The legal profession is thought to be divided by borders. Lawyers attend different law schools, specialize in different fields, and are admitted to different bars. In fact, those lines only run so deep. At their core, all lawyers share the same dedication to their clients and the same belief in the rule of law. Whether they practise in Canada or the United States, every lawyer also believes our profession is stronger when we maintain the highest ethical standards.
As guardians of the law, lawyers have a duty to the public, their clients, and themselves to follow ethical rules that protect client confidences and ensure professionalism. Every aspect of the practice of law is guided by ethics standards. We need to ensure they apply to the rapidly changing practice of law.
Technology is evaporating what borders exist between lawyers, countries, and clients. Innovation in communication and advertising is creating new ways to serve existing clients and draw new ones. In our digital century, clients expect more diverse services in more places. Outsourcing, driven largely by cost considerations, is here to stay.
Canadian and U.S. law firms are increasingly looking to expand into foreign markets, just as foreign firms eye ours. At the same time, lawyers are turning to social networking and search-engine technologies to build client lists at home.
Ethics rules need, at a minimum, to be checked to make sure they are keeping up with the change going on around us. Reviewing ethics standards is about maintaining the independent, self-regulated aspects of our profession while preserving our core professional values and making sure the public’s best interest is always in the forefront.
Since 2009, the American Bar Association Commission on Ethics 20/20 has grappled with how advances in technology are changing the legal profession through outsourcing, foreign lawyers practising in the United States, advertising, and client data confidentiality. The commission, composed of a broad and diverse swath of the profession, is carefully studying the issues in order to provide clarification and amendments to ethics guidelines where needed.
The Ethics 20/20 work is not a one-way street. Right now, every lawyer has the opportunity to review and comment on the proposals [http://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/aba_commission_on_ethics_20_20/initial_proposals.html]. Those views will be considered when the commission develops proposals to go to the ABA’s House of Delegates in August 2012. Ethics are an integral part of being a lawyer; we hope that every stakeholder will weigh in.
Canadian and U.S. lawyers share more than a border. We share common goals and values. We may be divided by a line on a map, but when it comes to our responsibility to represent our clients to the utmost, there is no division.