Monday, February 10, 2014

Another Paralegal Conflict/Screening Case

From ALM (free registration) comes news of Hodge v. Urfa-Sexton, No. S13G1626: "Court Ponders Ethical Screen for Paralegal Conflict at Firm: High court hears case in which a paralegal moved between opposing firms" --
  • "The Georgia Supreme Court this week pondered an issue of first impression: whether a paralegal who works on a case then switches to the other side's firm automatically disqualifies her new employer from the litigation."
  • "At issue is whether firms can use a so-called ethical screen to wall off a nonlawyer from the firm's work on a case in order to prevent the nonlawyer's conflict of interest from disqualifying others at the firm. The Supreme Court last year issued an opinion in another case that appeared to leave open questions about firms using ethical screens to avoid imputation of lawyer conflicts. The state's lawyer ethics rules don't specifically address how to handle conflicts of law firm employees who are not attorneys."
  • "James Myers, an Insley & Race partner who argued the case at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, has said that the firm generally looks for conflicts in hiring staff but didn't pick up on Bussey's involvement in the Williams matter right away because Hanks Brookes usually represents defendants, not plaintiffs."
  • "After Bussey brought the problem to the attention of Insley & Race partners in October 2011, about a month before the lawsuit was filed, the firm implemented various screening measures. The firm has said it restricted Bussey's access to the law firm's electronic and physical files on the Williams matter and told her not to talk to anyone at the firm about the case. The firm also told Hanks Brookes about the issue."
  • "During Tuesday's arguments, without making clear their position on screens generally, justices questioned whether the rules for lawyers and nonlawyers should be the same."

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