A lawyer’s work is increasingly governed by a specialized set of laws and regulations, starting with the rules of legal ethics. And lawyers sometimes need lawyers to help them comply with these laws or to defend themselves when they run afoul of these laws and rules.
Over the last 25 years, a small, but growing, group of lawyers have begun to specialize in the law governing lawyers. The boundaries of ethics and professional responsibility law are not clearly fixed, but these lawyers are often called upon to handle:
- Representation of lawyers in disciplinary matters, where a lawyer is accused of violating an ethics rule and is subject to sanctions, such as disbarment or suspension.
- Representation of lawyers and law firms in court when they are accused of ethics violations or professional misconduct, including motions for sanctions for lawyer misconduct, motions to disqualify lawyers for conflicts of interest, and proceedings involving issues of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality.
- Representation of applicants in bar admission proceedings.
- Providing advice to lawyers and law firms concerning whether their planned conduct complies with ethics rules and other law.
- Providing loss prevention advice to lawyers and law firms, helping them deal with claims by clients and others, or situations that may leads to claims, and advising lawyers and law firms how to avoid them.
- Working as in-house counsel to law firms to provide ethics advice to the firm and its lawyers.
Ethics and professional responsibility lawyers also represent people other than lawyers, including, for example, people considering filing lawyer disciplinary complaints, malpractice complaints, or motions to disqualify lawyers for conflicts of interest.
Because the lawyers who practice in this area know so much about the law and rules governing lawyer conduct, as well as about the standard of care by which good lawyers practice, they frequently serve as expert witnesses when a lawyer’s conduct is called into question, whether in legal malpractice matters, lawyer disciplinary matters, or disqualification motions.
For the same reasons, ethics and professional responsibility lawyers are sometimes called upon by those who do business with lawyers, ranging from title insurance companies to marketing companies to litigation funding companies, to advise them on how lawyers may lawfully and appropriately do business with them.
Some ethics and professional responsibility lawyers also handle legal malpractice cases, whether for those bringing such claims or for lawyers accused of malpractice.
Lucian T. Pera, partner