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What Are Attorney Ethics?

Attorney ethics describe a set of state codes and rules the regulates the conduct of lawyers. These codes ensure lawyers follow the law, pursue justice, and zealously advocate their client's best interests.

Model Rules of Professional Responsibility

Every state is responsible for drafting their own set of codes of professional responsibility governing attorney ethics. The American Bar Association developed the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility to act a guideline for ethical conduct and help resolve moral and ethical dilemmas.

While this code is not binding, it does comprehensively lay out guidelines for state bar associations - or even attorneys who find an unclear area of the codes in their state - to make sense of their ethical and moral choices. The concepts that may be particularly relevant to clients are: 

  • Confidentiality
    • A lawyer should preserve the confidences of a client.
      • This means that the lawyer can never use a client's confidence or secret to his personal advantage or for personal gain. Typically, a lawyer can only divulge a client's confidence with the client's consent and only after the lawyer gives full disclosure as to the legal consequences of that disclosure.
      • In limited some instances, a lawyer can reveal confidences if such confidence is a client's intent is a crime that may cause death or serious injury. 
  • Professional Judgement
    • A lawyer should exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of a client.
      • A lawyer cannot accept employment from a client when there is a conflict of interest.
      • Furthermore, a lawyer is to refrain from acquiring a financial interest (other than legal fees) in the cases. 
      • Additionally, a lawyer should generally refrain from entering into business agreements with a client if those business interests differ.
  • Competence
    • A lawyer must represent a client competently.
      • If a lawyer is not competent to handle a legal matter, that lawyer is generally required to become competent, either by consulting with another lawyer or conducting adequate research.
      • Furthermore, a lawyer should not handle a legal matter without adequate preparation under the circumstances.
      • Finally, a lawyer is not allowed to neglect a case that has been entrusted to him.
  • Zealous Representation
    • A lawyer should represent a client zealously within the bounds of the law.
      • However, in cases where a client's conduct could arguably be illegal, a lawyer may refuse aid or participate in such conduct.
      • Furthermore, a lawyer may not assert a position, file a suit, delay trial, or take actions on behalf of a client, particularly when such actions are undertaken merely to harass or maliciously injure another individual.
      • A lawyer cannot knowingly use perjured testimony or false evidence.
      • A lawyer cannot knowingly assert false statements of law or fact.
      • A lawyer cannot preserve or create evidence which the lawyer knows is false.
      • A lawyer cannot assist his client in conduct the lawyer knows to be illegal or fraudulent.
      • Furthermore, if a lawyer receives information that a client has conducted fraud on a person or tribunal, the lawyer must ask the client to rectify the fraud. If the client is unable and unwilling, the lawyer must reveal the fraud to the individual or tribunal. However, a lawyer is prevented from doing this if the information is a privileged communication.
    • Zealous representation includes upholding a fiduciary duty, when applicable and necessary.

What Should I Do If I Think My Attorney Has Committed Malpractice?

The first thing someone who suspects their lawyer of malpractice should do is talk to their lawyer and ask for some explanation. If the lawyer is unresponsive or not willing to discuss the matter, then that person may wish to file a complaint with your attorney's State Bar Association. The Bar Association is an organization that licenses and regulates attorneys for each individual state.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with My Attorney Malpractice Problem?

Proving that your attorney committed malpractice can be difficult. You have to know exactly what constitutes malpractice and show that your attorney actually committed malpractice. An experienced malpractice attorney can help you determine whether or not you're a victim of attorney malpractice. Additionally, a lawyer can file a lawsuit on your behalf and help pursue your attorney malpractice case in court if necessary.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 09-21-2017 02:16 AM PDT

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