How Paralegals Can Effectively Handle Conflicts of Interest at Work

In a recent court case involving the state of Michigan’s ability to set college entrance guidelines which do not take race into account, Supreme Court justices heard arguments for and against the practice.  But, while there are nine justices on the country’s highest court, only eight of them voted on the case.

This is because Justice Elena Kagan recused herself as a result of having worked on the case before becoming a Supreme Court justice.  Recusing one’s self happens when a person involved with legal proceedings voluntarily removes himself or herself as a result of conflicts of interest, or apparent conflicts of interest.  This brings an interesting question to the forefront: can paralegals recuse themselves from cases?

Considering the fact that paralegals can be an important part of researching and preparing a case, it is important that they always maintain the highest ethical standards while working.  This is one reason why paralegals should speak openly and clearly with their employers when they realize they have been assigned casework in which they may have a conflict of interest.

For example, if your relative is working as opposing counsel, or even as a paralegal for opposing counsel, it would behoove you to have a frank conversation with your employer about the situation in order to \ operate above board and get guidance as to how to proceed.

Paralegals may be asked to recuse themselves from, or may simply be removed from, cases in which there is an overt conflict of interest.  But, other cases made involve apparent conflicts of interest, conflicts that are more open to interpretation.

For example, if your employer is preparing to sue the school district in which you went to high school, this too may appear to be a conflict of interest to certain parties.  It is a good idea to disclose such potential conflicts of interest, even if you do not feel personally swayed one way or another.

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