The Florida Bar

(March 18, 1974)
A graduate of a paralegal institute who is employed by a law firm may, under the supervision and direction of an attorney, prepare real estate documents for which the attorney takes complete professional responsibility.

Note: The portions of this opinion concerning use of the term "Legal Assistant" and business cards have been overruled by Opinion 86-4. The portions of this opinion concerning the nonlawyer employee's attendance at closings have been overruled by Opinion 89-5.

CPR: EC 3-6
Opinions: 73-4; ABA Informal 909, 1185

Vice Chairman Sullivan stated the opinion of the committee:

A Florida firm has hired an employee who is a graduate of the Paralegal Institute of New York. One of the firm's clients is a condominium developer. A member of the firm asks:

1. Whether the employee, working under the supervision and direction of an attorney in the firm, may prepare for that attorney real estate documents which the attorney is preparing for the firm's condominium developer client.

2. Whether the employee may attend closings of sales of condominium units to be held in the firm's office but without any attorneys in the firm being present. She will give no legal advice.

3. Whether the employee may identify herself in telephone conversations and when writing letters on firm stationery as a Legal Assistant below her name.

4. Whether the employee may use business cards with the firm name and with the words Legal Assistant below her name.

We answer the first question in the affirmative. We recognize the increased use of such personnel and that EC 3-6 of the Code of Professional Responsibility not only permits but encourages their use provided the attorney supervises the work so delegated and takes complete professional responsibility for the work product.

We answer the second question in the negative. The question itself recognizes that the employee may not give legal advice or perform any acts that would amount to practicing law. The Committee, one member dissenting in part, is of the opinion that there is no reason for the employee to attend the closings except to give legal advice and that her presence could be construed as answering unasked questions about the propriety or legality of documents. One Committeeman is of the opinion that the employee may properly attend such closings provided she does nothing more than distribute documents for signature.

We answer the third question in the negative, two members of the Committee dissenting in part. The Supreme Court of Florida, which has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the admission of persons to the practice of law, has not authorized any non-lawyers to do work that would constitute the practice of law. It has not created any category of personnel designated as Legal Assistant or Paralegal. Those terms have no official meaning and no precise definition that is generally applied or accepted.

The majority of the Committee is of the opinion that the use of the term Legal Assistant might mislead clients or others into believing that such a non-lawyer assistant is a licensed lawyer or has expertise or authority he or she does not in fact possess. Two members of the Committee are of the opinion that it is not improper for such an employee to use the designation Legal Assistant as long as it is clear from the conversation or letter that the employee is acting on behalf of a lawyer and not purporting to give legal advice or to express opinions on matters involving professional judgment.

We answer the fourth question in the negative. In Opinion 73-4 [since withdrawn], the Committee, after considering ABA Opinions 909 and 1185 which appeared to allow it, stated that the name of the law firm should not be shown on the business card of a lay employee because of the appearance of professional status and the suggestion of advertising. We adhere to that opinion here.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]