Rule 5.3 Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants
With respect to a nonlawyer employed or retained by or associated with a lawyer:
(a) a principal, and a lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers possesses comparable managerial authority in a law firm or organization shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm or organization has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that the nonlawyer's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer;
(b) a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the nonlawyer's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and
(c) a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of such a nonlawyer that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer if:
(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or
(2) the lawyer is a principal or has comparable managerial authority in the law firm or organization in which the person is employed, or has direct supervisory authority over the nonlawyer, and knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action to avoid the consequences.
 Paragraph (a) requires lawyers with managerial authority within a law firm or organization to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that nonlawyers in the firm and nonlawyers outside the firm who work on firm matters act in a way compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer. See Comment  to Rule 1.1 (retaining lawyers outside the firm) and Comment  to Rule 5.1 (responsibilities with respect to lawyers within a firm). Paragraph (b) applies to lawyers who have supervisory authority over such nonlawyers within or outside the firm. Paragraph (c) specifies the circumstances in which a lawyer is responsible for the conduct of such nonlawyers within or outside the firm that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer.
 Lawyers generally employ assistants in their practice, including secretaries, investigators, law student interns, and paraprofessionals. Such assistants, whether employees or independent contractors, act for the lawyer in rendition of the lawyer's professional services. A lawyer must give such assistants appropriate instruction and supervision concerning the ethical aspects of their employment, particularly regarding the obligation not to disclose information relating to representation of the client, and should be responsible for their work product. The measures employed in supervising nonlawyers should take account of the fact that they do not have legal training and are not subject to professional discipline.
Nonlawyers Outside the Firm
 A lawyer may use nonlawyers outside the firm to assist the lawyer in rendering legal services to the client. Examples include the retention of an investigative or paraprofessional service, hiring a document management company to create and maintain a database for complex litigation, sending client documents to a third party for printing or scanning, and using an Internet-based service to store client information. When using such services outside the firm, a lawyer must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the services are provided in a manner that is compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations and, depending upon the risk of unauthorized disclosure of confidential client information, should consider whether client consent is required. See Rule 1.1, cmt. . The extent of this obligation will depend upon the circumstances, including the education, experience, and reputation of the nonlawyer; the nature of the services involved; the terms of any arrangements concerning the protection of client information; and the legal and ethical environments of the jurisdictions in which the services will be performed, particularly with regard to confidentiality. See also Rules 1.1 (competence), 1.2 (allocation of authority), 1.4 (communication with client), 1.6 (confidentiality), 5.4(a) (professional independence of the lawyer), and 5.5(a) (unauthorized practice of law). When retaining or directing a nonlawyer outside the firm, a lawyer should communicate directions appropriate under the circumstances to give reasonable assurance that the nonlawyer’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.
 Where the client directs the selection of a particular nonlawyer service provider outside the firm, the lawyer ordinarily should agree with the client concerning the allocation of responsibility for monitoring as between the client and the lawyer. See Rule 1.2. When making such an allocation in a matter pending before a tribunal, lawyers and parties may have additional obligations that are a matter of law beyond the scope of these Rules.
 A lawyer who discovers that a nonlawyer has wrongfully misappropriated money from the lawyer's trust account must inform the North Carolina State Bar pursuant to Rule 1.15-2(o).
History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23
Adopted by the Supreme Court: July 24, 1997
Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003; October 2, 2014; September 22, 2016
Ethics Opinion Notes
CPR 163. An attorney may use a secretarial agency so long as reasonable care is used to protect confidentiality.
CPR 182. A layman may be employed to interview and represent social security claimants if the clients consent after disclosure of the layman's nonprofessional status.
CPR 253. A paralegal employed by a law firm may have a business card with the firm's identification.
CPR 262. A law firm's office manager may have a business card with the firm's identification.
CPR 334. An attorney's secretary may also work for private investigator. The attorney must take care that client confidences are not compromised.
RPC 29. Opinion rules that an attorney may not rely upon title information from a nonlawyer assistant without direct supervision by said attorney.
RPC 70. Opinion rules that a legal assistant may communicate and negotiate with a claims adjuster if directly supervised by the attorney for whom he or she works.
RPC 74. Opinion rules that a firm which employs a paralegal is not disqualified from representing an interest adverse to that of a party represented by the firm for which the paralegal previously worked.
RPC 102. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not permit the employment of court reporting services to be influenced by the possibility that the lawyer's employees might receive premiums, prizes or other personal benefits.
RPC 139. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not sign an adoption petition prepared by an adoption agency as an accommodation to that agency without undertaking professional responsibility for the adoption proceeding.
RPC 152. Opinion rules that the prosecutor and the defense attorney must see that all material terms of a negotiated plea are disclosed in response to direct questions concerning such matters when pleas are entered in open court.
RPC 176. Opinion rules that a lawyer who employs a paralegal is not disqualified from representing a party whose interests are adverse to that of a party represented by a lawyer for whom the paralegal previously worked.
RPC 183. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not permit a legal assistant to examine or represent a witness at a deposition.
RPC 216. Opinion rules that a lawyer may use the services of a nonlawyer independent contractor to search a title provided the nonlawyer is properly supervised by the lawyer.
RPC 238. Opinion rules that a lawyer is subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to the provision of a law related service, such as financial planning, if the law related service is provided in circumstances that are not distinct from the lawyer's provision of legal services to clients.
99 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion examines the ownership of a title insurance agency by lawyers in North and South Carolina as well as the supervision of an independent paralegal.
2000 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion rules that a lawyer may have a non-lawyer employee deliver a message to a court holding calendar call, if the lawyer is unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict with another court or other legitimate reason.
2002 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion rules that a nonlawyer assistant supervised by a lawyer may identify to the client who is a party to such a transaction the documents to be executed with respect to the transaction, direct the client as to the correct place on each document to sign, and handle the disbursement of proceeds for a residential real estate transaction, even though the supervising lawyer is not physically present.
2004 Formal Ethics Opinion 13. Opinion rules that a lawyer may form a professional corporation for the practice of law and the professional corporation may enter into a law partnership with another such professional corporation.
2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a law firm that employs a nonlawyer to represent Social Security claimants must so disclose to prospective clients and in any advertising for this service.
2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion rules that the compensation of a nonlawyer law firm employee who represents Social Security disability claimants before the Social Security Administration may be based upon the income generated by such representation.
2006 Formal Ethics Opinion 13. Opinion rules that if warranted by exigent circumstances, 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.
2007 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion rules that a lawyer may outsource limited legal support services to a foreign lawyer or a nonlawyer (collectively "foreign assistants") provided the lawyer properly selects and supervises the foreign assistants, ensures the preservation of client confidences, avoids conflicts of interests, discloses the outsourcing, and obtains the client's advanced informed consent.
2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion rules that a lawyer must provide appropriate supervision to a nonlawyer appearing pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. A796-17(b) on behalf of a claimant or an employer in an unemployment hearing.
2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 14. Opinion rules that a lawyer must obtain client consent, confirmed in writing, before outsourcing its transcription and typing needs to a company located in a foreign jurisdiction.
2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 11. Opinion rules that a law firm may send a nonlawyer field representative to meet with a prospective client and obtain a representation contract if a lawyer at the firm has reviewed sufficient information from the prospective client to determine that an offer of representation is appropriate.
2013 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion provides guidance to lawyers who work for a public interest law organization that provides legal and non-legal services to its clientele and that has an executive director who is not a lawyer.