Work in Progress

The ABA first drew up ethics guide­lines for lawyers a century ago—and they’ve been a work in progress ever since.

During those 100 years, the ABA has replaced the original Canons of Profes­sional Ethics twice. The association has also adopted Model Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement and a Model Code of Judicial Conduct.

Indeed, the ABA has done just about everything in the professional conduct field over the past 100 years except actually discipline lawyers. The association always has recognized that as a province of the state supreme courts and their designated agencies (often the state bar associations).

Most of this action has taken place over the past 25 years or so. But if experts’ comments at a program commemorating the ABA’s work in the ethics field are any indication, a lot more changes could be on the horizon.

Panelists at the Cen­ter for Professional Responsibility’s August program at the annual meeting in New York City cited factors familiar to many practicing lawyers: the pressures of a competitive business environment, specialization, the growth of global practice, and intrusions by government and even clients into the profession’s long-standing structure of self-regulation.

“If anybody thinks foreign lawyers aren’t here already, I don’t know where they’ve been,” said William P. Smith III, general counsel of the State Bar of Geor­gia. “If we cannot develop a system that will bend under the pressure of the inter­national econ­omy, we will break.”

As a result of these pressures, speakers said, it may be time to take another hard look at the Model Rules, which serve as the basis for most of the conduct codes that govern lawyers at the state level.

“We need a re-ex­amination of where we are and how we regulate ourselves,” said Carolyn B. Lamm of Wash­ington, D.C., who became ABA president-elect at the close of the annual meeting.


Deborah l. Rhode, a professor at Stanford law School, set the tone for much of the panel’s discussion when she identified some key issues:

• Does one regulatory structure really work best for a profession in which there are so many differences among practice settings and substantive fields?

• Does the current framework ensure access to justice, especially for low- or middle-income people? • Should the profession continue to engage in self-regulation, or will government and even private entities play a larger role?

“There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we regulate ourselves,” said Steven C. Krane, a partner at Proskauer Rose in New York City and the outgoing chair of the Standing Com­mit­tee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. He ar­gued for the profession to abandon what he called “the fallacy of the monolithic client-lawyer relationship”—the notion that all lawyers work in essentially the same way on behalf of clients with often drastically different needs. He called for a more flexible regula­tory approach that rec­og­nizes the growing variety of practice settings and client-lawyer relationships.

The profession also must recognize that the way it sees itself, especially in terms of independ­ence, isn’t nec­es­sar­ily shared by other groups, said Laurel S. Terry, a law pro­fessor at Penn State Uni­ver­sity in Carlisle and a member of the ABA Standing Com­­­­mit­tee on Pro­fes­sion­al Disci­pline. “We need to look at lawyer regulation through a broader lens than we already do,” she said.

Web extras:

Links to papers written for the Centennial of the Canons of Professional Ethics:

Repudiating the Holmesian “Bad Man” Through Contextual Ethical Reasoning: The Lawyer as Steward” (PDF), by Keith R. Fisher

The Fallacy of the Monolithic Client-Lawyer Relationship: Leaving 1908 and Procrustean Regulation Behind” (PDF), Steven C. Krane

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Future of Self-Regulation-Canada between the United States and the English/Australian Experience” (PDF), Paul D. Paton

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Serving the Non-Legal Needs of Clients: Professional Regulation in a Time of Change” (PDF), Robert Rubinson

Bar Associations, Self-Regulation and Consumer Protection: Whither Thou Goest?” (PDF), Judith L. Maute

The Evolving Regulation of the Legal Profession: The Costs of Indeterminacy and Certainty” (PDF), Irma S. Russell

How Things Have Changed: Contrasting the Regulatory Environments of the Canons and the Model Rules” (PDF) Ted Schneyer

The Future Regulation of the Legal Profession: The Impact of Treating the Legal Profession as "Service Providers” (PDF), Laurel S. Terry

Moral Engagement Without the “Moral Law” A Post-Canons View of Attorneys’ Moral Accountability” (PDF), Robert K. Vischer


A BUSY 100

Highlights of the ABA’s activity in the ethics field since adopting the Canons of Professional Ethics in 1908.

1913 Standing Committee on Professional Ethics formed.

1964 Special Committee on Evaluation of Ethics Standards (Wright committee) formed.

1969 Model Code of Professional Responsibility adopted.

1972 Code of Judicial Conduct adopted.

1977 Commission on Evaluation of Professional Standards (Kutak commission) formed.

1978 Center for Professional Responsibility opens.

1983 Model Rules of Professional Conduct adopted.

1989 Model Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement adopted.

1992 McKay commission issues Lawyer Regulation for a New Century.

1997 Ethics 2000 Commission formed.

2002 Revisions to Model Rules of Professional Conduct adopted.

2007 Revised Model Code of Judicial Conduct adopted.

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