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Legal ethics are an area of ethics which involve the legal profession and the practice of law. Adherence to basic legal ethics is generally required for people who wish to practice law, with most nations having associations of legal professionals which have the ability to bring people up on charges and suspend their licenses if they are suspected of ethics violations. For people seeking legal assistance who are curious, it is usually possible to look a lawyer up with a bar association to determine whether or not the lawyer is a member in good standing and to see a history of any complaints or investigations.
The practice of law is complex, and it can be fraught with ethical issues. Legal ethics covers many of the basic ethical issues which come up in the law, many of which are actually encoded right into the laws which pertain to legal practice. The goal of creating ethical standards is to retain the reputation of the legal profession as a whole, giving consumers greater confidence when it comes to dealing with lawyers.
Some topics covered in legal ethics include attorney-client privilege, legal billing, disclosures which lawyers are obligated to make, professional and personal relationships with other members of the legal profession, relationships with jurors, situations in which lawyers and judges must be recused from a case, ethical conflicts which can arise in the law, and situations in which people can offer legal advice. In many nations, legal ethics also includes mandates to perform volunteer service, or a strong stress on performing pro bono work.
Advertising activities are also covered under legal ethics, as are the operations of legal firms, partnerships of attorneys, and so forth. When lawyers apply to be allowed to practice law, they are often required to swear or affirm an oath which indicates their intention to abide by ethical requirements, and they subject themselves to the authority of a government organization which has the power to enact fines, revoke licenses, and engage in other penal activities when ethical violations occur.
The field of legal ethics is constantly evolving as new legal issues arise. Many law schools have ethics committees and departments which explore shifts in legal ethics, as do professional associations of lawyers. These organizations may periodically recommend revisions or alterations to ethical guidelines in the interests of keeping members of the legal profession as current with ethical issues as possible.