Legal ethics refers to the code of conduct regulating and instructing behavior of persons within the legal profession. This definition covers not only the nature of the interaction of the lawyer with the client, but is recognized to include the duty owed to the wider population.
The duties and obligations also extend to legal educators who are charged with the mandate of offering legal education to the public without discrimination, paralegals and private investigators.
Sources of Legal Ethics
Adherence to ethics in the practice of law is overseen by bar associations and court rulings in the United States, with the latter holding greater weight and is used to enforce the code. Lawyers can be disciplined for any breach of ethical rules.
In England and Wales, there is the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct, which has been mandated with the duty to oversee the proposal for changes to the rule of conduct.
Besides the role of oversight, these bodies also provide the necessary guidelines and are the main sources of legal ethics.
Importance of Legal Ethics
Ethics in any profession are crucial, and it is perhaps more pressing in the legal profession where lawyers especially are 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 bodies and associations 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:
- Neglect and lack of communication: Lawyers must keep their clients informed on matters about their cases and should not ignore or intentionally delay in responding to any queries and concerns raised by the clients.
- Misappropriation of client’s funds: The lawyer should keep the client’s money separately from his own to avoid mismanagement.
- Conflict of interest: A lawyer should not have divided loyalties when representing the client nor have vested interest in the opposition.
- Malpractice: This may include forging of documents or fabrication of evidence.
- Solicitation: Lawyers should not use false or misleading information to attract more clients.
It is worth noting that Judges are held to the same code of conduct used on lawyers. However, judges also have specific rules they are bound to in the execution of their duties in their office.
Restitution in Cases of Malpractice
Should a lawyer perform any malpractice or fail to represent his or her client as is required, the client may seek counsel from a legal malpractice lawyer.