Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility

The Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issues ethics opinions interpreting both the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. ABA Formal Opinions have been cited as persuasive when courts around the nation interpret state-adopted Rules of Professional Conduct. 

News and Announcements

Proposal on Lawyer Advertising Rules

On Monday, August 6, 2018 the ABA House of Delegates passed Resolution 101, adopting amendments to the lawyer advertising rules.

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Recent Ethics Opinions

Formal Opinion 491

Model Rule 1.2(d) prohibits a lawyer from advising or assisting a client in conduct the lawyer “knows” is criminal or fraudulent.That knowledge may be inferred from the circumstances,including a lawyer’s willful blindness to or conscious avoidance of facts. Accordingly,where facts known to the lawyer establish a high probability that a client seeks to use the lawyer’s services for criminal or fraudulent activity, the lawyer has a duty to inquire further to avoid advising or assisting such activity. Even if information learned in the course of a preliminary interview or during a representation is insufficient to establish “knowledge” under Rule 1.2(d), other rules may require the lawyer to inquire further in order to help the client avoid crime or fraud, to avoid professional misconduct, and to advance the client’s legitimate interests. These include the duties of competence, diligence, communication, and honesty under Rules 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.13, 1.16, and 8.4.

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Formal Opinion 490

This opinion addresses the ethical requirement of judges under the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, Rules 1.1 and 2.6, to undertake a meaningful inquiry into a litigant’s ability to pay court fines, fees, restitution, other charges, bail, or civil debt before using incarceration as punishment for failure to pay, as inducement to pay or appear, or as a method of purging a financial obligation whenever state or federal law so provides. Meaningful inquiry is also required by Rules 1.2, 2.2, and 2.5 as a fundamental element of procedural justice necessary to maintain the integrity, impartiality, and fairness of the administration of justice and the public’s faith in it.

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Formal Opinion 489

Lawyers and law firm management have ethical obligations to assure the orderly transition of client matters when lawyers notify a firm they intend to move to a new firm. Firms may require some period of advance notice of an intended departure. The period of time should be the minimum necessary, under the circumstances. Firm notification requirements cannot be so rigid that they restrict or interfere with a client’s choice of counsel or the client’s choice of when to transition a matter. Firms also cannot restrict a lawyer’s ability to represent a client competently during such notification periods.

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Formal Opinion 488

Rule 2.11 of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct identifies situations in which judges must disqualify themselves in proceedings because their impartiality might reasonably be questioned—including cases implicating some familial and personal relationships—but it is silent with respect to obligations imposed by other relationships.

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Formal Opinion 487

In a contingent fee matter, when a counsel (successor counsel) from one firm replaces a counsel (predecessor counsel) from another firm as counsel for the client, Rules 1.5(b) and (c) require that the successor counsel notify the client, in writing, that a portion of any contingent fee earned may be paid to the predecessor counsel.

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Formal Opinion 486

Model Rules 1.1, 1.3, 3.8(a), (b), and (c), 4.1, 4.3, 5.1, 5.3, and 8.4(a), (c) and (d) impose obligations on prosecutors when entering into plea bargains with persons accused of misdemeanors. These obligations include the duty to ensure that each charge incident to a plea has an adequate foundation in fact and law, to ensure that the accused is informed of the right to counsel and the procedure for securing counsel, to avoid plea negotiations that jeopardize the accused’s ability to secure counsel, and, irrespective of whether an unrepresented accused has invoked the right to counsel, to avoid offering pleas on terms that knowingly misrepresent the consequences of acceptance or otherwise pressure or improperly induce acceptance on the part of the accused.

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Latest Ethics Opinions

Visit the Ethics Opinions homepage to access all recent ethics opinions and the archive library.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct
7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 & 7.5

Model Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.11 Revision

Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4

Past Events

Resolution 109 Adopted By ABA HOD

  • On August 8, 2016 the ABA House of Delegates approved Standing Committee on Ethics resolution 109 to amend Model Rule 8.4 to bring into the blackletter of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct an anti-harassment and antidiscrimination provision.   A list of co-sponsors and supporters as well as previous drafts and comments is available here.   See video

April 2016

  • The Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility voted to file a resolution with the ABA House of Delegates for consideration in August 2016 recommending that Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 be amended to create new paragraph (g).  This new paragraph would bring into the black letter of the Model Rules an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment provision.  The resolution would also include the creation of three new Comments.  A redlined version of the proposal is available here.

December 2015

  • The Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued a draft proposal to amend ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 and Comment [3] to Rule 8.4. 

    A public hearing was held on Sunday, February 7, 2016 from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, 3rd Floor, South Tower, Balboa & Mission Hills Meeting Rooms, San Diego, CA. 

    After reviewing comments from the public hearing and comments submitted in writing, the Committee will resume its work with the aim of producing a final Report and Resolution for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates at the August 2016 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA.

    Please visit the Model Rule 8.4 homepage to see the proposal, the memorandum and all comments received to date.  To access the proposal directly, click here.  The memorandum explaining the Ethics Committee’s drafting choices is also available here.  The proposal reflects the efforts of the Ethics Committee to examine how the Model Rules of Professional Conduct address discrimination and harassment by lawyers and is meant to further focus and advance the discussion on this important issue.

July 2015

  • In conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility held a roundtable discussion on a working discussion draft of revisions to ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4. Under consideration was relocating the prohibition against knowingly discriminating or harassing another person in conduct relating to the practice of law or in the practice of law from current Comment [3] into the black letter of the Rule as new paragraph (g). Additional revisions were also made to the Rule.  Interested persons were encouraged to come to the roundtable to discuss the draft and offer their recommendations and suggestions. 

    The Working Discussion Draft from this rountable is available here. More information about language choices the Committee made is available here.