Code Of Professional Responsibility

Code of Professional Responsibility in the United States

Rules that govern the conduct of attorneys. The Code of Professional Responsibility was written and is periodically revised by the American Bar Association. The code contains general provisions on ethical conduct as well as more detailed rules that apply to particular situations. The rules contained in the code, also known as the Canons of Professional Ethics, speak to several categories of issues. One category addresses the lawyer-client relationship. Lawyers are admonished to represent their clients “zealously” but within the limits of the law. Another canon urges the exercise of fully independent judgment on behalf of a client. A lawyer is advised to avoid multiple client or business relationships that impair the capacity to make independent professional judgments for a client. Lawyers are also instructed to preserve the confidence of clients. This rule creates the attor- ney-client “privilege,” which prevents lawyers from disclosing at trial the content of communications with a client. The code also speaks to the lawyers’ obligation to the public. Attorneys must assist in maintaining the integrity and competence of the profession, in making legal representation as available to the public as possible, and in improving the legal system in general.

See Also

American Bar Association (ABA, U.S.) Lawyer-Client Relationship (Judicial Personnel issue).

Analysis and Relevance

The Code of Professional Responsibility dates back to 1907 with revisions having been made several times since. Provisions of the code, or language closely parelleling the code, have been adopted in every state, typically through order of the state supreme court. There are sanctions for violations of code provisions. Charges of lawyer misconduct are primarily judged by other lawyers. Enforcement of the adopted code language is the responsibility of the state supreme courts, but much of the disciplinary process has been delegated to state bar associations. Special committees of the state bar respond to complaints or grievances filed against particular lawyers. These grievances typically come from clients, but can come from others. Following an investigation, the bar committee may bring formal charges against a lawyer and conduct a hearing. The committee may recommend disciplinary action, including suspension or permanent disbarment. Action on such disciplinary recommendations must be taken by the state supreme court. A wide range of sanctions is available. The least severe is a private reprimand, with suspension or disbarment reserved for serious misconduct. Recent concern about legal ethics and attorney performance has prompted law schools to require courses in legal ethics. In addition, a number of states have established special funds to compensate victims of unethical attorneys.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Code of Professional Responsibility from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Code Of Professional Responsibility: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Code Of Professional Responsibility. This part provides references, in relation to Code Of Professional Responsibility, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Code Of Professional Responsibility by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Code Of Professional Responsibility and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Code Of Professional Responsibility or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Code Of Professional Responsibility and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Code Of Professional Responsibility. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Code Of Professional Responsibility should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Code Of Professional Responsibility when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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