Opinion Number: 1996-08
Search for:
Employment of suspended or disbarred lawyer by lawyer or law firm (Modified by Rule 26(h), Ala. Rules of Dis. Proc.)
QUESTION:

May an attorney who has been suspended, disbarred, is on disability inactive status, or who has surrendered his or her law license in the State of Alabama work as a paralegal, law clerk, or legal assistant in the office of another duly licensed attorney?

ANSWER:

A disbarred or suspended attorney may be employed as a paralegal, law clerk, or legal assistant by another attorney subject to the following conditions and restrictions:

(1) The disbarred or suspended attorney shall have no contact with the clients of the firm. Any contact with a client is prohibited. Although not an inclusive list, the following restrictions apply: a suspended or disbarred lawyer may not be present during conferences with clients, talk to clients either directly or on the telephone, sign correspondence to them, or contact them either directly or indirectly.

(2) The disbarred or suspended attorney shall function only under the close supervision of the employing attorney. Such supervision must be continuous and regular.

(3) The employing attorney must file a written report with the Disciplinary Commission outlining the type of work being performed by the disbarred or suspended attorney as well as the supervising mechanism utilized by the employing attorney to supervise the actions of the disbarred or suspended attorney.

(4) The supervising attorney must be physically located within the same office or premises as the disbarred or suspended attorney.

(5) Disbarred or suspended attorneys are prohibited from attending any court proceedings with the employing or supervising attorney.

(6) The disbarred or suspended attorney is prohibited from having any access whatsoever to funds of a client.

(7) The employing or supervising attorney shall confirm the parameters of the employment on a quarterly basis to the Disciplinary Commission.

DISCUSSION:

Research into this issue indicates that some states specifically prohibit suspended or disbarred attorneys from being employed as law clerks or paralegals. See e.g. In re Kuta, 86 I11.2d 154, 427 N.E.2d 136 (1981); Disciplinary Proceedings Against Wright, 132 Wis. 2d 223, 291 N.W.2d 696 (Wis.1986). The majority of states, however, do allow suspended or disbarred attorneys to work as paralegals, law clerks, or legal assistants subject to certain conditions. One of the conditions almost uniformly applied is that the suspended or disbarred attorney have no contact with clients. Research has not disclosed any jurisdiction which permits such employment and expressly allows client contact, although some are silent on the subject. Representative of those jurisdictions which have allowed employment subject to certain restrictions is the decision of the Supreme Court of Kansas in the Matter of Wilkinson, 834 P.2d 1356 (Kan. 1992) which addressed this issue as follows:

"The consensus is that an attorney suspended from the practice of law may obtain employment as a law clerk, providing there are certain limitations upon the suspended attorney's activities. Regarding limitations, we are persuaded the better rule is that an attorney who has been disbarred or suspended from the practice of law is permitted to work as a law clerk investigator, paralegal, or in any capacity as a lay person for a licensed attorney-employer if the suspended lawyer's functions are limited exclusively to work of a preparatory nature under the supervision of a licensed attorney-employer and does not involve client contact. Any contact with a client is prohibited. Although not an inclusive list, the following restrictions apply: a suspended or disbarred lawyer may not be present during conferences with clients, talk to clients either directly or on the telephone, sign correspondence to them, or contact them either directly or indirectly.

Obviously, we do not accept that a disbarred or suspended lawyer may engage in all activities that a nonlawyer may perform. By barring contact with the licensed attorney-employer's clients, we prohibit a disbarred or suspended attorney from being present in the courtroom or present during any court proceedings involving clients." 834 P.2d at 1362.

It is, therefore, the opinion of the Disciplinary Commission of the Alabama State Bar that suspended or disbarred attorneys may be employed as paralegals by duly licensed attorneys or law firms subject to the conditions as set out above. The application of this opinion will be retroactive to the extent that it shall apply to the employing attorney who currently has in his employ as a paralegal, law clerk, or legal assistant a lawyer who has been suspended, disbarred, is on disability inactive status, or who has surrendered his or her law license.

LGK/vf 11/6/96



Click your browser's BACK button to continue...