Legal Ethics

N.J. Ethics Opinion Allows Ghostwritten Pleadings for Indigent Clients

A New Jersey ethics opinion says lawyers may ethically draft pleadings for litigants without telling the court—in limited circumstances.

Opinion 713 by the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics says lawyers may ghostwrite pleadings to help someone who can’t afford a lawyer or as part of a nonprofit program to help the indigent, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.

But disclosure is required if it’s clear the lawyer rather than the litigant is controlling the pleadings and litigation. It’s also required “where such assistance is a tactic by a lawyer or party to gain advantage in litigation by invoking traditional judicial leniency toward pro se litigants while still reaping the benefits of legal assistance.”

The opinion may put to rest some fears raised by a federal magistrate’s opinion last summer chastising a lawyer for failing to disclose he had helped a litigant draft pleadings in an ERISA case. The lawyer had formerly represented a union at the company that employed the litigant, and he agreed to help her draft the pleadings at the union’s request, according to an account of the case in the August issue of the ABA Journal.

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