Law Firms and Associations

Rule 5.3 Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants

With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or associated with a lawyer:

(a) a partner, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm or organization shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm or organization has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that the nonlawyer's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer;

(b) a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the nonlawyer's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and

(c) a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of such a nonlawyer that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer if:

(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or

(2) the lawyer is a partner or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm or organization in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action to avoid the consequences.


[1] Lawyers generally employ assistants in their practice, including secretaries, investigators, law student interns, and paraprofessionals. Such assistants, whether employees or independent contractors, act for the lawyer in rendition of the lawyer's professional services. A lawyer must give such assistants appropriate instruction and supervision concerning the ethical aspects of their employment, particularly regarding the obligation not to disclose information relating to representation of the client, and should be responsible for their work product. The measures employed in supervising nonlawyers should take account of the fact that they do not have legal training and are not subject to professional discipline.

[2] Paragraph (a) requires lawyers with managerial authority within a law firm or organization to make reasonable efforts to establish internal policies and procedures designed to provide reasonable assurance that nonlawyers in the firm will act in a way compatible with the Rules of Professional Conduct. See Comment [1] to Rule 5.1. Paragraph (b) applies to lawyers who have supervisory authority over the work of a nonlawyer. Paragraph (c) specifies the circumstances in which a lawyer is responsible for conduct of a nonlawyer that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer.

[3] A lawyer who discovers that a nonlawyer has wrongfully misappropriated money from the lawyer's trust account must inform the North Carolina State Bar pursuant to Rule 1.15-2(o).

History Note: Statutory Authority G. 84-23

Adopted July 24, 1997; Amended March 1, 2003.


CPR 163. An attorney may use a secretarial agency so long as reasonable care is used to protect confidentiality.

CPR 182. A layman may be employed to interview and represent social security claimants if the clients consent after disclosure of the layman's nonprofessional status.

CPR 253. A paralegal employed by a law firm may have a business card with the firm's identification.

CPR 262. A law firm's office manager may have a business card with the firm's identification.

CPR 334. An attorney's secretary may also work for private investigator. The attorney must take care that client confidences are not compromised.

RPC 29. An attorney may not rely upon title information from an abstract firm unless he supervised the nonlawyer who did the work.

RPC 70. A legal assistant may communicate and negotiate with a claims adjuster if directly supervised by the attorney for whom he or she works.

RPC 74. A firm which employs a paralegal is not disqualified from representing an interest adverse to that of a party represented by the firm for which the paralegal previously worked if the paralegal is screened from participation in the case.

RPC 102. A lawyer may not permit the employment of court reporting services to be influenced by the possibility that the lawyer's employees might receive premiums, prizes or other personal benefits.

RPC 139. An attorney, having undertaken to represent adoptive parents, may sign and file adoption petition prepared by social services organization under her direct supervision.

RPC 152. District attorney is responsible for plea negotiating practices of lay assistant under her supervision of which she has knowledge.

RPC 176. A lawyer who employs a paralegal is not disqualified from representing a party whose interests are adverse to that of a party represented by a lawyer for whom the paralegal previously worked.

RPC 183. A lawyer may not permit a legal assistant to examine or represent a witness at a deposition.

RPC 216. A lawyer may use the services of a nonlawyer independent contractor to search a title provided the nonlawyer is properly supervised by the lawyer.

RPC 238. A lawyer is subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to the provision of a law-related service, such as financial planning, if the law-related service is provided in circumstances that are not distinct from the lawyer's provision of legal services to clients.

99 FEO 6. Opinion examines the ownership of a title insurance agency by lawyers in North and South Carolina as well as the supervision of an independent paralegal.

2000 FEO 10. Opinion rules that a lawyer may have a nonlawyer employee deliver a message to a court holding calendar call, if the lawyer is unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict with another court or for another legitimate reason.

2002 FEO 9. Opinion rules that a nonlawyer assistant supervised by a lawyer may identify to the client who is a party to such a transaction the documents to be executed with respect to the transaction, direct the client as to the correct place on each document to sign, and handle the disbursement of proceeds for a residential real estate transaction, even though the supervising lawyer is not physically present.

2005 FEO 2. Opinion rules that a law firm that employs a nonlawyer to represent Social Security claimants must so disclose in any advertising for this service and to prospective clients.

2005 FEO 6. Opinion rules that the compensation of a nonlawyer law firm employee who represents Social Security disability claimants before the Social Security Administration may be based upon the income generated by such representation.

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