Things to know throughout this course:
- Bound to or Defenses against the rules
Why are Ethics Important
There are several reasons why legal ethics matter. First, it is a requirement for students before they become lawyers. Second, to protect your law license. Third, to serve larger society. Specifically, lawyers are the ones who are extremely involved in the democratic process (e.g. drafting and passing laws, litigating those laws in defense of clients, etc.).
The most important thing to understand is that lawyers are expected to follow the law. The whole point of this is to look good to the public.
Conflict of Interest
Picture for a moment that you have a client who has a child who recently has some legal issues that need to be resolved. The client asks you to represent the child. At this point, you may be presented with a conflict of interest. How involved is the parent allowed to be? How involved does the parent want to be? Who will be paying, the parent or the child?
Truthfulness and integrity should be key components of the legal profession. For instance, lawyers need to be truthful of their skill and experience level when advertising to clients. Additionally, lawyers should be honest about the scope of the work.
Duty to clients v. duty to the judicial system
Lawyers are also expected to represent their clients fully and provide confidential, competent work.
The issues arise when there becomes a conflict between these responsibilities. For example, a lawyer needs to follow their client, but what if the client is lying? Does the lawyer have a responsibility to report the lie to the court?
Personal/professional interests v. ethical and fiduciary obligations
Lawyers need to finance their personal and professional lives. Client’s provide the money. However, attorney’s need to be careful to never touch the client’s money (that is held in trust), until they are entitled to those finances.
Those who write the laws are usually lawyers. Judges who make judgments on the law are usually lawyers. Consequentially, statutes and common law usually benefits lawyers. However, lawyers are still subject to the public, usually for employment (either as elected positions or for cliental).
Ethical concerns in a large firm
Picture a first-year associate at a large firm. They want to eventually become a partner at this firm. To do so, they have an obligation to benefit the firm as much as possible. This includes following the instructions of upper-level attorneys spot on. However, what if these instructions provide ethical concerns? Reporting these concerns would destroy your chance of progressing within the firm, but you also want to be ethically clean before the bar.
Change within the profession
From the early beginnings of the legal profession in the United States, till today, there have been a wide variety of changes that have occurred in the field. No longer are attorneys created through an apprenticeship program. Applicants must go to law school, and be admitted by the bar. This includes a wide variety of legal ethics. There have also been many statutes passed to help protect lawyers from discrimination, expand firm cliental, and control those interactions.
Legal History and Bar Passage
Ultimately, before you enter the profession and exercise ethics for clients, you need to be admitted to the bar. This means that you need to exhibit ethics before your bar passage.
Historically, individuals became lawyers through Apprenticeships. This system allowed individuals to learn hands on, but presented several problems as well. Very few individuals could obtain an apprenticeship. Consequently, the existing lawyers disfavored selecting minority groups. Eventually, with the growth of corporate America, there was a demand for several more lawyers. Schools opened up and several individuals were attending. To ensure that the profession stayed professional, the bar exam was designed to prevent unprofessional individuals from entering the profession.
So, generally, the bar has three parts. First, the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which includes the Multistate Bar Exam and Multistate Performance Exam (MPE). This exam consists of several multiple choice questions on several topics of legal law. Second, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). This exam is also multiple choice and covers several rules of legal ethics. Finally, a set of essay questions on select subjects of law.
The Supreme Court of each state generally have the authority to establish bar passage requirements. Typically, most states require:
- Graduation from an accredited undergraduate.
- Graduation from an ABA accredited law school.
- Application to the Bar.
- A finding that the individual is of good moral character.
- A passing score on the bar exam.
How to Avoid Ethic Complaints
- Use your intuition
- Limit or eliminate the use of drugs and alcohol
- Limit the scope of your engagements (both volume and subject matter)
- Have a mentor
- Yearly read the ethical rules
- Have a process for informed professional judgment
- Examine the rules
- See if there is an applicable opinion
- Survey the case law
- Consider consulting an ethics lawyer
- Communicate in a timely manner
- Have a written office manual that includes:
- Model engagement letter
- Model termination letter
- Template for letters of informed consent
- Internal policies regarding conflicts of interest
- Security policies (information, such as a shredder)
- Never use client funds
The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.