The key to understanding how to research legal ethics is recognizing that most roads lead to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC). The overwhelming majority of the literature in this area is structured to some extent on the MRPC. This simple statement, connecting the literature to the rules, can greatly help the researcher understand where and how to begin their research since it implies a ready-made methodology for approaching this subject.
In legal research there is rarely such a thing as one stop shopping; however mention legal ethics to any attorney and usually the ABA/BNA Lawyer’s Manual of Professional Conduct (available online on Bloomberg Law and BNA Premier) is the first, and sometimes only, resource mentioned. For the past 27 years this invaluable resource has served as the most essential weapon in the legal researcher’s arsenal of legal ethics resources. The traditional looseleaf arrangement divided the set into the Manual (comprised of “Practice Guides” structured around the MRPC), the Current Reports binder (i.e., recent developments in a newsletter format), and binders for the full text of ABA
The Lawyer's Manual is now also available online through both Bloomberg Law and BNA. The online product does provide an attractive and useful search interface, however the actual content does not differ from the print product, and a potential opportunity to more frequently integrate the material in the “Current Reports” section with the “Practice Guides” was wasted.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and neglected resources by researchers are the Restatements. To many they appear to fall in that grey area; somewhere between the mandatory authority of primary materials, and the persuasive authority of secondary sources. The publication of the Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers in 2000 was the American Law Institute’s first attempt to clarify and synthesize the current state of the law in this area, and is now considered an essential resource in legal ethics. The Restatements are available on Westlaw and LexisNexis in addition to the traditional hard-copy versions.