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George W. Hopper Law Library|College of Law

Ethics Research

The two main resources for ethics research are ethics rules and ethics opinions. The American Bar Association and state and local bar associations have written or adopted rules of ethics by which their members comport themselves and operate their businesses. Most have also instituted committees to interpret these rules in opinions and handle disciplinary actions against attorneys who have violated them. It is, like all areas of law, a growing, changing legal environment, and access to these ethics rules and opinions has expanded and changed as well.

Ethics rules

Written rules or codes of ethics have developed relatively recently in terms of the whole history of law. Before written rules in the United States, legal ethics corresponded with the accepted code of the gentleman. In 1887 the first set of written rules, including consequences for breaking the rules, was adopted in Alabama. Other states then began development of their own sets of rules of professional conduct for attorneys and judges. In 1908 the ABA drafted a code of ethics of its own, the Canons of Professional Ethics. These rules established the role of attorneys dealing with clients, colleagues, and judges. Since then the rules have been rewritten, updated with changes recommended by the ABA House of Delegates, recompiled into new sets of model rules, and made available for adoption in whole or in part by any bar association that wishes.

Ethics Opinions

While cases regarding violations of rules of professional responsibility have found their way into the courts, most states have established committees or boards of members of the bar to investigate claims of misconduct and disciplinary hearings.  These boards may also assume the role of interpreting the ethics code of the organization for attorneys faced with a potential conflict and draft formal or informal opinions on these issues (formal opinions being those that apply to practicing attorneys throughout the profession, and informal opinions those that apply to only one specific situation).  The ABA ceased publishing informal opinions in 1989, but its formal opinions are still readily available from a variety of sources.  Availability of state opinions varies.  Wyoming, for instance, does not have a formal mechanism for reporting any ethics opinions.   

Comprehensive Resources, Federal and State

There are sources that bring rules and opinions from the ABA and individual states together in one publication. 

 ABA/BNA Lawyer's Manual on Professional Conduct. KF 305. A8 .A23 1984- and available electronically through our library databases under BNA's Lawyer's Manual on Professional Conduct

A well-respected resource for ethics research, the main volume of this loosely set contains a full-text reprint of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, describes basic issues and rules, cites to key cases, compares state variations to the model code and rules, and reprints selected current ethics opinions.  It abstracts state and local ethics opinions beginning with 1980 and digests opinions beginning with 1991.  The Current Reports volume has state court cases, ethics opinions, disciplinary proceedings, bar association activities, and legislative actions.  The Ethics Opinions volumes contain written opinions of the ABA and state and local bar associations.  The online resource has informal opinions from 1986-1989 (the publication of informal opinions ceased in 1989) and formal opinions from 1986 to the present.

Cornell's Legal Information Institute

This web site links to state rules and selected state opinions, as well as the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Lexis and Westlaw

Both Lexis and Westlaw have fairly complete holdings of ABA rules, formal and informal opinions and state rules and opinions.  Both have a multistate database of ethics opinions searching capability.

ABA Ethics Rules

ABA Compendium of Professional Responsibility Rules and Standards, Reserve KF 305 .A2 2012

The Center for Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association republishes a variety of professional responsibility rules including Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Model Code of Professional Responsibility, Model Code of Judicial Conduct, ABA Canons of Professional Ethics, ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, ABA Professionalism Codes and Creeds, ABA Client Relations Commitment to Client, ABA Guidelines for Litigation Conduct, selected formal opinions, and sample MPRE questions and answers in this annual resourc

Annotated Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Reserve KF 305 .A26 2011

This publication of the Center for Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association, House of Delegates, includes comments, comparison with the older model code, annotations with cases, and legal background.

Canon of Professional Ethics (1908), available electronically at ABA's web site,

This is the first publication of professional standards established by the American Bar Association, preceding the Model Code of Professional Responsibility (1969) and the current Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr. & W. William Hodes, Law of Lawyering (3d ed. 2001-), KF 306 .H332 2001

This 2-volume loosely set discusses each rule of professional conduct with the full text of the rule, an overview of the rule, its relationship to other rules, some legislative history, and illustrative cases to help define the rules.  Copies of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility are included, along with variations that states have adopted.

Model Code of Professional Responsibility (1969), available electronically on the ABA web site,

A precursor to the current Model Rules of Professional Conduct.         

Model Rules of Professional Conduct, KF 306 .A55 and available electronically at ABA's web site

The ABA site has links to the Ethics 2000 Commission, including their current changes and summary of the House of Delegates actions.  The site also gives contact information for ETHICSearch, an ABA resource that refers lawyers with ethics questions to the appropriate ABA rules, opinions, and other ethics resources. 

This publication is updated annually with rules, including recent amendments.  It supersedes the 1969 Model Code of Professional Responsibility.

Cornell, Legal Information Institute

Searchable by topic or jurisdiction, this site offers the rules of conduct, disciplinary procedure, ethics opinions, and rules of judicial conduct for most states.  Searching the Model Rules of Professional Conduct by topic brings up the table of contents with links to those states who have adopted the MRPC and those adopting the MCPR.  Attorneys in eighteen states have added comments to their states' rules.

Thomas D. Morgan & Ronald D. Rotunda, Model Code of Professional Responsibility, Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and Other Selected Standards Including California Rules on Professional Responsibility, KF 305 .A2 .M67 1991

Professional Responsibility Standards, Rules & Statutes (John S. Dzienkowski ed.), Reserve KF 305 .A15 S452 2011-2012.

Federal ABA rules and codes, standards for specialized areas of practice, and rules of evidence and procedure.

Ronald D. Rotunda, Legal Ethics:  the Lawyer's Deskbook on Professional Responsibility, Reserve KF 306 .R68

Written by one of the premier names in the field, this text discusses the rules step-by-step, with comparison to the older codes and annotations to case law.

Standards of Professional Conduct for Lawyers and Judges (Norman Redlich comp.), KF 305 .A2

ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility, ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, sample questions for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, California rules of conduct, ABA Code of Judicial Conduct, federal statutes regarding disqualification of judges.

ABA ethics opinions

All ABA opinions are first published in the ABA Journal, which is available both in our journal collections and through Westlaw and Lexis.

Formal and Informal Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A4 .A2

From the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association, this source contains formal ethics opinions of the ABA from 1967 to 1982 (opinion numbers 316-348) and informal ethics opinions from 1974-1982 (opinion numbers 1285-1495, ceased in 1983).  There is a subject index to the opinions and a citator table to the ethics codes and opinions.  This supersedes the following two titles:

Informal Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A75 .A47 1975

Contains the earlier informal ethics opinions up to 1974 from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility.  Includes index and tables.

Opinions of the Committee on Professional Ethics, with the Canons of Professional Ethics, Annotated, and Canons of Judicial Ethics, Annotated, KF 305 .A16 .A647 1967

This is the collection of the earliest formal ethics opinions of the ABA Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances.

Olavi Maru, Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A67 .M87 1970

The main volume digests ABA formal and informal ethics opinions and some state bar associations up to 1965.  The set is supplemented to 1980.

Recent Ethics Opinions, KF 305 .A85 1991

Formal opinions may be downloaded by ABA members for free at the ABA web site,

The opinions in this loosely volume interpret the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, the Model Rules of Judicial Conduct, and, beginning with their adoption in 1983, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  Published by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility.

State Ethics Rules and Opinions

State and local organizations may adopt ABA rules or codes, all or in part, or they may draft their own rules.  Usually these rules are incorporated either into the states' statutes or court rules and adopted by their legislatures or their highest courts.  In Wyoming, these rules can be found in the Wyoming Court Rules Annotated volume of the Wyoming Statutes Annotated.  State ethics opinions may be published as book sets, slip opinions, or in state bar journals. 

National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility (Julie Shuptrine ed.), KF 308 .A6 .N38 1983-

Electronically available on LexisNexis

This loosely set lists state rules of professional conduct and judicial ethics and state bar formal and informal ethics opinions.  The historic collection of state ethics opinions goes back to 1983. 

National Reporter on Legal Ethics, KF 308 .A6 .N38 1982

This is an earlier incarnation of the above title.  It accesses both ABA and state rules and ethics opinions up to 1983 but does not address the new rules adopted in that year.

Opinions of the Committee on Professional Ethics, KF 305 .A16 .A647 1967

Published by the Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances of the American Bar Association, this resource collects selected state, county, and city ethics opinions.

Other Useful Sources

Frederick A. Elliston & Jane van Schaick, Legal Ethics: an Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide, KF 305 .A1 .E43 1984

Todd W.Grant, Resources for Research in Legal Ethics, KF 306 .G73 1992

Peter A. Joy, Making Ethics Opinions Meaningful:  Toward More Effective Regulation of Lawyers' Conduct, 15 Geo.J. Legal Ethics 313 (2002).

Charts of five years' worth of data on state ethics opinions, including statistics on volume, states in which ethics opinions are binding, and internet sites where these materials are available.

Legislative History : the Development of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1982-2006, KF 306 .L45 2006

There are times when review of the legislative history of the adoption and revision of code or rules will be helpful to a researcher.  This title is arranged by code sections.

Lee F. Peoples, Legal Ethics: A Legal Research Guide, KF 306 .P46 2006

Restatement (3d) of The Law Governing Lawyers (2000), library reference area and available electronically on Westlaw and Lexis

This is the first time American Law Institute, publisher of the Restatements, have tried to organize the laws of professional responsibility from the various jurisdictions.  Like all Restatements, this has become an important resource.

Nathan Aaron Rosen, Researching Legal Ethics, 66 N.Y. St. B.J. 40 (1994).

Brief discussion of available ethics resources.  Footnotes 49-57 list PLI publications relating to ethics and specific practitioner areas.

Charles W. Wolfram, Modern Legal Ethics, KF 306 .W59, 

Deals most specifically with internet ethics, with links to ABA and state ethics opinion summaries and state rules in general; has full-text formal opinions from 1987 and informal opinions from 1988-1989.

Wyoming Lawyer, available in print in our law reviews collection and electronically at Wyoming State Bar Association since 2005

This Wyoming Bar Association publication has a regular column written by University of Wyoming College of Law Professor John Burman.  A subject index and a rules index to the column for the years 1996-2002 appears in the October 2002 issue.  Disciplinary actions against Wyoming lawyers are published here.

Wyoming State Bar Association,

Links to court rules and other useful ethics internet sites.  The Wyoming State Bar Association receives, dockets, and investigates complaints of attorney misconduct.  The Board of Professional Responsibility hears grievance cases on behalf of the Wyoming Supreme Court.


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