Within the legal profession, it is not unusual for lawyers to run across a host of ethical challenges. They may face constant pressure to increase their billable hours, or their desperation to win a case may lead them to withhold evidence that must be disclosed to opposing counsel. They may be encouraged to do anything they can to win a case, regardless of ethical implications. As a result, lawyers need to be especially vigilant with the rules of professional responsibility to avoid ethics rules violations.
Every state bar association maintains its own rules of professional responsibility for lawyers. It is up to the law firms themselves to make sure that their attorneys adhere to these rules. In a sense, their duty to these rules sits above any and all other responsibilities. Essentially, legal ethics rules demand that lawyers refrain from criminal behavior, handle all payments legally, communicate effectively with their clients, and avoid defrauding anyone.
Common Ethical Dilemmas for Law Firms
The following are a couple of common examples of ethical dilemmas often faced by lawyers and big law firms.
Conflicts of Interest
Lawyers simply cannot represent clients when they have a conflict of interest. For instance, if an attorney represented someone already, he or she would not be in position to sue that person later if their earlier representation gave the lawyer information that amounted to an unfair advantage or even the appearance of one.
A conflict could also occur if two lawyers in the same firm represented clients with opposing interests. Indeed, even if one lawyer at a firm has no direct conflict of interest, the fact that another lawyer does may preclude representation. Nowadays, many large law firms employ conflict-checking software to avoid representing a client who may pose a conflict of interest.
Lawyers often run into ethical dilemmas when trying to figure out the best way to represent their clients. For instance, a lawyer may represent a client whose guilt is known to them. However, the lawyer is still prohibited from inducing the client to perjure him or herself on the witness stand. For this reason, law firm managers must strike a balance between ethical considerations and advocacy of their clients. There is always the option to withdraw from a case if maintaining such a balance becomes impossible.
Always Be Willing to Say No
Unfortunately, ethics rules do not cover every kind of ethical dilemma that can arise in the practice of law. Moreover, rules violations do not always result in disciplinary action. So, what can lawyers do to ensure that they don’t run afoul of the laws that govern their profession?
Lawyers must be willing to refuse client requests, especially if such requests are unethical. In these instances, it’s always best to steer the client away from such a course of action. It also helps to clarify what can befall the client if the attorney were to accede to his or her request. A lawyer should not fall prey to going along with a client’s wish just because he or she may lose the client.
The legal profession is replete with examples of lawyers who acquiesced to client demands by eliminating evidence, changing document dates, or even assisting with securities fraud. Not only have lawyers faced disciplinary action or criminal prosecution as a consequence of such actions, but their reputations usually suffered long-term damage. The relative ease of researching legal decisions online means that such missteps can follow a legal professional for an exceptionally long time. When dealing with matters regarding legal ethics, legal professionals need to keep in mind that no client is worth a lawyer’s a reputation or their license to practice.
If you are dealing with an attorney ethics or discipline matter, contact an ethics attorney near you for advice and representation.