It starts in law school and continues at backyard barbeques and fancy cocktail parties. No one hears (or, truth be told, tells) as many lawyer jokes as lawyers, especially those in the personal injury arena. Our legal team has a sense of humor and appreciates a good joke, even at our own expense! However, it is upsetting to hear so many jokes about attorney ethics. Like most in our profession, we take our ethical duties very seriously. These duties include obligations to both clients and the court system and are reinforced by state bar requirements. We also take breaches of these duties seriously and believe strongly in our work representing victims of legal malpractice in Sacramento, San Francisco, and throughout Northern and Central California.
Duties to Clients
Attorneys in California and throughout the U.S. owe their clients a number of duties, including a general duty to act ethically in representing the client and a duty to act in the client’s best interest. Many of the duties stem from the attorney’s role as a fiduciary. The general duties also translate to many specific duties such as the duty to avoid conflicts of interest, provide competent legal service, keep client funds separate from the attorney’s own monies, and follow a client’s direction in handling the client’s legal matters (assuming the directions are legal). Attorneys must also communicate promptly and thoroughly with the client, providing all relevant information to help guide the client’s decisions.
Another important part of a lawyer’s ethical obligations is the duty of confidentiality. In general, communications between a client and their attorney in the course of the representation are confidential and an attorney cannot reveal the information. As detailed in Rule 3-100 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney is only permitted to break confidentiality when the communication involves a planned criminal act that threatens death or severe bodily injury. The duty of confidentiality is broader than the attorney-client privilege, which is part of the Evidence Code.
Duties to the Court
Attorneys also owe a duty to the court. One source of this duty is Rule 5-200 which provides that an attorney presenting a case to a California tribunal must “employ…such means only as are consistent with truth” and may not “mislead the judge, judicial officer, or jury by an artifice or false statement of fact or law.” Further, Rule 3-200 provides that a lawyer may not bring a claim or assert a position without probable cause or that is not warranted by law. The duty of an attorney to be honest with the court is also supported by the criminal code on perjury and related bar association rules/rulings that provide for disbarment if an attorney if he or she suborns perjury (ex. allowing a witness to lie on the stand).
State Bar Ethics Requirement
The State Bar of California requires attorneys to show that they understand the ethical obligations of the legal profession. In addition to passing the state bar examination, applicants must achieve a score of 86 on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination. Different jurisdictions have different score requirements and California’s requirement is tied with Utah as the highest in the nation. Additionally, of the 25 hours of continuing education credits lawyers in California must complete every three years, 4 hours must be in the ethics arena.
Our Commitment in Our Practice and in Protecting Clients Wronged by Unethical Attorneys
Truth be told, we enjoy a good lawyer joke (Did you hear about the man who shot his wife? He had a great lawyer who got him off scot free. The lawyer pled with the court for leniency, saying “But, your honor, my poor client is a widower!“). However, all joking aside, the Brod Firm believe strongly in legal ethics. We adhere to the highest standards in our work and we also assist clients who’ve been wronged by an unethical attorney. Our work as a San Francisco attorney malpractice law firm helps the victims of attorney wrongdoing and helps to enforce the high ethical standards that most lawyers adhere to in their practices.
See Related Blog Posts:
Giving Thanks for Your Trust & Remembering the Importance of Our Responsibilities
(Photo by Clyde Robinson of work by Jason Luper)