Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Are State Bar Ethics Opinions Sufficiently Accessible to the Lawyers They Affect?

Very interesting discussion this week on the ABA Ethics 20/20 mailing list about the accessibility of state bar ethics opinions. The discussion was sparked by a sole practitioner who expressed frustration at having to join multiple state bar associations in order to access written opinions. This individual highlighted the lack of centralized, open materials. In some instances, opinions may even be subject to copyright and restricted from open distribution. Several participants concurred with the argument that ethics opinions, by their very nature, should be accessible to any and all parties. Participants pointed out several existing resources including:
Discussion then turned to the fact that resources like these may provide citations to ethics opinions, but individuals must still obtain the written opinions themselves, which may be accessible only through commercial services like Westlaw. A representative from BNA also suggested that this service provides the most thorough collection of ethics opinions (and links to resources), but acknowledged that even with that resource, individuals must still go "from website to website" to track down specific text. Part of the reason for this, he argued, is that demand for ethics opinion information resources is low, so commercial services don't feel the need to invest in collecting, indexing and presenting this information.

One participant in the discussion summed up the reason why access is important: "Many states follow each other as examples and some are asked to address certain issues long before others. Attorneys would benefit greatly from being able to review the guidelines and suggestions found in the comments of the ethics opinions of different states... the ability to search for these opinions across states would be a valuable tool for attorneys..."

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