Doe v. Condon, No. 25138.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation532 S.E.2d 879,341 S.C. 22
PartiesJohn DOE, Alias, Petitioner, v. Charles M. CONDON, Attorney General for the State of South Carolina, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 25138.
Decision Date05 June 2000

341 S.C. 22
532 S.E.2d 879

John DOE, Alias, Petitioner,
v.
Charles M. CONDON, Attorney General for the State of South Carolina, Respondent

No. 25138.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Submitted May 23, 2000.

Decided June 5, 2000.


L. Sidney Connor, IV, of Kelaher, Connell & Connor, P.C. of Surfside Beach, for petitioner.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer A. Deitrick, of Columbia, for respondent.

341 S.C. 23
Disciplinary Counsel Henry B. Richardson, Jr., of Columbia, for amicus curiae Office of Disciplinary Counsel

PER CURIAM:

Petitioner sought to have the Court accept this matter in its original jurisdiction to determine whether certain tasks performed by a non-attorney employee in a law firm constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Specifically, petitioner asks (1) whether it is the unauthorized practice of law for a paralegal employed by an attorney to conduct informational seminars for the general public on wills and trusts without the attorney being present; (2) whether it is the unauthorized practice of law for a paralegal employed by an attorney to meet with clients privately at the attorney's office, answer general questions about wills and trusts, and gather basic information from clients; and (3) whether a paralegal can receive compensation from the paralegal's law firm/employer through a profit-sharing arrangement based upon the volume and type of cases the paralegal handles. The Office of the Attorney General filed a return opposing the petition for original jurisdiction.

The Court invoked its original jurisdiction to determine whether the paralegal's activities constituted the unauthorized practice of law, and, pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 14-3-340 (1976), John W. Kittredge was appointed as referee to make findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning this matter. A hearing was held and the referee issued proposed findings and recommendations.

We adopt the referee's findings and recommendations attached to this opinion and hold that a non-lawyer employee conducting unsupervised legal presentations for the public and answering legal questions for the public or for clients of the attorney/employer engages in the unauthorized practice of law. See State v. Despain, 319 S.C. 317, 460 S.E.2d 576 (1995). We further hold that a proposed fee arrangement which compensates non-lawyer employees based upon the number and volume of cases the non-lawyer employee handles for an attorney violates the ethical rules against fee-splitting with non-lawyer employees. Rule 5.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 407, SCACR.

341 S.C. 24
APPENDIX THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA In the Supreme Court IN THE ORIGINAL JURISDICTION Of the Supreme Court John Doe, Alias Petitioner v. Charles M. Condon, Attorney General for the State of South Carolina, Respondent.

PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE REFEREE

This is a declaratory judgment action in the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction. The Court referred this matter to me as Referee. Petitioner, a paralegal, has submitted a generalized list of tasks he wishes to perform and has inquired whether performing them constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. Petitioner also seeks a determination of the propriety of his proposed fee splitting arrangement with his attorney-employer. Despite my repeated offers for an evidentiary hearing, neither party requested a hearing. The record before me is sufficient to address and resolve whether the activities in question constitute the unauthorized practice of law.

I find that a paralegal conducting unsupervised legal presentations for the public and answering legal questions from the audience engages in the unauthorized practice of law. Further, I find that a paralegal meeting individually with clients to answer estate planning questions engages in the unauthorized practice of law. Finally, I find the proposed fee arrangement is improper and violates the ethical prohibition against fee splitting.

341 S.C. 25
BACKGROUND

Petitioner submitted the following questions to the Court:

(1) Is it the unauthorized practice of law for a paralegal employed by an attorney to conduct educational seminars for the general public, to disseminate general information about wills and trusts, including specifically a fair and balanced emphasis on living trusts, including answering general questions, without the attorney being present at the seminar as long as the seminar is sponsored by the attorney's law firm and the attorney has reviewed and approved the format, materials and presentation to be made for content, truthfulness and fairness?
(2) Is it the unauthorized practice of law for a paralegal employed by an attorney to meet with clients privately in the law office for the purpose of answering general questions about wills, trusts, including specifically living trusts, and estate planning in general, and to gather basic information from said clients for such purposes as long as it is done under the attorney's direction, and the clients have a follow-up interview and meeting with the attorney who would have primary responsibility for legal decisions?
(3) Can a paralegal receive compensation from the law firm he is employed by, through a profit-sharing arrangement, which would be based upon the volume and type of cases the paralegal handled?

DISCUSSIO...

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8 practice notes
  • Sloan v. Greenville County, No. 3704.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2003
    ...danger a direct injury will be sustained. Joytime Distribs., 338 S.C. at 639, 528 S.E.2d at 649-50; see also Evins, 341 S.C. at 21, 532 S.E.2d at 879; Citizens for Lee County, Inc. v. Lee County, 308 S.C. 23, 29, 416 S.E.2d 641, 645 (1992); Blandon v. Coleman, 285 S.C. 472, 475, 330 S.E.2d ......
  • In re Holmes, Bankruptcy No. 01-16818.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • February 2, 2004
    ...the court. In re Greer, 271 B.R. 426 (Bankr.D.Mass.2002). Crowe has attempted to distinguish a case relied upon by the UST, Doe v. Condon, 341 S.C. 22, 532 S.E.2d 879 (2000), which involved a lawyer's payments to a paralegal. In that case, three questions were presented: (1) could a paraleg......
  • Hatleberg v. Norwest Bank Wisconsin, No. 03-0040.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • February 24, 2004
    ...587-88 (Ohio 1965) (a bank providing legal advice for estate planning has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law); Doe v. Condon, 532 S.E.2d 879, 882 (S.C. 2000) (a paralegal conducting an estate planning workshop where the paralegal would offer estate planning advice without a supervi......
  • Hatleberg v. Norwest Bank Wisconsin, No. 03-0040 (Wis. App. 3/9/2004), No. 03-0040.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • March 9, 2004
    ...587-88 (Ohio 1965) (a bank providing legal advice for estate planning has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law); Doe v. Condon, 532 S.E.2d 879, 882 (S.C. 2000) (a paralegal conducting an estate planning workshop where the paralegal would offer estate planning advice without a supervi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Sloan v. Greenville County, No. 3704.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2003
    ...danger a direct injury will be sustained. Joytime Distribs., 338 S.C. at 639, 528 S.E.2d at 649-50; see also Evins, 341 S.C. at 21, 532 S.E.2d at 879; Citizens for Lee County, Inc. v. Lee County, 308 S.C. 23, 29, 416 S.E.2d 641, 645 (1992); Blandon v. Coleman, 285 S.C. 472, 475, 330 S.E.2d ......
  • In re Holmes, Bankruptcy No. 01-16818.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • February 2, 2004
    ...the court. In re Greer, 271 B.R. 426 (Bankr.D.Mass.2002). Crowe has attempted to distinguish a case relied upon by the UST, Doe v. Condon, 341 S.C. 22, 532 S.E.2d 879 (2000), which involved a lawyer's payments to a paralegal. In that case, three questions were presented: (1) could a paraleg......
  • Hatleberg v. Norwest Bank Wisconsin, No. 03-0040.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • February 24, 2004
    ...587-88 (Ohio 1965) (a bank providing legal advice for estate planning has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law); Doe v. Condon, 532 S.E.2d 879, 882 (S.C. 2000) (a paralegal conducting an estate planning workshop where the paralegal would offer estate planning advice without a supervi......
  • Hatleberg v. Norwest Bank Wisconsin, No. 03-0040 (Wis. App. 3/9/2004), No. 03-0040.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • March 9, 2004
    ...587-88 (Ohio 1965) (a bank providing legal advice for estate planning has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law); Doe v. Condon, 532 S.E.2d 879, 882 (S.C. 2000) (a paralegal conducting an estate planning workshop where the paralegal would offer estate planning advice without a supervi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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