Legal Malpractice in a Changing Profession: The Role of Contract Principles

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Legal Malpractice in a Changing Profession: The Role of Contract Principles
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Legal Malpractice in a Changing Profession: The Role of Contract Principles

Vincent Johnson

61 Cʟᴇᴠ. Sᴛ. L. Rᴇᴠ. 489 (2013).

    American legal ethics are based upon a set of legal principles that ensure clients are protected from unnecessary harm and that the provision of legal services is consistent with the public interest. However, the fabric of American legal ethics is threatened by a looming transformation of the legal profession. Such changes, if they come to pass, will undercut the foundations upon which the principles and law of modern legal ethics is founded.

The current model of American legal ethics is animated by three important assumptions, each of which is now under attack. The first is that legal services are ordinarily provided only by fully licensed lawyers. The second is that lawyers are members of an exclusive profession which is subject to special obligations. And the third is that entry into the legal profession requires extensive educational preparation. Today, all lawyers must comply with a mandatory ethics code, which regulates both on-the-job and off-the-job conduct.

Despite its apparent vitality and comprehensive structure, the field of American legal ethics is vulnerable to the forces of change. A looming transformation of the legal profession, catalyzed in large measure by technological innovations and globalization, threatens to undermine the central pillars of the current legal ethics regime, discipline and malpractice. If the profession is transformed by the increasing rendition of legal services by nonlawyers, or by the emergence of new categories of lawyers who are not fully licensed, the efficacy of the current legal ethics regime will be seriously challenged.

Keywords: Legal malpractice, contract principles, legal ethics,  legal principles, legal profession, malpractice, professional responsibility, public interest, modern legal ethics, lawyers, attorneys, rule of law, ethical obligations, rules of professional responsibility, ethics code, globalization.

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