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Legal Ethics : Home

Actions of members of the legal profession are heavily monitored by professional associations. This guide highlights resources that collect legal ethics rules and opinions.


The two main resources for ethics research are ethics rules and ethics opinions. The American Bar Association and state and local bar associations have written or adopted rules of ethics that apply to their members and the businesses they operate. Most have also instituted committees to interpret these rules in opinions and handle disciplinary actions against attorneys who have violated them.

Ethics Rules

In 1908 the ABA drafted a code of ethics, the Canons of Professional Ethics. These rules established the role of attorneys dealing with clients, colleagues, and judges. Since then the rules have been rewritten, updated with changes recommended by the ABA House of Delegates, recompiled into new sets of model rules, and adopted in whole or in part by state and local bar associations.

Ethics Opinions

Most states have established committees or boards of members of the bar to investigate claims of misconduct and conduct disciplinary hearings.  These boards may also interpret the ethics code of the organization for attorneys faced with a potential conflict.  They draft formal or informal opinions on these issues (formal opinions apply to all practicing attorneys and informal opinions apply to only one specific situation).  The ABA ceased publishing informal opinions in 1989, but its formal opinions are still readily available from a variety of sources.  Availability of state opinions varies.  Wyoming, for instance, does not have a formal mechanism for reporting any ethics opinions.

Ethics Rules Available Electronically

Lexis and Westlaw

      Both Lexis and Westlaw have fairly complete holdings of ABA rules, formal and informal opinions and state rules and opinions.  Both have a multistate database of ethics opinions searching capability.

     This is the first publication of professional standards established by the American Bar Association, preceding the Model Code of Professional Responsibility and the current Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

     A precursor to the current Model Rules of Professional Conduct.      

     Current ABA rules of ethics.



ABA Ethics Rules Available in Print

ABA Compendium of Professional Responsibility Rules and Standards, Reserve KF 305 .A2

Annotated Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Reserve KF 305 .A26

    This publication of the Center for Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association, House of Delegates, includes comments, comparison with the older model code, annotations with cases, and legal background.

Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr. & W. William Hodes, Law of Lawyering, KF 306 .H3322 

    This 2-volume looseleaf set discusses each rule of professional conduct with the full text of the rule, an overview of the rule, its relationship to other rules, some legislative history, and illustrative cases to help define the rules.  Copies of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility are included, along with variations that states have adopted.

Professional Responsibility Standards, Rules & Statutes (John S. Dzienkowski ed.) Reserve KF 305 .A15 S452

    Federal ABA rules and codes, standards for specialized areas of practice, and rules of evidence and procedure.

Ronald D. Rotunda, Legal Ethics:  the Lawyer's Deskbook on Professional Responsibility, Reserve KF 305 .L44

    Written by one of the premier names in the field, this text discusses the rules step-by-step, with comparison to the older codes and annotations to case law.

Standards of Professional Conduct for Lawyers and Judges (Norman Redlich comp.) KF 305 .A2 .R4

     ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility, ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, sample questions for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, California rules of conduct, ABA Code of Judicial Conduct, federal statutes regarding disqualification of judges.

Ethics Looseleaf

ABA/BNA's Lawyer's Manual on Professional Conduct

     This resource of ABA and state rules of ethics and ethics opinions is no longer maintained in print and our library does not currently have electronic  access.

ABA Ethics Opinions

    All ABA opinions are first published in the ABA Journal, which is available in our journal collection in print, in HeinOnline, and through Westlaw and Lexis.

Formal and Informal Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A4 .A2 1985

     From the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibilityof the ABA, this source contains formal ethics opinions from 1967 to 1982 (opinion numbers 316-348) and informal ethics opinions from 1974-1982 (opinion numbers 1285-1495, ceased in 1983).  This supersedes the following two titles:

Informal Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A75 .A47 1975

     Informal ethics opinions up to 1974 from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. 

Opinions of the Committee on Professional Ethics, with the Canons of Professional Ethics, Annotated, and Canons of Judicial Ethics,   Annotated, KF 305 .A16 .A647 1967

      Earliest collection of formal ethics opinions of the ABA Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances.

Olavi Maru, Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A67 .M87 1970

      The main volume digests ABA formal and informal ethics opinions and some state bar associations up to 1965.  The set is supplemented to 1980.

 Recent Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A85 1991

      The opinions in this looseleaf volume interpret the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, the Model Rules of Judicial Conduct, and, beginning with their adoption in 1983, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  Published by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility.

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