Find an Ethics & Professional Responsibility Lawyer

The area of law dealing with ethics and professional responsibility extends to all industries with individuals serving in professional capacities. For example, all U.S. physicians are required to follow the American Medical Association's Principles of Medical Ethics, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association has a code of ethics their professional journalists must follow. Educators and social workers also have a code of professional practice and conduct.

The body of law setting forth the duties, standards and code of conduct for attorneys governs not only attorney-client relationships but also interactions between attorneys and other professionals in the legal field.

Professional responsibility differs on a state-by-state basis, and attorneys must follow the rules established by the states in which they are licensed to practice law. A disciplinary authority (ranging from small fines to being disbarred) also resides in the areas where an attorney is licensed to practice. Attorneys are also prohibited from failing to respond to a disciplinary authority's lawful demand for information.

Ethical Conduct Rules

Some ethical conduct mandated by law for attorneys impacts their client relationships. For example, an attorney has a duty to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client and must have the necessary legal knowledge and skills appropriate for representing the client. An attorney must also abide by a client's decisions concerning such issues, such as accepting a settlement offer, what plea to enter in a jury trial and whether the defendant client will testify in court.

The law also governs how attorneys should behave with clients whose mental capabilities are impaired. A client's funds deposited for future costs must be maintained in a trust account. Additionally, attorneys cannot represent clients where there is a conflict of interest with current or former clients.

Attorneys are prohibited from committing discriminatory acts, committing criminal acts (including assisting another person to commit a dishonest or fraudulent act) and from attempting to improperly influence a government or legal official. Falsifying evidence or witness testimony is another punishable action.

Ethical responsibility of lawyers also extends to such issues as advertising and the manner in which they solicit clients, trial publicity, obligations to fulfill needs for pro bono services, and membership in legal services organizations.

The area of ethics and professional responsibility law can also be impacted by new laws (or changes to existing laws) in other areas. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, for example which governs accounting and disclosure responsibilities of business entities includes a section describing minimum standards of professional conduct for lawyers who appear before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. At a minimum, the new law states an attorney is required to report evidence of a material violation of securities laws, breach of fiduciary duty or similar violation to the appropriate officers and/or parties.


Legal assistants are engaged to assist lawyers. Regulations prohibit them from giving legal advice to clients.

By Kathleen Goolsby           

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