Legal Ethics and Legal Profession Research Guide

This guide focuses on the codes of professional ethics and ethics opinions from the American Bar Association and state bar associations. This guide also identifies resources for researching management of law offices and corporate legal departments.

Model Codes

For the purpose of legal research, there are two kinds of ethical codes in the United States: model codes and state codes. Model Codes are the ethical rules for lawyers proposed by the American Bar Association.  These rules do not have the effect of law, but versions of these rules have been adopted and made into law by the states and the District of Columbia, which makes discussions and analyses of the model rules relevant to many local ethics proceedings. 

The current model codes are called the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but previous codes have had different titles:

  • Model Rules of Professional Conduct (1983-present).  These are the current model ethical rules of the American Bar Association (ABA).
  • Model Code of Professional Responsibility (1969-1983).  This code was promulgated by the ABA in 1969 and adopted by courts in almost all states.  Today, some states have not adopted the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and still have ethical codes based on this model code.
  • Canons of Professional Ethics (1908-1969).  The first code of ethics adopted by the ABA.  Widespread dissatisfaction with this code led the ABA to adopt a new code in 1969.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Promulgated in 1983 (KF305.A2 A4 1983) and adopted in some form by many states and the District of Columbia.  An electronic version of the Model Rules is available on the ABA's website and on Lexis.  Annotations and other information about the rules can be found in the sources listed below.

This annotated version contains the full text of the rules and provides extensive citations to cases, articles, and books discussing the issues arising under each rule.


Model Code of Professional Responsibility

The full, unannotated text also available in ABA/BNA Lawyers' Manual on Professional Conduct and The Law of Lawyering, KF306 .H33 2001.

Canons of Judicial and Professional Ethics