Legal Ethics and Legal Malpractice

Admission to the Practice of Law

After successfully completing law school, a law school graduate is required to pass a state bar examination before he or she will be admitted to the practice of law in the state. After passing the bar examination, an attorney takes an oath of office. Once admitted to the bar of a state, an attorney’s conduct is regulated by rules of professional conduct.

Rules of Professional Conduct

Every state has court rules which set minimum standards for a lawyer’s conduct. The rules of conduct include such principles as avoiding conflicts of interest or the appearance of impropriety and describe the circumstances under which a lawyer should not agree to represent a potential client. One disciplinary rule prohibits an attorney from engaging in illegal conduct that involves dishonesty, fraud, or deceit. State rules also regulate advertising by attorneys. Ethical rules on representation, intended to protect the public from attorney neglect, require attorneys to represent their clients effectively, competently, and promptly. Most states have a disciplinary agency to enforce the rules of professional conduct.

Legal Malpractice

If you think your lawyer has mishandled your case or made a mistake, you can contact the disciplinary agency in your state and file a malpractice complaint against the attorney. You may also file a civil action for damages. It is legal malpractice if a lawyer does not use the same care and skill other lawyers would have used in handling a similar case. Some examples of legal malpractice include wrongfully retaining or misapplying money or property received from a client and failing to preserve the confidences and secrets of a client. If an attorney is found guilty of legal malpractice, the attorney might be privately reprimanded, publicly reprimanded, suspended from practice for a period or time, or disbarred. Disbarment means that the attorney no longer would be permitted to practice law in the state.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.