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Reporting Ethics Violations May Cost You Your Job

As this article, Ethical But Unemployed (ABA Journal, March 2006) begins: 

"Instinct might argue that a lawyer should not be subject to termination because he or she reports ethics violations by another attorney to disciplinary authorities."

But as most of us lawyers know: Law, not instinct, governs most cases -- and the law applicable to attorneys working at firms is at-will employment.  Though two jurisdictions, New York and Connecticut, will allow claims by lawyers terminated in apparent retaliation for reporting a firm's (or its lawyers) ethics violations, at least two other jurisdictions do not.   As the article describes:

"In such cases, the courts generally have reasoned along two lines: first, that extending the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine is unnecessary because lawyers already are bound by ethics rules that protect the public interest; and second, that permitting lawyers to pursue wrongful discharge claims would undermine the confidential nature of the client-lawyer relationship."

Both the Illinois and Texas Supreme Courts have rejected retaliatory discharge claims by lawyers who raised concerns about firm ethics or billing practices and were fired. 

So long as lawyers must risk their jobs to report ethics violations, they won't.  It's unclear why  courts would rather have lawyers make a choice between financial well being and compliance with the Model Code (which requires lawyers to report ethics violations) than to afford protection to lawyers who do the right thing.   There's something not entirely ethical about that.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on March 23, 2006 at 02:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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