References for Researching Ethics Questions
1. Florida Rules of Professional Conduct. Adopted in 1987 to replace the old Code of Professional Responsibility, these rules are the basic ethical standards for attorney conduct in Florida. They are found in Chapter 4 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. The Rules of Professional Conduct are published in Florida Rules of Court (West Publishing Co.) and Volume 35 of Florida Statutes Annotated.
2. Rules Regulating Trust Accounting are found in Chapter 5 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. These rules set out the minimum procedures required in connection with maintaining a trust account.
3. Florida cases in which the Rules of Professional Conduct are cited can be located by reviewing: Shepard’s Professional Responsibility Citator; the ‘Attorney & Client’ section of Florida Digest 2d; Volume 35 of Florida Statutes Annotated.
4. Cases from other jurisdictions, both state and federal, can be found in several sources. One of the easiest-to-use tools is Shepard’s Professional Responsibility Citator. Organized by ABA Model Rule number (to convert a Florida rule number to the ABA Model Rule number, just drop the ‘4-‘ from the Florida rule). LEXIS and Westlaw computer services are quick and easy, but relatively expensive, ways to search for cases citing specific rules. In Westlaw, one of the easiest ways to search ethics issues is to go to “Administrative Decisions and Guidance” and select “Ethics and Disciplinary Opinions” under the heading “By Topic/Type,” which will search not only discipline cases, but also state rules of professional conduct and ethics opinions.
6. An excellent resource to check when beginning research on an unfamiliar ethics issue is the ABA/BNA Lawyers Manual on Professional Conduct. This three-volume loose-leaf reference set contains commentary on ethics topics and discusses cases and ethics opinions from throughout the country. Also helpful is the ABA Annotated Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Both of these resources are published by the American Bar Association. ABA members can call ‘EthicSearch’ in Chicago at (312) 988-5323.
7. Law review articles are also a great source of information, especially on hot topics in ethics. Law review articles discuss specific issues in great depth and contain citations to many other authorities. Locate these articles in Westlaw by selecting “Law Reviews and Journals” under the “By Type” heading in Secondary Sources.
8. Informal advisory opinions about a Florida Bar member’s own future conduct are available through the Florida Bar Ethics Department. For an oral opinion, call toll-free 1-800-235-8619, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Members may leave a message at 1-850-561-5780. For a written informal opinion, which takes 3–5 weeks, write to the Florida Bar Ethics Department at 651 East Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300.
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.