Because state bar disciplinary committees don’t always give out statistics on which ethics rules were violated the most in any given year, this particular post is based on Megan Zavieh’s professional experience as an attorney who helps lawyers with their disciplinary action defense strategies. The purpose of this post is educational in nature. The more you know about ethics for lawyers, the easier it is for you to protect your practice. If you have questions related to ethics for lawyers in your jurisdiction, take the necessary time to read up on the rules. If you still have questions or if you’ve received a letter from the state bar, read this post and then schedule a consultation with Zavieh Law.
Common Ethical Violation: ABA Model Rule 1.1: Competence
Every jurisdiction has their own rule on competence. Often, states will adopt the exact language of ABA Model Rule 1.1. This rule states:
A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.
When a client files an ethical violation that complains about substantive work, the disciplinary committee will often look into whether or not you’re competent. So, what can you do to protect yourself? Remember that ethics for lawyers involves the duty of competent performance. You need to know the area of law in which you practice. You must always be prepared for meetings, conferences, and court dates.
Common Ethical Violation: ABA Model Rule 1.3: Diligence
Each jurisdiction has a rule on diligence. ABA Model Rule 1.3 reads:
A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.
At Zavieh Law, we know that law practices are busy, busy places. Yet, the schedule and caseload of any given attorney doesn’t absolve them from adhering to the diligence rule. You must understand (and meet) the diligence and promptness standard of not just your clients but also the state bar disciplinary committee.
So, what can you do? You must gain control of your schedule. You must get (and stay) organized. Research and follow through on potential legal theories you plan to present. Do all of the necessary work for your client’s matter. We know it isn’t easy, especially for solo lawyers who may not have a support staff to help, but it is necessary to protect your practice.
Common Ethical Violation: ABA Model Rule 1.7: Conflict of Interest – Current Clients
When it comes to ethics for lawyers, many professionals believe that they have a handle on what constitutes conflict of interest. ABA Model Rule 1.7 states:
- Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest.
While there is a lot of information related to conflict of interest, it all boils down to a simple concept: don’t represent anyone who has an interest that is adverse to any of your current clients. Generally, this rule is violated when a lawyer takes on a conflict of interest without knowing it happened.
Clients can only waive this if you follow the appropriate rules for gaining proper consent. This isn’t just a broad waiver that you included in the retainer agreement. Check the ethics for lawyers in your jurisdiction to understand what you are required to do. However, it all boils down to discussing the matter with your client and encourage them to speak with another lawyer before they sign the conflict waiver.
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!