Are there lawyers that specialize in legal ethics or would I be able to consult with any lawyer regarding ethics? Do ethics vary by state?
If a lawyer has acted unethically, does that mean they have committed malpractice?
There are some lawyers who practice in the field of legal ethics from various perspectives, but it is not a recognized specialty, such as certified civil or criminal. You should consider looking for an attorney who practices in the same field as the attorney you have ethical questions about. You should also consider looking for attorneys who have gained recognition in their field, such as by having an AV-rating from Martindale, the only nationwide attorney rating organization, and who have been recognized as Super Lawyers. The fact that an attorney has behaved unethically does not necessarily mean that he has committed malpractice. Ethical rules vary from state to state. Good luck in your search.
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Allan E. Richardson, Esq.
Richardson, Galella & Austermuhl
142 Emerson ST., Woodbury, NJ 08096 856-579-7045.
Are you interested for yourself as a career? Or have you had a "run-in" with a possibly unethical attorney and you want to know if whatever occurred was unethical/malpractice?
You can always consult a local malpractice attorney. But make sure they are familiar with the kind of law the attorney you are questioning practices in. The test for malpractice is if the attorney was negligent or breached a duty to a client or contact and it harmed an individual's legal case, but one needs to know the law in that area to give a full analysis of the situation.
A lawyer can act unethically without committing malpractice. For example, a lawyer can break state bar advertising rules without harming a client. A lawyer could make a personal loan to client which would be unethical in most states, but that wouldn't harm the client if the lawyer didn't charge interest.
Or, unethical conduct can be the cause of malpractice when it harms the client. For example, breaching a client's confidence by repeating unsavory things about the client to others could harm the client's reputation and be an ethical breach at the same time.
Ethical rules do vary somewhat from state to state. For example, a Nevada resident has a car accident out of state and wants me to represent them and the accident occurred in a state I am not licensed to practice law in. Can I represent them in negotiations with an insurance company before suit is filed? Some states will say, ok, so long as I don't file court papers. Other states will say I would be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in that state.
There are lawyers who represent attorneys to defend ethics complaints. Normally, an ethics complaint is not prosecuted as a private action but is instead filed with and investigated by a local ethics committee. Ethics do vary by state, even if slightly. An ethical breach is not necessarily malpractice, nor is a single occurrence of malpractice necessarily an ethical breach.
As with any legal question much depends on the particular facts. The answer set forth above is very general in nature and should not be relied on as being applicable or correct for your particular situation. Therefore, before making any decision about how to proceed, you should consult with an attorney who can provide you with specific advice tailored to the facts of your situation.