situation. ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 2.1 (Advisor), sets forth that when rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors that may be relevant to the client’s situation. It seems clear to me that if you practice responsibility and self-discipline in your personal life, it will come easily to you in your professional life.
  • Justice. Your clients deserve justice. They deserve dedication to their cause by their representatives and their representatives’ loyalty to their cause. Whether it is a day in court, compensation for an injury, or simply legal advice, all clients deserve just behavior and treatment from their representatives. If that behavior cannot be maintained, then it is the responsibility of the representative to end said relationship. ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3 (Diligence), provides that a lawyer should pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience to the lawyer, and take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client’s cause or endeavor. A client’s representative must also act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf. Diligence is working carefully and persistently, doing something thoroughly rather than lazily or shoddily. Diligence is necessary in our professional lives (removing distractions, organization, prioritizing), and seems like it would be a good thing to practice in our personal lives, or improve upon, as well.

To lead a satisfied life and excel not only at work but at home, we must live and work with ethics in mind. “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” Potter Stewart (Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court serving from 1958-1981).

This article was originally published in Facts & Findings – Q4 2019 issue. To read the full publication please Log In to your personal NALA account. 

Author Biography:

Jen Defoe, ACP
Jen is an Advanced Certified Paralegal specialized in the area of Automobile Accidents. Jen’s legal career began in 1991 at the Vinje Law Firm in Bismarck, ND. After working at the Civil Litigation Division of the ND Attorney General’s Office and as a Clerk at the United States District Court, Jen went back to the private law firm setting and has been at Larson Latham Huettl LLP working in personal injuries and litigation, since 2012.