Texas Legal Ethics
By Harriet Richman, J.D., M.L.S., Reference Librarian
Legal research in the area of professional responsibility
centers on state rules governing the conduct of lawyers and judges. These rules
are administered through disciplinary proceedings and state bar issued letters
of opinion on ethical issues. This is no surprise as the legal profession is,
as most professions, self-governing. Texas state attorney ethics rules are based
on the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct (KF305.A2
1996) and judicial ethics rules are based on the ABA Code of Judicial Conduct.
See ROBERT P. SCHUWERK and LILLIAN HARDWICK. HANDBOOK OF TEXAS LAWYER AND JUDICIAL
ETHICS. (WestGroup 2002).(KFT1276.5.A2S381 2002)
Thorough Texas ethics research includes Texas ethics opinions, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure and case law in the areas of procedures, tort liability and criminal liability.
Predecessors to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Ethics
The Texas Bar Association adopted the ABA Canons of Professional Ethics as modified in 1909. See Cullen Smith, The Texas Canons of Ethics Revisited, 18 Baylor L. Rev. 183 (1966). It is called the Texas Canons of Ethics. These canons governed lawyer conduct until 1971 when the Code of Professional Responsibility was adopted together with the Texas Ethical Considerations. Both are available at www.law.uh.edu/ethics). Both the Texas Code and its associated ethical considerations were repealed January 1, 1990 at which time, the Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct were adopted. (Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. tit. 2, subtit.G app.A(Vernon’s Supp.2002) (www.texbar.com and www.law.uh.edu/ethics) These rules deal with the required professional behavior of lawyers.
Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct
The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct begin with a Preamble, a description of the rules’ mandate. Each rule is then followed by comments. Annotations are available in such places as Westlaw (TX-Rules), Lexis (TX-Codes), and in Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. tit. 2, subtit.G app.A (Vernon’s Supp. 2002).
The State Bar of Texas Association issues oral ethics opinions to lawyers who call its ethics hotline to ask for advice. That number is 1-800-532-3947. For facts presented in writing the Committee on Professional Ethics of the Supreme Court of Texas reviews the situation and decides if the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct apply. If they do and the subject is of interest to a large number of people then a formal opinion is issued. In all other cases an informal opinion is issued. These opinions are not binding on the courts but are persuasive authority and cited to show how the Bar interprets the Code or Rules.
The opinions are available in the Texas Bar Journal, its website
www.texbar.com, the University of Houston Law Center Website www.law.uh.edu/ethics,
Westlaw and Lexis and in the National Reporter on Legal Ethics and Professional
Responsibility (KF308.A6N37 Vol. iv).
Legal ethics case law involves appeals from such matters as disciplinary proceedings, sanctions, malpractice and criminal matters. These cases are reported by Lexis and Westlaw in subject matter order as well as the regular display. Lexis has an ETHICS library. Westlaw provides similar opportunities with its database (ABA-ETHOP).
Texas has a good number of treatises dealing with attorney tort or disciplinary liability and cataloged in KFT1276.
1. SCHUWERK, ROBERT P. and LILLIAN B. HARDWICK. HANDBOOK OF TEXAS LAWYER AND JUDICIAL ETHICS. (WestGroup, 2002). covers attorney and judicial behavior with case and opinion annotations and comparisons to the ABA rules. KFT 1276.5.A2.S381 2002
2. HERRING, CHARLES, TEXAS LEGAL MALPRACTICE AND LAWYER DISCIPLINE,
3rd ed.,(Dallas, Tex: American Lawyer Media, 2002). Provides commentary in areas
such as the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure
and Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct using cases and/or opinions
3. TEXAS CENTER FOR LEGAL ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM, A GUIDE TO THE BASICS OF LAW PRACTICE (9TH ED. 2002)
4. CROWLEY, BERYL P., ET.AL. ed. THE ETHICS COURSE.4TH ed. (Austin, Tex.: Alliance Press, 2001). A guide to practicing law ethically.
5. SCHUWERK, ROBERT P. with JOHN F. SUTTON, JR. COMMENTARY ON THE TEXAS DISCIPLINARY RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT in TEXAS LAWYERS’ PROFESSIONAL ETHICS, 3d ed. (Austin, Tx: Texas Young Lawyers’ Association 1997). A detailed background analysis of the Rules with cases and opinions. The book also provides primary materials with annotations.
6. Teresa S. Collett. Researching Professional Responsibility Issues via the Internet, 11 No.1 Prof. Law. 24, 1999. This article provides lively coverage of Internet sources for ethics with emphasis on Texas.
Texas Code Sources
Both Westlaw and Lexis publish Texas Court Rules books with rules and codes of ethics. DORSANEO & SOULES, TEXAS CODES AND RULES 2002-2003 ed. (Matthew Bender, 2002). Cornell has a site, www.law.cornell.edu/ethics/ which provides access to the Texas Bar Association site. The University of Houston Law Center, www.law.uh.edu/ethics site has among other subjects the Rules of Professional Conduct and ethics opinions.
Judges, as highly visible members of the legal system, have
set their own legal standards embodied in the Code of Judicial Conduct TEX.GOV’T
CODE ANN T.2, Subt.G., App. B. The Code is a guide as to what is satisfactory
judicial behavior. The Supreme Court of Texas adopted the Code effective 1974
and in that year the Judicial Ethics Committee was created by the State Bar.
The Committee started issuing advisory opinions in 1975. They are available
at www.law.uh.edu/ethics , www.Texbar.com, www.courts.state.tx.us/judethics
and Lexis’ ethics database.
David J. Beck. A Legal Malpractice in Texas, 43 Baylor L. Rev. 3A (1991).