Role of Legal Assistant in Deposition
Opinion rules that a lawyer may not permit a legal assistant to examine or represent a witness at a deposition.
Is it ethical for a lawyer to permit a legal assistant to examine a witness at a deposition?
No. Pursuant to Rule 3.3(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over a nonlawyer employed by a law firm must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the nonlawyer's conduct is "compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer." Although several ethics opinions have indicated that a legal assistant or paralegal may undertake to handle certain matters such as negotiating with a claims adjuster, the opinions have all required that the legal assistant be directly supervised by the lawyer. See RPC 70, RPC 139, and RPC 152. In RPC 70, it is noted that "[u]nder no circumstances should the legal assistant be permitted to exercise independent legal judgment...." In a deposition, a lawyer is required to exercise her independent legal judgment, experience, and skill from moment to moment as she formulates questions in response to the statements made by the witness, considers objections to be made to questions, and analyzes any privilege the witness may assert. Allowing a legal assistant to examine a witness at a deposition is aiding the unauthorized practice of law in violation of Rule 3.1(a), may cause substantial harm to the client's case, and is improper.
Is it ethical for a lawyer to permit a legal assistant to represent a witness at a deposition who is being deposed by the opposing counsel?
No. See Opinion #1.
Is it ethical for a lawyer to permit a legal assistant to represent a client who is being deposed by an opposing counsel if the legal assistant is carefully instructed in advance that his or her sole role is to ensure that the opposing counsel's examination does not go beyond specific subject matters agreed upon in advance by the lawyer and the opposing counsel?
No. See Opinion #1.
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