End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library
As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.
Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.
We regret any inconvenience.
Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.
Alabama Legal Ethics
0.1:100 Sources of Law and Guidance
The Alabama Supreme Court adopted, effective January 1, 1991, the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct ("ARPC"). The Court also has adopted Alabama State Bar Rules of Specialization (effective January 1, 1994); Alabama Rules of Disciplinary Procedure (effective January 1, 1991); Alabama Standards for Imposing Lawyer Discipline (effective January 1, 1999); Alabama State Bar Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Rules & Regulations (effective March 25, 1981); Alabama State Bar Client Security Fund Rules (effective October 1, 1987); Rules Governing Admission to the Alabama State Bar (revised December 19, 1990); Alabama Rules for Legal Internship by Law Students (effective September 1, 1987); Cannons of Judicial Ethics (effective February 1, 1976); and Rules of Procedure of the Judicial Inquiry Commission (effective April 25, 1975).
The Alabama Supreme Court has adopted the rules discussed above to regulate the practice of law in the State of Alabama. In addition, the Office of General Counsel of the Alabama State Bar issues ethics opinions regarding their interpretation of the ARPC. Frequently requested opinions are maintained on-line at the Alabama State Bar web page which can be found at: www.alabar.org. In addition, Ala. Code § 34-3-1, et seq. addresses the unauthorized practice of law.
In 1992, the Alabama Board of Bar Commissioners adopted the following statements:
Alabama State Bar Lawyer's Creed
To my clients, I offer faithfulness, competence, diligence and good judgment. I will strive to represent you as I would want to be represented and to be worthy of your trust.
To the opposing parties and their counsel, I offer fairness, integrity and civility. I will seek reconciliation and, if we fail, I will strive to make our dispute a dignified one.
To the courts, and other tribunals, and to those who assist them, I offer respect, candor and courtesy. I will strive to do honor to the search for justice.
To my colleagues in the practice of law, I offer concern for your welfare. I will strive to make our association a professional friendship.
To the profession, I offer assistance. I will strive to keep our business a profession and our profession a calling in the spirit of public service.
To the public and our systems of justice, I offer service. I will strive to improve the law and our legal system, to make the law and our legal system available to all, and to seek the common good through the representation of my clients.
Alabama State Bar Code of Professional Courtesy
1. A lawyer should never knowingly deceive another lawyer.
2. A lawyer must honor promises and commitments made to another lawyer.
3. A lawyer should make all reasonable efforts to schedule matters with opposing counsel by agreement.
4. A lawyer should maintain a cordial and respectful relationship with opposing counsel.
5. A lawyer should seek sanctions against opposing counsel only where required for the protection of the client and not for mere tactical advantage.
6. A lawyer should not make unfounded accusations of unethical conduct about opposing counsel.
7. A lawyer should never intentionally embarrass another lawyer and should avoid personal criticism of another lawyer.
8. A lawyer should always be punctual.
9. A lawyer should seek informal agreement on procedural and preliminary matters.
10. When each adversary proceeding ends, a lawyer should shake hands with the fellow lawyer who is the adversary; and the losing lawyer should refrain from engaging in any conduct which engenders disrespect for the court, the adversary or the parties.
11. A lawyer should recognize that adversaries should communicate to avoid litigation and remember their obligation to be courteous to each other.
12. A lawyer should recognize that advocacy does not include harassment.
13. A lawyer should recognize that advocacy does not include needless delay.
14. A lawyer should be ever mindful that any motion, trial, court appearance, deposition, pleading or legal technicality costs someone time and money.
15. A lawyer should believe that only attorneys, and not secretaries,, paralegals, investigators or other non-lawyers, should communicate with a judge or appear before the judge on substantive matters. These non-lawyers should not place themselves inside the bar in the courtroom unless permission to do so is granted by the judge then presiding.
16. A lawyer should stand to address the court, be courteous and not engage in recrimination with the court.
17. During any court proceeding, whether in the courtroom or chambers, a lawyer should dress in proper attire to show proper respect for the court and the law.
18. A lawyer should not become too closely associate with a client's activities, or emotionally involved with a client.
19. A lawyer should always remember that the purpose of the practice of law is neither an opportunity to make outrageous demands upon vulnerable opponents nor blind resistance to a just claim; being stubbornly litigious for a plaintiff or a defendant is not professional.
The ARPC and comments thereto were largely drawn from the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct ("MRPC"). Certain modifications were made to the Model Rules and comments before they were approved by the Alabama Supreme Court. The ARPC and related regulatory provisions have been amended and modified from time to time.
The ARPC generally follows the ABA model rules with minor changes. For example, ARPC Rule 1.3 provides a "willful neglect standard" as opposed to the "reasonable" standard promulgated by MRPC Rule 1.3. In addition, ARPC Rule 7.3 relating to direct contact with prospective clients is substantially more detailed than MRPC Rule 7.3.
0.2:200 Forms of Lawyer Regulation in ALA
The members of the State Bar of Alabama are subject to regulation and discipline by the Alabama Supreme Court. The Court has promulgated Alabama Rules of Disciplinary Procedure and Standards for Imposing Lawyer Discipline. In addition, Ala. Code § 34-3-1, et seq., provides criminal penalties for the unauthorized practice of law in Alabama.
The Rules of Procedure of the Judicial Inquiry Commission were adopted effective April 25, 1975. The Judicial Inquiry Commission consists of 9 members selected as set out by the 1996 Amendment No. 586 to Article VI, Sections 6.17 and 6.18 (Court of Judiciary). The Judicial Inquiry Commission may institute investigations or investigate complaints. The Court of Judiciary hears such complaints. In addition, the JIC may issue advisory opinions as to whether certain specified action contemplated or proposed by a judge violates the Cannons of Judicial Ethics.
The Alabama State Bar includes all attorneys licensed to practice law in the State of Alabama; approximately 13,000 members of which approximately 11,000 live in the State of Alabama. All active members pay an annual license tax of $250 each October. Ala. Code § 40-12-49. Special non-practicing members pay $125 each October. Ala. Code § 34-3-17. Such members may not perform the practice of law as defined in Ala. Code § 34-3-6.
The Office of the General Counsel of the State Bar of Alabama is responsible for investigating and prosecuting violations of the ARPC. The staff of the Bar's Center for Professional Responsibility and various approved local grievance committees consisting of local practitioners investigate certain grievances and report on them to the Office of the General Counsel.
A disciplinary panel consisting of four bar commissioners and one layperson hears charges when recommended as a result of an investigation. Penalties may include reprimand, suspension and disbarment.
Under Rule 8(c) of the Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, a lawyer who is convicted of a "serious crime" may be placed on interim suspension by the Disciplinary Commission. A serious crime is defined as a felony, a lesser crime involving moral turpitude or a lesser crime a necessary element of which, as determined by the statutory or common law definition of such crime, involves interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, extortion, misappropriation, or theft; or an attempt, a conspiracy or the solicitation of another to commit a serious crime. When the lawyer's conviction for a "serious crime" becomes final, the lawyer shall be disbarred. The Disciplinary Commission may hold a hearing to determine whether or not a conviction involves a "serious crime."
Alabama courts have the power to impose sanctions upon attorneys for violations of court rules similar to FRCP 11. In addition, Alabama courts may impose sanctions under the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act. Ala. Code § § 12-19-270, et seq.
Civil liability of lawyers is determined under Standards of Malpractice which are generally similar to those of other states. Alabama has adopted the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act. Ala. Code § § 6-6-570 et seq. There is no criminal liability imposed on lawyers for misconduct resulting in disciplinary action under the ARPC separate and independent from Alabama's general criminal code.
There are three federal districts in Alabama including the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts. The Northern District is headquartered in Birmingham, the Middle District in Montgomery, and the Southern District in Mobile.
The United States District Courts which sit in the State of Alabama provide by local rule for the discipline of members of the bar of their respective courts. In general, the federal courts apply the applicable ARPC.
0.3:300 Organization of This Library and the Model Rules
The Library will follow the outline of the State Legal Ethics project, which, in turn, relies heavily on the MR outline. The State Legal Ethics project, however, goes beyond the MR to include other precepts and standards governing the conduct of lawyers generally.
0.4:400 Abbreviations, References and Terminology
The ARPC incorporates the following definitions, with minor changes, from the MR:
"Belief" or "Believe" denotes that the person involved actually supposed the fact in question to be true. A person's belief may be inferred from circumstances.
"Consults" or "Consultation" denotes communication of information reasonably sufficient to permit the client to appreciate the significance of the matter in question.
"Firm" or "Law Firm" denotes a lawyer or lawyers in a private firm, lawyers employed in the legal department of a corporation or other organization and lawyers employed in a legal services organization.
"Fraud" or "Fraudulent" denotes conduct having a purpose to deceive and not merely negligent misrepresentation or failure to apprise another of relevant information.
"Knowingly," "Known," or "Knows" denotes actual knowledge of the fact in question. A person's knowledge may be inferred from circumstances.
"Partner" denotes a member of a partnership and a shareholder in a law firm organized as a professional corporation or limited liability corporation or partnership.
"Reasonable" or "Reasonably" when used in relation to conduct by a lawyer, denotes the conduct of a reasonably, prudent and competent lawyer.
"Reasonable belief" or "Reasonably believes" when used in reference to a lawyer, denotes that the lawyer believes the matter in question and that the circumstances are such that the belief is reasonable.
"Substantial" when used in reference to degree or extent denotes a material matter of clear and weighty importance.
0.4:500 Additional Definitions in ALA