Teaching Legal Ethics a Quarter of a Century After Watergate

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Long title: 
Teaching Legal Ethics a Quarter of a Century After Watergate, 51 Hastings Law Journal 661 (2000)
Author(s): 
Rotunda, Ronald D
Publication: 
Hastings Law Journal
Volume number: 
51
Year: 
2000
First page number: 
661
Last page number: 
668
Country: 
USA

Attorneys are often their own worst lawyers. They know the law affecting their clients because it is their business to know that. But too frequently they know little about the law affecting themselves, the law governing the practice of law.

Many lawyers today are also ignorant of recent developments regarding ethics subjects, such as conflicts of interest and attorney disqualification. Empirical evidence shows that lawyers often do not appreciate the distinction between a client's “confidences” and her “secrets” and did not realize that they are not supposed to volunteer either. In one particular situation, the lawyer displayed his ignorance at an inopportune and inauspicious time--in the course of his deposition, when he was being sued for malpractice. In another instance, a lawyer was asked, during her deposition, whether she had secured her client's waiver of a conflict. Her response: “I don't even know what a conflict waiver is, if you want to know the truth.”

Studying legal ethics as a scholarly discipline will not make unethical lawyers ethical, but it will sensitize those lawyers who want to be ethical but who are otherwise unaware of the law governing complex issues, such as conflicts of interest, commingling trust funds, ex parte communications, client perjury, and similar issues.

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