The term legal ethics in the US is usually associated to lawyers, but to be honest, legal ethics can really be relevant to anyone that is involved in law such as paralegals, as well as other careers that might seem not to relevant like Private Investigators. If you aren’t really familiar with legal ethics, you might think this is a list made up of a bunch of rules that is designed for everyone to follow, but it’s not. In fact, legal ethics are usually written, regulated and designed for and by specific states. This is also the reason why when you practice and pass the Bar Exam for Pennsylvania, you must also take it again to be able to give legal advice or work as a lawyer in another state such as New Jersey. Every single state is completely different and governs their own rules, regulations and guidelines when it comes to rules of ethics. These rules of ethics are for a variety of legal topics including but not limited to:
Client Lawyer Relationship
Competence: A lawyer is not allowed to handle or neglect in certain matters that are entrusted to the lawyer – such as gross negligence. A lawyer is also not allowed to or should not exhibit reckless patterns of negligence when it comes to handling specific legal matters or general legal matters.
Representation: A lot of TV shows these days, show lawyers doing really questionable things. Take the TV show Breaking Bad. Saul was a lawyer that knew of certain illegal activities and yet he represented people like Jessie that he knew were doing something bad or involved in something illegal. In real life, with lawyers and the law, these types of activities are simply not allowed. If they do happen, the lawyer can get in legal trouble himself/herself. So if a lawyer has a client and they know their client is involved with legal activities like drugs, breaking and entering and stealing from people, or fraudulent behaviors, this is a sense of illegal activities going on that the ethics lawyer in NJ will need to take action against. Furthermore, when a lawyer has a client and they are consulting in a case and a client wants to proceed a specific way – enter a plea deal, choosing to testify, etc. This is all up to the client, not the lawyer, under most circumstances.
Confidentiality: A lawyer, is essentially, not supposed to reveal certain information when it comes to representing a client. They also have to relate criminal activity to the proper law authorities if they know something criminal, illegal or fraudulent about their client. So on one hand confidentiality is about protecting the client, but on the other hand it’s also about protecting the lawyer as well. If an activity, such as illegal activity has not be proceeded yet but the client makes the lawyer aware that it will happen at a certain date, this is also the responsibility of the lawyer to report it to authorities.
Disabilities: if a lawyer has a client that has an impaired ability to think or talk on their own such as a person with a mental disability or a minor disability, a lawyer is allowed to have a normal regular client lawyer relationship with them. However, if a client has a diminished capacity, a lawyer is allowed to act in the clients own interest. A lawyer, in this specific type of scenario, is also allowed to take protective action against the client and in some cases seek consultation with someone closely related to the client such as a guardian.
Truthful Statements: When a lawyer represents a client, he or she may not falsify information or make false statements to another person outside of the case. A lawyer is also not allowed to talk about highly sensitive case subject matter to someone else not closely related to the case. These third party conversations can be as silly (the mailman, the butcher, the cable guy) or as serious as you can imagine (your spouse, another person involved in the case – but on the other side of the ropes i.e.; a criminal involved in the case, etc.).
Advertising: A lawyer can, by all means, advertise their business or legal services on Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter, newspaper ads, via radio or TV, public media or electronic media, but it must adhere to strict guidelines. For example, when it comes to your TV ad, your advertisement must have no “bells and whistles” so to speak and should just be informational. These days, you see a lot of oddball lawyers having weird commercials on the TV, and while this isn’t a law, it is about legal ethics. Essentially, adding dramatizations, music, goofy portrayals of criminal situations and animations are looked down upon.