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Can You Really Ghostwrite a Pleading for a Client?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

There are some clients that you just can't help. Try as you might, if helping a client jeopardizes your ability to practice law, you need to rethink what you're doing, and maybe call your local ethics hotline.

However, sometimes a client just needs a little bit of help, or might be seeking "unbundled" legal services. While these clients might have money that's as green as the next, if a client is asking for you to draft a pleading for them to file in their name, that's called ghostwriting, and it might not be okay in your jurisdiction.

Can I Ghostwrite That Pleading for a Client?

Generally, ghostwriting is allowed so long as there is no effort to deceive, or mislead, the court, and you follow your jurisdiction's rules. Those that oppose ghostwriting claim that courts can be deceived into providing a pro se litigant leniency, when they are in fact represented.

Some jurisdictions interpret this as requiring a ghostwritten pleading to be clearly identified, either generally by using the phrase: "This document was prepared with the assistance of, or by, an attorney." More exacting jurisdictions may even require the attorney be identified.

Before you agree to ghostwrite any pleading on behalf of a pro se litigant, you need to review what your state bar ethics committee and local state or federal jurisdictions have to say on the matter. This is definitely an issue you want to research as there are possible sanctions under Rule 11 tied to misleading the court when an attorney prepares but does not sign a pleading on behalf of an "unrepresented" party.

Can I Ghostwrite for an Attorney?

When it comes to ghostwriting a pleading on behalf of another attorney who will sign their name, there generally are no ethical issues. Attorneys do this practically every single day, especially at large firms where junior associates do the work without getting any of the credit, and in small firm settings, where drafting pleadings is outsourced to contract attorneys.

Generally, when the assigning attorney files the document under their name, they are taking the risk that their ghostwriter did a good job. Usually, ghostwritten documents will be reviewed before filing, but how much will change will vary from attorney to attorney.

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