Whether you are talking about a divorce attorney or a bankruptcy lawyer or even any Rhode Island lawyer you choose to address, it matters little when you come to ethics.
Why do I say this?
It is an observation I've made over the years working with clients and one that still confounds people today. It is the difference between an attorney being ethical and an attorney practicing within his ethics.
The two are not the same.
For instance, if something is ethical then it can be said that it is something most men and women of a reasonable disposition are likely to agree upon as being exceptible treatment as between people. This, of course is just a general standard and does relate just to divorce attorneys and whether they take actions that are ethical or not but rather, it is an internal standard of each person.
Simply put, each of us might see the same behavior while one person would find that behavior to be ethical and another person might find that behavior to be unethical. So, as you can see, something ethical is based on an internal standard that we have established within ourselves or that has been ingrained in us as a result of laws, history, family or even social conformities.
Whether an attorney is acting within his ethics is, however, an objective standard. When we refer to an attorney in this manner we are referring to whether the attorney has followed the Professional Rules of Conduct. These are a specific code of conduct. They set down standards under which the attorney must function if he or she is to avoid discipline or disbarment.
Though this all sounds rather philosophical, it is nevertheless important. An attorney can be ethical yet not be within his or her ethics.
Why should this matter?
People generally believe that because attorneys are bound by a code of ethics that they must also be ethical. This is not true and it is something that especially litigants who are working with attorneys need to know.
One example is all that is needed to illustrate this point.
An attorney has been hired by your former spouse on a Motion to Modify Child Support. You reach an agreement with the attorney by handing him your tax return to show your gross income. Your former spouse does the same. You explain to the attorney that your tax return includes substantial overtime from last year but that you don't get overtime anymore. The attorney states that it's okay because the Child Support Guidelines account for it.
The child support is calculated and you end up paying $60 per week more in child support than you should simply because you entered into an agreement and weren't informed. The attorney has not violated our ethical code because he has not lied to you about the guideline adjustments. However, by my standards the attorney has acted unethically by entering into an agreement with someone, knowing that child support should only be calculated on your existing income and not your previous income.
As you can tell, personal ethics is much broader than the Professional Code of Conduct which dictates our professional ethics.
When referring to an attorney as unethical, it may help to clarify whether you are talking about a violation of your own personal ethics or the attorney's violation of his code of conduct.
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