Coming Up on a Quarter Century: A Look at the Next 25 Years of Legal Ethics! 

As we enter the quarter of the century mark, new challenges arise for legal ethics. From the emergence of legal influencers on social media, our newfound reliance on AI technology in the face of the continued use of unreliable citiations, the increasingly narrowing ethical rules, to the numerous ethical lapses in the U.S. Supreme Court, we are entering unprecedented times for the legal profession. These topics highlight the evolution of legal ethics across the board–whether on individual legal papers or in the Supreme Court. It is critical that we understand and appreciate the ethical complexities that accompany each of these challenges as we prepare to enter the next chapter of legal ethics. 

Join the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics as we explore each of these topics in our bi-annual Symposium on Friday, April 5th, 2024 from 10 AM to 3 PM EST. Our panelists include the esteemed authors publishing articles on each of these topics in our upcoming Volume and distinguished experts on legal ethics eager to discuss the changing landscape of the legal profession. 

RSVP here by Monday, April 1st for guaranteed lunch. 


“Untangling Unreliable Citations” 

Margie Alsbrook, Visiting Assistant Professor at Mercer University – Walter F. George School of Law

Amy J. Griffin, Professor of Legal Writing at Georgetown University Law Center; Member of the Editorial Board of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Legal Communication & Rhetoric 

Saul J. Singer, Senior Legal Ethics Counsel for the District of Columbia Bar; Counsel to the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct Review Committee and the Legal Ethics Committee

“Citations are the vernacular used by the legal profession to communicate the precedents that underline our arguments and analysis. They are the building blocks of legal communications and legal arguments, and lawyers and judges need to be able to rely upon the accuracy of each other’s citations to work in a stabilized democracy. Democratic stability is in jeopardy due to an erosion of norms from a variety of well-documented sources, most of which are well beyond the control of the average lawyer. But lawyers and judges can control the reliability of the authority we use in our work product, and this Article urges legal advocates to increase our carefulness in these constantly shifting times.

The idea of verifying the contents of sources before citing them sounds so simple. However, copying and pasting citations has become an accepted practice, and citations are becoming increasingly unreliable as a result. This was true before 2017, when a new citation known as “(cleaned up)” was introduced, and before 2023, when artificial intelligence technology began to rapidly influence the way legal professionals approach writing projects. Until these new developments are stabilized and trustworthy, lawyers must devote even more time to double-checking sources and citations. 

This Article discusses the danger of simply relying upon another lawyer’s paraphrased language, a danger that escalates as the way we obtain information and sources continues to shift. Through an in-depth look at a cautionary tale from Kansas, this Article illustrates how one judge used two words to create the myth of a higher standard for discovery that has been repeatedly—and incorrectly— applied to opponents of corporations in litigation. Because people are not checking the original sources for accuracy, Kansas now has a split in the way it interprets a crucial rule, and that ambiguity could have been avoided with increased precision.

Until technology stabilizes, rules are updated, and norms are restored, this Article pleas for increased prudence when it comes to citation practices. It also promotes a relatively simple solution and return to simplicity: writers should actually read the case they are citing, and the case being cited there, and down the line. In addition to increasing the reliability of citations, this “back to the basics” approach also has the potential to increase the trust lawyers and judges have in each other and their work. And if the legal profession can restore some of the faith we have in each other, then perhaps some of the faith the public has lost in our profession and our courts might be restored as well.”


“Juridification and Regulating the Modern Lawyer”

Abdi Aidid, Assistant Professor at University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Matt Kaiser, Professional Responsibility and Legal Malpractice Partner at Kaiser PLLC; Former Chair of the District of Columbia Board of Professional Responsibility; Professor of Professional Responsibility at Georgetown University Law Center

Julia L. Porter, Deputy Disciplinary Counsel of the District of Columbia Bar’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel

“To say that lawyers are everywhere is only a slight exaggeration. Yet the legal ethics regimes tasked with regulating the profession do not contemplate most of what modern lawyers do. As this Article explains, a major reason for this is juridification, a process describing (i) the sheer growth in the volume and increasing specificity of new laws, (ii) the increase in the authority and reach of judicial dispute resolution, and (iii) the proliferation of law-like procedures and legalistic decision-making in non-juridical organizations. Interestingly, this expansion of lawyer influence occurred against the backdrop of a countertendency in lawyer regulation. Legal ethics regimes self-consciously moved away from expansive, aspirational rule-setting to—with the advent of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct—narrow, quasi-criminal rules that articulate only minimum standards of conduct. Put simply, at the very same time that lawyers began suffusing more and more of public life, the legal profession’s regulatory apparatuses became more insular. I argue that these two forces—juridification and the retreat of legal ethics to minimum dictates—have rendered legal ethics regimes largely unresponsive to a significant proportion of lawyerly activity, including activity with great capacity to produce social harm. I conclude by suggesting some interventions.” 


“Lawfluencers: Legal Professionalism on TikTok and YouTube”

Anthony Song, Adjunct Fellow at the University of New South Wales 

Justine Rogers, Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales 

Mary Pat Dwyer, Academic Program Director of the Institute for Technology Law & Policy at Georgetown University Law Center

Elizabeth T. Simon, Associate General Counsel for Ethics at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP; Chair of the District of Columbia Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct Review Committee; Professor of Professional Responsibility at Georgetown University Law Center

“This Article investigates the rise of lawyer-influencers, or ‘lawfluencers,’ and what their arrival means for legal professionalism. In today’s attention economy, ‘influencers’ are now central players. An influencer shares their knowledge and lifestyle on social media to accumulate a ‘following.’ These influencers then monetize their followers’ loyalty for commercial gain and/or cultural capital. Our Article explains what lawfluencing is, focusing on TikTok and YouTube as the two most prominent video-based social media platforms. It identifies the drivers behind, and technological features shaping, the appearance of influencing in law. It also describes the types of videos lawyers are creating and what blends of professional (trusted expert) versus amateur (authentic and approachable personalities) they are striking. Our Article focuses on the implications of lawfluencing for ‘professionalism,’ that is, the identities, expertise, values, and arrangements that have typically characterized professional status. Lawfluencing might offer greater access to justice for the public, and, for lawyers, new modes for creativity and career progression. Still, this activity is occurring on the platforms of Big Tech. It is subject, then, to their commercial imperatives and digital cultures, as well as the audiences’ viewing preferences or what is known as the ‘algorithm.’ This Article outlines the ethical risks influencing poses to clients and lawyers, and the possible challenges presented to the legitimacy of the legal profession and the legal system. In the process, we identify responsible lawfluencing practices necessary for the sustainable development of the legal profession in the digital era.”


“SCOTUS House: Can a Supreme Court Ethics Lawyer and an Inspector General Help Get this Fraternity under Control?” 

Richard W. Painter, S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law 

Michael R. Bromwich, Senior Counsel, Steptoe LLP; Inspector General, Department of Justice (1995-1999)

Cliff Sloan, Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown University Law Center; Associate White House Counsel for President Clinton

“In 2023, the United States Supreme Court is immersed in an ethics crisis of unprecedented proportions. Public confidence in the Court is at an all-time low and Congress is considering action. The Court is less likely to police itself than it was a generation ago when Justice Abraham Fortas resigned over a scandal that was probably less serious than that facing at least one justice today. This article discusses the Court’s recent scandals and explains multiple factors that make the Court prone to ethics lapses, perhaps more so than the other two branches of government. This Article then proposes that a partial solution to the Supreme Court ethics crisis would be to have a dedicated ethics lawyer and an inspector general for the Supreme Court. There are specific ways in which an ethics lawyer and an inspector general should help reverse the factors identified in this Article as obstructing a workable ethics regime at the Court. Congress has the power and responsibility to enact these and other reforms necessary to assure that the Court’s justices in their personal conduct uphold their duty to be faithful to the law while holding an office that gives them the power to interpret and enforce the law.”