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Ethics & Professional Responsibility  

Last Updated: Apr 28, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Research on legal ethics requires some different tools than other areas of law. We cannot rely on the standard primary sources - constitutions, statutes and codes, administrative regulations, and judicial opinions.

The only true primary sources for mandatory authority are (1) the state codes of attorney ethics (or professional responsibility) for the jurisdiction, and (2) case law. Other sources discussed herein are secondary, persuasive authority.

Secondary authority for legal ethics includes model codesethics opinionstreatises, books, and restatementsjournal articles and current awareness sources, and foreign, comparative and international law sources.

For additional information about sources for research on legal ethics, you can consultResources for Research in Legal Ethics by Todd W. Grant (Law Annex KF306 .G73 1992). For information about legal ethics resources in Massachusetts, see section 5.6 in Handbook of Legal Research in Massachusetts, Mary Anne Neary, ed. (Law Ref KFM 2475 H36 2002).

Six Tasks

  • 1. Find Mandatory Authority
    A state ethics code is generally not a statutory "code" enacted by the legislature. Instead, in most states, including Massachusetts, the code of ethics has been adopted by the highest court in the state.
  • 2. Find Model Codes
    In addtion to the individual states' rules of ethics, the American Bar Association (ABA) has enacted several model codes of legal ethics.
  • 3. Find Ethics Opinions
    Sources of ethics opinions are the ABA and the various state bar ethics committees. Generally, ethics opinions are written responses to questions posed by attorneys (informal) or are on matters of general interest (formal), and they are not binding on the courts.
  • 4. Find Treatises, Books and Restatements
    Use the BU Library Catalog to identify scholarly monographs
  • 5. Find Journal Articles and Current Awareness Sources
    Current awareness sources keep practitioners on top of new developments in a particular field of law, and are excellent sources to browse for paper topics.
  • 6.Find Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Sources
    Search for books in the BU Libraries, or other libraries, and consult our Foreign Law Research Guide

Subject Guide

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