The Ethical Esquire
By: Maryam Hatcher, Esq.
Dear Ethical Esquire: I just passed the bar – yay! – and I had to sit through my state’s tedious professional responsibility seminar. After hearing about all of the potential professional responsibility pitfalls, I am scared to death of getting disbarred! After all – these student loans aren’t going to pay for themselves! What’s a baby lawyer like me to do?
Dearest Newbie: Congrats on getting through law school and passing the bar! With all of the jokes out there decrying the seediness of our noble profession, you would think we don’t care a thing about ethics. On the contrary, becoming a licensed lawyer often means that you have taken at least one professional responsibility course in law school, earned a sufficiently high score on the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), learned enough about state-specific ethics rule to pass your state’s bar exam, and provided a detailed explanation of every infraction in your life (from your parking tickets to that one time you fibbed to your fourth grade teacher about your dog eating your homework) via your character and fitness disclosures. And then you have to meet your (sometimes yearly) ethics continuing legal education obligations. Not many vocations can boast of quite so many safeguards to ensure that their professionals understand and abide by certain codes of conduct.
Nonetheless, each year thousands of lawyers throughout the country find themselves before their states’ attorney discipline boards for alleged violations of a myriad variety. As brilliant as the Ethical Esquire likes to think she is, even she cannot explain in one blog post how each of these violations could have been avoided. To claim otherwise would be, well…unethical of me. However, knowledge is power and I encourage you to keep your post-bar exam enthusiasm for professional responsibility knowledge going by staying on top of changes in your jurisdiction’s ethical rules. When you have a question about a professional responsibility issue, don’t ruminate quietly in your office until that sick feeling in your stomach goes away – seek an answer immediately! If you’re feeling a bit lost on how to proceed, try these resources to help point your research in the right direction:
- The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Model Rules”)
- The American Bar Association’s Ethics Opinions
- Your State’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which may differ from the Model Rules
- Your State Bar’s Ethics Hotline
- Your firm’s principal in charge of Professional Responsibility
Additionally, it goes without saying (and yet, here I am saying) that, to the extent that you have found yourself in violation of the rules, honesty and forthrightness are the best policies as you work to rectify those violations.
Ok, Newbie, I answered your general question with a list of general professional responsibility resources. I hope that this information helps you sleep at night knowing that, while you will never hold all of the answers in your head at one time, the answer is in fact out there somewhere. Seek it zealously.
Now – go forth and be ethical!
*Disclaimer: “Newbie ESQ” is a fictional advice seeker. This blog is satirical in nature and, though it aims to provide helpful guidance regarding professional responsibility dilemmas, it is not intended to offer legal advice.
Next month, the Ethical Esquire will tackle the purgatory-like period of time after you earn your law degree but before you’re licensed to practice law. She will offer tips on how to navigate post-JD life like a champ and avoid getting called out by bar counsel for the unauthorized practice of law. Stay tuned!