Consumer FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

[Note: If you are a member of the news media and are seeking information about the work of the Center for Professional Responsibility or related committees, commissions, task forces, etc., please contact the ABA Division for Media Relations and Communication Services]

What is the American Bar Association?

The ABA is the largest voluntary professional association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public. The mission of the ABA is to be the national representative of the legal profession, serving the public and the profession by promoting justice, professional excellence, and respect for the law.

For more than ninety years, the ABA has provided leadership in legal ethics and professional responsibility through the adoption of professional standards that serve as models of the regulatory law governing the legal profession.

Does the ABA discipline lawyers?

No. The ABA is not a lawyer disciplinary agency and has no authority to investigate or act upon complaints filed against lawyers. Each state has its own agency that performs that function in regard to lawyers practicing in that state.

What is the difference between the ABA and a state bar association?

The ABA is a voluntary professional association for lawyers. There is no requirement that lawyers be members of the ABA in order to practice law. In some states, membership in the state bar association is required for a lawyer to represent clients.

What is the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility?

Since 1978, the Center has been the core entity within the ABA to enhance public confidence in the profession by improving the ethics, competence, and professionalism of lawyers and judges and by strengthening the accountability and effectiveness of the profession's regulatory structure. The Center is supported through the ABA and through a separate membership.

What are the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct?

The ABA has had some form of model ethics standards for lawyers since 1908. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct were adopted by the ABA House of Delegates on August 2, 1983, and have been amended on numerous occasions since, including a major revision in 2002. These standards serve as models for state rules governing lawyers and their relationships with their clients, the courts and third parties. Most of the states have enacted rules based on the Model Rules. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ethics opinions interpreting them are advisory only. The ethics rules, laws and court decisions in each jurisdiction are controlling.

Where can one get a copy of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct?

The current edition of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct is online.

An electronic version of the Model Rules also can be found on LEXIS by using the CODES file of the ETHICS Library. On Westlaw, go to the ABA-AMRPC database.

To purchase a hard copy of the latest edition of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, see information at

Where can one purchase other materials about legal ethics?

The professional responsibility area of the ABA Web Store contains all resources in this area. Discounts are available for ABA and Center members.

What does the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility do?

Since 1908, the Ethics Committee has focused its efforts on the development of model national ethics standards and the drafting of definitive ethics opinions interpreting and applying those standards.

How can one get copies of the Standing Committee's opinions?

  1. Center members can download free opinions in .pdf format.
  2. Opinion collections are also available for purchase:
    1999-2013 - $67.95 Center members/$84.95 regular
  3. Recent opinions are available for free for one year after issuance.

LEXIS subscribers can access the opinions in the FOPIN and INFOP Files of the ETHICS Library. Westlaw users will find them in the ABA-ETHOP database. As an aid to researching the ABA's opinions, Model Rules and the Model Code use Shepard's Professional and Judicial Conduct Citations. In addition to finding citations to court cases, this Shepard's publication also includes citations from law reviews, legal treatises and the ABA Journal.

Where else can one get information about legal ethics?

In addition to the vast information available on our Web site, the Center for Professional Responsibility publishes such resources as the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and an annotated version of that publication; the Compendium of Professional Responsibility Rules and Standards; The Legal Assistant's Practice Guide to Professional Responsibility; and Legal Ethics: The Lawyer's Deskbook on Professional Responsibility among many others. See our publications page for a complete listing of publications available.

In addition, the ABA/BNA Lawyers' Manual on Professional Conductis a useful general resource for research in professional responsibility. The Manual also has digests of thousands of state and local bar association ethics opinions, some of which may be relevant to your inquiry. The Manual is very widely available in law libraries and is also available on Westlaw in the database ABA-BNA.

How does one find a lawyer?

Most legal issues are regulated by the law in the state where you live, or where the problem occurred. The ABA's web site " FindLegalHelp.Org" will guide you to a comprehensive list of resources in each state, including local bar associations with referral services. The ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service also maintains a directory of lawyer referral services.

Some other directories exist that list lawyers and include information about their special practice areas. One directory is the Martindale-Hubbell Lawyer Locator. Another route is to ask a friend for a recommendation. Lawyers also can be good sources of referrals for other lawyers in their own and other practice areas.

How are lawyers licensed?

Lawyers must meet certain requirements to be licensed to practice law. They are licensed and disciplined, if necessary, by their state's highest court. There is no national license to practice law. The court has the power to suspend or take away a lawyer's license for unethical conduct.

How does one find out about pro bono assistance?

Pro bono assistance usually is available through the legal aid offices in each state. " FindLegalHelp.Org" contains information about finding free or low-cost legal services.

How do I find out if a particular attorney is licensed to practice law or if a lawyer has had complaints filed against him or her?

Your state maintains current records of registration and discipline information for lawyers licensed to practice in the state. Check the directory of state disciplinary agencies for contact information in your state.

If you are dissatisfied with your lawyer, first talk to him or her and try to resolve your complaint. You may also want to talk to one of the other partners in the law firm.

If you wish to file a complaint, you may do so with the lawyer disciplinary agency in the state where the lawyer is licensed to practice. Bear in mind that the lawyer disciplinary agency will not be able to assist you with any underlying legal problems; their function is to make a determination as to whether the lawyer has violated any applicable ethics standards that have been adopted in your state.

To the extent that you have questions about what legal options there may be in this matter, you may consult with a local lawyer for his or her views on the matter. If you need assistance in finding a lawyer, see the resources listed above.

Does the Center maintain records regarding lawyer discipline?

In its oversight role, the Center operates the National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank, the only national repository of information on public sanctions imposed upon lawyers in disciplinary cases throughout the United States. The Data Bank not only provides ready access to information concerning sanctions imposed on individual lawyers but also offers a means of gathering national statistics on disciplinary cases.

The Data Bank offers two primary services:

1. Name Verification

Requests for verification of individual lawyer names or disciplinary actions (or lack thereof) regarding individual lawyers will be fulfilled at a modest cost provided that the inquirer confirms the request in writing.

2. Data Bank Research Service

Specialized statistical information also can be provided at a modest cost. Requests for research must be in writing and must state the purpose for which the information will be used. Available reports include alphabetical or cumulative lists of lawyer regulatory actions in specific jurisdictions for specific time periods.

Where do you go if you have a complaint about a judge?

If you wish to file a complaint against a judge, you may do so with the judicial disciplinary agency in the state where the judge is located. Bear in mind that the judicial disciplinary agency will not be able to assist you with any underlying legal problems; their function is to make a determination as to whether the judge has violated any applicable judicial ethics standards that have been adopted in your state.

What is the ABA Standing Committee on Professional Discipline?

The Standing Committee on Professional Discipline was established in 1973 to assist the judiciary and the bar in the development, coordination, and strengthening of disciplinary enforcement throughout the United States. Bear in mind that the ABA is not a disciplinary agency and neither it nor the Standing Committee on Professional Discipline has the authority to investigate or act upon complaints filed against lawyers or judges.

What is a lawyers' fund for client protection?

Client protection funds are funds established at the state level to provide reimbursement to individuals who have lost money or property as a result of the dishonest conduct of their lawyer practicing law during the course of the client-lawyer relationship. Every state has a lawyers’ fund for client protection. The funds provide a remedy for clients who are unable to obtain reimbursement for their loss from another source.

Where do you find out more information about lawyers' funds for client protection and how to file a claim?

The Center's online resources include directories of state client protection funds, client-lawyer fee arbitration programs and unauthorized practice of law committees.