Role of Attorneys

The role of attorneys is to facilitate justice for a client. Attorneys illustrate their role in a variety of ways—they may act as the legal advocate, the counselor, or the friend. First, the legal advocate is what people most commonly recognize as an attorney’s role. This category includes the attorney that follows the clients’ requests despite whether their actions are considered moral or good. The attorney does not contribute his or her ethical stance to the client or the case. Next, the counselor or guru attorney is in the position to advise clients of appropriate actions. This attorney is also categorized as a moral agent. The last category is the friend or client-centered attorney. The attorney in this role persuades clients not to engage in inappropriate and, most importantly, unethical acts. Although it is common for people’s perception of roles to regard prosecutors as advocates for justice and defense attorneys as advocates for their clients, both attorneys must be moral agents. As moral agents, attorneys impose their personal view of ethics into their activities for the client. Prosecutors have additional ethical requirements as moral agents. Prosecutors are public servants who, because of the rules for discovery, have no responsibility for confidentiality. The goal of the prosecutor is to act in the best interest of the state which they represent in criminal matters, specifically the prosecution of those matters (Pollock, 2014). There is a great deal of literature on the role attorneys should play and the ethics of law, but this unfortunately does not decrease the potential for misconduct inherent in the profession. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys may employ unethical behavior such as selectively choosing jurors, coaching witnesses, or misusing experts. In addition, the prosecution should exhibit caution with issues specific to their professional role; the ability to control plea bargains, to file charges at their discretion, to select cases to prosecute, to terminate weak cases, and to make promises in exchange for testimony could lead to unethical behaviors by prosecutors. Attorneys must maintain an objective standard of justice and strike a professional balance between the clients’ interests and the law (Condlin, 2003).

Attorneys who choose to act as moral agents for their clients may follow basic principles. These principles, as presented by Cohen (1991), include treating people as ends and not simply means to winning a case, treating clients and others in a comparable manner, not misleading the court, willingly sacrificing for just causes, not exchanging money for wrongful purposes, avoiding harm of others, showing loyalty to the client, and acting consistently on one’s own ethical judgment. The principles allow attorneys to act independently to determine appropriate actions. In addition to the informal principles, Memory and Rose (2002) state that attorneys are guided by formal principles in the form of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Cohen disagrees, citing that the ABA rules do not prevent all acts that are unethical and immoral; for example, they do not prevent attorneys from remaining silent when a third party is harmed. Cases that support Cohen’s perspective include the Enron and WorldCom business examples. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit illegal and unethical behaviors while still allowing attorneys to act as advocates for clients. If followed, the rules assist attorneys in becoming effective and ethically good in their role. Updated in 2002, the rules address client-lawyer relationships, integrity of the profession, courtroom behavior, conflicts of interest, use of media, relationships with other lawyers, and much more. As an example, the rules dictate that an attorney should tolerate clients’ decisions regarding the objectives of his or her representation, should not assist the client in criminal or deceptive behavior, and must have informed consent to discuss clients’ cases with anyone other than the clients. The rules are enforced by a committee on ethical responsibility, and, in addition, each state bar association enforces its own rules. In their role, attorneys should act as moral agents (Braswell, 2005).

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