Legal ethics refers to an ethical code governing the conduct of people engaged in the practice of law. In the United States, the American Bar Association has promulgated model rules that have been influential in many jurisdictions. The model rules address the client-lawyer relationship, duties of a lawyer as advocate in adversary proceedings, dealings with persons other than clients, law firms and associations, public service, advertising, and maintaining the integrity of the profession. Respect of client confidences, candor toward the tribunal, truthfulness in statements to others, and professional independence are some of the defining features of legal ethics.
American law schools are required to offer a course in professional responsibility, which encompasses both legal ethics and matters of professionalism that do not present ethical concerns.
Every state in the United States has a regulatory body (usually called a state bar association
) that polices lawyer conduct. When lawyers are licensed to practice in a state, those lawyers subject themselves to this authority. Overall responsibility often lies with the highest court in a state (such as state supreme court
). The state bar associations, often in consultation with the court, adopt a set of rules that set forth the applicable ethical duties. As of 2007, 47 states have adopted a version of the American Bar Association's model rules. One state, New York
, follows a version of the ABA's older ethical model, the Model Code of Professional Responsibility. California
are the only states that have not adopted either -- instead these states have written their own rules from scratch
There is some debate over whether state ethical rules apply to federal prosecutors. The Department of Justice has held differing opinions through different administrations, with the Thornburgh Memo
suggesting these rules do not apply, and the Reno Rules
asserting that they do apply.
Lawyers who fail to comply with local rules of ethics may be subjected to discipline ranging from private (non-public) reprimand to disbarment.
- No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America, by Ralph Nader and Wesley J. Smith. ISBN 0-375-75258-7
- California Rules of Professional Conduct, published by the Office of Professional Competence, Planning & Development of the State Bar of California.
- Gabriel Chin & Scott Wells, Can a Reasonable Doubt have an Unreasonable Price? Limitations on Attorney's Fees in Criminal Cases, 41 Boston College Law Review 1 (1999)