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Power And Responsibility - A View Of Legal Ethics From Inside The Profession

"I have a clear conscience.  I am doing my job as a lawyer." Rudy Giuliani regarding his representation of Donald Trump, 06/04/2018

To regular people, this sounds like lawyers get to do what they want.  To other lawyers however, this sounds like a client has gone off the rails and the attorney has decided to continue being a tool to their client.  In other words, the attorney admits that the client has requested unethical behavior, that the attorney will behave unethically, and the attorney will blame the unethical behavior on the client.  It is a sell-out and a cop-out: it is a way to insult your client while trying to maintain clean hands.

What is a "job as a lawyer" and what does that have to do with ones "clear conscience"?  Each of us has a conscience, varying in stretchability.  But of even greater relevance to an attorney's behavior are the ethical rules of the profession, the Rules of Professional Conduct, which are not so stretchable.

Lawyers have power.  With that power comes responsibility to practice law within accepted ethical bounds.  Each state has their own set of ethical rules, here are links to ours: AZFederal.  Lawyers who do not follow these rules can lose their license to practice law or be forced to participate in rehabilitative efforts prior to reengaging in their practice.

The bad lawyer behavior we see so often in the news and in movies/TV shows does not reflect real life and courtroom behavior.  Lawyers cannot lie in court (MR 3.3) or to other lawyers (MR 4.1).  Lawyers must know what they are doing when they take a case (MR 1.1), and although they must advocate for a client (Preamble and Scope of MR), they must keep their client's secrets (MR 1.6) and they must exercise independent judgment while providing candid advice to their client (MR 2.1).

As a client, you should understand how your own goals balance with the lawyer's responsibilities.  Should a lawyer ever turn down your request for representation? After you hire your lawyer, what happens if the relationship falls apart? How can your attorney keep your secrets and also only tell the truth when talking to the judge or opposing counsel? Is it the lawyer or the client who decides how a case will be litigated? Will you get to testify in a trial or hearing if you want to?  Do lawyers have a conscience? Remember, you can always call me for insight into your specific situation.


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