Disclaimer: Although many state bar associations keep information related to how many violations are filed each year, not all of them will be so forthcoming as to reveal which ethics rules are most often violated by lawyers. The information contained within this post is for informational and educational purposes only. The three most common ethics rules violated by lawyers is information derived from Zavieh Law’s defense experience. It is not meant to be a full view of violations from every state or jurisdiction.
In every jurisdiction, the very first adopted ethics rules has to do with competence. ABA Model Rule 1.1 states that “A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
Almost any time that a client complains that a lawyer violated ethics rules, they allege that the lawyer acted in a way that was incompetent. Sometimes those accusations are baseless. Sometimes they’re not. Competence encompasses your entire practice: from the client understanding when you’re undergoing negotiations to showing up on time for court. It means knowing your area of law and being prepared for everything that you must take care of. Always be on time to meetings, conferences, and to court.
Diligence seems like a simple concept. ABA Model Rule 1.3 states “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” Yet, it’s not always that simple for lawyers. Overscheduled days and being disorganized can mean that you drop the ball.
Make sure that you follow-up and follow through. Keep your schedule under control and stay organized. Those are the best ways to protect yourself from violating this ethics rule.
Conflicts of Interest
Megan Zavieh summarizes the ethics rules related to conflicts of interest in this way: do not represent a party adverse to your current clients. Yes, there are waivers for conflict, but they won’t do you any good if you don’t know and follow the ethics rules in your jurisdiction for them. For instance, while ABA Model Rule 1.7 states that there is an exception to the rule, it requires that a client can only give consent to the representation if “(4) each affected client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.”
Check the ethics rules in your jurisdiction to determine if there is a specific waiver that you should use. Additionally, you may need to have a conversation with the client to fully explain what’s going on and suggest that they talk to another attorney before they sign the waiver.
The Best Way to Avoid Ethics Rules Violations?
Ethics rules violations can lead to disciplinary actions filed against you. What is the best way to avoid ethics rules violations? It is to know the rules in your jurisdiction and to come up with a system to watch for conflicts. If you’re worried that you may face a violation for competence, diligence or a conflict of interest, or if you want to come up with a plan to keep your practice ahead of the game, Zavieh Law provides on-call ethics evaluations and monthly consultations. To learn more about this valuable service, click here.
If you receive an ethics complaint from the California Bar and you’re not sure where you should start, check out The State Bar Playbook. This is Megan’s interactive and easy to use guide (and community!) that will help guide you through the process from receipt of the complaint all the way through the appeals process!