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Ethics and Professional Responsibility

This research guide provides an overview of legal ethics and professional responsibility.

Overview of Codes of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers

The American Bar Association has published professional standards that serve as models of the law governing lawyers since the adoption of the Canons of Professional Ethics in 1908. The latest version of these standards is the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, first adopted in 1983 and amended a number of times since then. The Model Rules replaced the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, which was adopted in 1969.

The Model Rules are not binding on anyone, but serve as a model for adoption by states. Codes or rules of professional conduct for lawyers function similarly to statutes. However, most are not adopted by the legislature but, instead, by state bar associations or the highest court of the jurisdiction

State Codes of Professional Conduct

In addition to the ABA standards, each state has its own code of professional ethics. Since 1983 almost all of the states have adopted some form of the ABA Model Rules. Because these model codes have effect in a state only as they are adopted by that state, begin your research by finding your state's version of the Model Rules.

Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct

On June 12, 2000, the Supreme Court of Georgia adopted the new Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which became effective on January 1, 2001. The Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct replace rules 4-101 and 4-102 of Part IV, Discipline, of the Rules of the State Bar of Georgia. Georgia’s Rules follow the format of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are the current ethical codes of the American Bar Association. Since their creation in 1983, they have been adopted in some form by numerous states. The Model Rules consist of a Preamble, a statement of their scope, and a list of approximately 58 rules, organized into eight subject areas. Each Rule is followed by a comment, explaining the Rule.

The text of the current and historical versions of the Model Rules with comments can be found in many places. A few convenient sources are:

Model Code of Professional Responsibility

Created by the ABA in 1969, this Code was adopted by courts in almost every state.  Many states still have ethical codes based on the Model Code. The Code is divided into three parts: Canons, Disciplinary Rules, and Ethical Considerations, plus a set of Definitions. The Canons are general statements, defined as "axiomatic norms." The Disciplinary Rules are considered to be mandatory, while Ethical Considerations contain objectives towards which lawyers should strive.

Legislative History of Model Rules

Legislative history refers to the progress of a statute or rule through the legislative process and to the documents that are created during that process. Attorneys, judges, and others often turn to these documents to learn why legislative bodies enacted a particular law or to aid in the interpretation of a law.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the State of Georgia, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Georgia State University College of Law and the authors of the works contained on this website do not assume or accept any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currentness, or comprehensiveness of the content on this website. The content on this website does not in any manner constitute the issuance of legal advice or counsel. The information on this website is intended to provide resources that may aid the research of the topics presented, and are in no way a comprehensive list of sources one should consult on the topics presented. Please note that case law, statutory law, and administrative law may be modified and/or overturned. Additionally, because the laws vary between jurisdictions, the laws referred to herein may or may not be applicable to the law within the reader’s jurisdiction.