Public Lawyers and Ethical Dilemmas

Public lawyers, like all lawyers, confront ethical dilemmas every day. Ethics questions are often interwoven into common tasks and may arise from a variety of situations: interacting with opposing counsel, responding to discovery requests, dealing with pro se litigants, and communicating with clients. Unfortunately, the dilemmas often don't fall neatly within the confines of a specific rule of professional conduct, but rather into the ubiquitous gray area. The task of determining how to respond to these problems adds a significant amount of stress to life's everyday pressures.

One of the goals of the Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division (GPSLD) is to assist public lawyers with responding to these ethical issues, through articles in GPSLD publications and through the presentation of GPSLD's hallmark continuing legal education program, Ethical Considerations in Public Sector Law.

Ethical Considerations in Public Sector Law
focuses on the unique ethical issues confronted by public lawyers using an entertaining, interactive format. Panelists creatively dramatize short illustrative hypothetical scenarios with a discussion period after each skit. Some examples of topics covered are: scope of representation, public sector attorney-client privilege issues, candor toward the tribunal, responsibilities of supervisory lawyers, meritorious claims and contentions, and more. The ABA's GPSLD has presented the program all over the country in cooperation with state and local bar and other government lawyer groups.

If you are interested in obtaining additional information about the program, please email GPSLD at

Ethics Articles

Consider these ethically troubling scenarios and the responses seasoned public lawyers provide to help resolve them. Based upon the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Susan Kidd, Everyday Ethical Dilemmas, The Public Lawyer, Summer 2004 

Susan Kidd, Steering Clear of Ethics Pitfalls, The Public Lawyer, Winter 2006 

Katherine Mikkelson, Ethics: Not All Relative, The Public Lawyer, Winter 2009

More ABA Ethics Resources

For more legal ethics and professionalism resources, including the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and ABA Formal Ethics Opinions, visit the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility. ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.