1. Bar authorities and courts too often take extreme, over-literal views of the professional “ethics” rules that shape the legal services market.
2. Unsurprisingly, their interpretations frequently just protect attorneys from unwanted competition — not protecting clients from fraud or abuse.
As a lawyer, I take a strict, traditionalist view of legal “ethics” rules that truly pertain to honesty: Don’t lie to a judge, never allow yourself to be in a conflict with your client’s interest, etc.
And on eight or nine occasions I have withdrawn from representing a client where I believed that following their wishes would have the effect of making a misrepresentation to a counter-party in a deal, to a government official, or to a court (and where the client refused to make a disclosure I proposed to restore honesty to the situation).
But I believe that most of the “ethics” rules shaping the legal services market are little or no use in guarding clients from harm. Instead, they mostly protect lawyers from unwanted competition:
- Part 2 — U.S. lawyers can’t practice law as part of an accounting firm.
- Part 3 — Where an app connects you to a company that retains a lawyer for your traffic ticket case, and also puts a ceiling on the fine you have to pay, the app company violates legal “ethics” by “practicing law”.
- Part 4 — If a client chooses an attorney after finding them on a client / lawyer matching service, the web listing is “referring” the lawyer to the client — even though it’s the client who selects the lawyer.
Each of the offerings prohibited in the above cases meets a legal need: