Volume 35

The Real and Imagined Beneficiaries of Legal Ethics

by Adam Raviv

This Article proposes a new and comprehensive framework for understanding the professional standards that govern lawyers: that each rule of professional conduct has one, and only one, primary beneficiary. Moreover, the beneficiary of every rule falls into one of three categories: a lawyer’s client, third parties, or the lawyer personally. Viewing the rules of professional conduct through a beneficiary prism illuminates when a lawyer’s duty to a client can be—or must be—subordinated to other interests. Understanding who is supposed to benefit from a given rule is an essential tool in properly interpreting any professional standard. It is also indispensable in determining whether that rule fulfills its purpose in practice, or should be modified or eliminated. Applying a beneficiary framework reveals that some key professional standards—the rules on conflicts of interest, professional independence, and the unauthorized practice of law— do not actually benefit their intended beneficiaries and should be rethought.

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