You may have seen recent news reports that Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and attorney for former President Donald Trump, has been suspended from practicing law in New York state based upon allegations that he made false and misleading statements to courts relating to the operation and outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The first instinct of some may be that such a decision is political. Whether or not you believe it is politically motivated, the fact is that lawyers have ethics rules that they must follow and, if such rules are violated, lawyers are subject to discipline up to and including disbarment.
In most states, a state’s Supreme Court has the responsibility of licensing, monitoring, supervising, and disciplining attorneys admitted to practice law in that state. In other states, an independent board or bar association is responsible for attorney regulation. Regardless, each state has promulgated attorney ethics rules. They are sometimes called Rules of Professional Conduct (like in Pennsylvania and New Jersey), and in other states they are called rules or canons of ethics.
Attorney ethics rules are comprehensive. Here’s a few examples:
- A lawyer must be both diligent and competent, meaning he or she must have the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation that is reasonably necessary to carry out the representation and he or she must act promptly under the circumstances.
- A lawyer must promptly communicate with his or her client, including about the client’s goals and objectives, the status of the representation, and in response to requests for information from the client.
- Lawyers must render candid advice to clients, and such advice is not limited to legal advice but may also implicate moral, economic, social and political considerations.
- Lawyers must put in writing the fees to be charged and may not charge an excessive fee.
- Lawyers must keep most client information confidential and may only disclose confidential information in limited circumstances.
- Lawyers generally must not represent a client if doing so would conflict with the interests of another current client of the lawyer and, in some instances, those of a former client.
- Lawyers may not bring or defend against a claim unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous. However, a claim or defense is not considered to be frivolous if there is a good faith argument for extending, modifying or reversing existing law.
- Lawyers must make reasonable efforts to expedite a lawsuit and, therefore, may not take action that is solely intended to delay a matter.
- Lawyers may not conceal or obstruct access by another party to relevant evidence, or assist or advise another person to do so.
- Lawyers may not lie to the court or to third parties, including opposing counsel and opposing parties. In fact, lawyers are required to affirmatively tell the court about binding legal authority (statutes, prior cases, etc.) that are detrimental to his or her client’s case.
- Lawyers may not knowingly permit a client to lie in connection with a court proceeding.
- Lawyers may not communicate with a person who is represented by counsel about the subject matter of the representation unless the other lawyer allows it.
- Attorney advertising must be truthful and not misleading.
- Attorneys are not permitted to solicit a potential client in-person or by telephone unless there exists a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship. However, lawyers may solicit potential clients through written communication in most instances.
It is not particularly difficult for attorneys to be both effective and ethical. The attorneys with Donoghue & Picker, LLC take pride in being both.