Ethics in Family Law
According to US Legal, Inc. the definition of legal ethics in law “is the minimum standards of appropriate conduct within the legal profession. It is the behavioral norms and
morals which govern judges and lawyers. It involves duties that the members owe one another, their clients, and the courts.” These issues of ethics include communications, particularly between client and legal professional, due diligence or the level of care and activity a legal professional exerts on behalf of the client and his or her case, conflicts of interest between the client and legal professional, and treating clients with respect and genuine caring. As family law is most often filled with high emotion and clients who may never have needed to use a legal professional so don’t really understand the “law” it is most important that the area of ethics is taken seriously. In fact, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct were adopted by the ABA (American Bar Association) Congress in l983 to serve as models for most jurisdictions by addressing ethics requirements. These rules help lawyers to know how to practice ethically and hopefully prevent the filing by clients of ethical complaints against them. Taking a closer look at the above mentioned issues, it can be seen that the guidelines presented in the rules of professional conduct are most helpful to client and professional alike in providing an ethical representation during a Family Law case.
Probably the most important ethical issue is providing adequate and timely communication between the professional and his or her client. In today’s world of various ways to communicate this issue should not be difficult to achieve. However, the professional must conscientiously take the time to see that his or her client is kept informed of all that is happening with the case as well as being available to answer questions and/or concerns of the client. Right from the beginning, there should be an understanding of how communications will be handled, and charged, be it by mail, phone, e-mail, fax, or text. The client should have a say in this matter as sometimes there may be a concern the wrong person(s) will intercept electronically delivered information and documents. Even though providing a client with copies of all documents and legal proceedings involving their case can be time-consuming, it is ethically the right thing to do and will go a long way in keeping communication lines open. Often a paralegal can be of great help in providing ongoing communication. Letting a client know the anticipated response time when there are questions or concerns is important as well in keeping a client satisfied.
Diligence is another area where it the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct are most helpful. Making sure the client is aware of how the case is proceeding with an explanation of the time factors regarding proceedings is vitally important. The legal professional should keep a detailed timetable of scheduled proceedings such as meetings, documents due, hearings, and appointments with the client and should have a system of being reminded so as not to forget what needs to be done and when. Time is of the essence, especially to a client who is anxious for their case to be resolved, so diligence should be exerted to move things along as quickly as possible, letting the client know how this is happening. And, when things slow down for good reason, make sure the client is informed of the delay and what caused it.
A conflict of interest results when two parties opposing each other want to use the same legal professional. Even when both parties agree on the final outcome the ABA rules do not allow a lawyer to represent both persons involved in the same confrontational case. It is also considered unethical to get personal information from a client’s spouse who might seem to want to hire a lawyer, the same lawyer the opposing spouse wants to hire. If in-depth personal information was shared a lawyer should not represent the opposing party. However, if the lawyer works for a firm, another lawyer in the firm can represent the opposing client but he or she cannot use any information gathered by the lawyer from the party who did not choose to hire that particular lawyer.
All in all, ethics play an important role in the practice of Family Law. The way legal professionals treat their clients and their clients’ cases goes along to keeping clients satisfied with their legal representation. Ethics just make sense as we all want to be treated with respect, to be kept informed, our needs and concerns taken seriously, and those needs and concerns resolved as quickly and economically as possible.