So Why Is Ethics Important to the Practice of Law?

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So why is ethics important to the practice of law?

The sad truth is becoming more and more apparent; our profession has seen a steady decline by casting aside established traditions and canons of professional ethics that evolved over centuries ...When we speak of the decline in "ethical" standards, we should not use the term 'ethics' to mean only compliance with the Ten Commandments or other standards of common, basic morality.....A lawyer can [adhere to all these requirements] and still fail to meet the standards of a true profession, standards calling for fearless advocacy within established canons of service.

Introduction

Surveys tell us that in terms of ethics and honesty only building contractors, politicians and car sales-people have lower ratings than lawyers. In a study done in the United States funeral directors rated more highly. The fact is that lawyers have been 'on the nose' for a long time now. Part of this can be explained by the fact that the client sees the lawyer as the 'means to justice' and so if they lose a case - be it criminal or civil - the lawyer and 'the system' are easy targets of blame.

It is also the case that the lawyer has divided loyalties - owing a duty to the court while at the same time owing a duty to the client. On occasions, these duties will be in conflict. In these cases, the lawyer is obliged to fulfil his or her obligations to the court. This is not generally understood by clients, or by some lawyers who carry the notion of the duty to the client too far and engage in practices that are unethical and that go to defeat the interests of justice. Making an allegation of fraud in circumstances where there is no evidence to support the claim is an example. Other examples include deliberately delaying proceedings, perhaps in order to force a settlement from the opposing client who is concerned about increasing costs; or issuing writs without their being any proper legal or factual foundation.

This is where legal...
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