The ABA Journal reports that paralegal who formerly worked at the Maryland offices of Shapiro & Burson has alleged that more than 1,000 “attorney” signatures on deeds in foreclosure cases were actually scribed by non-attorneys.
Of course, an investigation has been launched.
It is also reported that four former notaries at Baltimore-based Friedman & MacFadyen resigned their commissions earlier this year amidst an attorney general investigation of claimed irregularities at multiple law firms involving false attestations that attorneys had signed foreclosure documents. This was reported in the Baltimore Sun.
If these allegations are true, there will be ramifications for both the attorney and the staff members who signed the attorneys’ names to legal documents.
Paralegals cannot sign their names to pleadings nor can they sign the attorney’s name to pleadings. This is because a pleading is considered an appearance before the court with the same weight and importance as a live appearance.
There is one exception: The North Carolina Bar Association issued its 2006 Ethics Opinion 13 that ruled that a lawyer may allow a paralegal to sign his name to court documents so long as it does not violate any law and the lawyer provides the appropriate level of supervision. This is to be done only under extreme circumstances when the lawyer is not available and no other lawyer in the firm is able to do so. Again, this is for emergency purposes only and applies only to paralegals working in North Carolina. This is not allowed in any other state.
If you are ever asked to witness a document that is already signed and you didn’t personally witness the signing, please decline. If you are ever asked to sign the attorney’s name to a pleading, please don’t. There can be serious ramifications for both you and the attorney.