Q: Are attorneys subject to any ethical standards?
A: Yes. Attorneys must be licensed to practice law in Ohio by the Supreme Court of Ohio. When admitted to practice, attorneys swear to uphold the Constitution and the law, and to be faithful to their clients. They are expected to honor this oath and the Rules of Professional Conduct, a set of ethical rules adopted by the Supreme Court. The Rules contain minimum standards for attorneys’ ethical conduct. Attorneys must obey the Rules. If they do not, they are subject to disciplinary action.
Q: What are attorneys’ ethical duties?
A: In general, attorneys must meet their responsibilities as set forth in the Rules. They must not engage in any misconduct described in these Rules, including:
• commit an illegal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty or trustworthiness;
• conduct involving fraud, dishonesty, deceit, or misrepresentation;
• conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice;
• state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official, or to achieve results by means that violate the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct or other law;
• knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is a violation of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the applicable rules of judicial conduct, or other law;
• engage, in a professional capacity, in conduct involving discrimination prohibited by law because of race, color, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, or disability.
Specifically, attorneys must obey certain rules concerning:
• Fees and employment. Attorneys are not allowed to receive illegal payment (such as stolen goods) or charge clearly excessive fees. To decide whether or not a fee is “clearly excessive,” factors such as time involvement, difficulty of legal issues, customary fees in the area, amount of money involved and results obtained, experience and reputation of the attorney, and contingency-based services are taken into account.
• Confidentiality and conflict of interest. Except in a very few instances, attorneys may not reveal confidential client information, including information that is protected by the attorney-client privilege. Also, they generally may not reveal information relating to the representation. In addition, attorneys generally are not allowed to represent a client when their own interests or the interests of other clients conflict with such representation. Sometimes, attorneys may continue to represent more than one client at a time if the clients agree after all the conflicts are made known.
• Competent representation. Attorneys are expected to represent their clients competently. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.
• Client funds. Attorneys must keep clients’ funds in separate accounts and may not mix them with their own funds. Also, they must keep complete records for seven years after either the representation ends or the property or funds are appropriately disbursed. The attorney must notify clients promptly when they receive client funds or property. A client’s funds must be paid to the client when the client is entitled to receive them.
Law You Can Use is a consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association.