Paralegals may not have the same exposure lawyers do, but they still carry the responsibilities of the profession, as well as enjoy the trust of the clients. This is why the news of a paralegal embezzling an approximate sum of six hundred thousand dollars from clients is upsetting news for the entire practice.
The $600K Case
According to reports, Richard Owen, the paralegal in question, grafted funds from forty-one clients for over six years from 2007 to 2012.Owen worked for a personal injury firm, and had authority to sign cheques for clients. But, instead of sending them out to the proper recipients, Owen forged the client’s signatures and deposited the money into his own account.
Records state that the paralegal plead guilty for two hundred and fifty-three counts of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering after a two-day hearing. The embezzlement only became known after Owen left the firm in 2012, when calls from clients began coming in regarding unpaid medical bills.
Taking Ethics Seriously
This case goes to the heart of the kind of responsibilities every person working in the legal profession carries; it also reaffirms the place of professionalism and ethics in paralegal courses. Before this case, ethics was the easy class that everyone breezed through without even trying.The lack of emphasis on ethics in a profession that enjoys so much confidentiality and power is a definite concern, especially on the part of the students.
The problem with teaching ethics is that it’s a completely divergent style of instruction from legal procedure. Every other class in legal courses is drowning in books, provisions and case studies, while ethics classes – don’t. The disconnect may be what’s responsible for some paralegals straying away from the straight and narrow, but real life cases like Owen’s should be enough to bring the point home.
The thing about any class is that none of the lessons will make the right impression if the students don’t take it seriously. If paralegal students keep looking at an ethics class as nothing more than an easy A, then Owen isn’t going to be the last to plead guilty.