National Standards for Legal Ethics: Boalt Research Guide

Introduction

This guide covers print and online sources available at the Boalt Law Library for researching national standards and related opinions, cases and secondary material regarding legal ethics and professional responsibility for lawyers.

*General note regarding Westlaw and LexisNexis references in this guide:

  • due to frequent coverage changes, database information may be incomplete; use the "Search for a database" box (on Westlaw) or the "Find a Source" tab (on LexisNexis), to search for keywords describing the database you want to find, or contact the company's customer service representative 
  • To use the Westlaw database identifiers listed in this guide, type the identifier into the "Search for a database" box and click the "Go" button
  • To use the LexisNexis shortcut database identifiers listed in this guide, click on the "Find a Source" tab, type the identifier into the box, and click the “Find” button

This guide was adapted from the UCLA Law Library’s LibGuides series, National Legal Ethics. We would like to thank the UCLA Law Library for their permission to use this resource. 

Historic Background

In 1908, the American Bar Association (ABA) promulgated the Canons of Professional Ethics. The Canons were intended to guide attorneys in matters of ethical behavior. In 1969, these were succeeded by the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, made up of canons and ethical considerations (both of which were aspirational, stating what attorneys should do) and disciplinary rules (which were mandatory, stating what attorneys must do). The disciplinary rules stated the “minimum level of conduct below which no lawyer can fall without being subject to disciplinary action.” Preliminary Statement, Model Code of Professional Responsibility (1983). In 1983, the ABA adopted the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to replace the Model Code.

Sources of "Legislative" History for ABA Standards

Although not a governmental legislative body, the ABA has issued the drafting history of the Model Rules, including the original format recommendations presented to the ABA House of Delegates in 1982, transcripts of House of Delegates meetings and deliberations, adoption of the Model Rules at the ABA’s 1983 annual meeting, and subsequent deliberations tracing the evolution of the Model Rules.

The Legislative History of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct: Their Development in the ABA House of Delegates, ABA (1987) - location & availability in print: KF306.Z9 L44

A Legislative History: The Development of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, 1982-1989 (2d ed.) - location & availability in print: KF306.Z9 L44 1999

A Legislative History: The Development of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, 1982-2005 - location & availability in print: KF306.Z9 .L44 2006

Current ABA Standards

The Model Rules have been amended a number of times since their adoption in 1983, with the last substantial changes occurring in 2003. The Model Rules set forth the duties of a lawyer. The comment to the Model Rules states that “[v]iolation of a Rule should not give rise to a cause of action nor ... create any presumption that a legal duty has been breached"; rather, they "are designed to provide guidance to lawyers and to provide a structure for regulating conduct through disciplinary agencies.” Because the ABA is a private organization, its ethics rules generally do not have the force of law and the Model Rules have no legal effect unless affirmatively adopted by the controlling jurisdiction.

Most state bar associations and state courts have adopted rules of professional conduct that follow the format of the ABA Model Rules. Only California, Maine and New York have not followed suit; New York follows the predecessor ABA Model Code (see Historic Background, above), and California and Maine have their own rules. (For guidance on researching California legal ethics, consult California Legal Ethics: Boalt Research Guide.) The ABA Model Rules site lists the states that have adopted the Model Rules and provides links to online sources for state ethics rules.

Attorneys who violate the disciplinary rules set forth in their jurisdiction are subject to discipline, which may consist of disbarment, suspension, or public or private reprimand. The intent of attorney discipline is to protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession.

Sources for ABA Standards & Related Commentary

ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct (1980-current) - location & availability in print: KF305.A8 A21

  • multi-vol. loose-leaf, updated monthly
  • more current than other print sources, covers wide range of ethics topics, including state variations on the Model Rules and former Model Code, and a topical digest of case law, ethics opinions, and secondary material
  • Current Reports (1984-current) portion with biweekly updates on court decisions and proceedings, ABA, state, and local ethics opinions, disciplinary proceedings, legislative action, bar association actions, and analysis (includes annual indexes and tables of rules)
  • Online access:

Annotated Code of Professional Responsibility, American Bar Foundation - location & availability in print: KF306 .A47

  • extensive commentary on the former Model Code provisions, including references to cases and secondary sources, background information about drafting of the Model Code

ABA Compendium of Professional Responsibility Rules and Standards - location & availability in print: KF 306 A733

  • reference volume including Model Rules, Model Code and other ABA rules and standards; relevant Federal Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure; information on the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility; and status table on state adoption of Model Rules

Model Rules of Professional Conduct, ABA - location & availability in print: KF306 .A7614

  • unannotated text of rule with accompanying comments, indexed in Subject Guide (Appendix A)

Westlaw* databases with full text of Model Rules and related standards - password required

  • ABA-MRPC (Model Rules of Prof. Conduct)
  • ABA-AMRPC (annotated Model Rules of Prof. Conduct)
  • ABA-CJC (includes Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by ABA in February, 2007)
  • ABA-CJC-OLD (1972 version, including Code of Judicial Conduct as passed by the ABA House of Delegates, version adopted on August 7, 1990 and amendments adopted through 2000)

LexisNexis* databases with full text of Model Rules and related standards - password required

  • ABA;CODES or ETHICS;CODES (Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Code of Judicial Conduct)
  • ETHICS;ETHICS or ABA;ETHICS (combined database of ABA Codes & ethics opinions)

Ethics Opinions

Since 1922, Ethics Opinions have been issued by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility (or its predecessor, the Committee on Professional Ethics). The opinions construe the Model Rules (and the former Canons and Model Code), but are not binding on any court or disciplinary body. However, they are considered highly persuasive authority. Formal Opinions are interpretations that the Committee believes to be of general interest; Informal Opinions address questions that are narrower in scope and arise less frequently.

In addition, many state and local bar associations issue ethics opinions. The legal force and persuasive authority of these materials may vary from state to state.

Finally, the United States Office of Government Ethics issues informal advisory letters and memoranda, as well as formal opinions, on how to interpret and comply with conflict of interest, post-employment, standards of conduct and financial disclosure requirements in the executive branch. Some of these statements may apply to lawyers employed or formerly employed by the federal government.

Sources of ABA Ethics Opinions (Full Text)

Opinions of the Committee on Professional Ethics: With the Canons of Professional Ethics, Annotated, and Canons of Judicial Ethics, Annotated, ABA Committee on Professional Ethics - location & availability in print: KF305.A16 A54 1967

Informal Ethics Opinions, ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility (Op. Nos. 230-1284) - location & availability in print: KF305.A16 A54 1975

  • Note - index covers Formal Opinions 1-333 and all known Informal Opinions 1-1284

Formal and Informal Ethics Opinions: Formal Opinions 316-348, Informal Opinions 1285-1495, ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility (1967-1982) - location & availability in print: KF305.A16 A54 1985

Formal and Informal Ethics Opinions: 1983-1998, ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility - location & availability in print: KF305.A16 A54 2000

Formal Opinions [Recent Ethics Opinions], ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility (1999 - current) - location & availability in print: KF305.A16 A54 2008

  • Note - Recent Ethics Opinions is a loose-leaf with older opinions trnasferred to bound volumes; because the ABA has not published any informal opinions since 1989, the currently updated set contains only formal opinions

LexisNexis* databases with ABA Ethics Opinions - password required

  • ABA;INFOP or ETHICS;INFOP (for ABA Informal Ethics Opinions)
  • ETHICS;FOPIN or ABA;FOPIN (for ABA Formal Ethics Opinions)
  • ETHICS;ETHICS or ABA;ETHICS (combined database of ABA Codes & ethics opinions)

Westlaw* databases with ABA Ethics Opinions - password required

  • ABA-ETHOP (ABA ethics formal opinions from 1924-present and informal opinions from July 1961)
  • JCR (Judicial Conduct Reporter, selective coverage from Spring 1979, including articles, summaries, reviews, and indexes published by the American Judicature Society)

Sources of State Ethics Opinions

Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions, Olavi Maru - location & availability in print: KF305 A2 1970

  • digest of formal and informal ethics opinions from the ABA, all state bar associations, and seven local bar associations
  • original 1970 volume kept up to date by 5-year supplements  through 1980, including opinions from:
    • ABA, 1924-1979
    • CA State Bar, 1966-1978
    • LA County Bar Association, 1927-1979
    • Bar Association of San Francisco, 1970-1977
  • 1980 supplement includes cumulative subject index and table of modified and overruled opinions.

ABA Center for Professional Responsibility > Links page

  • links to legal ethics materials, including websites for ethics opinions where available, for all 50 states (as well as some national and foreign sources)

LexisNexis* databases with state ethics opinions - password required

  • ETHICS;ETHOP (based on state-by-state compendium, National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility, covers 1982-present, but dates, amount and type of material included varies by state)
  • locate by navigation: Legal > Area of Law - By Topic > Ethics > Search Legal Ethics Opinions > By State

Westlaw* databases with state ethics opinions - password required

  • METH-EO (multistate legal ethics opinions for various states)
  • __ETH-EO (add state's 2-letter postal code for individual states' ethics opinions - e.g. CAETH-EO)

Sources of OGE Advisory Opinions

Office of Government Ethics website

  • browse by year or use links to finding aids (topical index and table of statutes, cases, and other authorities)
  • search via GPO Access link

via Westlaw*, FETH-OGE (coverage from 1979) - password required

via LexisNexis*, GENFED;OGE (coverage from 1979) - password required

Books and Journals on Legal Ethics

Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers (2000) - location & availability in print: KF300 .R469 2000

  • project seeks to restate the law governing lawyers and the practice of law, not only as it is expressed in ethical rules but also in procedural and substantive law (e.g., evidentiary privileges, legal malpractice).
  • Online access:
    • via Hein Online, vol. 1 (sec. 1-93) and vol. 2 (sec. 94-135) - on-campus or proxy server access required
    • via Westlaw*, REST-LGOVL - password required
    • via LexisNexis*, 2NDARY;LAWGV2 (Restatement text) and 2NDARY;LAWGV3 (cases that cite to Restatement) - password required

Modern Legal Ethics, Charles W. Wolfram (1986) - location & availability in print: KF306 .W59 (Practitioner’s Ed., 1363 pages) and KF306 .W591 (Student Ed., 1114 pages)

  • comprehensive hornbook, treats many issues of legal ethics

Legal Malpractice, Ronald E. Mallen & Jeffrey M. Smith - location & availability in print: KF313 .M292

  • 5-volume set, issued annually
  • sample agreements and letters, table of legal malpractice decisions and articles listed by jurisdiction
  • Online access: via Westlaw*, LMAL

Legal Ethics: The Lawyer’s Deskbook on Professional Responsibility, Ronald D. Rotunda - location & availability in print: KF306 .R68

  • multiple appendices; table of cases, tables of codes, rules, and standards; and index

Foundations of the Law and Ethics of Lawyering (2004) - location & availability in print: KF306.A4 F68 2004

  • essays/articles on various aspects of professional responsibility and the practice of law

Legal Ethics in a Nutshell, Ronald D. Rotunda & Michael I. Krauss (3d ed., 2007) - location & availability in print: KF306.Z9 R668 2007

Professional Responsibility in a Nutshell, Robert H. Aronson & Donald T. Weckstein (2d ed., 1991) - location & availability in print: KF306.Z9 A76 1991

Lawyer Law: Comparing the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct with the ALI Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers, Thomas Morgan (2005) - location & availability in print: KF306 .M667 2005

  • detailed table of contents includes model rule and restatement provisions covered in each section

Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics - location & availability in print: KB1 .G3517 (current, unbound issues only)

  • devoted solely to issues of professional ethics
  • vols. 5 and 10 contain cumulative indexes 
  • Online access:
    • via HeinOnline (vol. 1 through one complete vol. behind print publication) - on-campus or proxy server access required
    • via LexisNexis Academic (selected coverage from 1998 to current) - on-campus or proxy server access required
    • via Lexis*, LAWREV;GJNLE (Winter 1988 (vol. 11, no. 2) to current) - password required
    • via Westlaw*, GEOJLE (selected coverage 1987 vol. 1 to current; full coverage 1994 (vol. 7, no. 3) to current) - password required
    • journal site ("Recent Issues" for indexes only; fee-based full text downloads)

Further Research

Tips on using LawCat

Call number searches:

  • ABA, National, and General works: browse call number range KF300 to KF338
  • Judicial Ethics: KF8779 (works with national or multistate coverage) and KFC76.5 & KFC980 (works focusing on California law)

Subject heading searches:

  • Legal ethics -- United States
  • Legal ethics -- state
  • Lawyers -- United States -- Discipline
  • Lawyers -- [state] -- Discipline
  • Judicial ethics

Attorney resources

ABA Center for Professional Responsibility’s ETHICSearch - restricted to lawyers, law students, law clerks and other legal professionals

  • ethics research service, staffed by attorneys
  • tel. (800) 285-2221 (option 8); fax: (312) 988-5491; e-mail: ethicsearch@staff.abanet.org
  • Address: ETHICSearch, ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, 321 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60610

ABA directory of Section resources on legal ethics and professional responsibility specific to lawyers in different practice areas (e.g., Section of Antitrust Law, Section of Family Law)

Free online sources

Cornell Legal Information Institute’s American Legal Ethics Library

  • includes state rules or codes, ethics opinions, State American Legal Ethics Library Narratives

LegalEthics.com

  • focused on the ethical issues associated with the use of technology by legal professionals
  • updated by Professor David Hricik of Mercer University School of Law and Peter Krakaur
  • includes links to state ethics rules, regulations, and opinions, plus legally related Internet ethics resources

ABA’s Center for Professional Responsibility

  • lists all legal ethics publications of the ABA (e.g. Model Rules, Codes and Ethics Opinions) and prices
  • online store (click on “Publications & Videos” in the left menu to see list)
  • includes Consumer Resources information
  • also check ABA home page for useful information on the ABA, its publications and services

National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC)

  • non-profit organization of legal professionals; member agencies enforce ethics rules regulating professional conduct of lawyers in the United States, Canada and Australia
  • includes Ethics Links as well as a database of current developments (under Cases)

Citators

Citators are used to find materials that cite to (i.e., rely on as authority) a known item such as a case or statute.  The citing materials (including later cases, journal articles, and reference materials) may help you understand the cited material, or help you find authorities that are similar or related to the original cited authority.

Shepard’s Professional and Judicial Conduct Citations (1980 to 2002) - location & availability in print: KF308.A535 S44

  • citations to ABA formal and informal Ethics Opinions, Model Rules, and Model Code
  • look up a professional conduct or disciplinary rule to locate cases, Ethics Opinions, law review articles, and ALR annotations from 1980 to 2002
  • Note - the Library has discontinued its subscription; for current citator services, see below

Online citator services: There is no coverage of Ethics Opinions in the current online citators; however, online citators allow you to check legal ethics or professional responsibility rules that are codified as statutes, as well as cases and law review articles about legal ethics.  Online options include:

  • Shepard's on LexisNexis Academic - on-campus or proxy server access required
    • generally, only cases and law review articles may be checked via Shepard's on LNA
    • click on "Legal" tab and then select "Shepard's Citations" from menu on left; type in citation and click the "Check" button to receive a list of materials that cite your case or article
  • Westlaw* KeyCite service - password required
  • Lexis* Shepard's service - password required

Last edited by I-Wei Wang, 15 June 2010