Legal ethics law is the branch of law for regulating the professional conduct of lawyers and judges and the occupation of practicing law.
Modern legal ethics trace their roots back to the Cannons of Ethics issued by the American Bar Association in 1909. These rules were updated in 1970 with the issuance of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The rules were updated again with the issuance of the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility (MRPR)in 1983.
Today, every state has promulgated its own ethics or professionalism rules for attorneys. Many of these rules are based on the MRPR. The rules address a number of issues, including advertising restrictions, permissible attorney fees, client records, and attorney competency and diligence requirements.
The legal profession is self-regulated. Thus, the state rules are enforced by organizations within each state. This is typically a function of the state bar association. Most state bars have one or more ethics panels that address these issues. The ethics panels often answer questions from attorneys and the public, provide a forum for resolving common disputes between attorneys and clients, and play a role in sanctioning attorneys whose conduct violates the state rules.
Sanctions for violating state ethics or professionalism rules can be quite severe for attorneys. This may include public censure or reprimands and even temporary or permanent prohibitions from practicing law.