A person, who through a regular program of study, is learned in legal matters and has been licensed to practice his or her profession. Any qualified person who prosecutes or defends causes in courts of record or other judicial tribunals of the United States, or of any of the states, or who renders legal advice or assistance in relation to any cause or matter. Unless a contrary meaning is plainly indicated this term is synonymous with attorney, attorney at law, or counselor at law.
Each of the 50 states employs admissions committees or boards to review the backgrounds of prospective attorneys before they are admitted to practice. Each state also has adopted codes of conduct or disciplinary rules and has appointed adjudicative boards to address ATTORNEY MISCONDUCT. But these measures only weed out or discipline those who have violated laws or those who are otherwise unfit to practice law. They have done little to address the day-to-day civility and conduct of attorneys in their practice. In that regard, the behavior and conduct of peers and colleagues within the profession often impose more palpable influences on newly practicing attorneys than any standards or codes of ethics that they may have learned in law school.
A focus of a new movement in several states is not only to crack down on professional misconduct per se, but also to stem borderline conduct before it becomes an ethical violation. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice WILLIAM REHNQUIST, addressing new graduates from the University of Virginia School of Law in June 2001, remarked that incivility remained one of the greatest threats to the ideals of American justice and to the public's trust in the law. The conduct of former president BILL CLINTON was considered to have seriously contributed to the harming of public confidence and trust in the legal profession because of his subjective approach to answering questions under oath and other improprieties associated with the legal aspects of his administration.
The AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION (ABA) and lawyers' groups in more than a dozen states have joined in the movement to improve not only civility and courtesy among lawyers, but also the public's perception of the profession. Ultimately, the goal of these efforts is to ensure that attorneys have an unequivocal, current, and realistic standard of conduct and ethics to rely upon as a valid guide for their profession.