Lawyers Behaving Badly
With the final Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) of the year looming on the horizon, ethics may be at the forefront of your mind. While the MPRE tests for knowledge of the Model Codes for Professional Responsibility and Judicial conduct, as well as common law principles related to attorney discipline, there are guaranteed to be a nearly infinite number of ethical quandaries that won’t make it onto the exam. Fortunately, there are resources available to help law students and practitioners navigate these issues.
First, always start with the rules governing professional responsibility. It is sound advice to familiarize yourself with the Rules of Professional Conduct in your jurisdiction. The current version of Indiana’s rules can be found on the judiciary’s website. In addition, attorney disciplinary opinions are available online at the Indiana Judiciary website, with coverage from 2004 to present. Periodically, the Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA) publishes ethical advisory opinions. This ethical guidance can be retrieved through the ISBA’s website. For coverage of other jurisdictions, Bloomberg BNA and the ABA collaborate to produce the Lawyers Manual on Professional Conduct. This online resource can be accessed by selecting “BNA Premier” from the Online Resources menu and choosing the “ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct” from the BNA “All Resources” list.
Next, keep abreast of changes – in both the legal field and society at large. The advent of the Information Age, and its resulting technological advances, has added another layer of complexity in legal ethics. Electronic discovery methods, and even simple email correspondence, can imperil the otherwise well-intended attorney. Res Gestae, the journal of the Indiana Bar Association, includes a column in each issue devoted to ethics called “Ethics Curbstone.” The law library keeps recent issues of this publication in the reference collection behind the circulation desk, shelved in the final row closest to the computer bank. Res Gestae is a great current awareness resource for ethical concerns that are emerging or otherwise newsworthy.
Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend or colleague. In each state, there is help available to attorneys and judges struggling with mental health and substance issues. In Indiana, the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP) provides a variety of services to members of the legal community trying to cope with these types of difficulties.
Remain informed by using the myriad resources and advice available concerning legal ethics. Be diligent and thoughtful in your professional and personal conduct. Take care of your mental and physical health. Lastly, remember that when you are an attorney, or even an aspiring one, what happens in Vegas, doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas.