Professional responsibility pertains to the obligation of a lawyer to perform his duties in a fitting manner. Not only does this include a professional and legal approach to an attorney’s duties, but also to the moral aspect of the profession, which is not always specified by the law. Professional responsibility is also largely related to “legal ethics,” a guideline of appropriate conduct that a legal practitioner is obligated to perform both to his clients and to the court.
One popular issue with regard to professional responsibility is “conflict of interest." This situation usually occurs when a lawyer is closely related to or in intimate affinity with a person subjected to court rulings. This creates a predetermined bias for or against the potential client, which can influence a lawyer’s decisions, actions, and judgment. Lawyers are recommended, if not required, to refuse the person as a client. The most that a lawyer can do in this situation is refer the person to another legal practitioner or give general legal advices outside of court.
“Withdrawal from representation” is another issue under the area of professional responsibility. Given certain circumstances, an attorney must discontinue representing a client, whether voluntarily or out of necessity. Many lawyers perform a voluntary withdrawal if they discover their client is the guilty party, such as in fraudulence, sexual assaults, or even murder. A client’s failure to give the arranged fees can also result in withdrawal. If the attorney is not physically, emotionally, and mentally able to take on his responsibility, the withdrawal is also mandated by court.
In terms of court duties, a lawyer should also make known to the court instances of perjury, or lying under oath. Misconduct of fellow attorneys, judges, or other legal practitioners should also be reported. As a professional, a lawyer is also not allowed to directly seek out for clients, as this somehow removes the latter’s freedom of decision.
To further set the standards, the American Bar Association (ABA) created the “Code of Professional Responsibility” in 1983, also known as the “Model Rules of Professional Conduct." Aside from issues of conflict of interest and withdrawal of representation, the “Code” also sets guidelines in issues of honesty with the court and the clients, behavior towards co-counsels, and information confidentiality. If a lawyer falls short of the standards and fails to act according to the ethical rules, then he can be charged with legal malpractice. A general criterion for legal malpractice is that a lawyer’s actions—or lack thereof—cause harm to his client and his case.