Ethical standards are essential to maintaining trust and integrity and protecting the interests of clients, lawyers, and society. But what do these standards look like in practice, and how can you ensure you make the most ethical decisions at every turn?
In this blog post, we’ll look at why lawyers need to put honesty and fairness first, the ethical principles to consider, and how automation software can help you stay accountable to clients.
First, let’s look at how maintaining ethical standards impacts individual lawyers, their clients, and the entire legal profession.
Clients need to be able to trust their lawyers with confidential and sensitive information. If their lawyer administers a trust, they must know that their funds – or their welfare – will be managed responsibly. It’s also important to be scrupulously honest about a client’s case so that they can make the best possible decision. For example, before embarking on a potentially costly round of litigation, they’ll need to understand the likelihood of success and the costs if they lose.
Being honest and fair also helps to build strong lawyer-client relationships, driving word-of-mouth recommendations, online reviews, and enhancing your firm’s reputation. Maintaining ethical standards brings about better outcomes for lawyers and their clients alike.
The importance of ethics goes beyond day-to-day client relationships. Lawyers have a role in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide – something the United Nations acknowledged in the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted in 1990. Principle 12 spells out a lawyer's duty to behave ethically: “Lawyers shall at all times maintain the honor and dignity of their profession as essential agents of the administration of justice.”
The justice system depends on people having confidence in the law. If the profession's reputation is undermined, it can impede the universal access to justice on which a free society depends.
It’s easy to say that legal professionals should always act with honesty and integrity, but what does this look like when it comes to lawyer-client relationships?
The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct is a great place to start. Adopted in 1983, these guidelines have been amended occasionally, forming the basis of most American states’ ethics rules.
Let’s look at a few of the main principles concerning lawyer-client relationships:
When someone engages a lawyer, they have a right to expect a certain standard of service – in other words, competence. A lawyer should have the knowledge and expertise to represent clients and prepare thoroughly for every case. It’s also important to be diligent, attend to matters rigorously and conscientiously, and respond promptly.
Lawyers have a duty to act in the best interests of their clients. So it’s important to ensure that acting for one client does not limit their ability to do what’s best for another or even act directly against their interests. This applies to former as well as current clients.
Client confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of legal ethics, and lawyers have a duty not to reveal client communications or information relating to a case unless they have their client’s informed consent. They must also keep client data safe and secure, protecting it from cybercrime and other unauthorized access. Of course, certain exceptions do apply, for example, if withholding information could lead to someone being harmed or a client engaging in criminal activity.
There are many reasons why a law firm might have to look after client funds. It could be that they have deposited fees and expenses in advance, or perhaps the lawyer is acting as the executor of a will or administering a trust fund. In every case, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to segregate their client’s property from their own, operate separate bank accounts, and keep detailed records to ensure they don’t mismanage the funds.
Lawyers are obligated to charge reasonable costs and expenses, considering factors such as the time and labor involved in representing the client and the fees set by comparable law practices in the area. It’s important to clearly communicate the basis or rate so the client knows what to expect.
A code of ethics is only useful if it can be enforced, and attorneys should be held accountable for their actions. That’s why transparency is so important. Clients should be regularly updated on the status of their case, made aware of any legal or ethical limitations on what their attorney can and cannot do for them, and informed about the steps to take in the event of a dispute.
Rules and regulations also help keep legal professionals accountable. For instance, a final accounting is one of the most significant milestones in the estate administration process. This gives the courts and beneficiaries visibility of all the financial transactions associated with managing the estate, helping safeguard against the misappropriation of funds.
Knowing the rules is one thing, but how can you ensure that you stick to them? Here’s how automation software helps lawyers maintain ethical standards and stay accountable to their clients:
With online tools to take care of repetitive, mundane tasks such as data entry or accounting, you can focus on critical thought and providing counsel informed by ethical considerations. You’ll also free up more time for training and professional development to ensure you’re representing your clients with competence.
Automation reduces the risk of human error when it comes to drafting documents or filling in court forms, and it can also help you keep track of deadlines and different formats. It enables you to deliver the best client service, building trust and security.
Software solutions facilitate smooth collaboration across teams through document sharing and workflow management, fostering greater transparency. Communication tools, meanwhile, help keep you accountable to clients. And data encryption and security features make it easy to do all this securely.
Honesty and fairness are paramount when building effective client-partner relationships, and the right software can help maintain that integrity. By leveraging solutions designed to promote transparency and accountability, your firm can develop stronger relationships with clients and establish a reputation for excellence.
Estateably is the first cloud-based platform for trust and estate professionals in Canada. With document management tools, collaboration software, and powerful accounting and report generation, Estateably helps trust and estate lawyers comply with the ethical guidelines of their profession.
Learn how to use automation to support your practice in making the most ethical decisions and staying accountable to clients.