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Those who practice law are held to a very specific ethical standard. Lawyers are required to abide by specific rules of conduct, especially when that conduct affects their clients. When lawyers behave in a way that causes harm to their clients, they may be guilty of an ethics violation or even legal malpractice. Ethics lawyers specialize in the area of regulation dealing with attorney conduct. Let’s take a look at legal ethics, the professional responsibility expected of practicing attorneys, and some common ethics violations that eventually evolve into a legal malpractice suit.
The American Bar Association (ABA) is a national association of attorneys and law students. Among its primary functions is the accreditation of law schools and setting the professional rules and ethical codes of conduct for practicing lawyers. The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct have been adopted by all the state bars, except California, as the required ethical code of conduct for the practicing lawyers in their state. California’s Rules of Professional Conduct, established by the State Bar of California, is very similar to the ABA’s.
State bar associations regulate the conduct of lawyers who intend to practice law in that state. Lawyers who violate the ethical rules of their state bar are often fined, sanctioned, or otherwise punished by the bar. A client can also bring a claim of legal malpractice in civil court if a lawyer’s violation of professional rules caused them financial harm.
Some of the most common types of lawyer misconduct are:
Lawyers are forbidden from commingling the funds from a client’s account(s) with that of their own personal accounts. It is considered a violation of their fiduciary responsibility to the client. For example, a lawyer holding funds in escrow on behalf of a client cannot use those funds to buy himself or herself a jet ski.
Anyone who has had to file paperwork with a court understands that legal procedures of filing and deadlines can be very specific and complicated. Lawyers are expected to be experts on the procedures of court and filing deadlines. When lawyers don’t timely file the proper paperwork, the court may dismiss a client’s case.
One of the basic tenets of any attorney-client relationship is mutual communication. Lawyers are required to keep in contact with their clients on a consistent basis. If a pattern develops where a client’s repeated attempts to contact his/her lawyer go unanswered, the lawyer may have breached a duty owed to the client.
When you hire a lawyer, you expect your counsel to be competent in the law. Just as you expect your doctor to provide you with sound medical advice, lawyers are held to the requirement that their counsel meet professional standards. If your lawyer gives you advice or charts a legal strategy that no reasonably prudent lawyer with the skill and competence level necessary to provide the same legal service would make, you may have a claim of lacking competent representation.
Ethics lawyers provide a range of different services. Lawyers who specialize in this field are generally experts on the law and rules governing lawyer conduct. Other lawyers and law firms will often seek the advice and counsel of ethics lawyers to ensure compliance with the rules of lethal ethics. Ethics lawyers also represent people who wish to file lawyer disciplinary complaints, malpractice complaints, and motions to disqualify lawyers for conflicts of interest.
The rules and laws surrounding the standard of care required of lawyers to their clients can be arcane and complex. For instance, a simply ethics violation does not necessarily constitute grounds for a claim of legal malpractice. In most jurisdictions, there are four elements you need to prove for a successful legal malpractice suit. First, you need to establish that an attorney-client relationship existed between you and the lawyer. Second, the lawyer breach his or her duty to you by not providing skillful and competent representation. Third, the wrongful conduct by your lawyer caused you to lose the underlying case. And fourth, you suffered a financial loss as a result. Proving each element is no easy task. An ethics lawyer can help you determine whether you have a valid claim of legal malpractice against another attorney.