Legal Ethics

Legal Ethics in the United States

This entry covers:

In relation to Legal Ethics Opinions:

  • ABA Opinions
  • State Opinions
  • Opinions of the Committee on Codes of Conduct
  • ACTEC Commentaries

In relation to Ethics Codes & Rules:

  • ABA Model Codes and Rules
  • Rules for U.S. Judges
  • State codes and rules
  • Other ethics codes

See also “Attorneys,” which includes information on disciplinary records, and “Bar Admission.”

I. Legal Ethics Opinions

A. ABA Opinions: The ABA originally published the Formal and Informal ethics opinions of its Committee on Ethics & Professional Responsibility separately. Formal Opinions 1-315 were compiled in Opinions of the Committee on Professional Ethics, while Informal Opinions 1-1284 were compiled in Informal Ethics Opinions, Volumes I and II.

Starting in 1967, the ABA started publishing all of the opinions together. Formal and Informal Ethics Opinions includes Formal Opinions 316-348 and Informal Opinions 1285-1495. Recent Opinions is a looseleaf that covers F.O. 349 and I.O. 1496, with periodic updates include new opinions.

Formal and Informal opinions are now also available from the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct, and they’re available through Lexis (ETHICS;FOPIN for formal opinions; ETHICS;INFOP for informal opinions) and Westlaw (ABA-ETHOP for all opinions).

These sources are generally a few months behind. To get recent opinions, contact the ABA’s Service Center (800-285-2221) and/or the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility (312-988-5326).

All of these opinion books include indexes so you can look up the opinions by subject and by section of the Model Code or Model Rules.

References to cases and law review articles that cite the Formal and Informal opinions are listed in the front of Shepard’s Professional and Judicial Conduct Citations (see “Shepardizing”). You can get more cases by searching a key number in a West digest (get key numbers either from case headnotes or look up the topic in CJS).

B. State Opinions: If you don’t have published ethics opinions for a particular state in your library, you can get state ethics opinions by (1) searching a relevant Lexis orWestlaw database (METH-EO for all states; xxETH-EO for an individual state), (b) getting copies from a bar association or law school library (perhaps in that state) or (c) finding the opinion posted on the Internet. To find posted opinions, check the state bar’s website. If that doesn’t work, try calling the relevant state or bar association library.

Following is more detailed information on getting ethics opinions for a few selected states.

California: You can get selected California Ethics Opinions (back to 1965) from the State Bar of California Web site , where they are posted by the State Bar of California Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct. Westlaw has California ethics opinions (CAETH-EO) back to 1977; Lexis has them also (ETHICS;CABAR), though I’m not sure how far back. Selected ethics opinions are published in the State Bar’sCompendium on Professional Responsibility. The Los Angeles County Bar publishes their ethics opinions in The Los Angeles Lawyer.

District of Columbia: DC ethics opinions starting about 1990 are posted in the Legal Ethics section of the D.C. Bar Web site. Older opinions were published in D.C. Code of Professional Responsibility by the D.C. Bar, Opinions of the D.C. Bar Legal Ethics Committee Interpreting the D.C. Rules of Processional Conduct, and by sending a request to DC ethics opinions are also available on Westlaw (back to 1991; Lexis has a database of selected opinions from 1990 to 2007.

Illinois: The Illinois Bar posts its Advisory Opinions on Professional Conduct on its Web site back to 1980 ( Westlaw has Illinois Bar opinions back to 1993, plus opinions of the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee back to 1993 (ILETH-EO).

Maryland: Advisory opinions of the Maryland State Ethics Commission are included at the end of Title 19A of the electronic version of the Maryland regulations, COMAR Online. Ethics Opinions of the Maryland State Bar Association are published inOpinions on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and posted in the members-only section of the Association web site.

For ethics opinions concerning Maryland Judges, see the Judicial Ethics section of “Maryland – Judicial Branch.”

Nevada: The ethics opinions of the Nevada Bar Association are published in theNevada Lawyer. They are also included in the Ethics Opinions section of the Nevada Bar Web site.

New York: Ethics opinions issued by the New York State Bar Association, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the New York County Lawyers’ Association and the Nassau County Bar Association are published in Opinions: Committees on Professional Ethics, etc. (Oceana Publishing) from their first opinions through about early 1995. Ethics opinions of those same Associations are published in Mary Daly’s The New York Code of Professional Responsibility: Opinions, Commentary & Caselaw (also Oceana) from 1990 to almost current.

You can find most ethics opinions by the New York State Bar Association and the New York County Lawyers’ Association on their respective Web sites. For opinions not available online, call ABCNY (212-382-6713) or NYCLA (212-267-6646, ext. 205).

Westlaw’s NYETH-EO database has opinions by the NY State, City & County Bars (back to 1977, 1986 and December 1979, respectively), and Lexis has opinions from New York State (ETHICS;NYBAR) and City (ETHICS;NYCBAR) Bars. You can get copies of opinions from the books from the or NYCLAlibraries; members can get copies from the New York Law Institute (212-732-8720) for cheaper.

Texas: Texas ethics opinions, including Judicial ethics opinions, are posted online by the University of Houston’s Texas Ethics Reporter. For more sophisticated searching, try Westlaw’s TXETH-EO database, which goes back to 1977.

Other states: The New York County Lawyers’ Association (212-267-6646, x204 or x205) library will copy and fax opinions from Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan (formal only), Minnesota, Nevada & New Jersey. Colorado opinions are available from the University of Denver (see “Colorado”).

C. Committee on Codes of Conduct Opinions: The Committee on Codes of Conduct publishes Advisory Opinions “on issues frequently raised or issues of broad application.” The first 26 opinions interpret the Canons of Judicial Ethics of the American Bar Association; later opinions interpret the Code of Conduct for United States Judges and other judicial branch Codes of Conduct. The Committee’s Published Opinions are available through the Federal Judiciary’s Codes of Conduct page.

D. ACTEC Commentaries: Commentaries on the Model Rules of Professional Conduct from the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel are posted on the ACTEC Web site.

II. Ethics Codes & Rules

A. ABA Canons, Model Code and Model Rules: In 1908, the American Bar Association adopted the Canons of Professional Ethics. These were replaced by the ABA the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, which was adopted in 1969 and effective January 1, 1970. The Model Code was replaced by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in the 1983.

The ABA publishes an annual paperback called Model Rules of Professional Conductand, every few years, an Annotated Model Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, the Model Rules are published in the current Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, with “Model Code Comparison” comments after each section, and in Volume 2 of Hazard & Hodes’ The Law of Lawyering: A Handbook on The Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Aspen Law & Business). Finally, electronic versions of the Model Rules are posted free on the ABA Web site; they are searchable on Lexis (ETHICS;CODES), and Westlaw has an online version of the latest edition of the ABA’s Annotated Model Rules book (ABA-AMRPC).

Proposed changes to the Model Rules are posted by the ABA’s Center for Professional Responsibility (

The ABA publishes the Model Code of Professional Responsibility in its Compendium of Professional Responsibility Rules and Standards. Many law libraries have kept copies of their old editions, and you can find a copy in Hazard & Hodes’ The Law of Lawyering: A Handbook on The Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Aspen Law & Business). Also, the final edition of the Code should still be searchable in the file of ethics codes (ETHICS;CODES).

Martindale-Hubbell publishes a correlation table cross-referencing between the Code and the Rules. This table is also available on Lexis (ETHICS;CODES — search: “title(correlation)”).

Hazard & Hodes’ The Law of Lawyering: A Handbook on The Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Aspen Law & Business) is a 2-volume treatise explaining the Rules in prose.

The ABA publishes two books on the legislative history of the Model Rules: The legislative history of the model rules of professional conduct: Their development in the ABA House of Delegates (no longer updated) and A legislative history: The development of the ABA model rules of professional conduct (updated every few years), and

The date each state adopted the Code and/or Rules is listed in Appendix 4 of Hazard & Hodes’ The Law of Lawyering, the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest for each state, as well as in each state’s statutes.

ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct: The ABA’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct is posted on the ABA website. Use Shepard’s Professional and Judicial Conduct Citations to find cases and law review articles that discuss sections of the Model codes and rules (and ABA opinions) in paper or on Lexis. See “Shepardizing.”

B. Rules for U.S. Judges: U.S. judges are governed by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. Each edition of the Code and any amendments are published inFederal Rules Decisions (150 F.R.D.307, 175 F.R.D., etc.). The Code is re-printed in a multi-volume set called Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Guide to Judiciary Policies and Procedures (volume 2). A free version of is posted at, along with Advisory Opinions and Judicial Conference Regulations and any proposed changes.

Rules for Judicial Conduct and Judicial Disability Proceedings: These Rules provide procedures for disciplining U.S. judges. A current copy is available through the United States Courts’ Judicial Ethics and Conduct page.

Court-specific rules: Some Federal courts have their own professional responsibility rules. You can get them from the court website (e.g., the Seventh Circuit has specialStandards for Professional Conduct Within the Seventh Federal Judicial Circuit). Otherwise, call the relevant court clerk’s office.

C. State codes/rules: You can find each state’s code or rules for professional conduct somewhere in the state’s codified statutes (see “State Statutes”). Often the professional responsibility rules are published with other types of court rules in the last hard cover volumes or in paperback volumes kept at the end of the set (see “State Court Rules.”) Alternatively, the professional ethics codes of all states are published in the National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility.

In addition, many states post their ethics rules online, either as part of their codified statutes or as part of their court rules or separately.

State codes and rules of judicial conduct are usually published next to the state’s code of professional conduct.

The date each state adopted its Code and Rules is listed in Appendix 4 of Hazard & Hodes’ The Law of Lawyering, the Martindale-Hubbell Law Digests, as well as in each state’s statutes.

Following is more detailed information for a few states:

California: The State Bar of California posts the current California Rules of Professional Conduct ( Alternatively, the Rules are published in the Bar’s Compendium on Professional Responsibility, the “Rules of Court” volume at the end of Deering’s California statutes and West’s California statutes.

New Jersey: New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct are published: (a) in West’s paperback “Rules” pamphlet, which is generally kept at the end of the codified statutes (b) as an appendix to Part I of Current New Jersey Court Rules by Sylvia B. Pressler and (c) on the website of the New Jersey Judiciary.

New York: The New York State Bar posts the New York Rules of Conduct (effective April 1, 2009), the predecessor Lawyers Code of Professional Responsibility (effective through March 31, 2009), the Code of Judicial Conduct and related ethics materials on its Resources on Professional Standards for Attorneys in New York State page. Annotated versions of the Rules and the Code are published in the appendix at the end of both the CLS and McKinney’s editions of the Judiciary volume (Volume 29, sections 500 to end).

For research on a section the superseded Code, see an old edition Mary Daly’s The New York Code of Professional Responsibility: Opinions, Commentary & Case Law(Oceana Publishing).

The “Operating Procedures and Rules of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct” are published in the paperback McKinney’s New York Rules of Court near the end of the “State Courts” volume.

New York disciplinary procedures are published in the NYCRR:

1st Department …… 22 NYCRR Part 603

2nd Department …… 22 NYCRR Part 691

3rd Department ……. 22 NYCRR Part 806

4th Department ……. 22 NYCRR Part 1022.17+

Ohio: Unannotated versions of the Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct and the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar (which includes disciplinary procedures) are posted on the Web site of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline ( They are also published in the Ohio Legal Directory and Ohio Rules of Court (State). The Codes of Professional Responsibility and Judicial Conduct are published in the National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility.

Annotated versions of all three Codes are published at the end of the “Rules of Court: Miscellaneous” pamphlet accompanying Baldwin’s Ohio Revised Code Annotated and at the end of the “Court Rules” section following Title 19 in Page’s Ohio Revised Code Annotated. They will also be available in the electronic versions of these sets (discussed in the separate entry for “Ohio”).

Special rules apply for Ohio public officials and employees. The rules are posted by the Ohio Ethics Commission.

D. Other Ethics Codes: There are special ethics codes for arbitrators, discussed in the “Arbitrators” entry. For other professional ethics codes, see “Professional Ethics.”

Articles in legal ethics and legal profession

See the list of top 10 most-cited legal articles in legal ethics and legal profession.

See Also

Bar Admission
Bar Associations
Legal Malpractice
Professional Ethics

Legal Ethics


Further Reading

  • The Adversary System (letter), Doria, Anthony N., 61: 4 (Jun.-Jul. '77, AJS Judicature)
  • An analysis of ghostwriting decisions: Still searching for the elusive harm, Goldschmidt, Jona, 95: 78-88 (sept-oct '11, AJS Judicature)
  • Author's Answer (letter), Posner, Nathan L., 61: 4-5 (Jun.-Jul. '77, AJS Judicature)
  • Author's Answer (letter), Taylor, Lawrence, 61: 344-345 (Mar. '78, AJS Judicature)
  • Bad Taste (letter), Briesen, Ralph von, 61: 345 (Mar. '78, AJS Judicature)
  • California holds hearings on bar (brief), Brief, AJS, 82: 94 (Sept.-Oct. '98, AJS Judicature)
  • Complaints on Oregon Lawyers No Longer Confidential (news), Author, No, 60: 246 (Dec. '76, AJS Judicature)
  • Court increases California bar dues (brief), Brief, AJS, 82: 141 (Nov.-Dec. '98, AJS Judicature)
  • Dilemma (letter), Heller, Harold, 60: 257 (Jan. '77, AJS Judicature)
  • Drake University Law School lauded for integrated ethics and professional curriculum (focus), Eckley, Timothy S., 92: 167-168, 178 (4, AJS Judicature)
  • Early mediation efforts (letter), Stanley, Nancy E., 80: 49 (July-Aug. '96, AJS Judicature)
  • Ethics and the Attorney General, Norton, Jerry E., 74: 203-207 (Dec.-Jan. '91, AJS Judicature)
  • Ethics and the Attorney General: The Attorney General Responds, Thornburgh, Dick, 74: 290-291, 336 (Apr.-May '91, AJS Judicature)
  • Government Attorneys' Ethics in Transition, Norton, Jerry E., 72: 299-303 (Feb.-Mar. '89, AJS Judicature)
  • Hard Cold Facts (letter), Thornton, J. Edward, 60: 257 (Jan. '77, AJS Judicature)
  • The Impact of Federal Rule 11 on Lawyers and Judges in the Northern District of California, Nelken, Melissa L., 74: 147-152 (Oct.-Nov. '90, AJS Judicature)
  • Justice Department Contacts with Represented Persons: A Sensible Solution, Gorelick, Jamie S. and Klineberg, Geoffrey M., 78: 136, 141-145 (Nov.-Dec. '94, AJS Judicature)
  • Justice Department Contacts with Represented Persons: An Alarning Assertion of Power, Dash, Samuel, 78: 137-141 (Nov.-Dec. '94, AJS Judicature)
  • The Legal Profession: A Critical Evaluation, Adams, Arlin M., 74: 77-83 (Aug.-Sep. '90, AJS Judicature)
  • A Needed Legal Specialty: The Special Prosecutor, Taylor, Lawrence, 61: 220-224 (Nov. '77, AJS Judicature)
  • Perceptive and Disturbing (letter), Wilbert, Paul L., 74: 289 (Apr.-May '91, AJS Judicature)
  • Professor Norton Responds, Norton, Jerry E., 74: 336 (Apr.-May '91, AJS Judicature)
  • Prosecutorial misconduct in California (brief), Possley, Maurice, 94: 91 (sep-oct '10, AJS Judicature)
  • Prosecutors and the Press in the Search for the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth, Thornburgh, Dick, 75: 20-22 (Jun.-Jul. '91, AJS Judicature)
  • Public Opinion (letter), Marley, Francis M., Sr., 60: 257 (Jan. '77, AJS Judicature)
  • A rush to judgment (editorial), Editorial, AJS, 82: 52 (July-Aug. '98, AJS Judicature)
  • Standards of Conduct for Mediators, Feerick, John D., 79: 314-317 (May-June '96, AJS Judicature)
  • A Sweeping Indictment (letter), Walsh, William M., 61: 344 (Mar. '77, AJS Judicature)
  • Truth, Justice and the Client's Interest: Can the Lawyer Serve All Three? (query), Posner, Nathan L., 60: 111-113 (Aug.-Sep. '76, AJS Judicature)



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