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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