Ethics and Family Law
Domestic relations attorneys will often say they are “zealously representing their client” as is required by our Rules of Professional Conduct. The only problem is that the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct say nothing about “zealously representing our clients”!
Rule 1.3 states that Attorneys are required to “…act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client”. SC R A CT RULE 407 RPC Rule 1.3
The official commentary to Rule 1.3 says that an attorney shall “… take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client’s cause or endeavor. A lawyer must also act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf. A lawyer is not bound, however, to press for every advantage that might be realized for a client”. SC R A CT RULE 407 RPC Rule 1.3
It is clear, then, that the legal actions we take on behalf of a client must not only be lawful, they must also be ethical. In fact, attorney’s are specifically advised that they are not bound to “press for every advantage”. When Rule 1.3 is read in conjunction with the official commentary it is very clear that lawyers are required to balance their efforts in seeking a legal victory with sound ethics.
So what is Ethics? Ethics, very simply stated, is about doing no harm.
As an old trial lawyer, it is hard to ask myself this question when I am in the thrill of litigation. I can easily get angry and allow my emotions to overrun my common sense. When in this mental state it is hard for me to be present and clear on the ultimate objective- a fair settlement agreement.
It is important that we try to see our clients and their spouses as families, not opposing litigants. They will remain a family even when the case has ended, only with different rules, and there will be no lawyers, judges or guardians looking over them. The way the family goes through the divorce process will often have a large impact on their future relationships.
As family law attorneys we have more influence than we realize. It is always important in family law matters that we remain mindful and temper our trial skills with an eye on the future of the family and our community.