||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
In the United States
"Legal ethics" in the United States is generally understood to primarily apply to lawyers, while codes of professional responsibility also apply in a derivative sense (indirectly) to non-lawyers who work with lawyers, such as paralegals or private investigators. In the United States, the practice of law is regulated by the governments of the individual states and territories. As a whole, federal law does not control legal ethics.
Each state or territory has a code of professional conduct dictating rules of ethics. These may be adopted by the respective state legislatures and/or judicial systems. The American Bar Association has promulgated the Model Rules of Professional Conduct which, while formally only a recommendation by a private body, have been influential in many jurisdictions. The Model Rules address many topics which are found in state ethics rules, including the client-lawyer relationship, duties of a lawyer as advocate in adversary proceedings, dealings with persons other than clients, law firms and associations, public service, advertising, and maintaining the integrity of the profession. Respect of client confidences, candor toward the tribunal, truthfulness in statements to others, and professional independence are some of the defining features of legal ethics.
Every state in the United States has a regulatory body (usually called a state bar association) that polices lawyer conduct. When lawyers are licensed to practice in a state, those lawyers subject themselves to this authority. Overall responsibility often lies with the highest court in a state (such as state supreme court). The state bar associations, often in consultation with the court, adopt a set of rules that set forth the applicable ethical duties. As of 2013, 48 states have adopted a version of the American Bar Association's model rules. California and Maine are the only states that have not adopted either—instead these states have written their own rules from scratch. There is some debate over whether state ethical rules apply to federal prosecutors. The Department of Justice has held differing opinions through different administrations, with the Thornburgh Memo suggesting these rules do not apply, and the Reno Rules asserting that they do apply.
Lawyers who fail to comply with local rules of ethics may be subjected to discipline ranging from private (non-public) reprimand to disbarment.
- "Bar Exam Eligibility". New York Board of Law Examiners. Retrieved 2013-05-15.
- No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America, by Ralph Nader and Wesley J. Smith. ISBN 0-375-75258-7
- California Rules of Professional Conduct, published by the Office of Professional Competence, Planning & Development of the State Bar of California.
- Gabriel Chin & Scott Wells, Can a Reasonable Doubt have an Unreasonable Price? Limitations on Attorney's Fees in Criminal Cases, 41 Boston College Law Review 1 (1999)
- State Bar of California Professional Responsibility (Legal Ethics)
- The California State Bar Discipline System - How It Works
- New York Rules of Professional Conduct
- LII Law about... Professional Responsibility (Legal Ethics)
- The Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL)
- The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University (U.S.)
- Canadian Bar Association Code of Conduct
- 2013 Legal Ethics Year in Review - Article series covering ways to improve the ethical and operational health of law firms.