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Professional Responsibility & Legal Ethics

A short guide to researching the law of professional responsibility and legal ethics.

Starting Points

Students should note that Professional Responsibility is a required upper division course at Catholic University School of Law.  It is also tested in most jurisdictions using the Multi-state Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) which is administered separately from the rest of the bar exam.

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 is the first, and sometimes only, resource mentioned.  For the past few decades this invaluable resource has served as the most essential weapon in the legal researcher’s arsenal of legal ethics resources.  Originally, this publication was available as a traditional looseleaf which 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 formal and informal opinions, and synopsis of state bar ethics opinions. More recently, the Lawyer's Manual has become available online through Bloomberg Law, where it has retained its multi-part structure including the Practice Guides and the Model Rules and Standards.

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood resources by researchers are the ALI's 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 Third 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 Edge and Lexis+ in addition to the traditional hard-copy versions.  Additionally, HeinOnline provides access to the various drafts created in the Restatement drafting process.


Internet Resources

Judge Kathryn J. DuFour Law Library / 3600 John McCormack Road N.E., Washington, DC 20064 / 202-319-5155