What are the Ethical Rules for Lawyers?

Most people know that lawyers are legally guided by rules of ethics. However, most people do not know which rules govern attorneys’ conduct and what these rules specifically require. In 1983, the American Bar Association adopted the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules replaced the former Model Rules of Professional Responsibility.

The most current version of the Model Rules is broken down into eight categories:

  • Client-Lawyer Relationship;
  • Counselor;
  • Advocate;
  • Transactions with Persons Other than Clients;
  • Law Firms and Associations;
  • Public Service;
  • Information About Legal Services; and
  • Maintaining the Integrity of the Profession.

Each of these main rules have several sub-categories or rules setting forth specific guidelines. In addition to the rules, the Model Rules contain a Preface, Preamble, Scope and Terminology and Comments sections. These sections set forth important information regarding the scope, history and interpretation of the rules.

The rules governing the Client-Lawyer Relationship cover many subjects, including competence, communication with the client, fees, fee disputes, withdrawal of representation, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, safekeeping of client’s property, client under a disability and declining or terminating representation. Under the subject of Counselor, the rules discuss the attorney’s role as advisor, intermediary and evaluation for use by third parties.

Under the Advocate heading, the rules discuss the lawyer’s candor toward the tribunal, meritorious claims, expediting litigation, fairness to the opposing party and counsel, trial publicity, the lawyer as a witness, and the lawyer’s role as an advocate in non judicial proceedings. The Transactions with Persons Other than Clients section discusses truthfulness in statements to others, communications with persons represented by counsel, dealing with unrepresented persons, and respect for rights of third persons.

The Law Firms and Associations sections addresses responsibilities of supervising attorneys, subordinate attorneys, non lawyer assistants, unauthorized practice of law, restrictions on the right to practice law and responsibilities regarding law related services. Under the Public Service section, the rules discuss voluntary or pro bono work, accepting judicial appointments, membership in legal services organization, and law reform activities affecting client’s interests.

The Information About Legal Services section discusses advertising, soliciting clients, political contributions, firm names and letterheads, and communication of fields of practice and specialization. Finally, the Maintaining the Integrity of the Profession section addresses bar admission and disciplinary matters, judicial and legal officials, reporting professional misconduct, and misconduct.

These rules recognize that lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The Rules of Professional Conduct serve to define the relationship lawyers play in the legal system. These rules are published and updated periodically. They are also available at any law library and online.