February 05, 2014 Articles

When Breaches of Professionalism Become Sanctionable

Courts are beginning to hold attorneys to a higher standard.

By Gregory R. Hanthorn

Considerable confusion exists inside and outside the legal profession concerning the distinction between “professionalism” and “ethics.” For years, this author has noted that the simplest distinction is that “ethics” is a substantive body of law governing the conduct of lawyers, while “professionalism” is what all non-lawyers call ethics. In short, standards governing “ethics” are enforceable by discipline, and most professionalism standards have been viewed as aspirational. Bar associations have recognized that there is a distinction, for as of February 2014 the ABA's "Mandatory CLE" webpage lists 20 states with continuing legal education requirements focusing upon "professionalism" as distinct from or in addition to "ethics."

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