Attorneys must follow the rules of professional conduct

Attorneys have a set of rules of professional conduct that they are expected to follow. The rules, created by the American Bar Association, were adopted in 1983. Professionally known as the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, these rules are the model for professional ethics in most jurisdictions where attorneys practice. Prior to this set of rules, older models included the 1908 Canons of Professional Ethics and the Model Code of Professional Responsibility from 1969.

What kinds of rules are covered in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct?

The rules set standards for people working in law. There are many rules, including:

  • Competence
  • Confidentiality
  • Conflict of interest
  • Duties to former clients
  • Scope of representation
  • Diligence
  • Communication
  • Fees
  • Former judge, arbitrator, mediator or third-party neutral

Duties to prospective clients

These are just some of the rules that are sectioned in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Each section discusses current requirements and pre-2002 requirements. There are also sections to discuss what's expected of counselors, advocates, transactions with people who are not clients and others.

Should an attorney be familiar with the professional rules of conduct?

Yes. This is a part of schooling for attorneys, and they should be familiar with what is expected of them. If an attorney is not current on the changes that have been implemented, then they could violate the rules of conduct unknowingly. However, ignorance is generally not a good defense.

What should you do if you believe that an attorney has violated the rules of conduct and harmed you as a client?

As a client of an attorney, you're guaranteed a few things. You are guaranteed that the attorney will be knowledgeable, perform duties as described and provide you with fair treatment. You expect them to meet the requirements of any contract you sign and to be responsible when working on your case.

If an attorney misses a deadline, has poor communication, violates conflict of interest rules or creates other issues that result in losses for the client, then a client can pursue a claim against the attorney for relief from those losses. As an example, think about what you'd do if you sought to file a claim and the attorney forgot to place it with the court. Failing to submit a document could mean missing a deadline or overrunning the statute of limitations, which would then mean that you couldn't bring your case to court. That would be a situation where you may want to consider a malpractice case.

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