Lawyers get a bum rap. Seen by many as ruthless and greedy, they practice perhaps the most ethical of professions. Bound by strict codes of conduct, almost everything they do-from counseling clients to marketing their firms-must conform to prescribed standards.
Today the Internet is critical to helping not just practitioners but also the broader public understand the ethics rules more thoroughly. Here is an overview of the growing number of sites bringing perspective to the profession's standards.
American Legal Ethics Library
One of the best of the ethics site is the American Legal Ethics Library, www.law.cornell.edu/ethics, from Cornell's Legal Information Institute. This site contains the full text of or links to the professional conduct codes of most U.S. states, as well as the American Bar Association's Model Code. In addition, major law firms are contributing narratives on professional conduct law in their respective states, with 17 states and the District of Columbia covered so far.
This digital library's materials are organized by both state and topic, and all are fully searchable. Each element is linked to the rest of the collection in multiple ways, permitting users to track a specific issue from code to commentary, in a single jurisdiction. The links also enable users to follow the same question into materials from other jurisdictions.
ABA Center for Professional Responsibility
Many of the profession's most cutting-edge ethics issues are addressed at www.abanet.org/cpr/home.html. This is the site of the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, whose mission is to provide "national leadership and vision in developing and interpreting standards and scholarly resources in legal ethics." The site's sections on multidisciplinary practice and multijurisdictional practice are among the best resources on these topics anywhere on the Web. Its ethics section includes the full text of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, annotated with comments and comparisons to the Model Code, as well as summaries of recent opinions of the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility.
A service called "ETHICSearch" allows lawyers to e-mail their ethics questions and receive citations to the authorities that should help them find their answers. Other features of the site include links to many states' professionalism codes and a variety of related documents.
Lawyers' Manual on Professional Conduct
One resource not found on the Center for Professional Responsibility's site is the ABA/BNA Lawyers' Manual on Professional Conduct. The text is, however, available from BNA, www.bna.com/ products/lit/mopc.htm, which publishes a Web version identical in content to the print manual. It requires a paid subscription, but BNA does offer a 15-day free trial.
Subscribers receive reports every week, with e-mail alerts summarizing the highlights and linking to full-text articles and documents on the Web. Subscribers also have access to an archive of articles dating to 1998.
A site of consistently high quality since its creation in 1995, Legalethics.com, www.legalethics.com, is devoted to helping legal professionals understand the unique ethical issues raised by the Internet. Its most useful service is in tracking and publishing state and local ethics rulings on that subject. It maintains a comprehensive collection of links to ethics-related articles, other ethics sites, state ethics boards and related research sources.
Developed by San Francisco lawyer Peter Krakaur, Legalethics.com provides basic information on each state's ethics agency and conduct rules and also provides links to full-text rules and opinions where available. In addition, it includes a list of all ethics opinions relating to the Internet, organized by state, with links to the full text when available.
A Good Lawyer
For a folksier view of legal ethics, check out the free online book A Good Lawyer, www.agoodlawyer.com, written by McLean, Virginia, lawyer Stephen W. Comiskey. Subtitled "Secrets Good Lawyers [and Their Best Clients] Already Know," it is full of nuggets of wisdom, such as, "Lawyers are the custodians of the ideals of our society" and "A trial is theater with consequences." You can download the book or read it online.
American Judicature Society
The American Judicature Society, www.ajs.org, is involved in promoting judicial-ethics education as well as a fair and effective system of judicial discipline. Among the resources available on its Web site are a national directory of judicial conduct organizations, a clearinghouse service for data concerning judicial discipline, and descriptions of courses available through its National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics. The site also offers a selection of in-depth articles, including "An Ethics Guide for Part-Time Lawyer Judges" and "Key Issues in Judicial Ethics."
Ethics and Lawyering Today
Published approximately once a month, Ethics and Lawyering Today, www.ethics andlawyering.com, is an electronic newsletter highlighting important new cases, ethics opinions and other developments, often with links to full-text documents. It is edited by attorneys William Freivogel, a consultant on legal ethics and professional liability, and Lucian Pera, who practices in Memphis, Tennessee. Current and past editions of the newsletter are available on the site.
The Law Office Hornbook
The Law Office Hornbook is a quarterly periodical that focuses on malpractice avoidance, firm management and professional liability. The bars of Virginia, Hawaii, New Mexico and Arizona sponsor it as part of the risk management service they provide. The periodical is available online at www.hornbook.com. Articles-expanded versions of those from the hard-copy edition-cover ethics and professionalism topics.
Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers
A national organization of lawyers concentrating in the fields of professional responsibility and legal ethics, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers maintains a site at www.aprl.net. The association's members include professors, bar counsel, legal malpractice litigators, in-house law firm ethics counsel and the like. For nonmembers, the sole reason to visit this site is for its thorough library of links, which includes state ethics codes, ethics opinions, bar associations and other sites related to ethics or malpractice.
Legal Ethics Opinions Summaries
Two Virginia lawyers have separately created useful resources on legal ethics. One is Thomas E. Spahn, a lawyer in the McLean office of McGuireWoods, who has single-handedly summarized and categorized more than 1,500 ethics opinions from Virginia and the ABA. He has made them available to the public through Legal Ethics Opinions Summaries, www.mcguirewoods.com/servic es/leo. Summaries are in a database searchable by keywords and also organized under topic headings.
Legal Ethics in Virginia
Another Virginia practitioner, James McCauley, who is a lawyer in Richmond and ethics counsel for the Virginia State Bar, is also a prolific writer of articles concerning legal ethics, several of which he includes on his personal Web site, Legal Ethics in Virginia, http://members .aol.com/jmccauesq/ethics. Articles look at lawyers and the Internet, multidisciplinary practice, unauthorized practice, doctors and lawyers, Chinese walls and more.
National Organization of Bar Counsel
Lastly, the members of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, online at www.nobc.org, might be considered the law enforcement officers of legal ethics. The highlight of NOBC's site had been its semiannual compilation of new court cases and ethics opinions involving lawyer discipline. However, after long making these summaries available to the public, NOBC recently restricted access to its members only. The site still includes the complete staff roster of every state ethics agency and a collection of links to notable ethics sites.
Robert J. Ambrogi ( firstname.lastname@example.org) tracks new and intriguing Web sites for lawyers through his LawSites Weblog, www.legaline.com/lawsites.html. He is author of the book The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web (ALM Publishing, 2001).
This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared in Res Gestre, Indiana State Bar Association, 2001.