The Importance of Understanding Professional Ethics

When I am asked to present at a seminar, I am always flattered. When I’m asked by a Judge to present, I’m very honored. I was recently asked by a Judge to give a presentation on ethics.

Attorneys are required to follow rules of professional conduct. These can vary slightly from state to state, but the gist is fairly static. “A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.”1 All members of the Bar must take an oath to support the Constitution, the laws of the states in which they practice and of the United States. “A license to practice law is a proclamation by this Court that its holder is a person to whom members of the public may entrust their legal affairs with confidence; that the attorney will be true to that trust; that the attorney will hold inviolate the confidences of clients; and that the attorney will completely fulfill the responsibilities owed to clients and to the courts.”2

The rules of professional conduct touch on many subjects, such as competence, fees, confidentiality, and conflict of interest. Some rules are black and white and use words like “shall” while others are greyer and use words like “may.” My presentation dealt with the grey areas.

We reviewed clips from legal television shows like ‘Boston Legal’ and ‘Franklin & Bash’ and then discussed the conduct in the clip, whether any rules were implicated and whether the behavior was prohibited. For those of you that follow the legal dramas, life does not imitate art and I’ve never had a case where the client hired me in my office and then 60 minutes later we prevailed at a jury trial. Real life moves much slower and is more boring, thank goodness.

Judges are also held to many high standards and must follow the cannons of the code of judicial conduct.3 They must ensure fairness and perform their duties without bias, abstain from ex parte communication and recuse themselves if impartiality would be questioned, among others.4

Public adjusters are hired to assist policyholders on property damage claims. They too have ethical standards to follow.5 They are to be objective and loyal and not engage in activities that may present a conflict of interest.6 In Colorado, public adjusters shall not participate in the repair of damaged property that is the subject of the claim they are adjusting.7 They also should not give legal advice.8

The above is merely a brief recital of some of the ethical obligations that attorneys, judges and public adjusters must follow. If you have any questions, you can always refer to the rules themselves or give us a call. If you need an unrealistic legal drama to watch, I highly recommend ‘Suits’ on USA Network. This season is about a young partner in a high powered law firm in Manhattan and whether he is or is not licensed to practice law. Please enjoy the show’s theme song, ‘Greenback Boogie’ by Ima Robot.

1 Mo. Rules of Prof. Conduct, Preamble.
2 Co. Rules of Prof. Conduct, Rule 251.1
3 Mo. Code of Jud. Conduct
4 Id.
5 Colo.Rev.Stat. §10-2-417, et. seq.
6 Id.
7 Id.
8 In re Boyer, 988 P.2d 625 (Colo. 1999); Colo Rev. Stat. §12-5-101 and 112.

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