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Do Lawyers Have to Obey the Law?


As a general rule, everyone has a duty to obey the law (with the caveat that civil disobedience is a lengthy topic for a different day) – including lawyers.

Despite the old joke that asks “How can you tell when lawyers are  lying?” (the answer: “Their mouths are moving”), lawyers’ duty to represent clients is balanced, and limited, by a lawyer’s duty to obey the law and comply with the applicable standards of professional conduct.

Lawyers learn about these balanced duties in law school, where every lawyer is required to take a separate course on professional conduct (legal ethics); in addition, California lawyers must pass a professional responsibility exam to qualify for a license.

In other words: lawyers are required to know about these duties before they even begin to practice law.



We’ll look more closely at the duties of lawyers over the next few weeks, but for now, here’s a partial list of duties with which lawyers must comply–in addition to (and as a complement to) their duties to their clients:

  • The duty to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States and those of the state(s) in which the lawyer is licensed.
  • The duty never to lie to or mislead a judge or other judicial officer
  • The duty to respect the court and its officers
  • The duty not to encourage or continue legal actions that derive from corrupt interests (as opposed to genuine legal claims)
  • The duty not to suppress evidence or suborn perjury
  • The duty to cooperate with Bar/licensing discipline

These are only some of a lawyer’s legal duties – but even this partial list demonstrates that a lawyer’s legal obligations go far beyond merely “representing clients” or “making money.”



Lawyers who violate their oaths, or their legally binding professional duties, may be subject to discipline or penalized by a court. This may include (but is not limited to) being forced to pay a fine, being held in contempt of court, having his or her license suspended (for various periods of time), or even losing his or her license to practice law.

While lawyers do not have a legally binding obligation to report other lawyers’ misconduct to the Bar, they are permitted to do so, particularly when the conduct in question is clearly illegal, immoral, or unethical. The Bar investigates reports of misconduct, and takes action where the evidence demonstrates that the lawyer in question has violated a legal duty in a manner that merits discipline or sanctions.

Lawyers who violate their legal duties in a manner that causes injury or damage to a client also may be liable to pay damages for legal malpractice (professional negligence). If you believe a lawyer broke the law, or violated a legal duty, in a way that caused you harm, contact an experienced malpractice attorney promptly for an evaluation of your rights and potential claims.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.

You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.

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