This post has been written by Diksha Dubey , a second year student from Amity Law School, Amity University, Chattisgarh.
Legal ethics is a term used to describe a code of conduct governing proper professional behavior, which establishes the nature of obligations owed to individuals and to society. In order to maintain a license to practice law, attorneys agree to upload the rules of professional conduct.
Why do we have legal ethics?
Principles of legal ethics, whether written or unwritten, not only regulate the conduct of legal practice but also reflects the basic assumptions, premises and methods of the legal system within which the lawyer operates.
The courts, legislature and state bars all take part in governing the practice of law in each state. The legislature enacts laws that legal professionals must uphold. The courts decide cases by applying facts to the law. They are usually also responsible for appointing members of state bar ethics committees that hear grievances.
States have “integrated bar associations” which all attorneys are required to join. These bar associations promulgate ethical rules that members promise to uphold. Penalties for violations of ethical rules can range from private censure on the low end to disbarment (for an attorney) or even criminal penalties such as heavy fines or jail time, depending on the severity of the violation.
The following are some of the most important ethical rules that one must be aware of while undertaking the practice of law:-
- Attorney- client confidentiality
One of the most important duties a legal professional owes to his client is that of confidentiality. This duty applies to paralegals, legal assistants, lawyers, etc. Under most circumstances, a member of the representation of a client may not reveal any information given to him or her during that course of a legal representation without the consent of the client. This is known as the duty of “confidentiality.” If a legal professional violates the duty of confidentiality, the offender and or the offender’s firm will be subject to discipline.
- The Duty of Loyalty to a client
The lawyers have a strict ethical responsibility to advocate zealously on behalf of their clients. Here zealous representation does not mean a lawyer should strive to “win” a case at all costs if that means harming third parties and adversaries unnecessarily in the process. It means doing everything reasonable to help a client achieve the goals set forth at the outset of the representation. Therefore, a balance must be struck in strategizing between what is achievable within the bounds of the law and what is reasonable in light of the impact on parties involved still, a legal professional has a general duty to strive to protect the interests of a client to whatever extent it is practical under the law.
- Conflicts of Interest
Lawyers must refrain from establishing relationships where a potential conflict of interest will detrimentally affect the quality of the representation. Conflicts of interest may have negative effects on a lawyer’s ability to exercise independent and professional judgment.
- Lawyer Advertising
Advertising by lawyers and law firms has long been frowned upon by the legal establishment. Although a state may establish reasonable regulations to prevent false or misleading advertising, a straight ban on lawyer advertising would be unconstitutional. The ethical rules hold that any type of communication about a lawyer’s services that is false or misleading will subject a lawyer to discipline. It doesn’t matter whether the communication is technically an advertisement, signs, business cards, letters and telephone answering machine messages. It is unethical for an attorney to do anything that would be unethical for the attorney himself or herself to do.
Importance of Legal Ethics
Ethics in any profession are crucial and it is perhaps more pressing in the legal profession where lawyers especially were viewed with suspicion. Thus an enforced code of conduct is vital in ensuring the credibility of the practitioners and legal system as a whole. Often lawyers and other legal practitioners are faced with conflicting interests from the clients they represent, society at large and personal interests. Legal ethics are therefore important in helping the lawyer to navigate the delicate balance of these interests and work to promote the greatest good. Ethics also serve to safeguard the interests of the client being represented and ensure they receive service without discrimination.
Common Breaches of ethics
Since codes of ethics are determined by various associations and bodies formed for that purpose, the codes are varied from place to place, as are the disciplinary measures were taken. However, there are some common malpractices that apply across the board. These include:-
This may include forging of documents or fabrication of evidence.
- Misappropriation of client funds
The lawyer should keep the client’s money separately from his own to avoid the mismanagement.
- Neglect and lack of communication
Lawyer’s must keep their client’s informed on matters about their cases and should not ignore or intentionally delay in responding to any queries and concerns raised by the client’s.
Lawyer’s should not use false or misleading information to attract more client’s.
Due to the influence of formalism on legal ethics, law schools put more focus on legal technical skills and professional success and less focus on morality, legal ethics and justice. Because of liberalism, self-regulating organizations place more emphasis on the needs of the legal profession and lawyers themselves rather than on the needs of those whom they are called on to service.